Thursday, December 19, 2013

Family-Friendly Activities for Christmas Day

Quick, Easy, and Fun Games for Christmas

Something to do while the turkey cooks!

If you have a family made up of ADHD personalities (like mine), you may find that guests will get bored waiting for the food to cook on Christmas day. Keep them occupied with these five fun activities.

5 Family-Friendly, Alcohol-Free Activities for Christmas Gatherings


1. Yankee Swap or White Elephant Game:
We're trying the Yankee Swap for the first time this year, and I'm excited! There will be about 15 of us playing, so who knows what will happen! Check out the variation we'll be playing here.

2. "Guess the Number" Games
A classic. Everyone knows this game. And everyone's going to want a chance to win a cute mason-jar-inspired insulated mug FULL of M&M's! Player with the best guess takes all.

3. Test Your Estimation Skills
This one is trickier than you might think! Inside this ornament (I used a plastic one after breaking several glass ones while playing around--they're $0.80 at AC Moore right now!) there is a STRAND of BEADED GARLAND. Guess how long that strand is. You may be surprised. Winner gets the ornament (or whatever prize you choose). 

The second variation would be best for kids. How many pom poms can you find AND how long is the rope inside?

4. Christmas Crackers
This is a fun activity for the kids, and I'm planning to have them play while the adults exchange gifts during the Yankee Swap. I've seen more expensive versions (some at Homegoods were gorgeous but almost $10, but this kind from Christmas Tree Shops is perfect for kids. It was $3.99 and will be great to occupy them for five minutes or so ;).

5. Peppermint Pig
Have you heard of the Peppermint Pig? It's a cool, old-fashioned tradition that started back in the Victorian Era. You might not know about it if your aren't in the Northeast; it started in Saratoga, NY, a fabulous little town, perhaps best known for the Saratoga Race Course (which I recently found it is the oldest standing sports facility in the country!).

Basically, you get one of these big, cute, candy pigs, put it in a little sack, then pass it around the table. Each person takes a turn tapping it with a little hammer and sharing a story of something good that happened during the year. Then you all gobble up the little candy pieces as a symbol of "good health, happiness, and prosperity."

To put a little more eloquently, here's a quote from the Saratoga Sweets website: "This 'Peppermint Pig'™ as aptly it was named, was cast of hard candy similar in fashion to candy cane and festive pink in colour. And while the pig is honored in Victorian holiday tradition as a symbol of good health, happiness and prosperity, these special 'Peppermint Pigs',™ unique to Saratoga Springs, New York, came to represent much more. They proudly stood for and old-fashioned Yuletide itself-a wonderful time when red-cheeked children laughed and rode old wooden sleds over fresh snow, when church bells pealed and fond recollections were shared by family and friends. After the holiday dinner, the Pig was passed amongst those gathered, each in turn giving the pouch a firm tap and sharing a tale of the past year's good fortune. The delicious broken peppermint and warm memories were enjoyed by all in hopes of prosperity for the coming year."

I got my pig in Saratoga on Shop Small Saturday, but you can order them online here.

Hope you find something that's perfect for your Christmas gathering. Wishing you a holiday season full of peace, joy, and happy families :)

Don't forget to follow me on Pinterest to see more of my favorite things.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Yankee Swap Best Practices {Brainstorm!}

Help Me Organize the Perfect Yankee Swap!

What works? What doesn't? What am I missing?


We're hosting Christmas for the first time this year, and we have decided to do a Yankee Swap. Neither Ben nor I have been involved in one before, and since {ahem} Ben wasn't particularly keen on doing it at all, I did my best to compile the "rules" for our families. But there seems to be one point of discussion (mostly among my siblings, who, let's face it, can be slightly argumentative... present company excluded, of course. LOL.), and I can't decide out what to do about it. 

So, here's the big question: Do we open the gifts as we go along (as I originally outlined, see below) OR do we wait until the end to open them?

Here are the rules I complied. Is this how you have played? Please interject (well, comment) with any mistakes, suggestions, or fun variations! What are the benefits/drawbacks to opening them as you go along? Potential pitfalls? Nightmare experiences?

Yankee Swap Rules

1. Every person brings a wrapped present to Christmas (just adults, I'll do something else for the kids). That means you and whoever you come with bring separate presents (e.g., Ben and I contribute different gifts, moms and dads bring different gifts) & gifts are placed together on a table when you arrive.
2. We draw numbers to determine who picks first (and the person who picks first also gets to pick last).
3. The person with the lowest number goes first. He or she chooses one of the wrapped presents, opens it, and takes it back to their seat with them.
4. Each person in order then gets to pick a present, open it and decide whether to KEEP IT or SWAP IT for any other open present (e.g., person #2 can steal person #1's gift, etc., ect...).
5. Whoever gets a gift taken from them must pick a new, unopened gift, but does not have the option to swap.
6. Opening/swapping continues until all presents have been opened. BUT, there is a 3-swap maximum; a present cannot be swapped more than 3 times. The third swap on any particular present is the last, and that person keeps it for good.
7. Lastly, the person who picked first gets to pick their choice from all of the open presents (unless a present has already met the 3-swap maximum).

So, what do you think? Do we open them as we play OR wait until the end? Is there a cool variation I'm missing? Is the three-swap rule a good one or too restricting?

I'd kinda like to avoid a situation like this one below!

Thanks for your help! I want to publish a finalized rule sheet next week, so any advice you can give me to help make this fun for everyone would be appreciated!

If you don't mind taking a minute, I'd LOVE it if you would follow me on Facebook and Pinterest! I'll follow back! :)

Linking up to:

The DIY Dreamer

A Sweet Fragrance

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Free DIY Ornament: Printable & Tutorial

'Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Craft for Kids of All Ages

A Christmas Tradition: Now in the form of a DIY ornament!


When I was growing up, decorating the tree was one of our favorite Christmas traditions. Over the years, our family accumulated boxes and boxes of ornaments, from those my mom made when she was in her 20's to ones we'd bought on trips or made as kids. The decorating process was very "organic." There was no external direction from my parents about which ornaments should go where; we just put on the ornaments on the tree (and savored the years my mom let us use tinsel!).

Every Christmas Eve, we took down one particular ornament. It was a miniature book that featured the poem The Night Before Christmas. And every Christmas Eve, after going to church and out to dinner as a family, my dad read us The Night Before Christmas. And then the four children nestled all snug in their beds ;)

So a couple of years ago when I saw a similar ornament in an after-Chrismas sale bin, I scooped it up. It was a small book, wrapped in cellophane, with the title The Night Before Christmas on the front. I brought it home, packed it away with the other ornaments, and was excited to use it to continue the tradition with my own children.

But the next year when Christmas rolled around and I finally took the book out of its wrapper, I realized... it was BLANK inside! Major disappointment. I still can't figure out why someone would print a blank book... but that's beyond the point. 

Anyway, I think last year I told the kids they could color inside it (I mean, what was the point of all those blank pages?). And this year when my 5-year old pulled it out of the ornament bin, she exclaimed, "Oh no, Mommy! Someone scribbled all over this book!" And so, I explained the whole story to her (although she seemed more concerned with wanting to color in the book herself). Of course I obliged her, and then as I watched her there coloring, I came up with this idea. Because who needs a blank book when you can just make one yourself?!

So I made my own The Night Before Christmas Ornament Book. In fact, I decided to make two versions: one that featured solely the text of the book and another that allows space for your kiddies to draw their own pictures to accompany the story. It's a quick and easy project, one that requires simple household supplies: paper, ribbon (or twine or string), a printer, scissors, a stapler, and a hole punch. Nothing fancy needed; no Cricut, no Silhouette (although if you've got those machines I'm sure you could jazz this baby up in no time).

Free Printable Alert!  During the holiday season I offered the PDF to new email subscribers, but you can still get your own copy if you're interested. Just shoot me an email, and I'll send the documents out to you. Or, download them yourself using the following links: DIY Night Before Christmas Ornament Book {Text Only} & DIY Night Before Christmas Ornament Book {With Frames for Drawing Pics}

Rather make your own? Never fear, I'll show you how! Just follow the tutorial below.

How to Make a DIY Ornament

The Night Before Christmas Hanging Book Tutorial

FYI: I created the document using InDesign, because that's the program I'm most comfortable with. You can certainly replicate the process in another word processing application.

  • 2 sheets of letter-sized (8.5" x 11") paper
  • Printer
  • Ribbon (or string)
  • Stapler (regular size-not a mini!)
  • Hole punch
  • OPTIONAL: Scrapbook paper for the cover

PROCESS (pics are below for the visual learners):
  • Create a new letter-size document (vertical orientation) in whatever software you're using. You will need to create a document that is 4 pages (the end result will be printed double-sided, resulting in only 2 pages).
  • Break each page into 4 quadrants (as shown above).
  • Find the text you'll be using for your book. Paste each verse onto a different "page (or quadrant)," paying close attention to those that need to be pasted upside down. There are 14 verses of the poem, so it really works out perfectly!
  • Print out your pages. If your printer can print double-sided, choose that function and print out both pages. If you can't print double-sided, you'll need to run each sheet through the printer again. Print page 2 on the back of page 1, and page 4 on the back of page 3.
  • Place Sheet 1 (with Back Cover/Front Cover, etc) on top of Sheet 2 (with 14, 3, etc).
  • Fold the top of the page in half, horizontally, BEHIND the bottom of the page (see pics).
  • Fold the pages in half vertically (so the front cover is at the front).
  • Trim the tops of the pages so that they are all open at the top and the pages can turn independently.
  • OPTIONAL: If you want to make a fancier cover, use scrapbook paper to "wrap" the book. I cut a little window out so you can still see the title from the outside.
  • Staple the center fold twice (from the outside cover)
  • Punch a hole through the whole book about 1/4" from the top corner.
  • Tie a string or pretty ribbon into a loop so the book can hang as an ornament! You're done! If it doesn't quite make the "quality" cut for your tree, your kids could hang it on their nightstand. Either way, it's a fun project for them.

Good luck! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Find me on Facebook and Pinterest so we can start sharing together!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Secret Santa Saturday: 8 Gifts Under $8

INSTALLMENT FIVE: 8 Gifts under $8

Substantial Gifts That Are Still Budget-Friendly

It's hard to believe that this is the final installment of the Secret Santa Success Series! Thanks so much for following along with me through these past 6 weeks; I hope I have helped to get your creativity flowing for this year's Secret Santa.

Budget-Friendly Secret Santa Gifts

When it comes to working out your Secret Santa plan-of-attack, some quick advice is to save the more "expensive" gifts for the end (check out the intro to Secret Santa Success for more basic tips).  And while none of these ideas are going to break the bank (the most expensive is $7.99), they're more substantial then some of the previous options and are certain to put a smile on the face of your giftee. 

You may notice that some of these ideas are a little girly... for more manly options, check out Secret Santa Gifts for Guys!


8 Gifts Under $8
Pretty Poinsettia Wrapped in Burlap

I got this poinsettia for $4.99 at Home Depot (it's one of the painted varieties--my favorites!). I scrapped the original packaging, swathed it in burlap (from my stash), and added a cute tag. Such a pretty flower. I'd actually recommend giving one of these as your FIRST gift so your giftee can enjoy it for longer (and maybe display it proudly on their desk, thus reinforcing your Secret Santa prowess)!

8 Gifts Under $8
#2: The Newest Issue of a Great

A new magazine is a great gift, and one quick stop into Barnes & Noble will afford you plenty of options. Is your giftee a car fan? A crafter? A foodie? A techie? A traveller? A gamer? An art lover? A sports fan? The possibilities are endless. Most magazines will easily fit under the $8 cap, but if you feel like splurging, there are more expensive options, too.

8 Gifts Under $8
: Cute Change Purse

I don't know if it's just me, but I've got a whole bunch of change that just sits at the bottom of my purse... and I could definitely make great use of this. Target had a few different designs, and at $7, you can't beat the price! Make the gift a little more special by filling it with some holiday goodies!

8 Gifts Under $8
: Hand Warmers & Foot Warmers

These HotHands products were in the dollar bins at Target and will run you $2 each. They're great to have in the wintertime, and I know many skiers who swear by them at the mountain! A quick and easy gift; adorn it with a ribbon and a tag, and you're done!

8 Gifts Under $8
Scented Soy Candle

This soy candle was another Homegoods find ($6.99). It's got festive packaging and features an earthy, cedar scent. I love the idea of giving a Christmas candle for a Secret Santa gift because the giftee will be able to use the whole time leading up to the holidays (as opposed to receiving it ON Christmas, right as the holiday season is coming to an end). And soy candles are great--mine always last so long!

8 Gifts Under $8
#6: Forced Bulb {in a Mason Jar}

"Look it's a pot... with the dirt in it!" Anyone remember that line from Meet the Parents? Gets me chuckling every time. Anyway, here I've used a mason jar to plant a paperwhite bulb. If you've got some time, you may even be able to get it to bud before gifting it ;). Or, if you're not digging (pun intended) the mason jar idea, just get a forced bulb kit! I got mine for a few dollars at Christmas Tree Shops.

8 Gifts Under $8
: Pretty Tools

I have a few versions of these Pretty Tools, and I love them! There are several varieties, but this was the best one I could find under the $8 limit. Really, this is self-explanatory, but they are literally pretty tools! There are wrenches, tape measures, pruners... lots of options! A few years ago I saw some at Michaels, so if you're lucky enough to do the same, you could use your coupon and save even more. I'd recommend these for a woman, BTW (although my husband will readily admit he finds mine very convenient in a pinch)!

8 Gifts Under $8
Fancy Handsoap

I found this vintage-inspired glass lavender water in a rustic cottage in the South of France. Just kidding! I got it at Homegoods. It was $7.99, which may seem like a lot for soap, but it's huge--32 oz! Definitely worth the $8, and it's just so pretty. And I have a confession to make: I'm keeping it! It ventured over to my kitchen sink after its photo shoot. :)

And with that, I am bowing out! We are well into Secret Santa season now, and I hope you've found this series helpful. I wish you the best of luck in your Secret Santa ventures, and would love if you shared some of your own ideas here or on the Thrifter Facebook Page!

Also, can I ask a favor? Would you mind following me on Facebook and Pinterest? It really helps me out, and I'll follow back! :)

More in the Secret Santa Success Series:


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Because Some Things Are Worth a Splurge

"The Star Won't Fit, and One of the Branches is Broken"

Why I'll Never Let My Husband Talk Me Into Spending Less $$ Again 

"All of the needles keep falling off my tree."

Let's begin here, shall we? Below you can see this journal entry, dictated by my 4-year old daughter to her preschool teacher during her "Weekend Journal" assignment last year (the day after we cut down our Christmas tree). Oh the poor girl. And the worst thing is, I didn't even see this until the journal came home last summer! But you know what, she's pretty darn accurate...

Fast forward one month later:

Oh yeah. She wasn't exaggerating. Needles were everywhere. The most unexpected places. They impaled my feet for months and months after Christmas. It was not a good tree.

I know what you're thinking... "You didn't water your tree enough." But no, that wasn't it. This tree had water, and plenty of it. You see, this tree was doomed from the start... It really didn't stand a chance.

Trees of Christmases Past

Even before we had kids, my husband and I would cut down our own Christmas tree. And every year I look forward to it. In the weeks leading up to it, I entertain vivid fantasies of us frolicking through fields of perfectly-shaped trees, the smell of balsam and evergreen heavy in the air. Together we look at each other and smile as we simultaneously spot the perfect tree to symbolize our jolly holiday season. Ben takes his saw, effortlessly cuts the down tree, and we carry it to our car, laughing all the way.

Then reality hits me... because here's what really happens: It's time to get our tree. And it's freezing. Like, really, really, bitterly cold. And as we walk through the fields, we realize that there are no good trees left. All of the good ones have been taken. And we spend the next 45 minutes arguing over bad tree to worse tree, before we finally settle on the one that has a big hole on one side (which we decide we can hide) and a crooked trunk. But we don't care. Because we just want to go home and get warm. So Ben takes out his saw and lays on the ground and begins to cut into the trunk. And he keeps cutting. And cutting. And cutting.

I ask: "Do you need help?"
His curt reply: "No."
Me: "It's taking a really long time."
Ben: "Yeah, and this saw they gave me is almost completely dull."
Me: "Do you want me to go get help?"
Ben (another curt reply): "No."

And so I sit in frozen silence until the tree comes to an unnaturally slow, snappy fall. Me: "Great. Let's go pay." And we look ahead, remembering we walked a LONG way to get here. And we walked DOWNHILL to get here. And, not surprisingly, the ensuing trek uphill in the bitter cold, carrying the prickliest of all the Christmas trees, does nothing to warm either of our spirits. I don't smell evergreen or balsam. And we're certainly not "laughing all the way." And I remember that we've yet to have that perfect Christmas tree cutting experience.

Christmas Tree Shopping 2009: B2 was born only a few days later!

It's Always Worth the Experience, But Some Years Are Better Than Others!

So last year (being our first in a new area), I did some research and found a great place to cut down a Christmas tree. It advertised hay rides, hot cocoa, and family fun. I was excited. We loaded everyone in the car and began the 20 mile drive to the neighboring town. I didn't give Ben much info... just that all the trees were a flat rate of $60. I ignored his responsive eyebrow raise and turned up the Xmas jams on the radio.

About 15 minutes into the journey, Ben noticed a sign that read, "All Christmas Trees: $40."

He asked: "Is that where we're going?" 
I answered: "No." 
He said: "But this place is $20 cheaper, and it's closer." 
I replied, "But the place I found has hay rides." 
Ben: "Hay rides? It's just a Christmas tree. Why do we need a hay ride? We just did one when we went apple picking. And it's freezing out. The kids aren't going to want to be outside that long." 
Me: "Well... they have bathrooms there, too...." 
Ben: "Bathrooms? Kristen, we're getting a Chrismas tree. Why do we need bathrooms?" 

And that was the turning point. He convinced me. And off we went to the cheapest tree farm on the block.

Oh, he was right about one thing. It was freezing. I noticed that when I got out of the car and scanned the EMPTY parking lot. But whatever. The kids were out of the car now. We were committed. And so we began to venture through the field to find our tree. As we looked, I thought I noticed a yellowish tint on a lot of the trees. Convincing myself it must just be a feature of this particular tree variety, I continued on the search. And just like those times in the past, we had a hard time deciding on our tree, and we hopefully compared tree after tree until finally...

B2: "I have to go potty!"
Me: "Can you wait just a little bit?"
B2 (shifting her weight in a panic from side to side): "I really have to go!"

And I shoot a look at Ben, whose downtrodden eyes told me he had most certainly answered his own question, "Why do we need bathrooms?" And I look back towards the dilapidated barn and hope that somewhere there's a bathroom that we can use... and there was, but that's a disturbing story for yet another day. 

And so, somehow, we get a tree. And we bring it home. And those pics at the start of the post pretty much fill you in on the rest.

Christmas Tree 2012: I can't believe I'm actually smiling after that bathroom experience!

So This Year...

I wasn't having any bargain-shopping. I wanted the full experience, and we had it. We visited Maple Row Tree Farm and had the best Christmas Tree experience to date. This place was the Cadillac of Christmas Tree Farms. They had hayrides (as previously mentioned), warming stations, an abundant selection of sharp saws, and tree drop-off sections placed strategically around the characteristically-New-England, rock-wall-lined farm. The staff was great about recommending trees and pointing us in the right direction through the whole process. And the parking lots (yes, that's PLURAL) were FULL! In fact, people were tailgating! It was like nothing we'd ever seen before. And when we were done with our hay ride, tree chopping, and snack eating, we pulled up the car to the main entrance and simply picked up the tree that we'd chosen and dropped off just 15 minutes earlier. Their system is perfected! Tied the tree to the roof, drove off, and paid the attendant our $65 (plus tax) on the way out. And we were on our happy way. And even Ben admitted it was the better choice. :) You know I just give him a hard time on my blog, don't you? He really is a trooper and a sweetheart.

Look, EVERYONE is happy!!

But Don't Fret; I Know How to Save Some Money Here, Too!

Because I just can't resist a bargain... here's how you can save a little money getting your tree at Maple Row. Notice the sign below? You can save $6 by buying a tree during the week instead of going on a weekend. AND, when you pay, your receipt acts as a $5 coupon for the next year. So who knows, maybe next year we'll save another $11 on our tree?! Not local? Check the tree farms around you and see if they offer a similar deal. Also, the place we used to visit in Dutchess County sends coupons out to people on their mailing list at the start of the season, so give them your info if they ask, and it may pay off the next year.

Visiting The Christmas Tree Farm Will Always Be One of My Favorite Traditions

Because that's the thing about traditions. The experiences may be good or they may be bad, but we remember them either way. And I'll take them all. The dying tree, the tree with the holes that we have to turn to hide, the tree with the trunk too big for the tree stand, and even the tree with the crookedest trunk that makes it impossible to stand without anchoring it to a nearby doorknob (yea, we've had a lot of tree disasters). No tree is perfect, but life's not perfect! And I like it even better that way :) And this year we even got a bonus: a new favorite place to continue our tradition for years to come.

What about you? What are your best (and worst!) Christmas tree memories? Share! Share!

But before you go, I'd LOVE it if you would follow me on Facebook and Pinterest! I'll follow back! :)

Happy Holidays!