Tuesday, December 1, 2015

KaiserCraft Advent Calendar -- Christmas Countdown Calendar

Several years ago now, I came upon this KaiserCraft Advent Calendar and thought it would be perfect to use as our Christmas Countdown Calendar. (It looks like they have several other versions, though not this exact one, available right now.) To us, "Advent" has to do with Christ's birth and we weren't planning to use it to teach about Jesus or anything Biblical (we have other things that do that), so we changed the title of it though we know lots of people use these types of things just like we do (which is that we put an activity per day and use them to count down toward Christmas) and call them "Advent Calendars." To each his own! Anyways, my mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas and it has taken me several years to get around to putting the effort forth required to make this work for our family.

Since I didn't really know what I was doing and couldn't find many posts online showing how people put this together, I thought I'd share step-by-step of what is involved. Here is my journey:
First, you have to separate all the pieces of the calendar, smooth the rough edges and then paint it. It takes SEVERAL coats to get it totally filled in. I also painted the inside of the boxes with a coat of the same paint, mostly so that the inside would be more durable to the little fingers which would be pulling the paper out of them every year. (The boxes are essentially thin cardboard and the calendar itself is chipboard.) This step alone took me about a week, working on it when I could and waiting for the paint to dry between coats.
Once the inside of the boxes was dry, I set about gluing them into the box-shape. I used some craft glue and rubber bands to hold them together. I'm sure there are other ways, but this just seemed to make the most sense to me and it worked great!
I left them wrapped with the rubber bands for a day or more to make sure the glue was totally dry. My brilliant husband came up with the shape for the scrapbook paper so that I could put it onto the boxes and have it cover completely as well as help hold the box together. With most things of this nature (and as you can see in the picture above), each box wasn't exactly the same as the others so this made tracing and cutting the easiest and least time-consuming we could think of. I simply "painted" the outside of the box with Modge Podge and then wrapped the paper onto the box/itself, covering it completely. (I took a lot of pictures of this step because it was the hardest to figure out how to accomplish and I wanted to help y'all as much as possible!)
There was a little extra to be removed on some of them.
Once the calendar itself was completely painted, I applied a piece of scrapbook paper to the back and then set about glueing all the pieces into place. This was difficult and I had my husband help me force a few into their spot because I couldn't get it and was afraid of breaking it with my effort. When the boxes were done and the calendar was assembled, the really fun part began--I got to decide how I wanted to do the numbers on each box and how to decorate the middle section.
In order to eliminate some work and to add some shine,
I used red glitter stickers for half the numbers.
The kit comes with little cardboard numbers for you to paint and glue onto the boxes. This step took about a day because it's hard to get paint on the whole thing without painting your fingers, so you have to let them dry a lot.
Once the numbers were all dry, I glued them in place using craft glue.
I didn't know quite how to write the day's activity on a piece of paper small enough to fit inside the little boxes while also being large enough to actually read, so I came up with this strip idea. I cut white cardstock into 1 inch wide strips and used a gold paint Sharpie to write out the activities before folding into fourths and putting into the right box. (Side note: My husband had an idea of writing on the back of the slip the year we did each activity, so that over the years we would have record of which years we did which things and I love that idea so much I thought I'd add it here for y'all.) I made about 40 strips total, with things we would definitely do this year and things we definitely want to do at some point. Some are more expensive in terms of time or money, so we chose things for each day that fit our schedule/our family this year.
Once I was done with the strips, I put them in their boxes and decorated the center. I was most looking forward to decorating the center and I love how it turned out. I used some stickers, some velum, some glitter cardstock, my printer printing red, and some puffy adhesive squares. All making it totally unique and totally fitting into our decor for Christmas.
One of the great things about this is that if we need to move things around to better accommodate some last-minute change, we can easily pull the strips out and rearrange things. I expect to have to do that several times this year. For this reason, I printed a free December 2015 calendar from online and wrote each days' activity on it in pencil so I'll have a master copy of the things so I know where things are located without having to pull each box/strip out to find what I might be looking for.
The bigs were old enough to hang their own stockings and I loved that!
Overall, I Love it! I'm excited to have this from year to year, I love that we made it, I love that it's to our tastes, but it's definitely time consuming and we joked all the time about what Labor of Love this calendar was. Once we got started we realized just how long it would take and I considered scrapping the whole thing! So, my advice to you is to expect to be working on it for quite awhile. If you're not ready to spent hours on it, Leave it!

Lastly, A huge shout-out to my husband who helped me with this project. It was probably more than I should have tackled with a baby, a toddler, and preschooler around and his help allowed me to actually finish in time for December. Without him, I would have still been working on it next year! Thanks, babe!

Update: Here is how I've been hanging the strips of paper to show that we're getting closer and closer to Christmas (thus, the countdown part). I simply bought fun clothes pins and silver ribbon at Michaels and strung the ribbon on some shelving we have in the family room. It didn't turn out quite how I thought it would, but I'm happy enough with it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

After School Questions cards

As a BoyMom, I'm really aware of the fact that I need to get my boys to be able to embrace and understand their feelings and learn to discuss hard or difficult things with us. (It seems all the studies show that females do more talking and thus have an easier time discussing things like that.) I don't want my boys growing up thinking mad, sad, glad are the only emotions that exist! In one of those naive thoughts before I had kids, I was adamant that they wouldn't just say "fine" "nothing" "ok" to questions we would ask about school. And then I had kids and guess what they say when I ask how school was that day! "Fine."

The boys are currently only 7m, 3 and 5, so I don't expect the big two to say a whole lot of super in-depth stuff, but I definitely found that asking pointed questions helps. If I ask who they sat by at lunch, I can get a whole paragraph out of them about who they sat with, who they actually wanted to sit with, do I think they could ask the teacher to let them sit where they want to, etc. But I can't just ask about their lunch partner every day, so I was looking for some other questions to ask them.

And then someone posted a link on Facebook to this blog with free, printable After School Question Cards and I didn't hesitate to take a look, print, and make our own jar of them! The questions are all really good, and they even include a few blank ones for you to write your own questions. I mostly added things incorporating our faith into them, so "Who should we be praying for? Why?" was the first one I thought to include. After printing, writing, and cutting, I had them laminated. (It's a lot of work cutting all those little things out, so I wanted them to last!) Then I stuck them in a jar I already had sitting in the closet and voila! easy-peasy way to get the boys to talk more about their day at school. (I'm so thankful that people know how to create things like this and then leave them on the internet for us to get for free!!!)

Love it!
I should mention that the questions are aimed at slightly older kids, ages 5 and up, I'd say. Some of them won't be applicable to us for quite a while, but it's good to have already!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Meal Delivery Services: Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh

I recently got some coupons for two different meal delivery services and thought I'd compile our journey with them, comparing and contrasting our experience. First, let's start with the pictures!

Blue Apron

Everyone loved this recipe!
So much so that we wanted to scrape the bowl clean!
This was lasagna with zucchini noodles instead of pasta noodles.
So much lighter and still all the flavor!

The Results:

First of all, I'm sorry I didn't take more Blue Apron pictures. It was simply because I forgot. Not because the meals weren't as good or anything having to do with them. That was totally my fault.

If this was in our budget, I would TOTALLY do this again. Maybe not every week because having three meals planned for me felt a little too much, a little too confining (we're in the stage of life where I text the hubs on his way home to grab take-out or we have a day where eating cereal for dinner seems like a success!), but certainly every other week would be great! The recipes were easy-enough to follow (and I don't consider myself a cook!) and meals were delish! The boys loved pretty much everything we cooked from them. I loved that we had yummy dinners awaiting me but I didn't have to search for the recipe and wander around the grocery store finding everything we needed.

For each service, the recipes were printed on large cards, about the size of a piece of paper, the ingredients were fresh and pre-portioned for you, the meals yummy. The box would show up on the porch and I would transfer the food to the fridge, ready to pull out when we had time for dinner. I think there's so much they had in common that it's really hard to say which would be considered the "winner" and which the "loser."

But, since it's not much of a review if I don't pick a winner, based just on the two weeks we had delivered, I would select Hello Fresh to be our service. The ingredients came in boxes with cool packs for each service, but Hello Fresh went a step beyond and had all things you needed for each meal in a little box, so finding everything you needed for that night was EASY. And, at this stage of life EASY is a big factor. The white boxes were a bit of a challenge to fit in the fridge, but grabbing a box to start dinner more than made up for that in my mind.

Overall, I really enjoyed having the meal delivery service. Like I said, if this was in our budget, I would totally have it delivered every other week. It's not right now, so I'll just have to pine away wishing it was...

So, have you tried a meal delivery service? Have you Loved it! like I have?