DON'T MISS OUT!

Christmas Guidance for Moms

Christmas:

I know I have posted some of this before years ago in different essays but I wanted to set it out again. (I sometimes I just wish I could tell my younger self these things.)  

Christmas is what we decide it will be and that means there is a need to guard our hearts and homes a little-relatives, the media, the neighbors, friends, stores, your church, etc, will all come into play as an influence so it is right and good to set out in our heads what we want Christmas to look like for our family.

---If we want to keep it simple and religious, then deciding ahead of time how we will go about "guarding our hearts and homes" is a necessity.  What we allow into our home, is what will influence those little ones in our home-from the gabs of toy magazines, and commercials vs. the Advent calendar and Nativity.  We will be the thoughtful filter, the idea-shaper for how we want our Christmas season to look for our families.

---Start small, very very small.  We all know a one year old will play with the box.  (And I have had eight year olds have just as much fun with a box too?:)  The more gifts equals the more shopping and wrapping and planning and DOING (and the more stuff in your house to clutter it!).  And when children start remembering what last year was like there is a certain expectation (not ill-willed-we all have expectations) to look forward to.  Things get more costly, and life gets busier as one adds children to the family.

It is much easier just to start as you mean to go along. There are SO many great ideas of how to keep things simple and the expectations in check, and all of them are neat traditions like the three gifts to represent the gifts of the Magi, or something to read, wear and play with, etc.  I've learned most of these cute little tidbits of genius through friends, but wish I would have learned them 22 years ago when I first started out.

---Find a way to make it relatively peaceful and fun.  It SHOULD be fun!  As I added babies in with toddlers and older children, my idea of fun had to become very simple I learned, because chaos day after day is NOT fun and the daily needs of children and the household still existed and must be met first. That means weeding out what made things chaotic, and narrowing it to a few traditions that really counted. We don't have to bake and craft and go to parties every day, maybe just once the entire month. If there is anything that we all have to struggle with today, it's too many choices, and opportunities and then there is Pinterest.  

---And expectations!  It isn't a requirement to make gifts for the entire neighborhood, and teacher's gifts can be very very simple and then after all guess what?  I have the best news!  There is NO Christmas elf that will come and arrest us and throw us in jail if we don't do teacher gifts or neighbor gifts or postman gifts or Elf on the Shelf, or if we skip taking your kids to visit mall Santa, etc etc etc.  We won't go to Christmas jail (but a day in solitary confinement might sound ok on December 26th? Will they serve hot cocoa and let us bring a book?:)

So we must learn to let it go if we can't do it, or don't want to do it, or can't afford to do it, or just had a colicky baby (hello Andrew!) or are due on Christmas Eve with your fifth baby (hello Patrick!). 

All of this extra stuff, like most of life, has gone hog wild in the last decade to the point where it's all almost laughable.  Such high expectations, such busyness, it's no wonder we feel overwhelmed. It should not be one bit about stress, but about peace and that comes in simplicity and discretion and thoughtfulness.  That is where the Christmas magic is found in the first place.

And last, the most important thing:

One day a mother's Christmas will change. And it hurts our hearts I assure you. It will make us shed tears of reminiscence and nostalgia and sadness for what will never be again.  PLEASE, if you have little ones, just enjoy it.  Soak it all up.  Don't run yourself ragged and miss the "sparkly eyes" because you are too busy and tired.  Don't waste time striving for perfection or stressing about incidentals. If you have believers in your home, treasure it.  If you have shouts of joy on Christmas morning as a child unwraps a present that cost $7.99, revel in it. One day things will change-and not change for the terribly worse, but it will change.  Surprise and joy and wonder are at their height in the young childhood years and one day you will wish them desperately back if just for a moment. 

Set the path before you, walk slowly and carefully, and keep your head clear and focused and have a simple vision.  

Some past thoughts on Christmas here and here.

Our Favorite Games


Favorite Toys here.
Favorite Books here.
Teen Gift Ideas here.
Ideas by age/interest level here.

After reading my favorite toys post a week ago, Jeff informed me that I "forgot" to include all of the games the kids love.  I put "forgot" in quotations because I think I might have done that accidentally on purpose subconsciously.  I am not a game person-I can play a few: Scrabble, Candy Land,  Zingo.  Pretty much that's it.  I just don't have the patience, or the attention span, or maybe it's the lack of competitive spirit.  I am terrible at logic and deduction and all that fancy stuff.

So here's a guest post written (and updated every year) by my husband, game nerd extraordinaire, who never ever takes a pass. Most of these games are for the five, six, or seven year old and up crowd, and quite a few are one-player for when Jeff's not around.

Here's Jeff:
I grew up playing games, cards and puzzles.  Sarah grew up reading books.

Like a Tetrus puzzle, there are different challenges to fit the wood pieces into the grid.  Six and up-the games adjusts to make it easier for younger kids.  All the kids in the family enjoy it.

2,837 Five Star reviews!!!
An awesome fun game that the whole family enjoys.  For two to five players, the object of the game is to travel to as many cities as you can in just seven days.

Like an old-fashioned top, that needs to navigated through the maze by tilting it.

We have four of these and they are ADDICTING!  So much fun.  You guide a marble through the maze by tilting the ball in your hands.  Ages six to adult.  These are great to set around the house-they are irresistible. 

This if for ages 8 and above and it IS difficult. The edges of each tile must match black to black and white to white.

All Think Fun Games get great reviews-they cater to all different ages from toddler to adult also.

Shake the cube and then match the pattern as fast as possible to win-a two-player game.


This is a great two player game where you try and trap your opponent before they trap you.  What is nice about this game is my 9 year old gives me a strong challenge every time we play.  It is very easy to learn, but once you play a few times you start to understand different strategies to win.  This is great when you are tired of chess or checkers.  Each game takes only about 5 minutes to complete.

Rubik's Cube- Our kids have viewed tutorials on YouTube to help solve the cube.  Isaac can solve it in under a minute and Andrew under three minutes.  I tried to solve it 25 years ago without any technological assistance, but never did, until YouTube!
Boggle-Our kids got onto a big scrabble kick this past year.  Andrew liked Boggle better.  You make up as many words as you can in three minutes.  We play together at night before bed and help each other try to set a new record for words found.  We sometimes re-shake it if the letter that come up are too tough.  
LONPOS Rectangular and Pyramid Puzzle-This is really two puzzle/pattern games in one.  Each puzzle is gradually more difficult.  The pyramids are fun to build.  

Rush Hour-We have Rush Hour and Rush Hour Two.  You just have to drive the red car out of the game by moving the other cars out of its way.  I think I have played this game more than the kids.

Solitaire Chess This is also a puzzle game where you use chess pieces and moves to capture and remove all the pieces until there is just one piece left.  You do not have to know how to play chess to play it, but you do have to know how the different chess pieces move.  Like Rush Hour, the easy cards help you learn how to play and get you hooked. 

Monopoly Deal-A fast way to play a game of Monopoly using playing cards.  I think this was the "in" game sweeping the country last year-our kids learned it from friends out in Colorado, and as soon as we left their house, they all begged us to stop and get a deck.  It has been worth every penny.

Qwirkle Cubes- This is a great game where both adults and kids can have fun together.  We have both Qwirkle and Qwirkle Cubes, unless Qwirkle found its way into one of Sarah's 40 black bags.  

Our kids still play this game four years later.  It is hard to not get addicted to attempting to beat your time again and again.

Guess Who Mix and Mash-Andrew is Mr. Game.  He is Jeff Junior.  This is one of his favorites.

Chess, Checker and Backgammon Set - It folds up and latches, and all the pieces fit inside which is why Sarah bought it. 


This year we bought a new chess set, as the chess playing moved to the low table on the porch that was constantly getting bumped by younger siblings.  For Father's Day we bought this magnetized version and a timer (to prevent the constant arguments over who was taking to long.
This clip on ping pong net is another new addition and fun-fits on any table.

Our Favorite Building Toys


Here's an updated list of our favorite, most-played with, delivered-to-your-doorstep, Mom-approved toys.

And here are our favorite games.
Here are some great teen gift ideas.
An abridged list by age/interest.
All updated!

Here are our favorite building toys over the years:

Duplos-We started with a basic set and then added a Thomas the Train set (they just sell a generic train now.) We've had so much fun with these.

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Legos-We have more of these than any family should have, but I think Legos are the best-they really teach kids concentration, precision (you can't miss a step!) and how to work through a project till finished-and how to go back and find a mistake and correct it....patience and perseverance!  I can't say enough about them.  We've always been a fan of the kits, but we started out with a big basic box.

Yes, they are expensive (I think if you stay away from the commercial brands (Star Wars, Batman) they aren't too bad), but I always justified it by the fact they ARE so educational.  The kids worked up from little kits to more complicated ones at different rates.  I would suggest starting early (4?) with an easy set and moving up.  Lego Technic is great for those kids who don't just want models but really want to play with them-they don't fall apart at easy.

Lego City was the favorite.  Matt was an expert and had the train set and some of the more specialty Lego like the Eiffel Tower.

Lego Mindstorms is an investment, but will be handed down at this house so it was worth it (and a great substitute for parents who don't want video games or computer games played, but something more educational).  This is so cool and if your child is into robotics and computers AND Legos this is perfect.  Matt received this when he was starting his teens years I believe.

This Wedgit set appeals to ALL ages from toddlers to adults. It comes with little cards to match, but it's fun to just fool around with also.  

Train sets!  This is a collection for sure, added on to slowly over the years and the children, and appeals to boys and girls.  We love Thomas the Train, so the kids have had some videos and books and I have heard many of those stories reenacted on our tracks.  Our collection started slowly with a basic kit, and then we added on which is perfect for gift giving.


Marble runs!  This Hape wooden set above is great, but I would suggest it for older children (it does come with photo of all different ways to assemble the run but it takes patience.)  The plastic one is much easier for younger children.  My kids have loved both of these.


Another marble rail system, but requires more building skill-this one can spread out over a whole room and takes more engineering (more learning!).  The kids really work together with this one.

The boys really loved Snap Circuit set-lots of different ways to make this work, and really fun to experiment.

I have always sung the praises of these Magna Tiles-fom very little ones, to adult, these magnetized blocks are awesome.  They have been used to make sculptures but also homes for plastic animals, and dolls, etc. These will always be out in my living room for the rest of my life I think.

This track is SO fun.  The kids have to learn how these tracks snap together but maybe around four years old, they can do it easily (before that I have helped them build.)  The motorized cars are fun and the batteries last for a long time.

Kapla Blocks are awesome-another one that appeals to all ages and has many different uses (mazes to sculptures to Nerf Gun targets).  It's a perfect indoor winter activity.

Gift Ideas Galore

For the little girl who loves babies:
These books are Janey's favorites:
Little Mommy
The New Baby
Baby Listens
This is a good little baby doll for very little girls (I bought this for Janey when she was two) as it is small:
Corolle Calin Baby Doll

Bigger girls:
I can't resist the packaging and quality...
...but I don't really think a little girl gives a hoot what "brand" a doll is, there are many affordable options like these for under $35.
Melissa & Doug 12" Jenna Doll
Berenguer 15" Baby Doll with Gift Set


Accessories:
Set of four flannel receiving blankets (only $8)  Janey uses these all the time for her babies.
A front pack carrier.
A stroller: Patrick and Janey both loved to push a little stroller for our walks.

For the little girl or boy who loves crafts:

Play dough recipe found here (can be packaged up cute in air tight containers.)
A large bucket of cookie cutters.
Real rolling pin.
Pink Roses / Flowers - Childs / Kids / Mini -  PVC / Oilcloth Apron - Wipe clean - Childs apron - waterproof apron

A child size apron (these oil cloth Etsy ones are so cute!)

ALSO:

For basic art supplies we use:
Pip-Squeek Markers
Colored Pencils
Drawing Books-  (These are great-Usborne Drawing Books.)
Paper Cutter: This is a favorite item for all kids-obviously be careful as the blade is super sharp but covered-I started letting my kids play with this around 3 when I knew they would be careful.
Construction Paper
Tracing Paper  (So good for learning to draw and hand/eye coordination.)
Clipboard for tracing paper. (Don't forget to show them how to tape down tracing paper so it doesn't slip, or if tracing from a book use clips.)
Watercolors.
Washable paints.
Set of real brushes. (they need decent brushes!)

Activity books:
Usborne sticker books are very nice.
Melissa and Doug sticker books are big hits here, particularly this one and this one.

A homework box is a great idea! Some of the art supplies above, with a notebook and paper in a clear box.  Also these stencils are used here often, (these stencils are super neat for kids!) and envelopes and stickers from the dollar store for notes.

Crafts for older kids:
We loved Shrinky Dinks jewelry, or this kit. 
And this paper fashion set-Abbey LOVED this.
A super cute clay charms kit.
String art for boys or girls-someone is getting this, this year.
Friendship bracelet kit-a classic.
The boys LOVED their rubber band kits.

I think this is SO cute, I remember making these as a kid:
Pom pom pets.

For pretend play around the house:
This grocery cart.
Janey loves this cash register.
This kitchen. (warning: lots of pieces to put together!!! but so cute and sturdy when finished)
We have this food and kitchen set: Hape - Playfully Delicious - Gourmet Kitchen Starter Play Set
We love this cute tea set.
Cutting food and the sandwich maker are a favorite also.
I also found that the reusable kid's gift bags are great pretend grocery bags.

She also might need a purse and a wallet, the more pockets the better!

Janey sets up a "store" all over the family room and I sit at the register, she shops and I ring and put in the bag and repeat, repeat, repeat.

This Fisher Price dollhouse has been a HUGE HUGE hit for Janey this year.  This dollhouse and so many accessories were borrowed from some cousins who have outgrown them and she has played, and played, and played hours with this set.  

For the boy who loves football and soccer and every other sport:
This basketball hoop is a huge hit and takes your living room decor to the next level (a trade off for burned off boy energy, so worth it!  And ours is still going strong with teenage boys playing on it.)
These gloves.
This football.
Kicking tee.
This play white board.
These football guys (or soccer guys and baseball guys and hockey guys).

Favorite sports magazine and books:
Sports Illustrated for Kids. (my boys love the cards that come with every issue.)
Big Book of Who All-Stars.
Sports Illustrated What Are The Chances?
Childhood of Famous Americans Sports Guys books,

For the builder:
All Lego building sets.  My boys have loved anything Lego, especially Lego City building sets. If you start with a big basic box, I would suggest this Lego idea book and one or two base plates.

For little guys the Duplos are great.  We have a huge basic set, than a Thomas Train set, which is discontinued, but they do still have a "generic" train set and track.
Also for little guys, the Build A Road has been a favorite.
Kapla blocks are awesome for ALL ages. 


For the mom who loves outside toys:)
All time favorite is a basic scooter. (Ours has gone through so many boys and jumps and crashes and still is as good as new.)  This three wheel scooter is super fun and is used often.
These rip riders are huge hits and still are played with consistently-they have been crashed into, and once I ran one over that was left in the driveway-miraculously they survive.
For littler guys this plasma car is great.


For the reader:
A headlamp for reading at night.
I agonized over getting this Kindle for Andrew when he was in 5th grade but I love it-he uses it a lot (but still reads "real" books also.  It allowed him to keep up the pace of his ferocious book appetite without driving me mad with library visits-we've never paid for a book either-all rented downloads through the library.)
All of our favorite books are in the sidebar.
Have you read Where the Red Fern Grows to your children?  Or they can read it if old enough, it's our favorite.
Also there is a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid out they've been begging me to get.

For the teenage boy who offers up no gift suggestions ever:
A long board.
Jansport back packs have a lifetime guarantee (I know this because I sent one back and they reimbursed me!)
Gym bags.
Quadcopter.
These head phones work as well as the expensive ones, or so I've heard.
These maze puzzles appeal to all ages, and are irresistible for bored kids (and adults)...we have four of them!

For the teenage girl who loves makeup:
This eye shadow.
Or even more eyeshadow.
Brush set.
Remember caboodles?  If you were a teen in the 80's you do.  We couldn't find them but this art organizer works just as well. (Abbey bought this for college.)
This nail polish.

College kids:
Coffee cups (Anthro always has cute ones, but Janey and I found one just as cute at the Dollar Store. :) or travel cup.
A phone sticker that holds cards.
I love this Mary necklace-I have one and Abbey will also.
A super soft blanket (this one comes in tons of colors) for their dorm.
Nice warm socks (boy and girls).
A soft fluffy robe for girls.  (Aerie also has good ones but wait for a sale!)
Slippers for guys.  (Isaac wore these as shoes in college-also Land's End has great sales.)

Let me know if you have questions or if I missed an age group and you need help.


Tons more ideas all updated this year and for all ages here.
21 Years of Our Best-Loved, Most-Used Quality Toys!