Christmas Anticipation

I think the entire month of December is *almost* better than Christmas Day itself. The anticipation of Christmas and all of the excitement surrounding the big event is what I really love, because there are so many fun moments and traditions to be had. Christmas Day is great and all but I'm a sucker for the entire month of December. Except for when our temperatures drop into the single digits, but let's not go there right now. (So cold all of a sudden).

Christmas pajamas help.
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We even got about 4 inches of snow one day this month, but it's been gradually melting ever since. I forgot how pretty snow can be and how much I like it....in December, at least. (Not in April).
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We've gotten a real tree for the past three years or so, since both Nate and I grew up with the real deal and we wanted to do the same for our kiddos (and also the smell is unbeatable). This was the first year we went to an actual tree farm, complete with the experience of Nate chopping down our chosen tree and dragging it to the van. It was the cutest little place and had free hot cocoa, hot cider, cookies, face painting, and a craft for the kids. ALSO, Santa made an appearance so between all of that madness we had some very pleased children hopped up on sugar.

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The Friday after Thanksgiving, I pulled down our three large Christmas containers from the attic. The kids helped me decorate the inside of the house that morning while Nate was at work. Then Saturday we got our tree and decorated that same day. Sunday Nate hung the outside lights. We were on FIRE with Christmas decorations. We aren't always this on top of things but the kids are at perfect ages for Christmas magic. They were giddy as they pulled out all of the decorations and ornaments. They helped me make a paper link chain countdown calendar. We've been hanging the Christmas cards we receive in the mail. And of course, our Elf on the Shelf came back on St. Nick's Day, so the kids are going nuts for Candy Cane Jane. I almost forgot to move her on the second night she was here, so that's a great start.

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Not all of the ornaments, we have SO many and love them all.
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Truman took these next pictures and is seriously learning about manual mode on my camera! And Nate is just being Nate.
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Outside!
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Regarding St. Nick's Day---does anyone else do this besides Catholics (current, or recovering) in Wisconsin? After posting a picture on Instagram, many people were confused by this 'holiday' and asked if St. Nick is the same as Santa. He is not, in fact, the same guy. My cliff notes version, as someone who had never even heard of this holiday before living in Wisconsin and moving into a semi-Catholic family, is that St. Nick was a pretty generous guy. He is big in Europe and kids will put their shoes out at night, hoping St. Nick will bring candy and treats and small toys. In the US, it's specifically most German Catholics that live in the supper midwest that seem to celebrate St. Nick. Highly technical research proves this is the group that participates, a.k.a. Instagram. Nate grew up getting some candy and a small toy in his stocking on the morning of December 6th. We've been doing the same thing for our kids, except I also like to include their yearly ornament, some window clings, Christmas pajamas, a new winter hat and gloves, and anything really Christmas-y that needs to be used before the big day to get the most effect out of these weeks.

This year we admittedly went a little overboard. Cecelia has been begging for a 'blow up like on Candy Cane Lane,' and Nate found a seven foot Santa for $34. We knew it would be a mega hit so we set him up after the kids went to bed on December 5th. I also got several things from Target and jammed them into the stockings.

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The kids slept like crap the night before St. Nick came. Porter didn't know why he was amped up, but he sure was amped. He woke at 3:00am, 3:30am, and 4:00am asking if he could get up yet. He also told me at bedtime the night before, 'Mommy, tomorrow you all come and get me from my crib. Then I get cookies, candy, tootsie rolls, apple cider, a Thomas set, and cake.' Seriously this kid!

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The big kids were also awake super early, I heard them talking at 5am in their room. Nate had declared they could come downstairs at 6am, since he was leaving for work at 6:30am and he wanted to see their reactions. At 6:00 on the dot, I heard Truman tell Cecelia it was time. So we all went to get Porter, and came downstairs. They saw our Elf right away and also the blow up Santa outside. I tried to get a video of their reactions but I was too tired to keep recording for long. ;) Needless to say, their minds were blown. They were extremely happy with their stocking loot, and only asked to have candy about a million times before the 8:00 hour. St. Nick's coming made for an extremely long day for me and the kids, but hey----it's all in the Christmas spirit, yes?

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Some other happenings: the big kids had their annual Holiday Sing at school this week, and it was unbelievably adorable.
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They both dressed up for their concert and Nate and I both rushed home after seeing a few patients in the morning, to arrive at the 10am concert. Tony and Lois came with Porter, too, and saved us seats (thankfully!). Cecelia's class was crazy-good for a bunch of four year olds and Truman's class was super intense and focused on their message about not eating Poinsettias, and how they were going to be nice not naughty. I find it so interesting that all of these songs rarely even mention the word 'Christmas'. I mean, I know it's a public school and Christ is out, 'Holidays' are in, since everyone's beliefs need to be included. It's just such a sharp contrast to how I grew up singing about baby Jesus in the manger, although I did go to a Lutheran grade school. One song Cecelia sang was 'We Wish you a Merry Christmas' and that might have been it for the 'C' word. It was every bit worth it too, with awesome hand gestures.

We have our annual neighborhood 'house crawl' tomorrow night, which is always a fantastic time (adults only, obvi). Next week I am chairing the Teacher's Cookie Exchange at school, which is a lot of work on the front end but hopefully not too awful on the day itself. We encourage the families to bake and send in cookies, so that the teachers can fill tins with a few dozen cookies with lots of variety. This way each family doesn't have to feel the need to bake cookies for the teachers individually and those that can do it seem to enjoy it. Then the following week I am volunteering and helping to plan both Cecelia's and Truman's class party. Again, I freaking love this stuff but am starting to realize that there is just a LOT going on right now. I still need to buy plenty of presents for people, although we might be mostly set for the kids' gifts. My mom and dad, probably my brother, and Nate's brother and his wife are all coming to visit us the week after Christmas. It's going to be a grand old time!

Truman's Christmas list:
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Paper chain link:
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We also decorated a gingerbread house as a family, it was hilarious and then Porter couldn't take it anymore and had to eat a bunch of the candy. The end.
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This time of year is busy and hectic, and overwhelming if I let it become so, and yet? I just love it. Especially with kids, Christmas is just the best!

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Review + Giveaway | Mental Blox 360 3D Building Game

It's been a hot minute since I did a review and a giveaway on this blog, yes? What better time than December, when you are probably making lists and shopping for plenty of kids that seem to have everything already! #LearningResources has something that might fit your criteria.

When offered to review the Mental Blox 360 3D Building Game, I immediately said yes because it looked like something clever and different that we don't already have in his house. Sure, we have standard blocks and Legos, but this is geared more towards ages 5+ and is a real brain exercise. A 'smart toy' that has nothing to do with technology for once. Score!

I had all three of my kids open the box from Learning Resources when it arrived, and I wasn't sure which child would really dig this gift the most. I sort of thought Porter would like to just stack the blocks because of pretty colors, and I figured Cecelia would like organizing all of the guide cards. But Truman? He takes the cake with this game and is totally obsessed.

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This is a game where you pick a guide card and it tells you which blocks to use. Then it shows you a configuration from a certain angle---either looking down on the blocks from above, or from the side. It's all about point of view and spatial relations, so it's more than just stacking the blocks however you please. Truman started with the easiest card and moved to the medium cards quickly. Then he pulled out the hardest cards, which are edged in red and I got a little panicky. Spatial relations are HARD man, my brain isn't great with all of those abstract angles and such. But Truman takes after his dad and completely nails it.

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We had some trouble with card #37 and even looking at the answer on the back was tricky. We saved the hardest card, #40, for Nate when he got home from work. I should have continued to take pictures of his debut with this game because he was absolutely focused and got it assembled right away. Truman was in awe!

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The little kids liked their own version of this game, too, and Cecelia could accurately assemble the first card configuration which made me super proud. Mostly she just likes to stack the blocks in fun ways, as does Porter. But I'd say for first graders and above this game really packs a punch. Truman told me before school one day that he wanted to try the hardest cards as soon as he returned from school, so I shouldn't put away the box because he had plans to master it in the evening. And he will just sit there and work through the cards without getting frustrated somehow. It's like this game was meant for his brain, that's for sure.

It's kind of fun to have the kids put this away, too, because inside of the box there is an outline showing how to make each of the shapes fit well. Total bonus for me, so that they don't get thrown into a big pile and shoved somewhere.

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The game is sold online at Learning Resources, and today they are giving one of my readers a set of blocks. You have to be in the U.S. (sorry, international readers) and you'll need to visit the Rafflecopter link below to enter. I'll randomly draw a winner on 12/10/16. Ready, set, go!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Favorite Shows for Binge Watching

This is completely random, yet again, and has absolutely nothing to do with Thanksgiving or Christmas. Let's begin!

Nate and I have been watching a decent amount of TV in the past year, sticking to Netflix after the kids go down. We go in streaks, truly binging on a show until it's completed and then we take a break for awhile because we feel very unproductive when vegging out in front of the TV each night. BUT STILL. It's fun to binge watch in streaks.

1. Weeds: I am currently watching Weeds by myself, it's been my go-to 'treadmill' show and I'm really into it. I'm in the middle of season three and have decided that Nancy is hilarious but her wardrobe is somewhat 'off', Andy is the best and the most cringe-worthy, and Celia is amazing and also awful. And Doug? Best character ever. See how this show is full of characters that are both great and horrible? My cliff notes for those who haven't seen it: Nancy is a suburban mom/widow who sells pot, and she is just the right mix of totally crazy but relatable. She also loves to drink from a straw. It's weird, it's funny, it's intriguing. I dig it.

2. Narcos: Nate and I just started this series, so we are on season one. Another show about drugs, but this time no suburban mom and much less humor involved compared to Weeds. I mean, the drug is cocaine and not weed so it's obviously a little more intense. Lots of subtitle reading, for those of us not fluent in Spanish, and it's pretty gruesome/gory. I can't wait to see how Pablo turns out. He's apparently the Robin Hood of Colombia, and is a bajillionaire drug trafficker. Intense and a little depressing but somehow we are hooked.

3. Walking Dead: no drugs, just zombies here! This was one show that Nate began last year at this time and I absolutely REFUSED to watch with him. I could hear the nasty gurgling of the zombies from the other room and really hated the way the 'walkers' walked. I mean, what a horrible premise for a show, right? Well, gradually the nasty audio effects started to become less repulsive and the characters started to grow on me. Seriously, these characters are so lovable, so relatable---for the end-of-the-world, must-kill-zombies type of thing. We binged on all of the old seasons and then caught up to real time seasons. And now the current season is back on AMC, so we bought the season pass on iTunes because we don't have cable. The start of this season gave me actual nightmares and it sort of stole our mojo with the entire show. So depressing. Really want the hope to come back, ASAP.

4. Nurse Jackie: this was the last 'treadmill show' I watched without Nate. Huh, another show about drugs---what is my problem?! I LOVED this show though, it was a little dark but still had the right mix of humor and awesome characters. Jackie is the main character, she is an ER nurse, pretty hard core, and addicted to pills. You want her to kick the habit for the entire series and root for her to move on with her life. On the very last episode of the series, I had no idea it was the last. When it ended, I was so confused and kept flipping through Netflix looking for the next season. Then I read a bunch of stuff online feeling panicked and like I didn't pay enough attention to the last show ever! I have come to terms with it, though.

5. Stranger Things: Nate and I whipped through this show in about three days. Only one season so far, and you cannot go wrong with 80's nostalgia! It seemed super creepy at first, like I didn't want to watch it alone and didn't really get the hype. By the end we were all in, Eleven is the best and the Christmas light scene still kind of haunts me.

6. Dexter: we finished this series about a year ago, I think. I might have mentioned it here but we just really liked it a lot. A likable serial killer? I know, sounds ridiculous. Really dark and intense but still so good. Probably the most gruesome one of the bunch, besides Breaking Bad which also gave me nightmares.

Series that we couldn't finish/didn't care enough:
1. Orange is the New Black: we watched the first two seasons and then just didn't want to watch anymore. Very meh after season one.

2. House of Cards: obsessed for the first few seasons, and after the subway incident I think it went downhill. That was a heart-stopper, though!

3. Mad Men: people love this show but it was so SLOW for us. We did finish the first season but fizzled out sometime in the second. Perhaps we should re-watch it sometime?

Personal favorite 'binge' show of all times: (drum roll, please)...

Friday Night Lights: a far cry from the above 'drug and murder' shows, this one still gets me right in the ticker. Just hearing the theme song is enough to make me weak in the knees. I am one million percent on Team Saracen, just so you know. I'm sorry, Riggins fans. His hair is too oily and needs a headband to keep it out of his face. Matt Saracen is perfection. DO NOT ARGUE, it's true. I am not a fan of Julie Taylor though. And the whole story line with Lyla and...the other quarterback who was paralyzed (help me on his name, can't remember!) got a little drawn out for me. I think this show kind of reminds me of my high school for the small town, football obsessed feel of things. But the characters are amped up, beautified versions of my high school, of course. Anyway, my parents have watched this show several times and it makes me want to start from the very beginning and get at it. This show will always remind me of Porter's pregnancy, so tender feelings abound.

So what should be our next show? I promise we don't only like dark, drug, murder-y ones.
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