Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Simple Advent Activity Calendar


I love the tradition of having an advent activity calendar.  Some people do candies or gifts each day, and I think those are fun too.  We, however, decided a few years ago to start activities.

In the past we have used little envelopes stamped with each day’s number…


But I’ve noticed that it seems like everyone does the envelopes and tiny clothespins now…so I put my thinking cap on and tried to come up with something unique.  I have been inspired this year by old-fashioned homemade decorations.  In fact, one of our advent activities is to head to a Christmas tree farm this weekend then make decorations for the tree.  Think popcorn garlands and candy ornaments!  Fun, huh?  I’ve noticed that lots of homemade decorations are made from paper, so that’s where I started.

I headed to Hobby Lobby and picked up 8 pieces of scrapbook paper (I figured I could get 3 trees from each piece of paper).  I looked for patterns that had sort of a vintage Christmas feel.  They were .25 each.  I grabbed a branch from our scrap pile out back and decided to hang the mini paper trees from it.  Hanging a branch in your house and adding ornaments is not a new idea.  I’ve seen it a few times.  I just thought the idea would be good for our little advent trees too!

I had already thought of all our activities.  My suggestion on this is to start by looking locally for Christmas activities that you’d like to do. For example your town’s Christmas tree lighting, visiting Santa, a charity event or play/concert you’ll be attending.  I also have a couple “extra” activities just in case on the day we are supposed to do an activity something comes up and I need a quick change.  Here is our list…

  • Christmas Jammies
  • Christmas Craft
  • Make a Lego Christmas Scene
  • Choose an Ornament
  • Tree Lighting
  • Christmas Tree Farm
  • Decorate Tree
  • Give a Toy – Toys for Tots
  • Christmas Music Concert
  • Visit Santa
  • Christmas Craft
  • Read the real Christmas Story
  • Watch Elf
  • Visit Heard Natural Preserve
  • Make edible decorations
  • Carriage Ride
  • Go Look at Christmas Lights
  • Candlelit Dinner with Records
  • Family Movie Night
  • Family Game Night
  • Christmas Puzzle
  • Make Christmas Fudge
  • Watch Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Bake Christmas cookies
  • Chinese Food!
  • Read The Night Before Christmas

You can see that I have 26 things listed above but I only needed 24.  The extra two are the ones I’ll use if something needs to change due to weather, etc.

And here is how I made our simple little “trees”.  I already had stamps and the christmas twine (I’ve had both for forever – good investments.  That Christmas twine has lasted years and there is still a ton on the roll!)  I printed our list out and cut the activities into strips.


I created/cut a template for a tree then traced it on the paper.  the template is a shape like a triangle with a rounded bottom.


Then I taped the activity strip on the inside.  I also taped a piece of string to the “top”.


Then I folded the paper together to form a tree (cone) and taped it.


Finally, I used my stamps to add the number for the day the activity would be opened.


Then I tied the paper trees to the branch.  The kids can easily untie them on the day it will be opened.  The branch is hung by the same Christmas twine from the bottom of our mantle with command strip hooks.


So simple and cute!  And it cost me about 2 bucks…  I knocked it out in less than an hour while watching one of my gazillion Hallmark Christmas movies.  I’m obsessed with Christmas movies!

In addition to our family advent activities we also spend a few minutes each Sunday night working through our family advent guide.  It has a scripture and stories and songs and is a wonderful way to remind us of the reason for the season.  We also light the weekly candle.  This year we decided on simple mason jars to hold our candles instead of our more ornate usual advent candle holder.


I’m looking forward to sharing some of out activities over the next few weeks. This is, after all, the most wonderful time of year!

Thanks for reading!



“Homemade” Holiday Spice Cake


Homemade is not exactly accurate.  This cake is made from a box mix but I sorta think if you have to get the mixer out and turn the oven on it’s *almost* homemade.  Be prepared for a super easy cake recipe…  Here goes…

  1. Buy a boxed yellow cake mix.  They run anywhere from 1 – 2 bucks.  I’ve always heard you should keep a box on hand – they can be used for tons of dessert recipes.
  2. Follow directions on box…
  3. Here is my special part…. Remember when I bought that pumpkin pie spice a couple weeks ago?  Well, I added a tablespoon of the pumpkin pie spice and a splash of vanilla.  Then mixed…well, Milo mixed.


After it’s well mixed, pour into your greased and floured pan & bake according to directions.  We used a bunt cake pan because I think it looks prettier in our cake dome.  Seriously that is the only reason.  Ha!


Let your cake cool on a rack… While it’s cooling make this super easy caramel sauce that I mentioned in the pumpkin cheesecake post.  It’s Pioneer Woman’s and it is AMAZING.  That post that I linked to Pioneer Woman’s sauce is almost 2 years old but I was watching her Thanksgiving special earlier this week and she made the exact sauce and jarred it for all of her holiday pies!  It’s SO yummy.  Learn to make it and pour it on ALL THE DESSERTS!



Here is the hard part… After you make your caramel/brown sugar sauce, let it cool.  It’s SO hard to wait.  I actually coated my cake with a bit of it while it was a little warm because I wanted some to soak in and keep the cake moist.


Jar the rest of the sauce and use it for subsequent pieces of cake.  It makes for such a pretty presentation.


Told y’all it was easy.  It reminds me of the Cinnamon Cream Cake from Corner Baker… or that Amish friendship bread that I LOVE to eat with my morning coffee.  Have you had that?  Someone gives you some “starter” mix and it sits on your counter for a few days then you make friendship loaves and continue to pass around the recipe/starter.  I think it’s been around for a gazillion years… now I want some of that.  I’m going to have to go look on Pinterest to see if I can make a starter…  I haven’t had it in a while.

P.S.  Pumpkin Pie Spice doesn’t taste like pumpkin…it’s just a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.  You have to use it in conjunction with actual pumpkin to make a pumpkin pie/cake/cheesecake etc.

P.S.S.  I’ve had this cake mix in the pantry for a few weeks.  When I was at the grocery store last weekend they had boxes of spice cake in their holiday baking section… So I guess you could make it even easier by just BUYING a box spice cake mix… who knew.  But I think it’s still a good idea to have the plain cake mix and then you can use your spice cabinet to create whatever flavor your in the mood for!  Plus, having to actually measure out that tablespoon of pumpkin spice makes it feel a little more homemade, right?  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

P.S.S.S.  Found this link to the starter for Amish Friendship Bread.  This is just the starter, once the starter is ready you can use your favorite Friendship Bread recipe.  I’ve never made the starter, it’s always been given to me… I may try it… supposedly because it is made from this “starter” or sourdough process it has some pretty great health benefits.

Until next time,


Life Lately – Mid November


I am a freak about autumn… I am totally laying in a pile of leaves in a public place in the pic…

I can’t believe Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away!  Have you bought your turkey and planned out your meal?  I am such an over the top planner…  I actually plan our menu a month in advance with weekly grocery lists as well.  I’m almost finished with December’s menu and advent plans.  I haven’t made the advent calendar yet, but the list of activities we plan to do are done.


I’m an old school excel user for our budget and meal planning. I know there are better apps our there but I just can’t seem to get into them.

But before all that December and Advent talk… Thanksgiving!  We were originally going to have company for Thanksgiving but I think it may just be us this year.  I’m nut sure I need to go all out with a giant turkey…maybe I should just pick up a few turkey breasts.  We’ll see.

Here’s our Life Lately…

Working on our “turkey” banner craft last week.  Hahaha.  Everyone made one, this coming week we will be making placemats.  These are actually preschool crafts but you would be surprised how serious everyone takes their craft.  Even Gage, who is ALWAYS studying or working, took time to create one.



Playing in Autumn Leaves…


Baking pumpkin spice cakes… (will share my recipe later this week…)

Cady was doing a conditioning treatment on her hair! hahahaha!

Cady was doing a conditioning treatment on her hair! hahahaha!

Enjoying Peter Pan 360 in Dallas…



And much much more…  Still can’t announce the big change that is coming in our lives because I haven’t gotten the “go-ahead” yet.  Hopefully will find out more this week!  And I repeat… NO, I am not pregnant… no one is pregnant… hahaha.

I’m off to finish my coffee and have a second slice of our pumpkin spice cake!

Have a wonderful week!


Animals and Peanuts and more enjoying the season…

You may have gathered from the title of this post that it has no specific format or subject!  It’s mostly just what we’ve been up to the last week.

Are your animals part of your family?  Ours are for the most part…  Our dog, Syd, takes on the role of loyal favorite companion.  Our cat, Dunkin (but we almost always call him Kiki), takes on the role as a jerkhole that we all deal with.  Apparently that’s just how cats and dogs are for the most part.  They make our life interesting though.


Yep, that’s Kiki lounging in the running stroller, fully expecting a parade in his honor.  It was raining on this particular day so he was real pissed when he was hit with that first drop.  We thought it was hilarious – him, not so much.


He did eventually get over it when he found a suitable place on the couch.  Have I mentioned he is not allowed on the furniture? I tell him constantly to “get down!” and he just flips me the middle paw claw.

We had family visit over the weekend – cousins from Arizona that were in town for a dog agility competition.  I love having family here.  Gage gave up his room and there were some swaps and the air mattress ended up in our room with a couple of kids piled on top.


Of course this meant that Milo went several days in a row without a nap and now I’m not sure I will ever be able to get him to take another one.  I’m thinking our nap days might be coming to an end.  Cady took a nap until the day she started kindergarten…I think Milo might be done though.  I personally would still take a daily nap if allowed…  That air mattress is still up in our room even though our family flew home yesterday.  The kids are campaigning to make it a permanent fixture so they can lay on it while watching movies in our room.

I got up extra early Saturday morning to work on this project…


So that we could take Milo to his first movie…  This is a big deal if you are the son of a movie critic.  We saw Peanuts (in case you hadn’t guessed) and loved it.  He did fantastic and we are already planning our next movie outing.  Disney’s The Good Dinosaur, maybe?


After the movie, Milo took a nap.  Oh wait, that was me… I think Gage may be teaching him World of Warcraft or something like that tho.


Before our visiting cousins left, we were able to sneak up to the dog agility competition they were in town for.


Milo learned the ins & outs of dog agility…ok, maybe he just cheered for the dogs, either way it was fun!

And of course I’ve been soaking in every single yellow and orange leaf walk I can…



^ We totally made that with leaves on one of our afternoon walks, a walnut still in it’s fruit, berries and sticks.  Cutest turkey ever!


And sometimes, we even bring Syd along.

Before we knew it, the week and long weekend were over…  It was back to work (for me Gage and Matt) and back to school for Cady and Milo.


We are really looking forward to having a week off during Thanksgiving.  Perhaps we’ll have more visitors and plan more hikes and eat lots of yummy food.

Until next time,


Welcome November – the month of Thankfulness

The 31 day writing challenge was fun, but I’m happy to get back to my lackadaisical blogging style…which means I tend to write about everything and nothing.  Every year I feel a shift at the beginning of November.  As if we are preparing for holidays or winter or something like that.  Things seem to get cozier, I look forward to family and fireplaces…yummy food and falling leaves.  I drag the sweaters and Uggs out of storage and put away the tanks and flip flops.  I’m not one of those people that gets bent out of shape about people putting their Christmas tree up early or stores being flooded with decorations.  I know people seem to get offended that Thanksgiving isn’t getting it’s turn, but thanksgiving is a mindset – not a holiday.  And the holiday is made no less important if Target has their twinkly lights on display.  For real.  Thanksgiving is about gratitude – being thankful in your circumstances…for your adversity and for your joys… Granted, I’m not about to get our tree out or start in on Christmas stories before December, but if that’s your jam, then go for it.  As a side note and just to give myself a pat on the back, I have however finished all of my Christmas shopping…and even wrapped everything…


took this on Nov. 1… might be a new record.

This one is important to me because rushing around in December to buy meaningless gifts does take me out of the holiday spirit.  Have you been to a mall in Dallas on a Saturday in December – there is NO Jesus there, I’m serious… So I try and do the shopping early.  We do the 4 gifts policy in our family (1. something you want 2. something you need 3. something you wear 4. something you read).  I keep a running list of Christmas gift ideas in my phone all year.  This 4 gift practice and list keeps the gift giving under control.  And if I’m thoughtful about gifts I find that I can pick up things that are truly unique and meaningful to the person getting it!  And it keeps our budget in tact!  And OBVI, it frees up time for more Hallmark Christmas movies and driving around to look at lights and candlelit dinners with hot cocoa and advent discussions…

But for now, we are relaxing into November.  Enjoying cooler temps and plans for turkey and family visits.  I took Milo on a nature hike today.  We have been talking about Fall leaves and the change of seasons.  In Texas, we don’t get those beautiful autumnal landscapes, but we do our best to find what we can.


And if you look hard enough, you find the beautiful stuff.


By the time we made it home, we had pockets full of acorns and yellow and orange leaves…cracked open pecans and muddy sticks.  Treasures.


And I got to take a break from my laptop…and work…and email…and listen to the wind blow those fallen leaves and Milo squeal each time he found a new bend in the trail.  Thankfulness…  November is a good month.