Annual Christmas Letter

It is that time of year, time to sit down and type out your annual Christmas letter. For the past 6 years I have worked to come up with cleaver new ideas, narrow my favorite pictures down to a handful, write out address, and mail 150+ cards. I have gotten the kids involved by helping make the cards (year two poor Eden had to color the front of 80 different cards), putting the stamps on, and signing their name.

With an every growing list of recipients I decided to look into some new options for letters. I knew pretty quickly I would probably go with something digital as I figured this was going to be the cheapest option. I knew I could simple type up a cheery year in review letter and email it out to everyone but that didn’t have enough piza for me. So I started searching for what might be available (note it is only two days before Christmas, so I needed something that would only take me an hour or two to put together).

I tried out several digital cards where you upload your photo and was surprised at how cute and fun some of them were. My favorite was Paperless Post. They had several free options. I really like the flash video aspect; it starts as an envelop that opens and slides out for your recipient to view. Here is what I came up with.  View the Card 

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.43.35 PMJibJab is another fun option if you are looking for something simple but funny. It does requires a year subscription (which is on sale for $18 right now). You can either use a photo you already have or take an instant one of your face. After you have picked your favorite video/card your face photos are inserted. You are able to email your video or upload to Facebook for sharing with family and friends. We had fun trying out several but here are our favorites. View Video and then a second Video.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.49.07 PMI had a harder time finding something that would work to include our year in review portion that I always send out. Smilebox was the best program I could find for creating something that would include photos and text. They have several options from animated cards to slideshows. It was easy to use but still took me a couple hours to put together and I could probably spent longer if I would have looked through everything.

Click to play this Smilebox greeting
Click to play this Smilebox greeting

Smilebox also has an annual subscription ($3.99 a month) but they do offer a 7 day free trial. I made a few different items just trying their different options out and would say this is the best and easiest option. And I like that you can print out your letter or card to have it mailed to those that don’t do computers.

So if you are like me and have waited till the last minute to send your christmas cards out or are looking for a greener or cheaper way connecting with your family and friends I hope these ideas can help.

Merry Christmas!

Eden’s Frozen Disco Dance Party

If you have young children, chances are you have either thrown a frozen birthday party or at least been to one. Well, this past weekend it was our turn. For the last year Eden has been planning her sixth birthday. She knew from the start that she wanted a frozen theme, but she added her own little twist and wanted to mix frozen and disco.

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We do birthdays kind of big for our kids. We don’t spend a ton of money, but rather lots of time is spent planning, making, cooking, and decorating.

IMG_7855Most years I lament that Eden’s birthday is so close to Christmas (less options and people are usually busier), but this year it worked well. I was able to use Christmas lights, small Christmas trees and other Christmas decorations to give our church fellowship hall a frozen winter wonderland feel. Many of the decoration were things I was even able to gather from other parties or from around our home.

Because I didn’t go over the top with Frozen characters but stayed more winter wonderland, we were able to keep most everything set up and it was used the next morning for our churches children’s Christmas party. Then we were asked in it could stay up for the boy scouts Christmas party the following day. A 3 for 1 deal. I will have to keep this in mind for next year.

My favorite DIY decorating project was creating frozen glitter branches. I collected a few branches from our yard, painted them using white acquilic paint, and then while they were still wet dusted them with glitter. I set them up out to dry and then stuck them in a mason jar filled with glass beads. They sparkled with the christmas lights and made a great decoration for each side of the photo back drop and cake table.

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This area was used for Eden to open her gifts. The center was lace curtains with curtain lights draped behind it. The sides were made with room dividers that I covered with Dollar store snow flake paper. It was beautiful and special. It was then used the next day for Santa to talk with the kids.

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Because we have so many that travel a good distance to be at our kid’s parties, I like to serve a meal as away of saying thank you for making the extra effort to be there. Here is our Frozen Lunch Menu.

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My favorite was the Olaf Water. Not only super cheap but the kids had a lot of fun with it.

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I made the cake to resemble Elsa’s ice castle. It was the hit of the party. I will say the icing was one of my favorites; a mix of buttercream and cream cheese, not too sweet and went great with the chocolate cake.

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While the kids ate, we had the Frozen movie playing on the big screen. We played the sing along version and a few of the kids loved taking the floor to sing their heart out and dance under the disco lights.

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For take home gifts we made Snow To Go (white chocolate covered popcorn mixed with white and blue mint candies) and frozen heart glitter crayons.

Eden had a wonderful time. I know she felt like a princess.

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Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a special day.

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Just a few more of pictures of my Frozen Princess.

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Advent Readings – Snowman Book Countdown

I have one more advent activity to share with you that our family loves.

Remember making those paper chains when you were younger where you would take one link off each day to count down the days till Christmas, as the chain got smaller your anticipation would grow. Well this is similar but mixes in the joy of opening gifts.

IMG_4196I started by picking out the books I wanted to use. Originally I planned to use all of our winter and Christmas stories but after getting them all out I realized that many of these were thinner books.  My plan had been to build the books up once they were wrapped to look like a snowman and my thinner book pile really looked more like a melted snowman.

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I then moved to plan B, going back to the book shelf to pick out the thickest books and mixing them in with my favorite Christmas stories. I then arranged them in the general shape of a snowman head with a hat.

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I picked out two different wrapping papers for this project and while Eli was napping got busy wrapping 25 books. I used a white snowflake paper for the body being careful when I wrapped to not have too much of a red snowflakes showing on the spine. I then used a red plaid for the hat and a large piece of black construction paper for the black band.

IMG_4135Eden helped me cut the face pieces out and had fun taping them to the snowman.

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Both kids love the snowman.

IMG_4150Each night the kids take turns taking a book from the top of the pile and unwrapping. We don’t do a ton of gifts on Christmas morning so this is a fun way to experience the joy of tearing paper apart to see what is secretly waiting inside without spending a bunch of money.

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I anticipated a fight each night over who got to open the package but thought it would be good practice in waiting turns and being excited for our sibling. But there really has been no issue; some nights they do it together and sometimes they take turns.

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Once the trash is thrown away, Eli really likes running the trash to the trashcan, the kids snuggle in with dad to read their story.

IMG_4136We tried this last year but I wrapped our books with the snowman design. While I think he turned out really cute and the kids had fun with him the first day I am not sure the extra work of making him into a snowman was worth it. The kids mostly enjoy unwrapping the books and it makes me sad to see our snowman slowly disappear. I know we will continue this tradition but I might go with a simpler design next year.

Journey of the Star

I am excited to share with you one of the things my family is doing this Advent to help us prepare our lives and hearts for the coming of our Savior.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.21.38 AMJourney of the Star is an Advent activity that I came up with as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf mixed with an Advent calendar.

This year from December 1st – 25th we will be taking the 3 Kings on a treasure hunt! Obviously the treasure they’re seeking is the new born King, but from Dec 1st onwards their daily hunt will be to find the star which will be hidden somewhere around our house. Hidden with the star is a daily activity to help focus our families attention to the upcoming birth of Jesus.

IMG_7631Any star decoration will work for this Advent activity. We are using a foam star from my parents church. Each evening we will be moving the star to a new place ready for our little ones to find the following morning.

For the Elf on the Shelf alternative part we are using the 3 Wisemen instead of an elf. The Wisemen will be using the star as their guide and it is going to be a long journey. They must go through many trials and tribulations as they seek the new baby.

IMG_7612We have lots of nativities but not any that really work for getting messy or that have manipulative body parts. I found these little guys on Amazon. They are a little more cartoonish then I would like but they were the only ones that I could find that I could manipulate them a little. For those that have never seen Play Mobil figures they are similar to lego people in their movability but are three times as large. They also sell a nativity that matches these guys but it was wasn’t in the budget for this year.

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I love that it comes with a camel, the gifts, and a rope. I look forward to finding all kinds of ways to use these extras. All of their robes and hats are removable and exchangeable.

The first morning it took Eden awhile to find the star. It found itself perched at the top of our undecorated Christmas tree with the three wisemen working to climb to it.

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Lower on the tree the kids found the following note:

Journey of the Star NoteOn day two the star and wisemen weren’t too hard to find.

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Journey of the Star

Be sure to check back next week to see the travel log for the 3 Wisemen.