Thanksgiving Traditions

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Photo by Brian Tuttle (www.brianrtuttle.com)

I truly appreciate Thanksgiving and all the warmth, happiness, and blessings that it brings. What better way to realize how amazing life is than by counting your blessings and feeling satisfaction with all that you have? But it wasn’t always that way. Growing up, Thanksgiving wasn’t my favorite. It was sandwiched between two of the greats: Halloween and Christmas, and I really didn’t like turkey (call me crazy). So I’m trying to make it a fun and memorable holiday for my children. One that they will look forward to, not just one that we have to pass through to get to Christmas. Here are some of my family’s traditions, and some that I’ve rounded up from the interwebs.

Thanksgiving Plates

I’m super proud of this one because it sprang from my very own brain. It’s so cheap and so very easy, but it’s probably the one tradition that I will cherish the most. Record the things your family is most grateful for on a dinner plate. The next year, use the plate at Thanksgiving dinner. After a few years, you’ll have a good set of special plates to eat your holiday meal off of, as well as a record of Thanksgivings past. Boom. For full instructions click here.

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Tree of Blessings

Simply make a tree trunk from paper, cut leaves from colored paper or trace the little hands in your family and use those as leaves. Each day during November, write down one of your many blessings on the leaf/hand and stick it to the tree. By Thanksgiving you will have a full and beautiful tree of blessings! There are lots of variations of this activity like this garland, and this jar.

 thankfultreephoto credit OurGoodwinJourney.com

Service Project

What better way to show you are grateful than by serving someone else? The possibilities are endless on this one: make cookies for a neighbor, rake someone’s leaves, deliver a meal to someone in need, donate warm clothes to a local coat drive, provide Thanksgiving dinner for a needy family (or give them cash to help them provide their own), volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Find some way to bless someone else’s life in any way, large or small.

Write Thank You Notes

Express your gratitude to those you love by writing down your thoughts and feelings and sharing it with them. It’ll make their day, and yours too! Help your children with this activity and teach them the importance of a genuinely saying “thank you” regularly.

Gratitude Rolls

I’ve never actually tried this one but I think it looks fun and a little quirky (which translates to fun). I found it here. Basically, you write down what you’re thankful for on a little strip of paper and bake it into a dinner roll. Read them around the Thanksgiving table. It’s kind of like a weird fortune cookie of gratitude. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Festive Cookies

There are so many cute ideas for Thanksgiving cookies out there. Here are some of my favorites (thank you Pinterest!): Pilgrim hat cookies, acorn cookies , turkey cookies (and a few other snacks), pumpkin snickerdoodles. Yum!

Story of the First Thanksgiving

I know this story isn’t really all that historically correct, but it’s traditional and nice. Gather the kids around and tell them about the pilgrims and the Indians, or better yet, don your best costumes and act it out with them! Finish up with a feast of your own!

Thanksgiving Books

You guys know this is one of my favorites. There are so many sweet little stories about blessings and gratitude, Pilgrims and Indians, turkeys and family dinners out there! Go get them! The Library has tons to offer and your little kiddies will love the time you spend reading to them!

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Turkey Crafts/Decorations

My kids love to make things, whether it’s drawing and coloring, or popsicle stick crafts, or art from construction paper. And I love it because I get to display it and show them how proud of them I am. Win win. Here are some ideas to get them going if they aren’t already bringing home a million pieces of artwork from school. This candy corn turkey is easy. Here is a whole slew of ideas including wreaths, hand print turkeys, and trees. And this one is just a fun fall tree if you’re all turkied (that’s not a real word is it…) out. I’m not sure where this collections of printables fits but it just seems helpful.

I hope these traditions help to make your Thanksgiving special and memorable! And I would love to add some new ones to the list. What are your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? Please leave a comment!

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Simplify and Savor the Season

It’s almost Halloween (eek!)! The holidays are upon us and I couldn’t be happier about it! But I know the holidays also bring a lot of stress. Despite our best efforts and hope for making the season feel all cozy and warm and magical and fuzz-covered, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Am I right?

For me, holiday stress doesn’t come from a lack of ways to make memories, or feeling stumped on how to inject the aforementioned fuzzy magic into each day. I’m kind of a Pinterest Mom. Enough said (watch for a long list of holiday traditions to come in the future). My problem with this time of year is in the savoring part. I get so wrapped up in orchestrating it all that I forget to slow down and enjoy each moment as we’re making the memories. Good news, friends! I recently came across a book that is specifically designed to help alleviate holiday stress. It’s called Simplify and Savor the Season, by Connie Sokol.

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This book works like a step-by-step guide to helping you plan your holiday season. It focuses on simplifying by prioritizing activities and events, making a plan, and keeping the people that you love and the spirit of the season in mind. There are worksheets to help you stay organized (maybe my favorite part), and even sweet and funny stories to help you get into the holiday spirit.

The “savoring the season” section of the book is exactly what I need! The book defines savoring as “reclaiming the magic of the season, to experience a mature version of what our young children instinctively feel”. I think that’s something we all want, to feel that magic again. Connie gives you three questions to ask yourself in order to keep things simple and to make sure you’re actually enjoying yourself (imagine that!):

  • Am I doing this to create family memories, or for show?
  • Am I making this because I love my family, or to check if off the list?
  • Am I being present in the moment and enjoying this event or am I thinking ahead to when it will be done, or planning the next thing?

This book was just what I needed to help me handle the stress of the season so that I can spend more time enjoying it! I can’t wait to get planning!

Ready for the part with the free stuff? There’s a GIVEAWAY! Please enter below for your chance to win a FREE copy of Simplify and Savor the Season as well as the Simplify and Savor Planner!

Or, if you don’t have your patient pants on and can’t wait for the giveaway, you can purchase your copy of Simplify and Savor the Season right now by clicking here. If you purchase the book any time during the month of October you will receive a FREE Simplify and Savor Planner. It’s the perfect way to keep your holidays on track. There’s even a gift set version available for purchase here if you’d like to share this wonderful book with your friends!

And for all you book club ladies, join Connie for her first “Virtual Book Club”. You can work personally with Connie to set goals, get feedback and read her book together! Email Connie (http://conniesokol.com/about-connie/contact-connie/)and put BOOK CLUB in your message. She will be choosing 8 women to participate! Fun!

I hope this helps you as you start to think about the upcoming holiday season. Good luck on the giveaway! I’m going to turn on my Christmas music now. Just kidding (but seriously). Happy Holidays!!

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Traditions: Halloween!

I don’t think we can place too much importance on family traditions. They give the family roots, stability, and a reason to come together. Each season has its own traditions, and at our house, Fall and Halloween are brimming with them. The following list includes my own family traditions and things I’ve gathered from good ol’ Pinterest. So get some inspiration, pick and choose, or cram them all into your October! (Check out this countdown chain idea here to organize all these fun traditions!)

Witchy Apple Carving

Carve a witch’s face into an apple, add rice for teeth and raisin or chocolate chips for eyes. Let it sit on your counter. The longer it sits, the uglier and witchier it gets! This activity is for adults to do and kids to watch. It doesn’t take a lot of time and barely any money, and it’s something the kids will be excited about for as long as you can handle watching an apple get disgusting on your kitchen counter. You’re welcome.

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Dollar Store Decorations/Make Your Own

We spend a few days/weeks earning this one. If the kids have done a good job keeping their rooms clean, or getting along well, or whatever it is you want them to do, they get to pick out a few decorations from the dollar store for their rooms! Everybody wins! My kids also love to draw, color and make decorations. We display them around the house and the kids love to see their work!

Jack-O-Lanterns

This one doesn’t need an explanation. Carve or paint, light them up, and display!

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Visit a Pumpkin Patch

Let the kids get dirty trying to find their perfect pumpkin. Buying pumpkins this way is so much more fun than picking them out at the grocery store (and can be a lot cheaper, too!).

Get Lost in a Corn Maze

You might get lucky and be able to combine this one and the pumpkin patch! There are different kinds of corn mazes nowadays: easy ones, ridiculously difficult ones, ones shaped like famous people, haunted ones…. pick the one that best suits your family and get lost!

Read Scary (or not) Books

My kids love this one, so we’ve built up quite a collection of Halloween/Fall books (you could always go to the library for this activity). We read one book as a family each night before bed. With my older kids, we choose a spooky chapter book and I read it aloud to them throughout the month. What better way to end your day than snuggling and blankets and books?

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Fall Food

The food this time of year seriously rocks: soups in bread bowls, caramel apples, mummy dogs, hot chocolate, pumpkin everything, chili, apple cider, caramel popcorn, spiderweb soup….this list could get really long. Run to Pinterest, people!

Rake Leaves as Service

I think traditions built around service are the most meaningful and memorable ones. Growing up, the people across the street had huge trees. Their lawn would get absolutely covered in all the leaves. My mom would send us out after it got dark to rake and bag them up. We loved being sneaky and trying to not get caught.

“Boo!” Your Neighbors

Who doesn’t love finding a plate of goodies on their porch? This tradition involves printing out a few of  these fun little things, whipping up something yummy, and leaving it all on a few of your neighbors’ porches. Then watch as everyone shares the love! But keep it a secret!!

Movie Night!!!

Pick a flick and hit the lights! We have so many favorite shows that this one happens frequently at our house. Here are some ideas: Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, Ghost Busters, Addams Family, Casper, Haunted Mansion, Paranorman, Frankenweenie, Harry Potter, Corpse Bride, Young Frankenstein, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. OR if you have very young kids, you can always depend on The Disney Channel, Nick Jr, and PBS to supply you with at least one Halloween special from all of your favorite shows.

Halloween Cookies

This one came from my husband’s family. They love their sugar cookies so they make them in all kinds of Halloween shapes and decorate them! This would be perfect to use if you “Boo!” your neighbors (see above). I also pinned these cute monster cookies. So fun!

Mad Scientist/Witch’s Potions

I just found this one this year and I can’t wait to try it! Let the littles “experiment” with water and food dye in this totally kid-friendly version, or have them watch as you make a few potions and experiments that require a little more work. Your kids won’t even realize they’re learning with this kind of fun!

Haunted Gingerbread Houses

Lots of grocery stores (Wal-mart and Target to name a few) carry kits (about $10) to make gingerbread houses, Halloween style! The parents assemble them, and the kids decorate! Once you’re finished, display it for the rest of the season!

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Local Halloween Festivals

If you live around here (Wasatch Front, Utah) I’m sure you’ve heard about Gardner Village. They have so much fun going on over there. WitchFest is a must. They have scavenger hunts, darling witch displays, a petting zoo/pony rides, all kinds of fun with witches. And this year they’ve added Wee Witch’s Playground, and Wee Witch’s Weekend just for the kids! But if you don’t live around here, find something near you and get out of the house for some Fall fun!

Halloween Night Dinner

Of course, all this fun is building up to the big night! Both my mom and my husband’s mom did a good job of making traditions for the 31st. We combine their traditions and have homemade chili and breadsticks (my mother-in-law’s tradition) before going trick-or-treating. And when the kids come home, we warm up with hot apple cider and donuts (my mom’s tradition). Yum!!

Help us add to the list! What are you favorite traditions for this time of year??

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How My Family of 6 Lives on $100 of Groceries Per Week

Boys and girls, I’m a tightwad. I have 4 growing kids and not enough energy to clip coupons, so my money-saving tips are basic and simple, and kind of the laziest way to save money on groceries (not just food, household items and diapers included). Here’s what I do:

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Price Match and Shop Where/When it’s Cheap

Some grocery stores are just plain cheaper than others. And then there’s Wal-mart. I know how most people feel about Wal-mart, but if you can get over it for an hour each week I promise you’ll save money. At least that is my experience. If you want to support local grocery stores, that’s great, too, there are sales and coupons no matter where you choose to shop. Just find the one with the consistently best prices and go there! I stock up on stuff when they go on sale. And I don’t go crazy and buy cases of sliced pears in light syrup, I just grab what I know I’ll use and what I have room for in my pantry. A well-stocked pantry (beans, rice, pasta) will save you money, too.

If you do shop at Wal-mart, ad matching (or price matching) is your best friend. Every week when the ads come in the mail (the free mailers from local grocers, I don’t get the newspaper or anything special), I go through them and make a list of any good deals on the things I actually use. I make sure to write down the brand, how many oz/lbs (if this applies), the sale price (of course), and the store it’s from so that I’m price matching honestly. I end up saving dimes and quarters on most products this way, but dimes and quarters add up folks.

Don’t Buy Name Brands

There’s no need to, so just don’t. Generic brands rock…except for the stuff that you’re snobby about. For me, it’s peanut butter and laundry/dish detergent. The generic just isn’t the same. For the most part though, generic brands are just as good as their name brand counterparts. And waaaaaay cheaper. I bet you can’t even tell the difference. So if it’s all the same to you, buy the one in the less pretty box…this is where the most savings are.

Plan a Menu for a Week

I plan a week’s worth of dinners and shop once a week. I think this is the biggest, very best tip. If you’re at the store less often, you’re going to spend less money on impulse buys (when you make your list, stick to it!). This is the step that takes the most brainpower. I look at my list of price-matched items/items that are on sale, and build my menu based on those ingredients. If there’s a sale on ground beef, tortillas, and marinara sauce, it’s tacos and spaghetti for us that week! I also try to plan meals that use the same ingredients. For example, if sour cream is cheap, I plan two meals that will both need sour cream. I stretch that sale as far as it’ll go and get the biggest bang for my buck. Also, use your pantry! That can of black beans in there isn’t going to do you any good if it expires, so peruse your shelves and build meals out what you have already stocked up on. Planning for the whole week is nice because you never have to wonder what’s for dinner! You’ve already decided and purchased everything you need for it.

Limit How Much Meat You Buy

Meat is probably the most expensive thing on your list, so try limiting how much you buy. We only have meaty meals three times a week. When I shared this little fun fact with my husband he was surprised! See? He doesn’t even miss it. On nights that we go meatless, I try to make something with lots of other hearty foods like potatoes and other veggies, beans, or canned chili with meat.

In buying beef and chicken, you’ll get the best value out of the large package. Each week I buy either the 3 lb package of ground beef, or the 3-½ lb package of chicken breasts, and split those into three meals.

**Disclaimer: Every family has different eating habits so results may vary. These tips are what work for my family and me. My family of 6 consists of me, my husband (who is not a small person), and my 4 young kids (my 6-yr-old son already eats like a man, and I have a toddler in diapers, so if you add those together it’s almost like feeding another adult and a half).

I hope these help you save some money! If you have some tricks of your own, please share with the class! Leave a comment!

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Praise vs Pressure: The Way You Praise Your Kids Might Actually be Hurting Them

I don’t think it would come as a surprise to any parent that calling your child “stupid”, or some other negative label, is going to have negative effects on their behavior, self-esteem, and even personality development. But it might surprise you that some seemingly positive labels can, too!

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Growing up, I was a pretty good kid: I’ve always been a rule-follower (to a fault); I was very quiet and easy to please. It just wasn’t in my nature to talk back or get into trouble (this is less true for a few of my teenage years, sorry mom). I have four siblings with four personalities very different from my own, who tended to make more waves than I did. Not that they weren’t good kids, just more like the typical kid than I was. Because I got into less trouble than my sisters and brother, they started calling me “the good one”, “perfect”, or “the smart one”. This kind of labeling doesn’t seem so bad, and honestly, I would take that kind of “name calling” over most anything else. However, labeling, even with positive labels, can have negative effects.

Lets start with the POSITIVE

Being called “perfect” for all those growing up years caused me to set a standard for myself. I felt that because they thought I was a certain way, that’s exactly what I needed to be. It caused me to push myself to be perfect, especially in school. I was a model student. I studied hard, I learned a lot, and I never got less than an A-. I just didn’t accept anything less than that of myself. All my hard work toward “perfection” academically got me a full-ride scholarship in college. In this instance, the label really paid off.

But here is the NEGATIVE

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized the negative effects of my label as “perfect”. I am afraid of failure. In fact, my fear of failing has kept me from doing so many things. If I was presented with an opportunity to take on something new, I tended to pass if I thought there was even a slight chance that I would fall short or “look stupid”. I felt like any kind of mistake would mean I was imperfect, and therefore, not good.

If I made a mistake in any way, I hid it from whomever I could. I never allowed myself to openly mess up. I didn’t feel like I could share my failures with anyone so I just bottled them all up. Talk about unhealthy. Now I feel like I’m so full of walls covering up my mistakes that a lot of me is closed off. Even now, as a 30-year-old mother of 4, it’s hard for me to admit my mistakes or when I’m wrong, or when I’ve failed. I’m working hard on it, and my kids help out a lot (they’re brutally honest, as little kids are, and love me even when I screw up). I don’t blame my siblings in any way. They were doing what siblings do. I don’t blame anyone. But I know I want to somehow do things differently with myself from here on out.

What we tend to do

My oldest child learns easily. She’s like a sponge for knowledge. She excels in school with very little effort. She’s heard me call her “smart” like 6 bazillion times. Last week, she came home from school completely devastated about her score on her math test. She got 88% and concluded that she wasn’t good at math and felt like a failure. 88%!! My heart dropped into my stomach and I realized that I’m repeating this cycle with my own child. All her life, when I would I give her praise it sounded a lot like this, “You are so smart!” “You are such an artist!” “You’re such a natural!” While these statements are all positive and any parent would feel good about saying these things to their child, it can actually be counterproductive. Telling a child they’re smart, talented, a natural, or even like in my case “perfect”, can add a lot of pressure to keep that label. Any kind of failure will just knock them over because suddenly they don’t fit under that label anymore.

What to do instead

After I got to this point in my thinking, I was like, “Okay so I’m messing my kid up. But what am I supposed to be saying to her instead??” So I Googled it, and what I found caused me to jump up and run into the other room where my hubster was, and wave my phone in his face saying “Look! My weirdness is an actual thing!” There’s a wise woman named Carol Dweck who has done much research on this very topic. After I read over her study, I felt vindicated! She described me in almost the same words I used to describe myself. So let me paraphrase what she said we should do instead…

Praise your child for trying and for their efforts: When your baby brings home an impressive report card, focus on their hard work instead of the fact that things come easily to them. Saying “I’m so proud of the hard work you put into school!” is better than “All A’s? Look how smart you are!”

When your child scores a goal in his soccer game, say, “Look at how all your hard practice has paid off!” instead of, “You are a natural at soccer!”

Praise them for the work they’ve done or for their behavior: Pointing out the specific work they’ve done well would sound like, “You did a great job with those spelling words!” or, “I can tell you did your best work on that art project!”

This whole thing is pretty new to me. It’s going to take some serious effort on my part to turn this whole “labeling” bus around. But I think it’s important to do if I want to help build-up my children in the right way. I also wanted to share my story to bring this issue to people’s attention. In some of my articles I give advice, and in some I ask for it. This article is both. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. What are your experiences with this (positive or negative)? What is working for you? Help! (Please and thank you)

**The thoughts and opinions I have expressed are totally mine. Carol Dweck did not ask me to say any of this, nor does she endorse this blog in any way (but that would be awesome if she did).

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Your Body After Baby

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So you’ve survived pregnancy, childbirth, and the crazy first months of a baby’s life. Congratulations, girl. You did it. Now let’s have a little talk about how you’re hating on your body right about now.

Turns out you’re NOT Heidi Klum. Maybe your boobs look like that old balloon you found behind your entertainment center: deflated, withered, depressed. Or maybe they look like socks with a few rocks in the bottom. Or maybe they went totally AWOL, abandoned post. Perhaps you have stretch marks that look like Freddy Kruger got a hold of you. If so, then it’s lucky for you that animal prints are pretty hot right now, because you’ve got a zebra-print bum. It might be that when you try to put on any non-yoga pant it’s like trying to stuff a sleeping bag back into it’s case- lumpy and bumpy and bulging in weird places. Or maybe you pee your pants every time you sneeze. I bet you’re wishing you would have done your kegels now! As for your downstairs, well…we don’t really have to go there. The point is that things are different.

Not having the fondest feelings for the body you see in the mirror is totally real, whether the changes are slight or if you’re seeing a stranger staring back at you. And it’s normal. You are NOT alone on this one. Most of the things you don’t love about yourself can be changed with time and hard work (or plastic surgery). I’m not going to give you tips on how to whip your bod back into shape (because I sat here and ate a mint brownie while I wrote this). Just ask yourself one question: If you could trade your baby in and get your old body back, would you? No. Never. Not in a bazillion years.

My arms, no matter how soft, are where my children find comfort from fear and sadness. My chest, no matter how flat or saggy, will catch their tears. My lap, no matter how wide, will be where we read together, where they learn. My child doesn’t care about any of those criticisms. He loves me because I am his mommy. Our strong, able, miraculous, God-given, BEAUTIFUL bodies bring life to the world. Our bodies are able to grow, house, nourish, and give life to another little human being! All of your motherly imperfections become okay when your baby becomes this beautiful little person with quirks and feelings and personality. Every mark, dimple, or scar on your body, left there from bringing your child into the world, will be worth it. Maybe, over time, you’ll look at them with a little bit of pride. Like a trophy. Pregnancy and childbirth are not easy feats, but your amazing body did that! Like a BOSS! Bring it in…cue the Wonder Woman theme song. We are MOMS. We make the world go round! Our bodies do what no man’s can do! **Slow clap** So let’s show our bodies some respect, and some LOVE! Mom jeans on 3! Just kidding….say NO to mom jeans.

**I originally wrote this post as a guest blogger over at Redbarnblog.com, You can read it there by clicking here.**

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