Advent Calendar Make-Over

A few years ago I distinctly remember feeling DONE with the advent calendar. I was at a loss for what to put in the little boxes – seriously, there’s enough candy everywhere already – and how many teeny, tiny gifts even exist that won’t just wind up in the trash? The boys were only so excited about endless stickers and temporary tattoos. Not to mention that I forgot about it as many nights as I remembered…and there’s nothing quite like scampering about at 6:21am when you hear the kids stirring awake and remember that the little box is empty – again. I vowed to free myself from the advent calendar ridiculousness.

Advent Calendar

Also, the older I get, the more allergic I feel to anything that even smells like entitlement or sheer, unadulterated consumerism… so that certainly helped progress the transformation. Over the past few years we’ve transitioned to a month of family activities, gift giving and acts of kindness in place of the candy and toys… disclaimer: I’m not a total Scrooge, so there are some Skittles and Starbursts thrown in the mix!  ;-)

The boys and I posted (almost) daily on FBTwitter and IG (#adventwiththesooses) but, I had several requests for the whole list in one place, so this is for YOU!

1. Gather up all the Christmas books for a month of nightly holiday stories.

2. Make and send Christmas cards for service men and women deployed away from home.

3. Send stuffed animals and blankets to the boys’ school for their student council drive “Barrett’s Bears.” (They collected over 700 items to give to the Children’s Hospital!!)

4. Do something nice for someone at your school today. (And I made cookies for them when they got home and we talked about who and what and how it went.)

5. First round of holiday goodies going to school for principal and nurse and counselor.

6. A New Year’s package for our sponsored child.

7. Go through clothes and donate to the Children’s Shelter and Goodwill.

8. Second round of holiday goodies to the school for the front office staff.

9. Write love letters to selected family members.

10. Leave a gift for the mail carrier.

11. Do something nice for your brother. (Yes, they hated this one!!) :-)

12. Take a gift for the bus driver.

13. Love notes and goodies for the nanny.

14. Go through toys and donate to the Children’s Shelter and Goodwill. (Also filed under:  :)

15. Goodies for the garbage men and recycling guys.

16. More love notes to other family members.

17. Third round of gifts to the boys’ school for specials teachers.

18. Go see Christmas lights with grandparents…have hot cocoa and s’mores!

19. Take gifts to your teachers.

20. Build a fire tonight to go with your Christmas stories.

21. Donate to Wheatens In Need…or current favorite charity.

22. Candy cane bomb a parking lot.

23. Leave popcorn at a RedBox for renters.

24. Put out treats for the birds. (no photos after this because the flu came to visit our house just in time for Christmas!!) :(

25. Huge chocolate candy coins to have with Christmas breakfast.

And that’s how I finally survived an advent calendar!

For other ideas and inspiration for your own advent makeovers, you can look here and here and here. There was also lots of talk this year about transforming the infamous Elf on the Shelf into a Kindness Elf… same concept and Pinterest is full, full, full of more ideas including these cute printables.

I hope this post finds you healthy and grateful and looking forward to a brand new year! Merry Christmas!

Fuss-free Halloween Treats

DSC_0002Because the bags and bags of candy lying around the week of Halloween aren’t enough… I thought, “Hey, let’s make that bark stuff where we pile it all together and coat it in chocolate!”

So easy – and it does kind of look like a party on a plate.

I modified the recipe here because I couldn’t find the Halloween Oreos, so I used brownie crisps, instead. The boys had fun stealing candy while I tried to make it before all the ingredients were gone.


Oh! And I almost forgot! The other day I made these silly mummy dogs to help us get into the Halloween spirit…also super easy and a big hit.


Yes, they are exactly what they look like. Hot dogs (organic, non-cured, non-nitrate of course ;-)) wrapped in crescent rolls and baked…with mustard dots for eyes. The boys had a good laugh at breakfast and started asking when they could wear their costumes.


Well, they aren’t THAT scary. :)

Happy Halloween Week!!


My love-hate relationship with Summer

Seems like I was just posting about our summer bucket list and bam! school starts tomorrow. Lucky for me, I did not blink…so I did not miss it in spite of the break-neck speed.

Summer is always such a paradox for me. (As are a lot of things…which is why I’m such a Whitman fan, I think, because his quote comes up in my head a lot and gets truer and truer every year: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”)

I LOVE the Summer. I love the freedom and the sleeping in and not making lunches and not seeing a backpack or a stack of papers for months. I love being in and out of the pool all day and watching sun-kissed boys lounge in their nearly-dry bathing suits while they insist that popcorn is acceptable for lunch – and I agree.


I love that mealtimes sort of go away and we gather and eat when and if we feel like it. I love deciding, at the crack of 10am, that today we’ll go binge on video games and bad pizza and then we just go do that…because there is no schedule to consult or adjust.


I love that my parents take the boys every Friday and do the coolest stuff: bat caves and zip lining and ropes courses and paddle boarding and movies and ice skating and roller skating and bouncy house fun.


I love the lake trips and day drives and bowling/swimming playdates and mid-week sleepovers and pottery class and ALL.OF.IT.


Every day with the boys I was aware how quickly this time will pass and that someday summers won’t look anything like this…and I’ll miss them terribly, I know. I felt so grateful to be able to be home with them so much and such a big part of their lazy Summer days. 

And honestly, just reading that last paragraph I can feel the other side of the paradox fake barfing just like my boys do over such sappy sentiments. Because, also, I DO NOT love the Summer. I crave a routine and without one I can get listless and unproductive. The empty calendar pages loom for weeks and I feel the pressure to fill them, make them useful, don’t just sit around for 2.5 months, go, do, learn, inspire, engage, entertain…and then I feel exhausted and overwhelmed. DSC_0136I really, really miss school-night bedtime…when the boys are staying up late every day feels endless and like I don’t get any of my necessary “me” time. Going to work feels like a chore because I have to leave all the fun and schedule all the nannies and I get lazy about my own career – which is something I adore. And then I feel bad about not being a good grown-up. DSC_0021They watch too much TV and play too many videogames and at some point I just say “OK” because we’ve already done everything on the list for that day…so, why not? And the “nutrition” that comes with the summer – ha, who am I kidding? So then mom-guilt sets in. Also, I adore back-to-school shopping – really – and that only happens when Summer ends. And then there’s the fighting… don’t even get me started on the bickering and poking and picking and taunting and antagonizing that has been perfected this Summer. IMG_0963They worked at it as if their very lives depended on it, like an artist works his craft, like an athlete trains for his biggest feat… they honed their rivalry skills and nearly drove me nutty in the process. I planned days based on the sole purpose of separating them. I planned activities in which they wouldn’t see each other for hours. I sent them to their rooms and forbid them to look at one another. So there are just as many reasons that I do NOT love the Summer.

And because of all of that, I am full with contradictory melancholy and glee that today is the last day of the Summer.

DSC_0005We had our ritual end-of-summer camp night this weekend and I was a mess of emotions over it. First, we moved into a new neighborhood at the start of this Summer, so the new house is still showing us what treasures it holds…like being able to camp out, under dreamy stars amid a glorious, somehow-cool breeze at the end of August in Texas surrounded by deer without a single mosquito in sight…seriously, who knew that was even possible? We had a late, late swim and then dried off by the campfire and fell straight into the tent where Whitman laughed us to sleep with his “guess which animal I’m thinking of” game. (Which I would love to tell you about, but I don’t really understand it. He loves it and it makes us all crack up – that will have to do.) How could I want for anything like that to ever end? I felt sad and sentimental and incredibly blessed. DSC_0043

And in the morning, I was delighted at the thought, “OK, that’s the end of that…back to the real world we go. Thank goodness for regular bedtimes which will soon be back!” And I made breakfast and organized something and put things on a calendar and filled out first-day-of-school paperwork… so relieved to think this Summer craziness would all be over soon. Whew.

Then the boys began begging me to get in the pool for a morning swim… “Dad’s here, come on, it’s so nice and cool…come on mom, why won’t you??!! Huh? Why not? Come have fun with us!” And so, just to shut them up, and maybe also to prove that on rare occasions I can actually be as much fun as their father, I walked straight across the deck, still in pajamas mind you, and jumped right in. Their squeals of delight made me instantly miss the Summer again. DSC_0011

So, dear Summer, so long for now… I have loved and hated every minute of you. I will mourn your end at the crack of dawn while I’m making breakfast, buttoning buttons, packing fresh new backpacks, combing hair and supervising teeth brushing. I will mourn you when the boys sigh at my refusal to let them swim at 8:00pm because there’s still too much to do and it’s bedtime. I will mourn you when it’s my day off and I can’t steal away my children for an unscheduled day doing who-knows-what.

I will also delight in your passing at 8:17am when I’m alone in a silent house with no mouths to feed and no bickering to referee.  I’ll probably also do that again around noon, just because I can. Try not to take it personally.

Thank you, Summer – you’ve been the very best!

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

How long has it been since you’ve read this book?

Well it had been some time for me, until recently.  (And for those of you on Pinterest, you probably already know why.) But we’ll get to that in a minute.

I love this book.

Maybe as much as my all-time favorite Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax.

It’s positive and encouraging and has that you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to message….but it’s also realistic and talks about a wide variety of challenges and stumbling blocks along the way…

The Library of Congress summary for this book is: Advice in rhyme for proceeding in life; weathering fear, loneliness, and confusion; and being in charge of your own actions.

Sounds a little like parenting, no? Though it’s my husband who is usually in charge of the rhyming department.

So why am I talking about a decades-old children’s book?

Because this year I sent a copy of this book to my sons’ schools and asked their teachers to please write something in them. I planned to do a cute little instruction tag for them, but maybe next year. This year I just wrote on the envelope…

Do you have any idea what happens when you do this??  Well, for starters, you better be stocked up on Kleenex. Seriously.

They say the most amazing things…things I know I would have never heard, never known.  And definitely things no one would remember in 11 or 12 years. And also the book starts to look really cool…

different page choices…and handwriting…

and even stickers…

(Lincoln is in a Spanish immersion program…so I guess he better be able to still read Spanish when he’s 18 otherwise he’ll never know what his Kindergarten teacher had to say!)

Some were thoughtful about page choice, wrote on top of illustrations…

…but mostly they just made a mom cry.  The good kind.

I found myself thinking about my own lifetime of teachers…geez, I don’t even know how many that would be. Some of them I’m sure I couldn’t even remember. But I can hardly wait for the boys to get to see these books…to read these amazing, generous things people said about them. (I know, I know, I have to wait, like more than a decade…and I don’t really want it to go fast…and these books will just keep getting better and better…but still, I can hardly wait.)

“Kid, you’ll move mountains!”

I love that.

So, if you have kids in school…it doesn’t matter how old they are…I highly recommend this little project.

“Your mountain is waiting.”  (sigh)  Can you tell how much I’m going to cry at high school graduations?

Thank you, Pinterest, for this little gem. Such a great idea!

Lose The Training Wheels Party

Earlier this week our recently-turned-five-year-old announced that he wanted to ride his bike without his training wheels. He made this announcement while his dad was in the middle of trying to fix the leaf blower. I remember him saying something about tiny little parts being all over the place…so the answer was probably, “Yeah, OK…in just a little while when I finish this.”  Which is something the boys hear a lot because they like to ask for things when we are knee-deep in something else.

Not being terribly gifted with patience, our son decided to rummage around in the tools…found the appropriately-sized socket wrench…and tackled those wheels himself. By the time my husband was finished with the leaf blower, there was a two-wheeled bike in the garage next to a helmeted-padded-up little boy who was ready to hit the street!

And away they went. I think my husband was a little disappointed that he hardly needed any help at all…and practically no running-along-side-the-bike action. He lit off on that thing like he’d never had training wheels on it at all. So exciting!

Of course we had to have a little party.

Nothing really fancy at all…literally a last-minute idea just to reinforce how proud we were and a chance for some family to come over the next day and see a demonstration of the new skills! He was beside himself all afternoon. And he helped with decorations – made obvious by those crazy scissor lines.

I was reminded of a great idea I heard several years ago called the “honor candle.” A mom of several kids had a special candle she kept in a closet…it only came out for special events which merited “honor.” At some time during the day she would put it out on the dining room table – indicating that someone would be the honoree at dinner time – but she wouldn’t say anything else. And then, when it was time to eat the candle would be lit and she would announce who was being honored and why. The thing I liked about this wasn’t just the overall concept but more the examples she gave of when the candle might come out. A brother “caught” sharing a prized toy with a younger sibling when he thought no one was watching. A fifth grader with a B on a test…in a class where she had struggled to even get Cs. A son who was beyond nervous to play in the big championship soccer game…and they didn’t win…but he showed dedication and sportsmanship. Maybe not the typical events one thinks of for celebration, but teaching moments for sure…supporting children in times of struggle, persistence and disappointment…and reinforcing the most important family values. I think we will probably come up with an honor candle ritual fairly soon – maybe when Kindergarten starts – but in the meantime a flurry of silly little decorations was a good substitute.

And such a cute helper!

Dinner was fairly no-fuss…chicken breasts and angelhair pasta in a lemon-garlic-cream sauce and a big salad eaten on the back patio. We looked up what Tour de France racers most commonly eat and he was so delighted to discover that it was “noodles!!”

I will admit that several times over the past couple of days I’ve been aware of what a metaphor the whole experience is for parenthood in general. As we were at the park the next day practicing more bike riding, I was watching in disbelief as he rode farther and farther ahead of us on the trail…suddenly thinking, “I think there’s a pretty big dip up there and then a little hill, and maybe even a ditch to the side of the trail.” The only thing I could say to myself was, “It’s OK. He knows the rules and he’s so careful. And he’s wearing a helmet. He’ll be fine.” And about that time I saw him heading back toward me at full speed with the biggest smile on his face, yelling how he had turned around all by himself without stopping. I laughed at myself for my moment of worry and thought, “This will be much harder when it’s a car.”


‘Tis The Season

Gingerbread Houses!!

While we were at my in-laws’ house last weekend for a birthday celebration, a gingerbread village was constructed.

Complete with streets and cars, of course! Aren’t they all so cute?

I didn’t make one. But my four-year-old helped with one (which means he paid close attention to the construction of one house in particular while trying to steal as many pieces of candy as possible.)

I was just thrilled to have the cute little creations around without having to do all that tedious work. And it can be tedious.

And this was one of my favorites…a snow angel!!!

Gingerbread houses make me feel festive (even if it is nearly 80 degrees outside!) At least it’s snowing somewhere!!

Last Week of Lunchboxes…for awhile

I was just thinking how nice it is going to be to have a little break from packing lunches over the Christmas holidays. Not very long ago, I was gearing up to start packing lunches and even having some creative lunchbox moments… that was approximately 96 lunches ago. It’s fair to say the lunches have found their rut.

My 15-month-old is pretty set with cheese and crackers, some kind of fruit, some kind of pasta and hard-boiled eggs. This lunch is grapes and fruit cocktail, mozzarella and turkey with whole wheat Ritz crackers, and pasta with pesto and sautéed tofu cubes. Still not a vegetable in sight. I can get him to eat broccoli on occasion and he likes cooked carrots and potatoes – but only at home. It seems pesto is the greenest thing he eats. I just keep trying.

The four-and-a-half year old is a little bit easier. He loves sandwiches and requests them regularly. Sometimes I send soup. Or spaghetti. Usually some kind of fruit and/or yogurt. And a protein bar or crackers. This particular day it was feta-stuffed olives (one of his favorite snacks,) grapes, peanut butter crackers and pasta with pesto and sautéed tofu and edamame.

I’m hoping over the break I’ll find time to experiment with some new items…perhaps the spring will see a refreshed perspective on the lunchbox chore. Happy Holidays!