Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent calendars

Next up on my Christmas list were the Advent calendars for the boys. They're tradition over here. Big brother has gotten one ever since he was a year old. That first year it was 24 photos in red and green envelopes strung like a garland across his room, every day we'd take one out and put into a small book so he could look at them (and chew on them).

These days it's a little more complicated. I've been collecting small things since the summer, actually. Last year my dad made the boys wooden reindeer that have the important task of carrying the goodies.

At some point I will sew nice little bags for them, but for now these simple whites ones from Ikea had to do. They come with numbers already printed on. Nice. So this is what went into them:
Playmobil figures. I got 48 of them for 8 EUR at a thrift store in the summer. I didn't use all of them, but they did provide a pretty good base. We don't have a lot of Playmobil yet, so these will nicely expand the collection, and I'm sure the boys can think of something to play with them.

 Then I got some more learning cards on nature - cats, small river critters and such.

 Two monster trucks thrown in for good measure.

Lots of small books. This is the point where the white bags really get annoying, because a standard mini book (Pixibuch) doesn't fit. Hello?! That's an Advent calendar staple! How anyone can design Advent calendar bags that don't fit small books is beyond me. Anyhow.

Pencils with those cute erasers on top. Perfect for big brothers kindergarten homework. And notice the ladybug? I think he's going to like that.

Some chocolate cars. Love those.
And some more candy to fill it up. Just small things like chocolate bonbons and gummybears, of course. No Advent calendar at our house without chocolate and gummybears!

So this is what it looks like all laid out per day. Or bag. Whatever. Before and.....

after! Just wrapping all those books took me forever. Sigh.

And this is the finished Advent calendar hanging in big brother's room (yes, he has a beach view on his wall, courtesy of my dad).

Anyone out there who sewed 48 bags before? Do I need to start in January or is July enough?!


Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent decorations & DIY ornaments

Sunday was the first Advent. Saturday we finally managed to get the boxes of decorations down from the attic. We're keeping it simple this year. My Advent wreath is not even a wreath, those only dry out anyway, so I have one of those on the porch (without any decoration). Inside I only put four candles, a couple of pinecones and other small things. Looks like I got the cat's approval.

I had two nice ornaments that I used for my Advent wreath last year. They seemed too much this year, so I suspended them from the lampshades above the dining room table. I like how the spin and glitter in the candlelight. Not really conventional, but so far it works. Seems like the cats haven't found out yet they could play with them...

The kids and I also made paper ornaments. I was going to hang them in the windows but ultimately decided to hang them between lamps in the kitchen and above the table instead so they could spin. I got the idea from here and then Belinda posted another tutorial. It's so simple - you just cut three strips of paper, leave one as is, shorten one, shorten the last a bit more and glue them all together. I love them.

Oh and then there is my growing collection of wooden trees. I love those, too. 

Did you get your decorations up yet? Do you celebrate Advent?


Friday, November 25, 2011

Christmas gifts: For the bride & groom to be

My brother-in-law is getting married next year. The wedding isn't until September, but I couldn't resist getting at least the future bride something wedding related for Christmas. I mean, she's ordered her dress already. Besides, she's getting an emergency kit for brides, so I can hardly give it to her for her wedding, that would be a little late. And since I don't know much about her except that she's quite different from me, I figured this might be something she would like:

I got the little pouch from Juliane's Dawanda shop >>myownstyle<< and then filled it with a few things she might need on her big day: some mints, a small package of dried fruit candy for something sweet, an emery board plus clear nailpolish, super glue and a stain-remover pen just in case. I also added a vintage lace hankie.

Now she's got something old (the hankie), something new (the kit) and something blue (the pouch). I'm so excited about this that I'd actually love to keep it.

As much as I love giving handmade gifts, I know that I can't do that for everyone, and I usually only do it when I know people well and know that they appreciate handmade things (unless it's something small like gifts for neighbors and such where it's the thought that counts). So following my Christmas strategy, if I can't make a gift, I use strategy No 2 and buy something handmade.

So you're wondering what I got for the future groom? Well, something completely wedding unrelated. I mean, we're talking men here, right? I'm sure he's excited about getting married, but excited about every last wedding detail nine months before the big day? I don't know. What I do know is that he doesn't like drinking his coffee from regular travel mugs. So I got him his own, porcelain travel mug. Complete with a silicone lid and a personalized felt cosy:

It's from lolilu, Katrin's Dawanda shop, and although I could have had his name printed on the cosy, I chose the word play "Morgähn" (a combination of the German words for good morning and yawning... nevermind).

I don't get to see my brother-in-law and his girlfriend very often and when I do, I usually have my kids in tow which means that it's hard to complete a sentence, let alone conversation. So I'm really happy I found two gifts that I love giving.

Anyone else out there who gets more excited about finding gifts for others than receiving presents?

Have a great weekend,


PS: Sunday is the first Advent Sunday. And I don't have a single bit of decoration up yet. Also, I made two batches of cookies and haven't gotten any pictures of the second recipe. And the kids and I made Christmas crafts and, you guessed it, I haven't really gotten proper pics yet, at least not of the result. Sigh. But I'm off next week so maybe I still have a chance to get their Advent calendars ready, take some pics and finally post about all of this. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

{the simple things} feeding deer

The other day (which is about two weeks ago - see how organized I am about posting photos?) my mom offered to take the kids for a walk. I could have stayed home. Make some tea. Relax - ok, who am I kidding: cross things off my to do list. Blog. Read blogs. Get something done.

Instead, I went with them. Because there will be plenty of times to get things done or blog about things that did or did not get done. It does seem far away now, but I've heard it isn't. And I know there will be a time when they won't get excited about afternoon walks and feeding deer anymore. I want to enjoy this before we get there, and I did. It's the simple things.

 So we enjoyed the late afternoon sunset.

Big brother took his bike.
 And little brother rode the tricycle.
 Remember these trees? Last time I took pictures of them there were still leaves left.
When we got there, the deer boss, as the kids call him, was waiting.
He knows those paper bags... Whenever we have bread left over that is about to go stale, we cut it up into pieces and save those in the bakery's paper bags so it gets dry without getting moldy. We always have a supply.
 Because there are more of them coming!
 The brothers getting their bread.
And feeding it. Little brother is pretty good about this and not half as scared as big brother was at that age. I guess watching big brother does help make him fearless. Not sure I  always like that.
 Big brother actually talks to the deer. It's pretty funny.

 Then we walked home.
Where it was getting dark. And cold. November is here, after all.

So this is my first time linking anywhere. Not sure I get this right, so bear with me here. I love Rebecca's blog for her gorgeous photography, creative ideas and so much more, so I'm giving it a try.

If you haven't yet, go read Rebecca's simple things post this week. The quote is SO inspiring. I think I need to tape this to the wall behind my kitchen sink. And the changing table. And to my vacuum.

So what have you been up to?


Friday, November 18, 2011

I can't believe I made a yarn wreath!

Just a quick one today because I'm off baking cookies. I told you in this post about wanting to try making yarn wreaths. I came across yarn wreaths a while ago. It's one of those things that are hard to overlook when you browse blogs or Pinterest for a few minutes. I loved them. So I ordered one from the fabulous Katie at heartfelt yarn wreaths. Loved it even more. (I'll show you pictures once my driveway is finally done and I can hang it on my front door without it being exposed to that construction zone that is the front of my house).

Then I saw this tutorial from Dani at klitzeklein. Hmmmmmm..... wrapping yarn around..... hmmmmmmm... looks like maybe even I could do this. And even though I took Dani's suggestion about using thick felt wool, supplies really weren't expensive. So I tried it. With a styrofoam base and this great, high-quality felt wool.

And now look at that!

Now I understand if you don't get as excited as I am about this. Really. But you see, I am just not good at crafting. Especially not with anything that is related to using wool. Past attempts at knitting have been, uh, let's just say not quite successful (more like total failure). But this turned out really well. Not like Katie's, but still really, really pretty.

I made a gray one with gray and red flowers for my mom, and an cream one with gray and red flowers for my mother-in-law (just don't have any pictures of that because I hadn't finished that at the time I took the photos). Took me a good half hour to wrap each wreath (in front of the TV, no less) and some more time to make the felt flowers and glue them on.

I'm not quite sure about the glue part yet - I know I should be using hot glue, but frankly I was too lazy to go get it from the basement. So I used fabric glue, which worked fine on the flowers because the pointed tip gets into every nook. Not so sure if it's strong enough to affix the flowers to the wreath though, so I might have to reinforce that.

Still, I love them. For a total of less than 5 EUR each I got a Christmas present that I'm actually having a hard time giving away. I might have to make a few more... hmmmmm.... I did see some more flower tutorials that I'd like to try.... they would have go on something, right?

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to avoid the holiday shopping frenzy: 7 strategies for a simpler, calmer holiday season

It all started three years ago. I was pregnant with little brother and we had just signed the contract for our house to be built. Just looking at those figures and thinking about having to eventually move all the stuff I'd bring into the old house made shopping quite unattractive. Even more so when you're pregnant and have a toddler in tow. Malls? Nah. Online shopping? Fell asleep on the couch before I even hit the checkout button.

It was a wonderful Christmas. I started giving homemade gifts. Big brother got the wooden shop I played with when I was little. All it needed was some fresh paint, which we had left over from another project, a new fancy cash register (with sound of course) and some products to sell (that one I pretty much delegated to my mother in law who happily bought all sorts of goodies). It was one of the best gifts he ever got. It was just like you want Christmas Eve to be: his eyes lit up when he came into the room and saw the shop standing next to the brightly lit Christmas tree. I'll never forget that expression on his face. He played with the shop for hours. It's now in his room and still gets played with almost every day.

Ever since, I have been trying to make things simpler, quieter and more authentic around here for the holidays. I don't always succeed, but here is what works for me:

1) Make things
I make gifts myself as long as I enjoy it and it doesn't become a chore. I've done anise liquor and Spekulatiuslikör. I bake lots of cookies and some of them make Christmas gifts for neighbors, kindergarten teachers or coworkers. I made felt fortune cookies. The grandparents get our annual family photobook (I ordered this years edition last weekend. It has 172 pages, and this is the second book for 2011. Can you tell I like taking pictures?). Last year I made skillet toffee and chocolate bark with almond brittle. This year I'm planning to try my hand at yarn wreaths followingthis tutorial from Dani at klitzeklein. And if it doesn't work out because I lack the time or, ahem, talent? Well, then I:

2) Buy handmade things
When I do buy gifts, I try to buy handmade things from sellers on Dawanda and Etsy. I love these online marketplaces. Things are made with love. They're unique and many can be personalized. They offer a lot of great ideas for small money. And it's a fun and rewarding process to be in contact with the sellers, quite unlike a checkout line at a big box store. I avoid mass-produced wherever possible. Ha, you say: What about kids?

3) Focus on quality
Truth is, I don't always have the chance to give something like that play shop. My kids have wish lists, too. And they don't really include Etsy listings. So when I do buy what is essentially a mass-produced item, I try to focus on quality. Especially when it comes to toys. I prefer toys that last, brands that are known for making sure their products don't contain harmful chemicals. You know, the classic stuff like Playmobil, Lego, Haba or, in Germany, Siku and Bruder, who make the most awesome cars and trucks.  I don't like those plastic, blinking monsters that are supposed to be "learning toys" just because they feature an extremely annoying voice singing some sort of alphabet tune supposed to "educate" one year olds. I prefer the sort of stuff I can box up for my future grandkids when my kids are done with it. The sort of toy that leaves room for their vivid imagination. Unfortunately the grandparents don't always agree with that concept.

4) Limit the amount of stuff
It's not just stuff I buy. It's also DIY projects. Last year I made chai mix, a subway print, a printed handkerchief, a felt fortune cookie, skillet toffee and cookies for my friends. Plus something for their kids. And a small gift I had bought. And you know what? Half of that would probably have been more than enough. Why do we give gifts in the first place? Because I want to bring a smile to someone's face, show that I care and that I've taken the time to pick out or make something special. Most of us have enough stuff and the means to buy more stuff. Regardless of whether we need it. I don't want to add to that. I want to add some joy and some smiles. Often, that doesn't take a lot.

The same goes for the kids. They have plenty of toys. This year I'm limiting the wish list to three items per kid. And I've got a helper for that: Findus. Do you know Findus? He's a cat who lives with an old man, Pettson, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, constantly getting into mischief and brightening every day. The books are a favorite at our house. In the Christmas one Findus only gets to have three things on his list. The little cat can only think of two: a second skier (he only has one) and that Santa Claus will come to his house, too. He saves the third wish for something really important, that turns out to be - but go read the story for yourself. You'll love it. And it will leave you with a sense of calm and no need at all to go buy anything.

You can also apply this to decorations. Last year, due to an overstuffed basement with a still not fully dried cement floor (I am told this can take years. Yikes) and decorations stored in moisture-attracting cardboard boxes, I ended up throwing a lot of my Christmas decorations out on the day before the first Advent Sunday. At first I thought I'd need to replace them, but I never did. Instead, we went outside and got pinecones and larch cones. Add some small ornaments and votives and voila, done. This year I added to my collection of simple, wooden pinetrees in all sizes. They're inexpensive and don't break easily, plus they can be used in every room and I simply adore them. So rather than buying more and more different things every year, I'm slowly building a collection of things I love and know I will use.

5) Use filters
While my kids are young and aren't influenced by any peer group or TV commercials yet, they do occasionally come across catalogs or magazine ads. And they like what they see. So I try to make sure I bring only the ones home that show things I wouldn't mind buying for my kids - see above.
That's fairly easy. Filters for myself are much harder to implement. Rachel from Small Notebook has written a great article about filters. Over here, it's not so much about incoming catalogs, it's more incoming electronic newsletters, special offers and such. The tricky part here is that these obviously come from stores or sites I like. So likely going to find something if I chose to look at it. I'm trying to read only the ones where I know I will likely be getting something at anyway, like the photo book, which saved me 30% on my order, and delete everything else without looking at it.

6) Resist the urge for more
Even though I make things myself, use filters and limit the amount of stuff I'm getting, there's still the temptation to get one more thing. Ordering craft supplies? Oh, maybe I should get another stamp, it looks cute. Buying toys online? I might as well check the sales section to see if they have any cute things/winter clothes marked down. Even with all the strategies above, I still end up buying more than I normally would, just because gifts, decorations, craft supplies, extra food and all that add up to more than my regular shopping. I'm learning to resist that first impulse to get even more. And more. I leave virtual shopping carts alone for a while, sometimes just a few minutes, sometimes a few days. I ask myself if I really, really need this. Most of it is just nice to have. How much will something really contribute to having a wonderful Christmas? For most things, the anwer is not a whole lot.

7) Use what you have
This one is obvious and closely related to the ones above. Since I'm planning on giving cookies and/or toffee as small gifts, I knew I needed cute packaging. I saw these really, really great boxes and labels, tags, stamps plus coordinating ribbon and tissue paper. That would look lovely. Imagine, personalized, professionally printed bottle labels for the Spekulatiuslikör. Well, it also gets quite expensive. And my home office drawers are already stuffed with way too much gift wrap and way too many craft supplies for someone who can't cut a straight line. So I will simply get creative and use what I have: red and white twine, kraft paper, a round scalloped and a large star punch, stamps.

With all of this, I am trying to achieve a sense of calm, thoughtfulness and gifts that come from the heart and not a big wallet or large credit card limit. The projects that I do I want to look forward to, I want to be excited about making them and not feel like I have another chore on my to do list. The things I buy I want to be really, truly excited about, too. And then I want to leave it at that, relax and enjoy. 

What is your strategy this holiday season?
Would love to hear.

Cats in clothes

I fell in love with a cat last week. His name is Henry and he's the cutest and coolest thing ever. He was created by Heather Mattoon and I found him through a post from Nicole of Making it Lovely, who wrote about him and the other Cats in Clothes at Babble.

Yeah I know I talked about a blog fast last week. But sometimes you just have to love the blogosphere. It's the times when you come across a great new read, some wonderful inspiration, a delicious recipe, a DIY that actually works out or simply something so absolutely great that you know you love it the moment you see it.

That happened last week when I saw Nicole's post. And what can I say, I ordered the set of 12 notecards from Heather's Etsy shop.

Luckily Henry is part of that collection. I'll frame the notecard for big brother's room. Big brother loves cats. And he often looks a bit ruffled like his namesake cat. And I just adore that expression on his face! Also, since we finally managed to hang some of the projects we made for the kids' rooms, I was in need for some art for their rooms. I would love to buy a bigger print, but that will have to wait.

Oh, and how about this one for little brother's room? It's Savannah. Don't you love the scarf?

And finally, I've bookmarked Voilet for a good friend's birthday. Which isn't until October next year. Oh well. Too bad she is not part of the set. But isn't she adorable?

So do you have a favorite? Or are you just not a cat person and are somewhat shaking your head now because you have no idea how someone can get so excited about cat art?

Can't wait to hear,