Last Year’s Advent Calendar, This Year’s Activities

Remember this Advent Calendar that I made last year?

Well, I pulled it out of the Christmas decoration box and put it right up on the wall.


I’ve been coming up with Christmas activities for us to do over the last few weeks, and I made a printable, cut out list.


I decided this would be easier than making tags again. Just print, cut, and you’re done.

All I needed was the calendar itself to get the days of merriment rolling.


The Advent calendar starts on December 1, so I’m ready to go for whatever Christmas fun is lined up for tomorrow.

Happy almost December! I can’t wait for the season of Christmas lights, hot chocolate, family, and friends to begin!

Star with Royal Beauty Bright

As I mentioned on Monday, we decorate for the holidays on the day after Thanksgiving. While watching Elf.

I love how homey and peaceful the apartment feels with the glowing lights of the Christmas tree, so I always want the tree and decor up as soon as possible. That works fine for the stuff we put out every year, but not for all the wonderful Christmas crafts I always intend to make, then run out of time.

Not this year. I picked out just a few crafts to make, so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself in trying to make a winter wonderland in my living room. One of the first items on my list to make was this natural wooden star, which I think turned out quite well.


Making it only took about half an hour, once I gathered up all the sticks from outside. It wasn’t super easy finding suitable sticks while walking down local streets in Chicago, but I made do with what was there.

To keep the sticks together, Dan drilled little holes in the sticks and used thin wire.



I didn’t like how the wire looked, so I took some red, white, and green yarn and wrapped it around the wire for a bit of whimsy.

I wanted it to light up, so I strung mini battery powered LCD lights through the branches.

I knew the perfect place to put the star – on the shelf behind our couch. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in.

The star looked lonely up there buy itself, so I added a mini Christmas tree with old looking bells, a sparkly white dove, and a framed Christmas saying. First, I had the famous Elf quote: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” See above. But, as much as it made me smile every time I saw it, the print didn’t really go with the more natural, toned down elements in the room that I wanted.

Out went the Elf print and in went this wonderful chalkboard printable that I got from here.


Yes, I jumped on the chalkboard bandwagon. I love the look.


Christmas craft project #1 this season…SUCCESS!

After Thanksgiving Dinner…Another Big Dinner

What did Dan and I do after eating two (yes, two) Thanksgiving dinners on Thursday? Why, we invite my parents over for dinner on Friday.

Let me explain.

On Thanksgiving, Dan and I see both sides of the family, though not for very long. To compensate, we see my parents the day after Thanksgiving, and Dan’s family on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Yep, it’s a busy weekend.

We also always decorate the house, while watching Elf, the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a pretty jam packed day.

This year, I thought I’d keep it simple with the food we were preparing, and went with dishes that didn’t take too long to prep or cook.

The menu:

Shrimp cocktail appetizer
Turkey meatloaf with balsamic glaze (we made them in mini loaf pans to cut down on cooking time)
Creamy cauliflower puree
Balsamic roasted asparagus
Honey glazed baby carrots
Mini cannoli cream cups

For decorations/table settings, I just went with the holiday decor I put out that morning. The one little extra touch I did was make place cards. I used a scallop hole punch and some place card holders from C&B that my mom gave me last year. I made these a good 20 minutes before my parents showed up.


Unfortunately, in the rush of the day, I took virtually no photos of the food or prep. Of course.

Here is one of the table before we chowed down.


And here are the cute mini cannoli cups.


They weren’t exactly the same, but they were a fun dessert to make.

I very much enjoyed all of the family time over the last few days.

And now, back to Monday.

Christmas Event Wish List

All the turkey is gone, my pants are a little snugger, and Dan is lugging all the Christmas decorations up from the basement this morning. The Christmas season is here.

To celebrate I’ve made yet another printable for this most wonderful time of the year.


This time, instead of calling it a to-do list, or a bucket list, I’ve called it the Christmas Event Wish List. I named it that way because I’m hoping to get to do all of these fun holiday activities, the reality is that I won’t get to have all of these experiences this holiday season.

I’m off now to get at least one of the items on this list done today – decorating the Christmas tree!

30 Days of Thankful for My Husband

Leading up to Thanksgiving, Dan and I decided to try a 30 Days of Thankful Challenge.

It’s something I made up as a way to do small, everyday, nice things for your partner in the 30 days that led up to Thanksgiving.

We’re thankful for many things in our lives. Our health, our families, our friends, and each other. Sometimes, at least in my case, you forget to be thankful for your spouse. You see them every day, and it’s easy to overlook one another in your day to day lives of chores, making dinner, walking the dog, and paying bills.

We’ve tried to combat this by having regular date nights (Fridays) where we make it a point to not make any other plans that night. I think it’s done a lot for our relationship, even just that little thing of making time to spend with one another.

Going along with that thought, and in anticipation of the time of year of thankfulness, I compiled a list of 60 nice things to do for one another. I made sure nothing required a lot of time to prepare something (no loving photo montages sent to your wedding song, or anything like that). They were each just sweet little gestures of love or a prompt to remember a happy time in our lives.


Making this was very simple. I printed out the spreadsheet of the list that I created (see below), cut out each item, and glued it to a popsicle stick. (We have about a million of them in the house). I put all of them in a jar.


Every night before bed, we would each pick a nice thing out of the jar. We would keep what it said a secret, and the next day, we would make sure to do that activity for the other person.


It was fun to anticipate what surprise Dan had waiting for me the next day.

Today is the last day of doing this, and I definitely feel like this was a good thing for us. Those everyday little reminders of your spouse’s love made me feel good all day long. And, at least for me, it made me think of Dan throughout the day as I figured out when I was going to do my activity and what his activity for the day was.

This activity probably didn’t bring us closer, since we’re pretty close already, but it did make me appreciate Dan more.

Tomorrow, as we go around the dinner table and list all the things we’re thankful for in our lives, Dan will be at the top of my list.


Happy early Thanksgiving!

Memory Box Update

A while back, I posted about the memory box I started last year.


I thought I’d share an update.

I’ve started seeing memories from last year as I’m writing down something that happened recently. For example, last year on November 10, I hosted a Friendsgiving dinner at my apartment. This year, on that same date, I was in the wedding of one of the girls who attended Friendsgiving.


Kinda cool.

I really have enjoyed adding to the memory box all year. Some of the memories were big ones, like writing about the holiday party I host every year. The really cool ones are the little memories of something small that happened that day, that you might not otherwise remember, like the day we dubbed cheap dinner night (we used coupons/gift cards and created an eclectic dinner that cost us next to nothing).

I’m looking forward to adding more and more memories as time goes on!

The Honeymooner

This past weekend, I was celebrated the wedding festivities of one of my oldest friends, Miss Mare.

The wedding was gorgeous, as was the bride. Now, she’s off enjoying herself and her new marriage in a tropical locale, while it snowed today in Chicago. Not fair.

In any case, to help her relax when she gets home, I put together a little box of stuff for a quiet night in.

Dan helped me come up with a cute little poem for the tag:

Once the aisle’s been walked, and the vows have been made,

When the cake has been cut, and the dancing is done,

After sunny beaches, and drinks in the shade,

Enjoy a quiet night in, with your husband, your one.”

Inside the box was a comfy nightgown, some chocolate, pumpkin spice hot cocoa mix, and some pillow spray in the soothing scent of lavender vanilla.


Just a little something to look forward to using when the newlyweds get home.

But to me, the coolest thing I gave her was this tote bag.


It’s sort of become like the jeans in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to our group.

See, I was given the tote at my bachelorette party by my cousins, and it came with me on my Mexican honeymoon.


Then, I gave it to our friend, Lauren, to use on her trip to Hawaii.


It was no surprise that Mary was expecting this very bag for her own honeymoon.

This time, I added a fun twist.

Lauren and I each added our initials to the inside of the bag, along with our wedding dates and our honeymoon locations. To be even cuter, we wrote in our wedding colors.


You only see my info in the photo. I didn’t get a shot of it after Lauren signed.

I gave Mary the bag and a purple sharpie (her wedding color) so she can add her initials to the group bag.

It’s something that was never intended to start, but is definitely a fun little group tradition.

Congratulations, Mary and Kevin!


Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

It’s still the season for butternut squash.

I came across a recipe for butternut squash mac and cheese. It sounded so tasty that I couldn’t resist trying it out.


4 cups butternut squash (half of a good sized squash)
1 head of fresh broccoli
2 tbsp chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
1 box elbow macaroni
1 package shredded red fat sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded skim mozzarella cheese
1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper (can add more)
Squirt of mustard
2.5 tbsp breadcrumbs

Start by peeling the butternut squash and slicing it into small cubes. Much like for the autumn couscous recipe, I put the cubed squash in a microwave safe bowl and heated for 8 minutes with a couple tablespoons of water in the bowl and a piece of loose saran wrap on top. Stir at 4 minutes, then continue heating.

While the squash is cooking, rinse and cut the broccoli into smaller pieces. Set aside.

When the squash is soft, put it in a food processor with the chicken stock and puree. I left some chunks for texture, but you can make this all smooth if you prefer. Pour the puree into a sauce pan and add the cup of skim milk. Simmer over a low flame, just until combines and heated throughout.


Once the mixture is combined, that the pan off heat and add the cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste, and add just a squirt of yellow mustard.

As for the pasta, just make it the way it tells you to on the box. I used whole wheat elbow macaroni, which cooked in about 8 minutes.

Pour the drained and cooked macaroni into a large casserole pan. Pour the squash-cheese mixture over the pasta, and add the broccoli on top. Stir just until combined, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top.


Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.


Fair warning: this recipe makes a lot. For just Dan and I, this recipe covered dinner, lunch for both of us the next day, and we even had at least 3 servings left over after that.

It was a really tasty dish, though I was surprised at how little you could taste the butternut squash. I think this would be great for kids to slip some veggies into their diet without then noticing. It’s good that way for adults too.

More Pumpkin (Waffles!)

Back on Monday, I shared how to make pumpkiny snickerdoodles.

The recipe didn’t call for using the whole can of pumpkin puree, so I put the remainder of the can in the fridge and vowed to remember to make something with it.

I almost forgot, but over the weekend, I saw it in there while searching for something to eat when I thought of the perfect fall weekend breakfast – pumpkin waffles.


I quickly googled for an easy recipe and found this one. To make it just a little healthier for you, I substituted half of the regular flour for whole wheat flour.

I’m sure I added a bit more pumpkin than the recipe called for since I was trying to use it all up.

We didn’t have any maple syrup, so Dan devised an awesome butter-brown sugar-cinnamon mixture to put on top. He melted the butter in the microwave, then stirred in the sugar and spice. It was kind of a thick mixture, so we brushed it onto the waffles.


And yes, those are waffles. With a swirl pattern in them. How I got such an appliance is a secret.