Viewing category ‘Holiday’

Milk and Cookies

with Kristen

I'm a mother of five, a bargain hunter, a recreational comparison shopper, and always trying to make more time - for me and for you, too. On this blog I'm sharing my favorite tools and finds to help make your work-life juggle a bit easier.

You can find my personal blog at Swistle.com.

11 Gift ideas for Father’s Day

Categories: Crafts and activities, Electronics, Fashion, Fun stuff for grown-ups, Gifts, Guys, Holiday, Toys

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Last year I suggested we get together a list of what we’d resorted to for Father’s Day presents, so that THIS year we’d have more ideas to consider.

I continue to recommend the Click ‘n’ Dig Wireless Remote Finder (photo from Amazon.com). We’ve had it a year, and Paul still says “Best. gift. ever.” about twice a week. One of the four sensor thingies broke after being dropped one (1) million times, but we still had a spare so we just replaced it. We keep the remote itself nailed to the wall so it can’t get lost. If we broke another of the little sensor thingies, I would buy another set without even thinking about it.

Last year, Alicia mentioned getting a travel coffee press/mug (photo from Amazon.com) with fancy coffee, for good coffee at the office or on business trips.
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Non-candy Valentine’s Day gifts for kids

Categories: Crafts and activities, Elementary school kids, Food, Gifts, Holiday, Toys, games

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I hope that this post will not give you the impression that I disapprove of candy at Valentine’s Day, or that I avoid it. FAR FROM IT. I give my own kids a candy gift, and I like that they come home with a little assortment of treats from school, too: it’s nice to have a candy holiday in between Christmas and Easter, just to keep the spirits up in the cold sad part of winter.

But I know enough from seeing/hearing OTHER people discuss it that not everyone is of the same mind. For those who are trying to avoid candy for various reasons but still would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a gift for the kids, here are a few ideas:

Sticky Mosaics heart box (photo from Amazon.com). I have mentioned Sticky Mosaics often enough that you already know we’re fans at my house. This heart box is a fun project we’ve also given as birthday-party gifts.

Hide ‘n’ Peek Chocolates game (photo from Amazon.com). If you look at the reviews, you’ll see that a lot of people thought this was a good Valentine’s Day gift for a child, and that unfortunately there is one main problem with it: the lid doesn’t fit on right. So it kind of depends on how important that feature is for the game to be a success. If you’re going to store it in a bin anyway (if you’re like me and wouldn’t want to assemble the toy every time you put it away, for example), it won’t matter—but it might be disappointing anyway.
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What are your kids wearing for Halloween?

Categories: Elementary school kids, Holiday, Preschoolers

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My eldest child has outgrown Halloween. Or, more likely, he’s between the stage of trick-or-treating/dressing-up and the stage of re-discovering it in crowds of teenagers who make everyone clench their teeth as they go to door gathering free candy dressed in a garbage bag.

The other four kids are still interested. We have a loose costume policy, which is basically this: I vastly prefer they choose a costume from the bins of clearance costumes I’ve acquired over the years. But if a child earnestly and fervently wants a different and particular costume, I am willing to consider it.

What we usually do is start with the Thinking About It stage, which is where we are now: the children are considering what they might want to be, and I’m looking up costumes and going “THIRTY DOLLARS PLUS SHIPPING? For something you’ll wear ONCE??” I wish it were easier to know THE YEAR BEFORE what costume the child would want to wear the following year. I KNOW I saw Star Wars costumes on practically-giving-them-away clearances last year, but last year none of them were into Star Wars.

William would like to be Luke Skywalker (image from Amazon.com). Unfortunately, William is 5′4″, so he will probably need the adult-size costume, which is even more expensive than the kid one. Also, when he saw the image I just posted, he said, “If possible, I want to be the black costume, when he’s a Jedi.” At first I was dismayed, as we scrolled through page after page of Jedi costumes and all of them were “No, that’s Anakin.” But then we did an image search to see what LUKE’S Jedi outfit looks like…and it’s black clothes. It’s really just black clothes, plus a light saber. And William thinks he can make the wrist thing out of cardboard and tin foil. So that’s manageable: I can buy the light saber and make sure he has a black shirt and that’s it.
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Non-candy ideas for an egg hunt

Categories: Holiday

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The title should not cause anyone to think that removing the candy from the annual Egg Hunt is in any way a priority at our house. No, no. Please. BUT, I have found that the Egg Hunt is more exciting if it involves little toys or other items as well as plastic eggs containing jellybeans and other non-melty candies. (Our first Egg Hunt, when Rob was three years old, we filled the plastic eggs with M&M’s, chocolate eggs, York Peppermint bites, etc. Oh dear the mess, after those tiny little egg-shaped greenhouses had had a chance to bask in even the chilly sunshine of the yard. We had to throw everything out.)

In the past we’ve stocked the non-candy part of our Egg Hunt from dollar sections and party-supply sections, and we still do some of that. But as the kids get older and the years of Egg Hunts stack up, I find that we’ve “used up” most of those things: the bendy rabbits were a big thrill the first year, interesting the year after that, and now it’s sort of “Oh, the bendy rabbits.”

With some items, I gather them up surreptitiously a week or so after Easter when no one’s playing with them anymore, and pack them away with the plastic eggs to be re-used the next year: the bendy rabbits, the Easter-themed Pez dispensers, the spinny-lights thingies, the bunny-ear headbands. Not only does this save money and play-value and landfill feed, it can add sentiment to the items: “Oh, the bendy rabbits!! I remember these!!”

I also have some other ideas to consider. We don’t get all these things every year, or even close to all of them—but it’s a good selection to choose from. I like to buy things I would have bought ANYWAY, and then hide them for the hunt.
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Gift ideas for pretty much absolutely anyone

Categories: Books, Crafts and activities, Food, Gifts, Good causes, Holiday, House & Home, Kitchen, Office

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Every year, EVERY YEAR, I feel like it is wayyyy too early to discuss gift ideas / holiday china / holiday cards and so everyone will be annoyed because DEAR HEAVENS SWISTLE IT’S ONLY HALLOWEEN—and then every year I am sitting here with only two Wednesdays left before Christmas, thinking, “There’s no tiiiiiiiiiime! There’s no tiiiiiiiiiiime!!” Still on my post list: gifts that have to work for an unknown recipient, food gifts, holiday cards, holiday china patterns, a holiday craft a child can make as a gift and it’s something a non-related-to-the-child person might even WANT, gift-idea books for children, gift-idea books for adults, good general DVD gift sets, puzzle brand comparison, teacher gift ideas, stocking stuffers, gift ideas for 4/6/10/12-year-olds. We can pick two of those. And by “we” I mean “me,” because by the time you read the first of the two posts (this one), I’ll already be working on the second one. So. Next year don’t be surprised if I start the discussion in October.
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Favorite Christmas children’s books

Categories: Books, Holiday

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Henry and I have been working on a project: each week at the library, we get a large stack of books from the Christmas section, and then we read them and see what we think of them. Here is what we have learned: there are a lot of crappy books in the Christmas section.

I had thought that we’d have to narrow down our favorites to fit them into a reasonable-length post, but in fact the problem has been finding ENOUGH for a post. There are tons of good Christian Christmas nativity-story books, but I was looking for books more about the general holiday: the presents, the tree, the carols, the cookies, the stockings. It was okay if there was a little bit of Baby Jesus (like if the family in the book went to a Christmas Eve service), but we ruled out all the books where that was the exclusive deal. After that, the problem was just that so many books weren’t any fun to read, or were unbearably cheesy, or didn’t make any sense, or just barely related to Christmas at all.

For example, Madeline’s Christmas is weird, and not about Christmas, and it introduces a magical theme into a series I think of as being realistic. (That is, in the Madeline books a child might have surgery or be rescued from a river, but a child does not fly around on a magical carpet. Madeline’s Christmas shakes up that expectation.) Christmas Cricket started out totally charming me with both the pictures and words, but then veered off into lying to children about how cricket chirps are “angel songs,” while I was still thinking “NO, there is just a CRICKET living in your CHRISTMAS TREE, and you are going to end up going BERSERK because those things DO NOT SHUT UP, and now you won’t even be able to get RID of it because you have convinced your child that it is an angel. WAY TO GO.”

Well. We did find a FEW we liked.

Merry Christmas, Merry Crow (photo from Amazon.com). A crow flies hither and thither around a town, gathering a bunch of little items: a lost toy car, the ribbon decorating someone’s mailbox, a scrap of paper, a piece of orange peel. It turns out (spoiler alert!) he’s decorating a Christmas tree for all the animals to enjoy. This was a fun book to read and look at: the crow is sometimes drawn hugely close-up and sometimes tiny and hard to find, and there are Christmas activities (shopping, parade, church service) in the backgrounds.
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Thanksgiving children’s books

Categories: Books, Holiday

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Holidays can be tricky to explain to children. Columbus Day, for example, after the children came home from school saying they’d learned (1) Columbus wasn’t supposed to be searching for America, and (2) he didn’t realize he had discovered something new, and (3) people were already living here, so isn’t that more like being a conqueror than a discoverer? “So what IS Columbus Day, Mother dear?” “A Monday off from school in October, children dear.”

Thanksgiving is tricky, too, with all the awkward issues that crop up now that we look back on it. BUT WE PERSEVERE. And this is what I love about children’s books: the authors too have struggled with how to explain it, but unlike me they have come to a conclusion, and I can read that conclusion to the children and then make modifications if necessary. (And if you’re looking for an assortment of books, all the books in this post qualify as of posting time for Amazon’s 4-for-3 deal: if you add four books to your cart, one of them will automatically be free.)

Thanksgiving is For Giving Thanks (photo from Amazon.com). “Yes, yes, pilgrims and Indians,” this book seems to say, “But perhaps it would be better at this point in history to focus on the MODERN meaning.” The things we eat! The things we are currently thankful for!
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Easter baskets for grown-ups

Categories: Food, Holiday, Toothsome products (for grownups)

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I saw one of these fancy Easter baskets by chance, and now am dazzled by the idea that grown-ups can have Easter baskets too, with excellent fancy chocolate instead of the “chocolate-flavored candy” kind.


Godiva Enchanted Easter Basket (photo from Godiva.com), $85 with free shipping if you use code BUNNY.


See’s Deluxe Easter Basket (photo from Sees.com), $59.50 plus shipping, which they call the “Extra Large Family Basket” but I changed the name because I don’t want any lip about how many people ought to be sharing it.
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Baking for Valentine’s Day

Categories: Food, Holiday, House & Home

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Already the requests are coming in: Can you bake for the Valentine’s Day class party? For the Valentine’s Day Family Fair? For the Valentine’s Day fundraising bake sale? For the class parties of your other three school-aged children? For the bake sales of their other two schools?

Why, YES. Yes, I can. I’m not going to make roll-and-cut cookies (I would rather volunteer to be in the fundraising dunk tank, in my bathing suit in front of everyone, YES I REALLY DO HATE MAKING ROLL/CUT COOKIES THAT MUCH), but I can still bake things in heart shapes. (Or, alternately, I can go to the grocery store bakery department and purchase them, then transfer them to baggies so it looks like I made them. But I am not going to get a post out of THAT.)

Wilton heart-shaped cake pan, about $10 (photo from Amazon.com). This is the classic. You can frost the cake in any pastel color, and if you can write with frosting you can write “LUV U” or any conversation-heart message. Or don’t write on it, it’s still pretty. Or frost it white and use red sugar around the edges. If you don’t want to buy a heart-shaped pan, use a round pan and modify the easy bake-sale Christmas tree cake: put it on a red or pink or white paper plate; and instead of a tree, rough out a heart-shape in red sugar. One cake mix makes two bake sale cakes.
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Non-toy gifts for children

Categories: Gifts, Holiday, House & Home

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There are times, like when I’m trying to kick a path through the playroom, that I feel like we can’t add even one more toy to this household and in fact would be well-advised to jettison fully half of them. This creates a problem five times a year at birthdays, and a problem-times-five at Christmas. I like to find gifts that are fun enough to be gifts, but that don’t have to live on the toy shelf (or floor, whatever).

1. Character (or otherwise special) bed sheets (both images above from Amazon.com). Bonus: if the child needs sheets anyway, and you spend $20 on Little Mismatched sheets that would have cost $10 if plain/boring, you’re making some of the money work twice: $10 sheets plus $20 gift = $20. (The Wonder Pets set is probably a better example of the kind of sheets a child would actually be happy with, but I got distracted by the ones _I_ would want for ME, and besides the Wonder Pets ones are more expensive so they don’t make my money-working-twice point as impressively.)
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