Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category



That was an adventure.

We are finally back home in VT, where it is warmer than about 80% of the country (OK, probably not 80%, but I’m not listening to your math-y talk). I’m sure it’ll go back to normal in March, when I’ll still be bitching about blizzards while everyone else is posting those “legs by the poolside” selfies.

Anyway, I’m still a bit fried. We got in late Saturday, after several cancellations and a near stranding in Detroit, and I started this semester’s classes with an 8AM this morning. All things considered, it went well. For a Monday.

Christmas was fun, my brother’s wedding was wonderful, John and I are newborn level exhausted because Luna decided that the vacation was a good time to teeth and regress and be a general (but adorable) pain in the backside non sleeping baby.

But I’m glad to be home, and I’m glad that Downton is back on, and I’m glad that our heater decided NOT to be broken, after all (that was a fun little surprise to come home to).

I hope you all had a nice Christmas/Festivus. I’m pretty excited about starting 2014. I think it’ll be a good one.


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We somewhat quickly abandoned the Advent Activity Calendar.  It was proving to be a bit too much, for both me and Xander. He was getting overly excited and not having as much fun with it, and I was just getting cranky.

We’ve done some, and I’ll still break out some of the activities to do, but not in any official sort of capacity. His favorite so far was making the button craft. Though, he eschewed the idea of a button tree and opted for, as Jen put it, a Button Snowstorm. So.


Other ones we’ve done with moderate success:

  • “Cookie” baking. (Really: melting kisses on pretzels and topping them with M&M’s)IMG_0137
  • Ornament making. This was a mixed review. He kind of enjoyed it, but he also got mad that we weren’t just emptying the entire bottle of paint into the ornament.IMG_0048 IMG_0050
  • New book from our Elf on the Shelf (yes, we Elf; yes, I know, you hate it). I actually did this one twice. Not wrapped. Just the elf, hanging out by a book.
  • Coloring on snow was….not a big success. It was too hard for him to hold the bottles with gloves, but too cold not to wear gloves. Also the red food coloring just looked like we murdered someone in the driveway. (WE DIDN’T, NSA, DON’T WORRY.)
  • I tried taking him to see Frozen, but that was a complete and utter disaster.
  • Tree cutting and decoratingIMG_0019 IMG_0013
  • Trainhop and meeting Santa (this was a two for, which I didn’t know – I thought we’d have to make a separate Santa trip, so I was happy.)IMG_0068 IMG_0079
  • Instead of a Christmas movie, we’ve done a few Christmas episodes of his favorite shows/shorts of movies. We may watch one when we get to my parents’ house, though.
  • Foam gingerbread houseIMG_0082

I think that’s it. I’m actually really good with deciding to “quit.” It wasn’t going to be worth it, and I didn’t want fights over something that was supposed to be fun for all of us. Someone wrote (probably Moxie, it sounds like her) to always chose the relationship with your child over the memory making activity (I’m sure I”m butchering that, but the sentiment is right). Doing the other activities when we have free time is working out well, and it also lets Xander repeat the ones he’s liked the most without me stressing out about missing that day’s assigned activity.

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Christmas Babies

Now that my cards have been sent and (mostly) received, here are the pictures I ended up putting on them. (I’m sorry if I didn’t send you one, but I was terrible at keeping track of who had sent us cards and saving addresses, plus I’m cheap and only ordered, like, 25 cards. Next year I promise to do better.)

Luna christmas 13


X Christmas13

Cute, aren’t they? I rather like them.

(Xander was actually harder to photograph than he usually is, because he’s in that weird 3.5 year old fake smile sort of phase.)

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Gifts for the Kids

This is a blatant consumerism post, so if that bothers you, then you can go look at this instead.

Anyway, K just posted what she got her kids for Christmas, and I’m nothing if not a copycat.

Because we’re traveling for parts of the holiday, we’re doing some presents at my parents’ house and the “big” gifts will be waiting here for them when we get back.


1. Tractor

All Xander has asked for for the past six months is a blue digger tractor. Lo and behold? Ha! Not gonna happen. I can get a pink one, apparently, but he wants blue.

Thank goodness for eBay. I was able to procure this little beauty. It’s not huge, but it’s big enough to play with (like, not a matchbox car size), and it’s blue. It came all the way from England.

Tractor Pic

2. Trampoline

His big gift from us is a mini trampoline. He’s a three year old with tons of energy, and winter here is LONG, so I really wanted something he could do that would let him be active. I got it on a flash sale sometime around Black Friday/Cyber Monday/WhateverDay.  My plan is to have it in the basement where it’s carpeted and somewhat less dangerous.


3. Books

I went a bit Book Overboard this year, but he’s really getting into stories and reading and I wanted to ride the wave while I can.

I got him: Not a Stick, Dragons Love Tacos, and Journey

Not a Stick pic Journey Pic Dragon Taco pic

4. How to Train your Dragon

He’s starting to really enjoy movies (I love it when he anticipates something funny and starts laughing uncontrollably minuets before the joke happens), and I really liked this one. I think he’ll dig it.

Dragon Pic

5. Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game

Because it was on Zulily.

Squirrel Game pic

6. Craft Supplies

Xander loves doing “projects” and especially projects that involve gluing weird stuff onto other stuff. This was also on Zulily. It’s actually much bigger than I expected it to be, so this will be waiting for him at home along with the trampoline (note: don’t shorten to “tramp” when referring to things you got for your children).

craft pic

7. Woody!

(Added later). I almost forgot about Woody! Xander has been in a MEGA Toy Story phase, so I got him a talking Woody doll. I got it from the Disney store, because its was ridiculously cheaper than on Amazon (like $15 instead of $40).

Woody pic

I haven’t really done much for stockings, honestly, but I figure we can hit Target once we arrive (OMG TARGET!) and get some crayons, candy, coloring books, socks…stuff like that.


Since she’s still so young, we’re not going for equal number of gifts/equal costs just yet. So.

1. Soft Rocker by Rockabye

I didn’t see this type of rocker with Xander until he was too old for it but I love them. They are so cute!  I got her the adorable little dino one.  This will be at home.

Rocker pic

2. Shape Sorter

Because why not, right? John and I both wanted to get her a few baby toys that are JUST hers, rather than ones that Xander still sort of remembers being his and thus grabs from her hands at first sight.

Shape Sorter pic

3. Books

Baby Pride and Prejudiced, because come on.

P&P PicI also got a few Sandra Boynton ones at Marshall’s.

For her stocking I was thinking of an empty roll of TP and some dog hair.

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Christmas Candy (Toffee Recipe)

I must be in the Holiday Spirit if I’m sharing this recipe with you. It’s SUPPOSED to be a family secret (though a quick google search tells me this recipe is not exactly unique).

Still, though.

Growing up, Mom made this candy every year at Christmas time. I have vivid memories of watching her pour the toffee out onto foil on the counter tops, and having to keep my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t sneak any tastes. She made them for our teachers, and her prayer group friends, people from church. And it was always a special treat when she’d slip us a piece of it before wrapping it up.

For the past few years I’ve started making The Candy. I send some to John with work, or bring it to holiday parties. It’s a small thing, but it’s fun to feel connected to the other women in my family, past and present, who also continue to make this every year.

So, without further ado, Christmas Candy (as written by my mom):


From the kitchen of Cindy B.



  • 1 lb butter (salted)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • ~1/2 lb chocolate candy (milk or dark, chips or chopped up bars)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts


Have ingredients at room temperature.  You will need a heavy saucepan, approximately 3 qt. capacity, and a wooden or silicone spoon to cook the candy.  Have about 2 feet of aluminum foil laid out on a heat resistant surface to pour the candy out on, and a large metal tablespoon ready to spread the candy.


Over medium to medium-high heat (I use about 6.5 on my electric stove), bring the butter to a full, rolling boil.  Add the sugar.  The butter and sugar will be separate.  Cook, stirring, until the mixture returns to a boil and comes together with no oil separated.  Add the almonds.  Continue to cook and stir (the mixture tends to scorch so be sure to cover the entire bottom of the pan with your stirring).  The mixture may separate again (Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t – I have no idea why.  It is harder to stir if it separates a lot, but doesn’t seem to affect the results.)  Continue cooking until the mixture comes together again with no oil separated, and develops a rich caramel brown color (total cooking time is around 20 to 30 minutes).  The almonds should look toasted.   Pour out onto prepared foil, and quickly spread as thin as possible with large metal spoon.  Place chocolate candy on top.  When chocolate is melted spread evenly and sprinkle evenly with chopped walnuts.  Allow to cool until chocolate has set.  Break into pieces and store airtight.


Note:  If almonds should start to get very brown before the mixture comes together, pour mixture onto foil immediately.  Use paper towels to remove any excess oil before topping with chocolate.

Note (from Emily): This year my candy separated a LOT at the end, and I was worried it was ruined, but I continued to stir it once I’d moved it off the heat and it came together pretty well.

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Did you all have a nice Thanksgiving? Despite that fact we are far from extended family, this was one of my favorite Thanksgivings yet. We went over to a family friend’s house and the kids were totally the center of attention and they ate up every moment of it. (As for the actual food, well, Xander ate up lots of cheese and crackers.)

I hung up the Advent Activity Calendar and, 2 days in, it’s a big hit. So far we have: decorated the tree and opened a new Christmas book. The tree, well, it was maybe TOO much of a good thing. Xander spent no less than 4 hours rearranging ornaments  and was whipped into a positive frenzy by the end of the day yesterday. It was rather rough. BUT, he had fun. Mostly. Apart from me screeching at him nonstop to CALM DOWN, STOP SCREAMING, WHAT ARE YOU DOING OH MYGODSTOPITPLEASE.

Somewhat related (in that it’s the holidays so everything related to Christmas or the like is On Topic), I have decided that it is no good not to have the Style and/or Food Lush gift guides this year, so I am asking for everyone to tell me a few (reasonably priced) things that you are hoping to get (or give) as gifts this year. I will compile the answers and put them in a new post.

Here are lots of pictures from the tree decorating.

J and X Tree Blog


X Tree blog


Xan and tree blog


hands tree blog

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Advent Activities 2013

Jen has done one of these Advent Activities lists for the past three years, but this is the first time I’ve seen it, and so I am blatantly copying it.  Every day from December 1 to December 24, Xander will pick an activity out of an Advent Calendar with a seasonal/holiday activity on it that we will do that day. (I ordered my calendar on Etsy, because crafts are straight from Satan and I ail have no part of them).

Most of the activities I will stuff into the bags the night before, depending on our schedules the next day and how everyone is feeling. There will be exceptions for local events that are calendar specific.  (Cross promotional: if you’re looking for a list of local Burlington events to enjoy, then check out my post on Burlington Vermont Mom’s Blog.)

So, in no particular order, the Banks Family Advent Activities:

  1. Cut our own Christmas tree and decorate it. This will probably happen this weekend, which is a bit early for us, tree wise, but since we are traveling for Christmas, we don’t have to have the tree last as long.
  2. Make a button tree or wreath. (This, like many others will be, is taken directly from Jen’s post). Jen links to this one. We did a similar tree for John for Father’s Day, so I already know that Xander can do it and will enjoy it.  We may give it to Gram and PopPop for Christmas (SPOILER ALERT, Mom and Dad. Sorry.)
  3. Go to our small town’s tree lighting and train hop. This will, obviously, be a date specific activity.
  4. A neighboring town has a European style market and the BEST ever Santa Clause.  Again, date specific.
  5. Another local one that won’t help you: our favorite museum is hosting a holiday kick off party with lots of fun stuff (trees and crafts and snacks and YAY CHRISTMAS!)
  6. A sleigh ride at the farm.
  7. Candy Cane Hunt. You guys, this sounds SO AWESOME. I can’t wait. We have a park with a short trail right in our neighborhood that would be PERFECT for this.
  8. Build a snowman. Xander has been talking about building a snowman since Halloween, so as soon as we have a good and wet snow, this will go on the list.
  9. Sugar on Snow. This is a Vermont, or at least New England thing. I’d never heard of it before, but basically you pour hot maple onto snow and make taffy out of it. A lot of local sugarhouses offer this in the winter.
  10. Build an indoor snowman. I’m on the fence about this, because MESS, but…it looks like something Xander would love that might be good for a day when Luna is napping while he is not in quiet time.
  11. Open a Christmas book. I just got a few new Christmas books at Marshalls today. I’ll wrap one of them up and let him open it early, and we can add it to his pile of bedtime stories. This year I’ll try to remember to pack up his Christmas books at the end of the season, so he’s not reading them in May and asking me about Santa Claus and what presents he’s going to get.
  12. Decorate cookies. Like Jen, I’ll pre make mine and let Xander decorate them.
  13. Botanical Gardens Lights. This is one for when we are visiting my parents. The Botanical Gardens in Huntsville do a great light show that you can drive through. John and I will pack up Xander after Luna goes to bed and drive down. I’ll pack some fun snacks/hot chocolate.
  14. Shop for Angel Tree (or similar). I mentioned this in my Traditions post, but I want to start this concept early, so I plan to take Xander to a toy store or the mall so we can buy a toy together to donate.
  15. Watch a Christmas movie during dinner. I really want to try a Muppets one this year, but I’m not sure he’ll have the attention span. We may have to do something shorter.
  16. Go ice skating. Xander’s never been, and I haven’t been in ages. I think he’ll like it.
  17. Make bead candy canes. I can handle this one. I’m sure of it.
  18. Make a Santa Belly ornament. Jen, you’re the cutest. Really.
  19. Write Santa a letter.
  20. Make gingerbread houses. I’m not sure if I want to do a kit, graham crackers, or a non-edible version, but this is such a traditional activity that I really want to include it.
  21. Go to Starbucks and get a special Christmas treat. John and I, clearly, love Starbucks, so I thought it would be fun to let Xander get a steamer (or hot chocolate) and pick out a pastry.
  22. Go sledding. Either in our yard, or one of the MANY sledding hills around town.
  23. Open the Advent Calendar. This will be Day 1, obviously, but I have a reusable cloth one with velcro ornaments and Xander gets to take one down every night before bed.
  24. Open a present on Christmas Eve. We already do this, but it’s still going in the calendar.

Back up ideas include: open another Christmas book, paint chip Christmas trees, visit mall Santa (please, no), paint swirl ornaments, make hot chocolate, make chocolate dipped pretzels (or similar treat – to give away (mostly)), color on snow with food coloring in spray bottles.

I may try to make one or two of these “party” ideas for him. But, we’ll see. We are still somewhat trapped by Baby Nap Schedule, so who knows. We may end up doing more of the at home ones than the local events ones.

What are YOU doing this year?


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I like to think that I would have been able to maintain my post a day for all of November had I not gotten sick. But, I did so…who knows. I’m on the mend (knock wood) and I’m hardly ever falling over any more, so that’s nice.

First I have a favor to ask. Xander, for months, has been talking about a Blue Digger Tractor, and how he Really! Wants! One! Really! Bad! Anytime I ask him what he’s going to ask Santa for, this is his answer. A blue tractor. Problem? Yeah, tractors don’t typically come in blue. Amazon has one, but it’s $40 and that’s just too expensive for this particular Santa Claus. So! If you see a toy tractor that is blue and it’s not amusingly overpriced, will you let me know? Thank you!

Secondly, don’t forget about the Ornament Exchange! You have until Thanksgiving to enter, and I will send out assignments on Friday. You don’t have to be a blogger or a twitter-er to play.

And finally, I am wondering how you schedule/plan your housework? We have had a cleaning service come twice in recent months, just to get us to a good baseline (OMG the filth, you guys, it’s amazing and terrifying), but it’s not an expense we can afford on a regular basis.  When it was just us, or just us and Xander, I’d normally take a full day a few times a month and clean All The Things, but I don’t feel that this is a practical approach. So how do you do it? Do you take a room a day? Or break it down by chore?

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Traditions 2.0

I blogged about holiday traditions last year, too, but I reread that post and I promise this one won’t be exactly the same.

It’s early, but we’re already listening to Christmas music and Xander has been asking since before Halloween if it’s Christmas yet, so, I’m just going for it. Today we made a paper chain to count down the 41 days until The Big Day.

At 3.5, it seem like a good year to start really reinforcing, or even starting, the holiday traditions we want to have. I’m not entirely sure what they are, yet. And this year will be somewhat different since we’ll be traveling for Christmas, but we can still do some things that will become fun traditions.

In past years we have:

  • Cut down our Christmas tree from a local farm
  • Decorated the tree
  • Decorated cookies
  • Visited Santa
  • Watched a holiday movie (Rudolf) on Christmas Eve with a special snack
  • Eat Puffed Apple Pancake for breakfast on Christmas morning

I would like to keep those traditions. They are fun and festive but pretty low key. I want to add more, and I also want to solidify a few others. Like, we’ve had different things for dinner on Christmas Eve: hors devours, burgers, …. I don’t remember what else. I’d like to pick a Christmas Eve Dinner and have that be part of the tradition.

Other things I am thinking of adding as part of our family traditions:

  • A non Evangelical church service on Christmas Eve night
  • Selecting a  name off of a Project Angel Tree tree and shopping with Xander for our child (I’ve done this in the past, but not included him as I thought it would be too hard for a 2 year old to buy a gift for someone else, but I do want that to be something he grows up with – the idea that we help people)
  • Gingerbread houses (I’m not totally sold on this as it seems like a lot of sugar and candy and more sugar)
  • Tree Lighting Ceremony. Our small town does it, and Burlington does it downtown. We’ve never gone because it’s been “late” for Xander, but it sounds fun.
  • Writing letters to Santa
  • Putting cookies out for Santa
  • Cleaning out X number of toys to donate (goes along with the Angel Tree idea; also cuts down on the clutter)

What else? What do you do in the Holiday Season?

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Christmas Music

Here are all the songs/albums that people responded to my query with:

Ones with an asterisk had more than one vote.

  • The 1950s Arthur Fiedler Boston Pops
  • George Winston’s December
  • James Taylor*
  • Sufjan Steven*
  • Glee*
  • Ella Fitzgerald*
  • Yule Be Swingin
  • Gene Autry Christmas Cowboy
  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Christmas with the Rat Pack*
  • John Denver and the Muppets*
  • Josh Groban*
  • Rose of Bethlehem by Selah
  • Somewhere In My Memory (Home Alone Theme)/Home Alone Soundtrack*
  • Andy Williams
  • Amy Grant*
  • A Very Special Christmas 2
  • On a Winter’s Night (Sting)
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Point of Grace
  • Barenaked for the Holidays
  • Nat King Cole*
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Kenny G
  • Alan Jackson, Let It Be Christmas
  • Carol of the Bells
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Colorado Christmas
  • Emmylou Harris
  • Linda Rondstadt
  • Dolly Parton, A Light in the Stable
  • The Pogues, Fairytale of New York
  • The Waitresses, Christmas Wrapping*
  • Funky Funky Christmas by NKOTB
  • I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
  • Straight No Chaser, The 12 Days of Christmas
  • Bob Rivers, Who Put the Stump
  • John Denver Rocky Mountain Christmas

Of those, Amy Grant, Nat King Cole,  and James Taylor are on HEAVY rotation for me. Individual songs that I always love and listen to:

  • O Holy Night (any rendition, really)
  • Sarah McLachlan, The First Noel/Mary Mary
  • Chris Rice, Welcome To Our World
  • Sarah Bareilles & Ingred Michaelson, Winter Song*
  • Third Day, Born in Bethlehem
  • Sixpence None The Richer, Silent Night
  • Judy Garland, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • Michael Buble, Let it Snow
  • Whitney Houston, Who Would Imagine a King (Preacher’s Wife soundtrack)
  • Baby It’s Cold Outside, the Glee Version (I’m sorry, but Kurt and Blaine are my favorite)

Any that I missed? There are some on here that I’ve never thought to get, so I’m pretty excited to update.

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