Advent Books: A Holiday Family Tradition

This is the story of how I proudly became a bag lady. It starts off as kind of a downer. You know, losing my job and all, but it has a happy ending. Promise. And it’s an ending I hope you’ll love enough to work into your own holiday celebrating.

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THE STORY OF OUR ADVENT BOOKS TRADITION

Once upon a time, there was a mama who lost her job of 8+ years. This came just before the holidays, adding to the stress and sadness of it all. At home, she had a new(ish) one-year-old baby girl, making the Christmas season more magical than ever. Unfortunately, it also happened to make the layoff that much more stressful. How was Mama Meg going to make Christmas happen when her funds were just cut in a major way?

Okay, we’ll pause the fairytale right here to say I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Mama Meg, your tiny tot couldn’t care less about presents beneath the tree. Hell, Santa could deliver her an empty cereal box and she’d be overjoyed. Yes, I now know this to be true. But, as a relatively new mom, I wanted everything to be perfect and naively thought that meant pretty presents beneath the tree. Soooo… you’ll have to go with me on this one. ;)

Phew! Glad we got that cleared up. Let’s continue.

Suddenly, Mama Meg was without the money to enjoy extra holiday outings and gifts and all of the things. “Whatever will I do for my little princess,” Mama Meg sighed.

Luckily, MM’s current predicament wasn't the worst thing in the world. You see, MM enjoys a challenge and an opportunity to use her creativity to problem solve, and that’s just what she set to do. She would make the holiday season merry and bright one way or another.

One day, while in ye olde Target shop, MM happened upon Christmas books that only cost $1. This was back in the magical days of the DOLLAR Spot, when all items were $1 in this part of the store. No, it’s true. This isn’t lore. Aww… the good old days! ;) Seeing the affordable book, MM had an idea. “I’ll give my princess the gift of books!” One Christmas book each night in December, to be exact. Just like that, the Advent Books tradition was born!

You might be wondering, did MM and Princess M live happily ever after? You bet! They even had a jr. princess join the castle chaos, making the Advent Book tradition all the more magical. Here’s what it’s all about:

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ADVENT BOOK BAGS

You can either create bags from cute Christmas fabric or purchase bags. And that’s if you want bags at all. For the first couple of years, I used old shirt boxes and wrapping paper. I introduced the bags when I had the funds to do so, and I’m so glad I did. They can be used year after year, which makes this project so easy to set up (with far less waste!)

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I did a combo of handmade bags and amazon-bought canvas bags. The fun thing about the handmade is you can make them in any color scheme you want. I went with pastel Christmas to complement the trees in my girls’ rooms.

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To my bags, I added die cut numbers (actually the same numbers I used when I made my monthly onesies). I simply ironed the numbers on by first treating the back of them with a fusible iron-on webbing.

FINDING AFFORDABLE BOOKS

Books can be expensive. I get it if that’s the first concern to jump to mind when reading this. You’re absolutely right! But there are resources for affordable options. Some of my favorites include:

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  • Target. While the “Dollar Spot” may be a thing of the past, they still have the “One Spot,” which often includes $1 board books. These are especially good for younger babes, but even school-aged kids can appreciate them.

  • Dollar Tree (or your version of a dollar store). They have an entire book and coloring book section. Many of our books came from here.

  • FB area yard sale pages. Warning: These can become highly addictive. It’s so much fun finding a person looking to offload their old books. I scored some AWESOME vintage Christmas books this way.

  • Traditional yard sales. These are harder to come by this time of year, at least in these parts, but if you live in warmer waters (lucky!), this is another great place to score stories.

  • Library sales. Once a year, our city library has a massive book sale. They practically give their books away at these, making it a gold mine for this project.

  • Schoolastic book orders. If you have school-age children, the little pamphlets that come home with your kiddos are a honey hole of bargain books. I updated our collection quite a bit when Maggie started kindergarten (and kindermusik).

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Of course, you don’t have to rummage and scrounge as I did to make this fairytale a reality. That’s just the boat I found myself in when I set this tradition up. Anymore, I LOVE to visit local book stores and add a new book or two each year. It helps keep them age appropriate for Maggie, too. One of my favorite spots here in Salt Lake is Storybook Nook at Gardner Village. If you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail, it’s kind of like that. The owner loves books and brings in the cutest stories. There’s always a special seasonal assortment on display just as you enter the store.

A PLAN IN THE BOOKS

Now that you have your books, it’s time for a plan. Ask yourself if there are any other holiday traditions that could impact your book opening order. For example, I always give my girls an ornament on Dec. 1, which just happens to be Book Bag #1, so I put the smaller ornament bags in Book Bag #1.

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Book Bag #1 also contains our Elf on the Shelf book. It’s something we get going at the first of the month, so it makes sense to have it first.

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On Christmas Eve, we read The Night Before Christmas and open new jammies, so that book and the jams can be found in Book Bag #24.

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Occasionally, I work other surprises into the bag, such as little coloring books or a holiday movie. I try to do this rarely so I don’t have to replenish my stock from year to year, but it is a nice change of pace on weekend nights.

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WHERE WE READ

Each of my girls have their own small Christmas trees in their rooms, so we put the books ‘neath their trees. It makes it super easy to open one at bedtime and snuggle in for story time.

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Now that I have two kiddos, I split the books. Half are under one tree and the other half are under the other. We just move from room to room to read. Perhaps I’ll eventually have enough for each kiddo to open a book each night, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Opening and reading together is fun. As Santa would say, sharing is caring!

THE HEALTHY (AND CHEAP!) ADVENT APPROACH

No chocolate or expensive trinkets here. Just books that we can read year after year. Seems like a win to me. Okay, so maybe I also sneak treats in the bags from time to time, but that’s totally optional, you know, if you have self control and all. ;)

I’ve wanted to blog about this tradition for years but never seemed to find the time. Do I have time today? No, not really. But it’s high time I share. I already have my cute neighbor now doing this with her kiddos. Want to join us? We’d love to have you in our Advent Books club. :)

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What are your holiday traditions? I’m a sucka for the tradition and love reading about what others do. Drop me a line here or on IG or FB if you have something fun to share. Not fun? I’ll pass. (I kid. I kid. I’d love to read anything you do that makes the holiday feel like “the holidays” to you.)

Thanks for seeing this story to its end. I hope it leaves you feeling inspired.

Cheers!
Megan

FORKS!

Forks. It’s not just the home of a dreamy vampire or tools used to wind spaghetti. They’re moments of division along life’s path. I have a feeling we encounter forks in the road more often than we realize—subtle points of decision, where one choice will take us one way and the other another. Once in a while, these splits feel more monumental. Especially, it seems, when an opportunity is missed. We’re left on the other route, wondering what would have been, had we chosen differently. I almost found myself in such a painful place not so long ago…

DATE: December, 2016
PLACE: Trolly Square—a mall we visit 2-3 times a year, as it’s pretty far from our home
SCENE 1: A busy toy store

Standing in line at a toy store during the holidays means a wait. Good thing the store had a play area set up where Mags could keep herself busy. The situation got even better when a cute young girl approached and accepted Maggie’s invitation to “pway wif me.” When the time came for the girl to go, the sweetest words rang out: “Tell her thanks for playing with you.” They came from the little girl’s mom. And they were music to my ears.

I know this will sound… weird? Maybe that’s not the word, but I know my appreciation of manners is a little inflated here. It was just SO refreshing to encounter such a polite mother/daughter duo amidst the holiday chaos. I flashed an appreciative smile in the mannerly mom’s direction just as they went on their way.

These photos were taken just after Mags' encounter with the polite little girl. She was on cloud nine as she danced about the courtyard.

These photos were taken just after Mags' encounter with the polite little girl. She was on cloud nine as she danced about the courtyard.

SCENE 2: The Trolly Square parking garage

As we walked to our car, Mags asked if we could go in the attached grocery store. Being so far from home, this didn’t make the most sense, but I did need a few things, so the idea of not having to make a second stop was all the persuasion I needed. As we waited for the elevator to take us to the store, I saw my new mom crush again. She and her children appeared to have just gotten off the elevator we were waiting to get on. Through the crowd of people also waiting for their lift, I found myself shouting at the woman. It happened before I had much time to think about what I was doing…

“Hey! It’s you!” I hollered, almost too excitedly.

“Hi, again,” the kind stranger said. “It looks like our girls are all about the same ages. That’s fun! Do you live around here?”

“No. We actually live about 30 min. south of here,” I replied.

“Oh… Do you come here often?”

Never has this cliche pickup line sounded so sweet. Though, you wouldn’t know it by my reply. I scoffed a “No!” just as our elevator door opened. Why I suddenly turned into a smartass, I’ll never know. I sure didn’t mean for my reply to come out in that way with that tone, but before I could correct the situation, it was time to go. The open doors forced us into rushed farewells, and we went our separate ways. Again.

FORKS!


As the elevator door closed, the split in my life path became painfully clear. I was presented with a fork in my road… and I made the wrong choice. Ouch! I’m often saying I want more friends for my little girls. And for myself, frankly. Here was the perfect opportunity to make such friends and I let them slip through my fingers. :(

As the elevator opened again, I couldn’t bring myself to get off. As Maggie began to exit, I pulled her back and told her we needed to go back. We had some new friends to find!

I know. This probably sounds kind of nuts, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted a FORKS do-over. Sadly, we walked and walked through that cold parking garage, and they were nowhere to be found. Opportunity: missed!

SCENE 3: The grocery store

As we were wandering the aisles, dinnertime crept upon us and my girls were hungry, so we made our way to the store’s deli. That’s when Maggie pointed and squealed with delight, “Look, Mom! My friend!” Sure enough, there was my mom crush and her two sweet girls. Only this time they were joined by a dude. Papa Bear, I assumed. Again, we exchanged hellos. I then went on to confess my failed attempt to find them in the parking garage. Turns out they weren’t leaving the store at all, only going to put a few bags in their car before grocery shopping. They too were sitting down for a deli dinner and asked if we wanted to sit with them. Yes! Yes we did!

FORKS!

It took three times to happen, but we finally touched down. I feel like the universe continued to throw these delightful people in my path for a reason. The first time around, I was smitten but not in the best place to act. The second time was blown by an unintentionally smarty reply and an open elevator. “Okay, fine,” the universe said. “Let’s give this a third go!” Good thing the third time was our charm. We had a great meal and made plans to get together after the holidays.

Since then, we’ve had two play dates. Our first was at our messy, crowded home. Here are a couple of shots from that visit.

The next was in their clean and open home. 

Judging by our homes alone, Mom Crush seems the yin to my yang. She wants to decorate her home with more wall art and personal touches but isn’t sure where to begin, so her walls remain bare. I, on the other hand, am on a serious Quest for Less and need help minimizing my life. She’s all about the minimalism and happens to be a clean freak. Looks like we balance each other well.

Actually, it’s becoming more and more clear we need each other for reasons far bigger than home design. We need each other because being a mom is H-A-R-D. Having others who get that and can make it a bit easier is everything. As my new friend so aptly put it, parenting takes a village.

As we discussed this, she touched on how it used to be easier when we could just send our kids outside to play the days away, but we no longer have that option, at least not in the heart of the city. I love what she said next: “Chasing the ‘American Dream,’ we’ve dreamed ourselves right into lonely boxes!”

It’s true. Home can be quite lonely for a stay-at-home parent. Sure, you’re surrounded by your children all the time, but that’s the great irony of it all—you’re NEVER alone but can feel SO lonely. It’s why having friends with children the same age(s) as yours can be a life saver. I’m SO thankful we happened upon these delightful souls, even if it did take a few tries to get us there.

As an interesting coincidence, we also have a crazy amount in common. We’re the same age. Our husbands are the same age. Our daughters are the same ages. Finding older parents with younger kids in Utah isn’t always easy. Not that you have to be the same ages to align, but it was an odd thing to have in common—especially since Cory and I are six years apart. Also, Cory and their Papa Bear are both musicians. How ‘bout that?

Today brought another opportunity to see our new friends. My mom crush and I made this wall hanging. This was her first time making a craft at home. Can you believe it? I love that I got to be the one to experience it with her. She was a fast learner with awesome ideas and plenty of creative vision. The project turned out far cuter than it would have had I made it on my own. And it already hangs proudly on her wall—bringing her one step closer to her decorating goals.

FORKS!

You simply never know when you’ll happen upon such life divides. Because of this, I’m going to do all I can to be more mindful of my surroundings and experiences. Sometimes the briefest encounters can have the most lasting, loving impacts!

 

As Seen on TV: Bullet Journaling + My New Planner Class!

If you love creative planners -- day planners with a scrapbooking twist -- you may already be aware of bullet journals. It's time to take a shot. Get it? Bullet... shot. Yeah, weak. Let's move on! ;)

Bullet journals are basically list-oriented journals that you can use to capture any details of your life that appeal to you. It can be more task driven or more favorites focused. Or, as with many journals (including mine), a combination of both!

Bullet Journal Supplies

First, let's talk supplies. Doesn't get much easier than this, friends. A journal, a pen, a pencil, a solid eraser, and a ruler. If you want to add some color to the mix, colored pencils are an easy option.

I highly recommend a fine-tipped pen, like the Micron .01. I also use the Micron Brush Tip and the Micron Color Tips. I don't work for Micron or anything. This is just a great pen and worth checking out!

My journal is the new (and awesome!!!) travel journal from Freckled Fawn (the white with the hearts)! Heidi Swapp has also just launched a planner specifically with bullet journaling in mind (the black one) that is pretty fab! The travel journal is actually the heart cover, and the inserts snap in with the attached band. The kraft booklet below is the insert for the journal. I like this one because the paper is thicker and I could dress it up without much bleed-through.

If you want to step your supplies up a little, you can introduce washi tape, stickers, clips, and other decorative extras. Totally your call! Clips are great for hold the journal pages open, both for photo-taking and working in your journal. These AWESOME jumbo paperclips are part of my planner class kit for March. Yay! (More on that below.)

Once you have your supplies, it's a matter of deciding on a preferred purpose for your journal. For me, this meant searching bullet journals on Instagram (#bulletjournal) and Instagram, screenshotting the images that made me happy, and then going back over those images to help identify my style preferences. I quickly realized I was into capturing details creatively using doodles. But first, a key...

Key

If you're going to use your journal to track tasks, a key is useful. Again, decide on a system that works for you. For me, it was as simple as this:

KEY COMPONENTS
open box = task
box with diagonal line = task in progress
box filled in with diagonal lines = task complete
box with line across middle = task cancelled
box with arrow in it = task migrated (moved or changed)
exclamation point next to a box = task priority
circle = event
clock = appointment
heart = special

Now, time to get creative with some doodled list making. Fun!

Home Goals List

I have so many things I want to do around my home. The list grows with each passing year. Until now, that list has all been in my head for the most part. Now it has a place to live and feel organized. LOVE! I simply doodled a house, including boxes for each of the spaces in our home. From there, I listed goals for each space, using my to-do coding seen in my Key.

Gratitude List

When I'm looking for a little sunshine on those cloudy days (and the sunny ones, actually), I like to think of things I'm grateful for. This gives me a space to capture those happy thoughts. I drew a circle in the center of the page, which I colored using colored pencils. The sun rays are made from various strips of gold washi tape. Skinny tape works well, leaving you more room to write.

Habit Tracker + Spending

Not as fun, but still important. Many use bullet journals in this way nearly exclusively. It's a great way to track days, weeks, months, habits, spending, goals, etc.

This one took a bit more work to sketch out, but some journals come with lines and boxes that would make it easier. I drew mine. Not perfect, but that's okay. It doesn't have to be. If you find yourself without a ruler at 3:00 AM, washi tape works in a pinch. ;)

My journal grows by the day. It's SO MUCH FUN! I'll be sure to bring it to my next planner class so you can have a closer look, take pics, ask questions, etc. Speaking of the class...

Forget the hammer, it's PLANNER time! (Upcoming planner class in Lehi, Utah!)

I can't begin to describe how wonderful it was to teach at Paper Crush this month. Those who attended the class came strangers and left friends. Many asked if we could do it again. Twist my arm. ;) Of course!

A Date to Create Planner Class
Where: Paper Crush in Lehi, Utah
Date: Friday, March 24
Time: 7-9 PM
Sign Up: Visit the Paper Crush website to sign up.
Open to all, whether you took the first class or not. I'll make sure everyone is up to speed and ready to play. :) Space is limited.

I sure hope you can join us. A good time will be had by all. I know that's a bold prediction, but it's hard to not have fun when visiting one of Utah's cutest stores (seriously!), enjoying discounted shopping, playing with paper, meeting new friends, and devouring tasty snacks.

DIY Planner/Journal Inserts Made with We R Memory Keepers Tools

One technique we'll cover in class is how to make your own planner and journal inserts using an awesome tool by We R Memory Keepers--the Tab Punch Board. In the meantime, here's a sneak peek of a brand new We R product, The Planner Punch, which is out in May.

It punches holes to fit MANY different planner types and sizes. So great! The We R Memory Keepers Tab Punch Board will be used in class so you can get a better feel for customizing options. It's a great way to put patterned paper to use and make your planners and journals more unique to you.

I cut the page below from watercolor paper, punched it with both punches, and added watercolor paint to create a bullet journal Create List. I'll bring paint to my planner class so you can play, too. Or not. Totally your call on how you choose to customize! The idea with a Create List is to put projects to make on it. I'll fill in each of my painted bubbles with my many crafting goals. If seeing the 'after' interests you, keep an eye on my Instagram. I'll share it there soon.

Finally, if you're interested in seeing all of this in action, you can check out my Studio 5 segment today at 11. It's like a happy Show & Tell of bullet journaling. I hope it leaves you feeling inspired!

Cheers!