DIY Cupcake Liner Party Hats

My friend Minhee wanted to make Charlie a party hat at the last minute and looked at what she already had around her apartment. Her eyes landed on some cupcake liners, and she decided to make little elf hats! This is an easy DIY that you can personalize any way you want and bring a little color to your event!

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Vintage Toys for the Holidays

As a first time mom, I have no idea what to get my son for his first Christmas. I’ve spent hours walking up and down the aisles at Babies R Us and Target and been lost in the black hole that is Amazon.com. Though I don’t pretend to know what is cool and hip for kids these days, I am able to look back on all the things I loved growing up, and I’m happy to say that some of our old-timey favorites have hit the stores again! Baby Sea Otter has a bit longer until he's more focused on what the present is rather than the fun of pulling the wrapping paper off of a box, but I've had to snatch up a few of these classics for later holidays just in case they slip away again.

1. Fisher Price See N Say – I’m sure that most of us learned the noises that animals make by playing with the See N Say. What animal will it land on? What noise will that animal make? Why is it so much fun to pull the string and watch the arrow turn? These are all questions that our kids can now also ask.

2. Fisher Price Record Player – As an 80s child, I can recall almost all of my tunes being played via record player. I have not lost my sense of nostalgia, and still proudly play many albums on vinyl. I hope that this teaches Baby Sea Otter how cool these old-timey devices can be.

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10 Ways to Make the Most Out Of Baby's First Christmas

I have to admit for our first Christmas with Jackson this year, I originally put a lot of pressure on myself to make it special. I'm such a huge fan of the Christmas season, and I'm constantly looking for ways to make it more special. But, in all honesty, Christmas loses a lot of the magic when you're stressed about everything being perfect. So I finally decided to let go and enjoy it as it happens, and if we get around to everything we want to do, that's just even better.

That being said, I've still tried to do what I can do make things a little more memorable than usual. Here are a few ideas for making sure your savor your first Christmas with your little one!

1. Make a "Christmas bucket list" - this is a favorite activity that we do every year, and it's a great way to make sure we don't miss out on any of the fun holiday activities we love so much. We used to create an activity advent calendar, but it put too much pressure on us to get an activity done every night, so now we come up with a list of 15 or so things we want to do over the course of the month. This year the list is looking a lot more baby oriented, and we tried to think of activities that Jackson can enjoy with us. This has helped us stay focused on enjoying the season and taking some time regularly for holiday activities.

2. Send out Christmas cards. I absolutely love Christmas cards, but the last couple of years we have skipped them due to finances. This year I was absolutely determined to send them out, so we bought some generic cards on sale at Target, took a cute family photo in the backyard, and used washi tape to attach one to the inside of each card. I still get the personalized feel that I love and Mr. Garland is happy because it was way cheaper than ordering them online!

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Gifts that Keep on Giving

As we get older the more we realize that for the most part, we and our friends and family members have all they NEED, so gift giving can get a little more creative. And what better way to spend money on things that not only benefit the recipient, but also someone else along the line!

So, here's a list of places we've found that we love supporting while also gift giving.

1. Our favorite (and local!) business is Thistle Farms.

Thistle farms sells awesome, totally natural body products, like body wash, body butter, bath salts, and more, like coffee, mugs, and candles. But, the part that's even better than the quality is that these products are made by "women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction, and all proceeds directly support their efforts to sustain independent, healthy lives." We love these products and being able to support the healing process of these women!

2. Kiva.org

If you haven't heard of Kiva.org yet, I'm so excited to share it with you! When you give a Kiva donation, you are providing a small micro-loan to people all over the world to help start a business of their own! The awesome thing is that you get to choose exactly who you give a loan to and you get to see their pictures and hear about what they would use the loan for. And because it's a loan and they have really high rates of payback, you will eventually get your money back and then you can invest that money back in someone else!

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DIY Time Capsule Ornament

My good friend Minhee helped me plan Charlie's birthday party, and she came up with the idea to let the kids make their own polaroid ornaments as favors. Each kid had a mini polaroid taken of themself, and then put it inside their ornament and filled it with fun little bobbles.

I thought this would also be a great family project to do each Christmas as a DIY time capsule ornament. You could fill an ornament with a family picture, little trinkets that represent each person or what happened to them that year, and even a little note! I can imagine how much fun it'll be to make these every year and reminisce on ones from years past when you pull them out each Christmas.

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Present for Toddlers that Hate toys

My toddler hates toys. It’s not due to a lack of variety or a lack of quality. He has toy shelves in every room loaded with all kinds of activities that encourage open-ended imaginative play. He just chooses to completely ignore them, or on rare occasions, he might dump them all on the ground or throw them at the dog. That huge container of Duplo blocks? No interest unless it’s chucking them at the sliding glass door. The train table and railroad set? A $200 birthday present that’s gotten 30 minutes of play in the last month.

What does he like? Anything that’s not his. If it’s a real thing adults use, he’s interested. For example, my dustbuster and big vacuum are the toys of the week as he obsessively sucks up goldfish crackers and dog food. He digs them because they work and aren’t just for pretend. Mr. Tricycle’s 100 piece socket set or all the screws I need to assemble the new crib? Baby crack for this kid - he can’t get enough. Keep in mind he has an awesome toddler tool bench with all kinds of pretend tools, but he’d much rather figure out how my power drill works.

So what the heck do we buy him for Christmas? I can’t just skip presents all together (I love gift giving, and he loves opening things), but I don’t want to buy the stuff advertised on TV or in the Sunday paper as I know he won’t play with it. So here’s my list of suggestions for toddlers that hate toys.

1. Gardening Tools -  When we’re outside, the Trikester loves to play with our shovels and dig in the dirt. I’m always fighting with him for a turn with the tool, so if he has his own I won’t have to share.

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As we close out this year, we have one more thing to celebrate and be grateful for in the Chocolate home -- Juliet completed her last physical therapy session in Early Intervention and was dismissed from that program this month! She is still in Early Intervention for developmental, since she is still too young to qualify for speech therapy.  But the physical therapy part of her intervention is now finished. We are so proud of our little girl and this big accomplishment!

It's hard to believe that a mere 9 months previous we were in the doctor's office hearing those words, failure to thrive. She was trailing behind on many milestones; she was barely able to sit upright and still needed to tripod (use her hands for support). Fast forward to now and in her last physical therapy session she ran around the house, climbed up and slid down the stairs, scaled the ottoman multiple times, and in general moved around with the grace and adorableness of an eighteen-month-old baby.

Since she started walking at fourteen months, Juliet has made huge strides in her gross motor development. She was always an active baby in the womb and I think once she got those legs underneath her she really caught her stride. She started to climb shortly after she started walking and has attempted to scale almost every piece of furniture we own. Her wobbly gait has gotten much steadier and she now can easily race after Drake when the two of them are playing. She had been climbing stairs easily for months before she could walk, and has taken us all by surprise with the speed she can climb, beating us to the top with ease.

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