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New Christmas (and Thanksgiving!) Kids’ Books and Puzzles for Holiday Break Fun

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With our first holiday break coming up next week, we are beginning to plan some of our fun traditions that make our holidays and time at home so memorable. Pulling out our collection of children’s Christmas books is definitely one of them, but we also love little holiday activities we’ve done over the years that have now become traditions such as tackling a Christmas puzzle as a family, playing games together and bringing along some Christmas-themed coloring and activity books on holiday travel adventures. This year, we’re repeating one of our favorite trips we took last year, returning to Chicago for a weekend of Christmas wonder; and I’m giddy just thinking about it. One of the things that the kids LOVED and helped make our trip go a little more smoothly last year was planning ahead and packing little Christmas activities and games to pull out in restaurants, before bed, etc. It made the trip so special, and I can’t wait to surprise them again with our holiday-themed activity bag for this year’s trip. And heck yeah we’re playing Christmas Bingo while we wait for our pizza at Giordano’s.  L

If you missed our holiday book list last year, I shared 24 of our favorite children’s Christmas books that we read before bed every night in December. Our new favorite Christmas books and activities for this year:

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1. Thanksgiving in the Woods. This book has given me new life goals–host a Thanksgiving dinner for 200 people in the woods…at night…with twinkle lights. I mean, come on.  And here’s the best part–this book is based on a true story of a real couple in upstate New York who have been doing this on their farm for twenty years. The photos are simply beautiful–warm, cozy, inspiring. Published just last month, this story will give you all the holiday feels.

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2. Red and LuluI just read this to my kids, and they loved it. Accompanied by beautiful, wintery photos, this story follows the journey of the tree that was chosen to be Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree and the two birds that lived in it before it was cut down. The photos change from beautiful country scenes to festive Christmas-in-the-City illustrations.

3. The Little Reindeer. The understated black-and-white illustrations in this book are magical, enhanced with red foil and interactive die cuts. The sweet story follows a friendship between a little girl and a lost reindeer–perfect for pre-bed snuggles in Christmas pajamas.

4. The 12 Sleighs of Christmas. I love everything Chronicle publishes. This brand new release will delight kids with its imaginative details and humor. The elves discover Santa’s sleigh is broken, so they dream up designs for a new one and their creations–inspired by tractors, motorcycles, space ships and more–are hilarious.

6. Pick a Pine Tree. I LOVE the drawings in this book–so colorful and festive with a little retro vibe. And little kids will love the rhyming.

7. The Everything Kids’ Christmas Puzzle & Activity Book. Whether you’re traveling for the holidays, sitting at a restaurant waiting for food or want to have some fun entertainment at the holiday kids’ table, this book is chocked full of holiday-themed mazes, puzzles, brain teasers, hidden pictures, word searches and fun tidbits of information about everything Christmas.

8. A Little Christmas Tree The illustrations in this book are beautiful, but the story is what makes it special. Told from the perspective of a tree who wanted so badly to be picked by a family for their Christmas tree, this story follows the little tree as he has to accept that his dream may not come true, due to a broken branch that changed his fate. His mother always told him that someday he would bring a family the true meaning of Christmas, but all hope is lost as he watches his branches get thrown in the fire. The last bits of his wood are saved though…and carved into a baby in a manger to be given to a little girl by her grandpa. (and free shipping on this book right now until November 22).                                                        

9. Christmas Stories. All the great winter wonder from Laura Ingalls Wilder in one book, each chapter holds a wonderful read-aloud story perfect before bed. This is a reillustrated paperback edition that includes bonus material with games and activities. Nobody does winter stories like Laura Ingalls Wilder…swoon.

10. The Night Before Christmas Coloring Book. I’m super picky about coloring books, especially Christmas ones, but this one passes the test. All the beautiful illustrations that made Charles Santore’s picture book version of this a New York Times bestseller are in here, and they’re dreamy.

11. Christmas Morning Christmas Puzzle. I love puzzles, but I have a few rules about how they work with us. 500-piece are my favorite, and I like beautiful illustrations or photographs that have a variety of patterns and colors to keep us from getting frustrated. There’s a Christmas puzzle out there that’s a photograph of about 5 billion candy canes tangled together, and I want to punch the person who made it in the face. Nothing more frustrating that not being able to distinguish one puzzle piece from another. This one has enough variation to keep you from losing your mind and creates the sweetest Christmas scene when finished.

12. Sweet Christmas Mini Puzzle. One of my favorite memories from our Christmas in Chicago trip last year was sitting in the cafe at the top of the John Hancock Building, drinking hot chocolate, looking out at the snowy city and completing a mini puzzle together. When Lainey heard we were going again this year, she asked if we could do that again, so I found this perfect little Christmas puzzle to tuck in my purse that day.

13. Christmas Party 60-piece Puzzle. This darling Christmas party scene is cut down to only 60 pieces, so it’s easier for the little ones to help.


Tomorrow’s Friday…followed by a short week before all the festivities begin, so the mood is rising over here. Happy Thursday!

Holiday Wardrobe Capsule

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This post is sponsored by thredUP.

I’m going to compose myself a moment to keep a mature level of enthusiasm here, but just so you know, when it comes to talking about dressing for the holidays, I’m one Rockette kick away from turning my enthusiasm into a one-woman road show called “Plaid, Peppermint Stripe and All That Jazz”. Except I think “All That Jazz” is trademarked, so nevermind. We’ll skip the show and put it in a blog post.

It’s November which means Game Time which means the next two months are going to get a little busy–good busy, festive busy. We’ll be hauling turkeys to family gatherings, hitting the city for Christmas shopping, taking the kids to the Nutcracker, scrambling to find a babysitter for the Christmas cocktail party and squeezing in that family photo shoot for the holiday cards. Here’s where it gets fun–all those things in that last sentence? I’ve got the outfit covered–everything you need in one capsule wardrobe. I’ve never been one who could strictly adhere to a capsule wardrobe, but I might be able to pull off a holiday one because there’s a festive factor, and festive is my middle name (no seriously, it almost was–well, Noel because I was born four days after Christmas. Damn nurse had to be such a charmer though, so my mom named me after her instead. How I wish her name had been North Pole Twinkle.).

Building a capsule wardrobe may sound expensive, but that’s only if you’re not holding the Golden Ticket. What’s the Golden Ticket, you ask? Alright, Veruca, I’ll tell you. It’s thredUP–kind of like a magic chocolate factory, except there’s no chocolate; there’s clothes. Secondhand clothes–beautiful ones from all my favorite stores and brands and designers (Anthropologie, J Crew, Free People, Madewell, Boden!) except way less expensive than retail. If you’ve never tried it before, there’s a major discount code for you at the end of the post, so hold your reindeer…er, horses.

Let me show you how thredUP worked for building an entire holiday wardrobe. I found every single item on thredUP and geeked out so much with what I found that after I opened the box and went through it, I e-mailed my thredUP friend with this gushy “Oh my God, best box ever, I found everything I wanted and it’s all fabulous” e-mail.

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I think some people get frustrated shopping second hand because it feels hodgepodge or hard to find what you really want, but thredUP is way more convenient being all online, not to mention they have such an extensive selection of clothes (all hand-expected 3x to ensure the best quality) and installed so many filters that you can refine your search to very specific things you want from size and color to brand names, prints, sleeve length and dress cut. Mama wants red plaid? Mama gets red plaid.

Alright, here’s everything I need in a holiday closet in one thredUP box. This will get me from a fancy party to casual wrapping days at home, from shopping and hot cocoa by day to the 4th grade Christmas program at night.

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Let’s see this box in action.

“You’re invited to a Christmas Cocktail Party”–WAIT! I HAVE JUST THE DRESS FOR THAT!

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Jessica McClintock cocktail dress: $74 retail, and I got it for…wait for it…$14.99. WHAT?! I love the length–above the knee for leg-lengthening, but not too short for butt cheek gazing (why is everything so short these days? Don’t these people know we have to bend over to help our kids?). And I love the sweetheart neck with a tiny bit of an off-the-shoulder cut–a little 80’s throwback without being too Molly Ringwald.

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And that’s a $98 J Crew clutch…thredUP price: $24.99.

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Okay, on to the next one.

Holiday lunch with friends, Christmas program at school and date night (at the restaurant with the most twinkle lights in town–duh)–all in one day. (raising hand wildly, wiggling in seat) OH! PICK ME! PICK ME! I HAVE THE OUTFIT FOR THAT!

Vineyard Vines plaid wool pants ($119 retail, and I got them for $34.99). The turtleneck sweater is Banana Republic–retail $78, thredUP price $19.99–and is so perfect for Florida because it has that winter look with the turtle neck/sweater knit, but it’s a really nice thin knit with a short sleeve, so I can wear it all year long here.

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Check out the little bows on the back of the pants! Give me all the tiny Christmas details. Those J Crew heels are thredUP as well, and are now my go-to classic black heels in my closet.

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Moving on. Hot cocoa date? Christmas tree farm with the kids? Bad Moms Christmas movie night with friends? Go for winter white. This sweater (brand is J.O.A. Los Angeles) is pure perfection–I love the fluffy fringe that almost gives it a “snowy” look. It was $16.99, $54 less than its retail price.

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Note to self: Photoshop some snow in this pic:

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Wrapping day at home? Got it covered. The peppermint stripe sweater is one of my favorite brands, Free People’s “We the Free line,” a $71 sweater I snagged for $19.99. It’s super comfy and almost pajama-like, so this baby can go from a day of holiday shopping in the city to up late wrapping presents and then slip right into bed, if you wish.

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Keep it on to drop the kids off at school the next morning, and no one will think a thing.

Alright, I saved the big dog for last–the cozy of cozy, the holiday trifecta: stripes, red plaid AND a red beanie. Wear it anywhere, for anything during the holidays.

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Beanie: $5, red plaid scarf: $7.99, and Madewell stripe sweater (with leather elbow patches–EEK!): $41.99 compared to its estimated retail price of $179.00. Cue Price is Right “Oh-my-God-I-WON!” lose-all-control celebration dance.

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If you want to find some key holiday pieces by your favorite brands for way less, here’s your chance. Take this Golden Ticket…thredUP is offering our readers a special discount! The first 100 people to use code KELLE40 will get an extra 40% off their first order! (Applies to new US customers only. Redeemable online only. Certain restrictions apply).

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…closing out my road show post with two high kicks (in plaid pants), a toss of the buffalo check purse into the crowd…and Christmas jazz hands, jazz hands, jazz hands.

All the Holiday Glitter: Pear Tree Greetings


This post is sponsored by Pear Tree Greetings. We like the way they make holidays festive and pretty. 

Prepare your mailboxes! Hang tiny twinkly lights inside them, pipe in Nat King Cole from itty bitty speakers and dangle some spruce sprigs from the door. Mailboxes are the venue, after all, for the best Christmas party of the year–the place where all your friends and family from near and far will soon gather, their faces and celebrations and all their love from 2014 tucked into envelopes and sealed with pretty stamps and curly penmanship and address labels handpicked for this very occasion.

My mail lady is my best friend this time of year. I wait for her arrival and run to the mailbox to see what holiday cards (we call them “holiday mailers”–and we say it in a British accent) have arrived. Sometimes I save them to open late at night, when the kids are asleep and I’ve found a cozy spot on the couch with a glass of wine, a candle and the Carpenters streaming from the kitchen. Sometimes I open them right away, eager to see new pictures of friends. I’m a bit of a card junkie, I admit–enthused by all the silly details–the pictures, the colors, the font, the simplicity, the glitter, the curved edges, the way the paper feels in my hand. Most certainly what’s most important isn’t the product but the love in it–the heartfelt “Merry Christmas, We Miss You. Love Brent and Joann.” But I do love a good card, and after years of photographing families and designing that very special gift that often serves as the only opportunity in one year to get the family together for a photo, I have a little extra appreciation for a beautiful holiday card.

With work, three kids, school drop off and dinner plans, I also appreciate any opportunity to make holiday tasks simpler, easier, more streamlined. Pear Tree Greetings does just that. You bring your family, your photos and your wish to create something beautiful to Pear Tree’s site, and they finish the job for you, giving you an incredible selection of beautiful Christmas cards to customize in a matter of minutes. Cards are printed on heavy premium paper with a variety of envelope colors and styles to choose from. Their award-winning designs are unique and offer you exactly what you want from simple and classic to funky and modern. Flat, folded, tri-fold, laser cut, foil, rounded edge–you name it, they have it.

I love this colorful modern collage style that gives you the opportunity to use several different photos.

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And this book style card is a stunner–definitely one I’d call Heidi with a, “Dude, did you get the Dashners’ card yet? So cute!”
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This peek-through laser-cut card is another favorite, simple yet unique.
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And if you want to have fun and go a little out of the box, how about New Year’s cards? This resolution card made me smile. I want to print 100 different resolutions and make a collage from them.

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Our holiday cards aren’t just to mail out. They’ve become an important part of our family memories with all of our cards from past years preserved in albums that will be passed down to the kids. I love the artful way we can express love for our family and friends through a simple card, and Pear Tree does a beautiful job of capturing that in their products.

We have yet to wrangle up the family for our annual Christmas card photo this year, but I did play around with some of last year’s photos.
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Pear Tree Greetings is giving one of our readers a $100 gift code (expires 12/31/14) to use toward their holiday cards with free shipping. Click over to Pear Tree Greetings, pick a favorite card design and share your favorite card design in a comment on this post. Winner will be randomly selected and announced in next Monday’s post (11/24/14). See terms and conditions HERE.

*Note: This giveaway is completed and comments have been closed.

All this talk of Christmas cards has me excited now. Time to order stamps and pick out what Christmas movie we’ll watch while I address envelopes (last year was Family Stone).

Thank you Pear Tree Greetings for sponsoring this post and for all the holiday glitter.

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