the peanuts gang

Days 1.5 recap

This post will be relatively boring compared to the rest of my trip updates and recaps. The past 1.5 days have been travel. Started in Chicago, flew to Paris and now biding some time in Nairobi.

The flight to Paris was perfect. I sat in a row with a nun and there was a space between us so we could stretch and sleep as we wanted to.  I tried to doze off a bit and watched parts of two movies - 22 Jump Street and Let’s Be Cops.  I also caught Tammy for the second time as well. Given the time of the flight, we were served two meals. Penne pasta with salad and later a breakfast sandwich. Each time, they gave us a yummy brownie. The wine was free flowing, but I opted for water instead.  It was an overall pleasant jaunt and comfortable.

After arriving in Paris, I was greeted by SMILING security agents and the beautiful sounds of Merci and beaucoup. I snagged some postcards and a delicious cafe expresso moka to enjoy before my flight. I also met and spoke with Lewis who was from California and headed to Nairobi to visit friends he met while he was in the peace corps in Nairobi a few years ago. He was extremely helpful and friendly. I must look very trusting because several people wanted me to “watch” their bags while they ran errands around the airport.

Our flight to Kenya was on time and on a slightly smaller plane. This time I watched The Pelican Brief and Blended (which I loved because it featured a trip to Africa). Perfect timing! Again, I had no direct seatmate and I was able to sleep for a time again. The food was interesting including a pink dessert and the flight attendants were beautiful and so kind! Now it’s waiting at the airport until morning time (it’s Sunday  here already!) it’s finally Zambia day!


Highlight? Getting to hangout on Google with these fellas.



Portable Dance Party with JBL Charge 2 Speaker {& Giveaway}

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

It’s no secret that my family knows how to dance it out. In fact, from an early age, my boys loved to shake their groove thing. So it’s no surprise that our entire family seems to have an infectious love for music and all things loud, moving and grooving.  I love that I can use Bluetooth in my car to blast music from my cell phone, but the convenience of having a portable wireless JBL Charge 2 speaker means that we can take our dance party on-the-go. Even better, we fell in love with our speaker so much that I plan to purchase more as gifts this holiday season. #GiftingAudio #CollectiveBias

JBL Charge 2 Speakers - #GiftingAudio #cbias #ad

Think you don’t have someone in your life that would love a wireless speaker? Think again. The JBL Charge 2 speaker works for just about anyone in your life (and thankfully for my husband, is an equal opportunity music player, which means the speaker will still play horribly awful old metal music that he loves).

1. For the Kids {and Teachers}

Give the Gift of Music with a JBL Charge 2 Portable Speaker #GiftingAudio #cbias #ad

Whether you’re purchasing for a niece or nephew, your own kids or friends of the family. this speaker makes the perfect addition to a classroom, bedroom and general music-playing around the house. I recently had the opportunity to at as room mom for Charlie’s class and we would have LOVED a bluetooth speaker to play relevant Fall songs for our Halloween party. The speakers blast the music loudly so that everyone can hear, but not so overpowering that you can’t hear yourself think! Think how surprised a teacher or friend who works in the classroom would be to have something like this at their fingertips!

Giving as a gift? Consider suggesting these songs.

Music Playlist for Kids #GiftingAudio #cbias #ad

2. For the Men {and Coworkers}

After testing out the speaker for the first ten minutes we received it, my husband promptly put it to the side of his head like a boombox from back in the day. We laughed about the irony of basically coming full circle, but the more he thought about uses for it, the more he fell in love with it! Have an office party that really needs some revving up?  What about a speakerphone opportunity for conferencing and other group telephone calls? No matter what the purpose, this speaker will rise to the occasion.

Think they want to rock out? Check out this classics (and newbies!)

Jams for Guys #GiftingAudio #cbias #ad

3. For the Women {and Moms and More and Whoever}

If you’re anything like me, you have a secret time of day where you rock it out to a private dance party. Blast Taylor Swift, think of Alanis Morrissette, whatever floats your boat, but my opinion and best advice is to dance the night away literally. The idea that I can use this when I’m at a sports outing to help provide music to the event, works well in an office setting and also makes a great radio substitution, especially if your kids insist on listen to the same song over and over again. The portable speakers interact with the Bluetooth on your cell phone and you’re able to coordinate the music to your mood for the day.

Keepin’ it classy, sassy and all together flashy!

Tunes for the Ladies #GiftingAudio #cbias #ad

Considering stepping out on Black Friday for early bird shopping? STOP what you’re doing and check this out.  You can check out JBL’s full-range of holiday gifts in their gift guide and find something based on price or personality. The best part is that you can experience the convenience of shopping without the headache. Free Ground Shipping and 30 day returns had me sold before I could say go!

Ordering is simple online and you can even choose your favorite colors! (I think purple would be nice…)

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 12.43.37 AM

What are your favorite ways to give musical gifts to your family? Could you imagine having a dance party when you’re out and about?

Want to make gift-giving a little easier this year? Check out this giveaway! #GiftingAudio Sweepstakes 


The Biggest Question, Right After Ebola… #ZambiaLove2014

I thought a bit about the post I published the other day. The one that seemed to answer all the questions about my trip to Zambia. But I saved one question for a post all its own because it means something so powerful to my heart. What about MY kids? What do they think? How can I leave them?

One of the very first things that struck me about searching through Habitat’s site for MY trip was the idea that I could participate in an Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project  - a project dedicated solely to reconnecting families, building homes for the parentless and finding ways to form a community around those left behind. And so began the ache deep behind my heart.

Each day I wake up to children who are so incredibly loved. Who have a mother and father and family members from here and all over who would give anything for them. Who clutch them at holidays and truly treasure them for the gifts they are. My children will never want for love, not the familial kind anyway. They will never know what it feels like to be left, to be alone, to be without. And for that I am forever grateful.

But for all that I know my children have, a part of me aches for the children who do not know such family. Who do not wake up daily without knowing if they will be hugged that day, told they’re loved that day. And my heart is broken for the orphans of this world. Everywhere. Because I have seen firsthand just how much these little men in my life dote on their father, how they treasure his embrace, wrestles and tickles.

I talked to Charlie earlier in the week about why I was leaving. He’s an adult trapped in a five-year-old’s body and so I explained to him that I’d be helping build a home for a family that didn’t have one and the importance of giving of ourselves, even when it requires sacrifice to our family and comfort. And tonight, as I cradled him, I asked him if I could still go to Africa, that I was hesitant to go and he looked into my eyes and wondered, “But who will build their house?”

Now certainly I won’t go alone, but the thought that Charlie already understands  about just what kind of impact one person can have is deeply profound and moving to me. I am stretching myself and my family and this life because I know that there is so much work to be done. I want to stretch and grow and learn so that I can teach my children how to do the same.

I want to stretch my arms so wide  to embrace those who may not know a mother’s love the way my children do. And in the process, stretch my heart. Because while I’m away loving the children of this world, I know just how taken care of my own crew will be.



My Newest Love Affair – #DroidTurbo by Motorola on #VZWBuzz #MoreChicago

I’m working with Verizon throughout the holiday season and received a device in exchange for my thoughts and opinions. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own since we’ve already been with Verizon since I was basically a small infant. 

If you know anything about me, then you know I have been a longtime iUser (shh…). The ease of syncing my devices and connecting them all at once was a nice perk, but truth be told, the battery life was virtually non-existent. I was better off calling it battery dead. Attach myself to an outlet at a family party and I was good to go. So when I heard about the possibility that there could possibly be a phone that would UNPLUG me from the wall AND it was a member of the Droid family, I was intrigued.

#VZWBuzz #MoreChicago I love my #DroidTurbo!

The #DroidTurbo by Motorola on #Verizon is basically a traditional Android phone on super speed. One of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE ELEMENTS (Sorry, I’ll be yelling with enthusiasm a lot in this post) is that the battery life is stellar. Even with continued use (think emails, work, social media outlets and the like), I can still use the phone at the end of the day without wondering why my power cord has disappeared. In fact, it has the largest battery of any smartphone – HELLO!  I made the mistake of letting my husband snag it at one point and I think I may have converted him also…

Think your phone is dying STILL and it’s not keeping up? Test out the Turbo Charger which can add an additional EIGHT HOURS of battery life in 15 minutes. That’s basically one-fourth of an episode of How to Get Away with Murder.

The display is easy to use and I love that I can move the icons around with ease. The major apps are already in place and adding them through the Play Store is simple and quick. (See how thankful my son is on my wallpaper? If I was holding a turkey, it would say, ‘Samantha is thankful for VERIZON!!!’)


My experience with Verizon’s service and overall coverage has always been superb. Issues are resolved quickly and with virtually no loss in service. I can be downtown, in a gym or just lounging at home and I don’t have to worry about calls or coverage being lost in the wind. I’m looking forward to sharing even more in the coming weeks about our experience (and I just might let my hubby take the reins a day or two). Basically, this phone is my new best friend and a true game changer.

Follow along via #VZWBuzz and #MoreChicago for all the latest and greatest information about our adventure.

What do you look for in stellar phone service? What’s your preferred smartphone?


Life’s Big Adventure in 2014: Zambia, Africa

In just two days, I’ll be embarking on the journey of a lifetime. Three plane rides, ten days and time with the people of Zambia and Habitat for Humanity  will create an experience that I hope to not soon forget. With the support of my husband, family, friends and church, I’m {almost} ready, but thought I’d take some time to answer pressing questions that I’ve received as of late regarding my trip.

1. Are you still going?


2. What made you decide to go to Africa?

A long-time desire that God placed on my heart years ago finally came to fruition earlier this year after significant effort and prayers. This opportunity arose after I was introduced to Habitat for Humanity earlier this year and I started putting the plans into action.

3. What will you be doing and where exactly are you going?

We’ll be traveling with Habitat for Humanity under the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project. We will be building a house for orphaned children and their caretaker, giving them opportunity, stability and potential.


4. Isn’t that near the Ebola outbreak?



I’ll be in Zambia which is in the lower half and about 3,000 miles from the infected area. That’s almost four times the distance between Chicago and Dallas where we had our main cases of Ebola here in the U.S.

5. How are you feeling about going?

Nervous, excited, ecstatic and praying for all to go smoothly. Looking forward to sharing this life’s adventure with you when I get back!

6. Will you have access to running water or electricity?

While at the build site, we’ll be without those and will live like many within the community. I’m excited to unplug and disconnect and look forward to thoroughly enjoying the whole experience.

7. Are you sure you still want to go?


8. When do you get back? 

The Monday before Thanksgiving

9. Have you ever done world travel before?

I have been on two missions trips abroad (Scotland and Romania) and visited Jamaica for fun with my husband.

10. What would you share to others that might be considering a work trip such as this?

You’re never past the point of being able to do something amazing for the world (and yourself!) Never underestimate your capabilities and know that you already have the tools you need to do awesome things.


Thankful for my Little Turkeys {& Teaching Toddlers Thankfulness}

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

Oftentimes, we careen out of Halloween and fly through the month of November to get to the coveted wintry red and green of the Christmas season. With two small children, we can get caught up in the materialism of the season, but I like to think of November and Thanksgiving as a way to add some levity and perspective to a time of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” Teaching toddlers thankfulness starts early and having a well-rounded positive attitude about our blessings help to enhance a life of healthy living! Here are some great ways to put thankfulness back at the forefront of your daily life and work on teaching those little turkeys in your life how to express gratitude. #SimplyHealthy #CollectiveBias

Goodness, I love these little turkeys!


1. Thankfulness starts with Y-O-U!

One of the easiest ways to fall into the grumbling trap of taking the little life’s blessings for granted is when we start the complaining. As a busy mom, it’s easy to find things that are not cooperating with our life expectations, but when we evaluate what’s most important and take stock of each day’s list of thanks, we see just how much we have to be thankful for. One of my favorite exercises throughout the month of November is to list something each day via Facebook status that I am thankful for. It can be anything from the very small (Pumpkin Spice Coffee with French Vanilla creamer) to the abundant (a house with a roof over our head for comfort and protection). The attitude of thankfulness that you spread by an outward acknowledgement of your blessings can help inspire those around you to also consider what they are thankful for each day. Spread the love and prepare our hearts for a true season of giving in December.

Another element of making sure we are thankful is to make sure that we are keeping healthy living at the top of our priority list. Regular exercise, healthy eating and staying positive can all help contribute to a wonderful thankful attitude and ensure that we are living life to its fullest. One of the easiest ways to be sure that we are taking care of ourselves is through Sam’s Club Healthy Living Made Simple Magazine. Available online or through the Healthy Living Made Simple app (only available for the iPhone and iPad currently), Healthy Living Made Simple Magazine provides helpful information to you and your family, including inspiring stories of people who have overcome the odds, make healthy living a top priority or provide useful information on how to care for yourself and your family. I love the fact that the app is available to me on the go which means when the boys are enjoying an activity outside, I can catch up on all things relevant to health and wellness for our growing crew.

Sam's Club Health Living Made Simple App in Practice #SimplyHealthy #cbias #ad

The App is simple to use and customize. I love that I can find a Sam’s club at a moment’s notice. Browse articles quickly without opening each magazine on the app and customize favorites based on my needs and likes!

2. Don’t be a Turkey! Craft Up Your Thankfulness

With two rambunctious boys who are now in school, crafts are a huge part of their life (and my closet!) Since I don’t often have the time to sit and cut, glue and color it up, I thought this would be the perfect chance to share about what we are thankful for by making some colorful turkeys! Not to mention, the bonus of practicing those school skills, such as cutting along the lines, practicing our colors and discovering a bit more about our craft preferences. These crafts are relatively simple to put together and you most likely have everything you need already.

Crafting Our Thankfulness #SimplyHealthy #cbias #ad

The first turkey uses leftover cardboard, scrapbook paper, glue, scissors, googly eyes, and crayons or markers. I cut out a basic turkey body shape and traced feathers for the boys to practice cutting out. I let them color the turkey and then glue the feathers on. (Don’t forget to add a  beak and wattle - that red dangly thing!) Once the rest was dry, I let them glue on the eyes and we talked about different things we were thankful for.

Teaching Toddlers Thankfulness #SimplyHealthy #cbias #ad

We talked about the importance of always being grateful for the things we have. I added each of their blessings to the feathers outside of the turkey. They seemed to mimic one another and games was at the top of their list. In teaching toddlers thankfulness, it’s important to remember that they select choices based off their own mini-worldview, so in that moment, crackers, juice or a treasured blankie or toy may make the list. Try not to minimize their choices, but instead praise the fact that they have shared one of their life’s blessings with you!

The other paper takes a traced outline of their hand and colorful feathers once again. Encourage them to color the paper and work on mixing colors, staying within the lines and adding details to the turkey such as eyes, a beak and legs. Once completed, ask them one thing they are thankful for and write it on the paper somewhere. These are great ideas for decorating a Thanksgiving table or passing along to grandparents, aunts or uncles as a token that you’re thinking about them.

I love his focused concentration. He really wants to make sure he gets it right!

Learning Basic Crafting Skills Together #SimplyHealthy #cbias #ad

3. Create a Thankfulness Bucket

Using popsicle sticks and a decorative fall basket or bucket, create thankful sticks. Each night over dinner, have each family member list one thing they are thankful for and write them on the popsicle stick. Once you arrive at Thanksgiving, take time to reflect on all you are thankful for throughout the month. From the very big to the itty bitty, it’s important to remember all we have been blessed with! Kids will love sharing their gratitude and talking about what they love throughout the month. If they are able to write the blessings themselves, then allow them to practice their penmanship. Otherwise, have siblings help or write them out yourself. These little reminders will help to foster a heart of thankfulness all season. You might even consider dating and saving the sticks each year, so you can reminisce on what you were thankful for a few years ago in comparison to the present day.

Give Thanks Bucket #SimplyHealthy #cbias #shop

How do you foster a spirit of thankfulness all season long? Do you find that having a spirit of gratitude sets you up for a life of healthy living? 

I love my little turkeys! #SimplyHealthy #cbias #shop


Ten Ways to Keep the Holidays Lighter #drinkTEN

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

With the holidays around the corner, the countdown to yummy foods begins. From the Thanksgiving feast to advent calendars to stockings full of sweet eats, we are bombarded by food deliciousness and there’s not much we can do about it! Given my foray into healthier living earlier this year, I thought it might be helpful to collect some great tips and ideas for keeping the holidays lighter this year without taking out all the fun and flavor! Whether you’re filling your table with sweet eats or planning out the beverage table (can you say Dr. Pepper TEN?), these ideas will help your sanity and keep you in that Christmas spirit! #drinkTEN #CollectiveBias

1. Literally add lights


HA! So before you roll your eyes at my unique use of the word “light,” hear me out. Brighten up your home and the great outdoors with lights you love. The cheerier the house feels, the more you’ll have a brightened day. Good moods and positive attitudes can make a world of difference when it comes to emotional eating.

2. Live it up with Canada Dry TEN and the first SWEET eat!

We LOVE the smell of baked goods and even better the way they taste! But how can you possibly indulge in all of your favorite treats and not feel like you’re going overboard when it comes to mindful eating choices? Enter Ginger Ale TEN and these delicious Sweet Funfetti Blast Cupcakes!

Inside view of the cupcake #drinkTEN #cbias #ad

The ingredients are simple. Like crazy simple. Like you don’t even need a real recipe simple. You’ll need one boxed cake mix (Funfetti of course) and 12 oz. of your favorite TEN soda (I chose Canada Dry TEN for this recipe because it enhanced the flavor, but didn’t mask the color). Make a quick run to your local Kroger affiliate, Food 4 Less and buy all the things you’ll need. Two desserts and drinks to contribute to the party for less than $10!  Mix together well. That’s it! Do NOT add anything that the box says which means you’re eliminating the caloric content of these sweet treats. Not to mention the fact that it’s ridiculously easy to do! Bake at 350 degrees in your favorite cupcake liners then cool.

Aisle Shot #DrinkTEN #cbias #ad

Keep it Light with Ginger Ale Ten Cupcakes #drinkTEN #cbias #ad

The next step is even easier! Snag some light whipped topping from the frozen section and mix with crushed leftover sweet ‘n sour candies (Nerds, Smarties will do). Mix well and top each cupcake with a scoop of this unique approach to icing or frosting. You’ll have all the oomph of flavor without the sucker punch to the stomach with a heavy amount of calories. Your guests will rave over this party-packed cupcakes!

3. Countdown the days to Christmas with a plank challenge

I’m sure you’ve seen the plank craze on Pinterest, but why not consider taking one up yourself with each of the days leading up to Christmas? Each time, have your plank become progressively longer so as to encourage core body strength and general health and wellness.


4. Eats Nuts and Make Use out of those Decorations

Nuts can provide a variety of health benefits to you and your family. Consider purchasing some by the pound so that you and your little ones can practice “cracking” up over your new little toys. You most likely already have a nutcracker you can use and this would be the perfect opportunity to decorate and create a snack!


5. Fill your Advent calendar with sweet notes instead of candy

A few years ago, my husband received this train advent calendar as a gift. We usually count down the days by putting candy inside, but you can easily change that out. Consider writing kind notes as a family or even small slips of paper explaining random acts of kindness you can complete throughout the season as a family. ‘Tis better to give than receive which basically means step away from the chocolate.


6. Consider letting the little cooks be your taste testers

Calories consumed during the sampling phase of cooking can really add up! Consider enlisting the help of your kids and have them try out your new recipes. You just might be surprised at their honesty and they will love the special treat! Plus, you get your critical review from an honest source.

Charlie found the cupcakes! #drinkTEN #cbias #ad

7. Drink Soda (Floats Cupcakes)

In addition to the recipe above, you can make a versatile Dr. Pepper TEN Soda Float Cupcakes recipe that will have your craving a simpler time at a local soda shoppe. This recipe is just as simple as the Funfetti cupcakes. Snag a bottle of your favorite soda – the entire TEN line of sodas offers the deliciousness with less of the guilt! – and mix together with a box of cake mix. You only need one and a half cups of the soda, so feel free to use the remainder to stock your beverage bar and consider creating a punch with your leftover ingredients. A tablespoon of powdered sugar and cocoa help provide that sweet chocolate flavor without all the hassle.

Dr. Pepper TEN Soda Float Cupcakes #drinkTEN #cbias #ad

You just might find a cupcake monster in your kitchen when you whip these up.

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As you can see these were a delicious surprise for the patiently waiting preschooler and I think he would have eaten quick a few more if I would have let him! Don’t forget, this recipe requires basically two ingredients that you probably already have some of at home!

Hang Ten with #drinkTEN #cbias #ad

8. Use the leftover soda/pop/drinks to create an out of this world punch.

Spice it up with fruit, unique dips and ice. Throw in some of everyone’s favorite service and you also have a built-in crew left!

9. Sing a Christmas Carol!

Sing at the top of your lungs to get into the holiday spirit. You might even consider going door to door with your beautiful voice. You might consider making an A & W TEN gift package complete with fun mugs, straws or an ice cream scoop. Sing, sing, sing your heart out! The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!

 10. Consider smiling! 

A smile can go a long way. You never know who’s day might be brightened by you showing your pearly whites! The more Christmas cheer you spread, the more you receive and the more complements to your self-esteem will help.

What are your tips and tricks for keeping the holidays lighter  in your home?


Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical – The Chicago Theatre

Grinch on median closeup-credit Dan Rest

MSG Entertainment is proud to present Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical for 17 performances only, with many matinees available, Thursday, November 20 through Saturday, November 29 at The Chicago Theatre, 175 North State Street. The classic Christmas story by Dr. Seuss springs to life on stage bringing the spirit of the holiday season to children and adults alike. The limited engagement in Chicago has been called “100 times better than any bedside story” byThe New York Times.

Grinch - 2010 Grinch National Touring Company photos by

Head on over to purchase your tickets now! Using the promotional code FAMILY, receive 20% off tickets for select shows & price levels*!

Grinch2 -2010 Grinch National Touring Company photos by

*FAMILY 20% discount applies to all price levels but the top tier level, on five select shows: Thursday, November 20 at 11am and 7pmSunday, November 23, at 11amTuesday, November 25 at 7pm; and Wednesday November 26 at 7pm.  Offer available online only, by visiting 8 ticket limit.


Preparing for Santa Claus’ Arrival and Other Holiday Traditions

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

Each year, after my birthday on October 25th, I start the unofficial two-month countdown to Christmas. I make lists, I check them twice and the store turnover to Christmas decor always puts me in a delightful mood. With two little misters, the holidays are always extra-special for us, especially with the excited anticipation of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. I love enhancing the Christmas spirit with fun excitement and Christmas gifts. #NorthpoleFun #CollectiveBias

Christmas Tree Traditions #NorthpoleFun #cbias #shop

The best part is that Walmart carries the full line of Hallmark gifts from the Northpole this season so you can get all of your holiday shopping done in one fell swoop. Charlie and I made a trek to the “North Pole” ourselves and couldn’t believe all the magic they were already creating within the aisles! We wanted to buy one of everything!

Store Set-Up in Walmart #NorthpoleFun #shop #cbias

Santa Claus is a long-standing part of our family traditions. From the time I was a little girl, “Santa” (my dad) would visit our family’s Christmas Eve celebration. The realistic suit, jovial smile and bright red cheeks always captured our attention and I was delighted once the tradition carried on with my boys.

Charlie Hangs with Santa Claus #NorthpoleFun #CollectiveBias #shop

The anticipation for the Man in Red has only grown through the years and I thought I’d share a bit about our Christmas traditions and favorite ways to prepare for his arrival. This year, Hallmark has released a line of Northpole gifts and toys that can help bring your Santa preparations to the next level and enhance the anticipation as the countdown to Christmas continues.

1. Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Do You Want to Build a Snowman? #NorthpoleFun #cbias #shop

It’s often said that Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow. As a Chicagoan who survived Snowmaggedon of 2013-2014. I have to agree that snow makes (and sometimes completely covers!) the holiday. Once the first snowfall comes, the boys eagerly wait at the windows to collect the first snowflakes on their tongues and roll out the first snowball. Until that weather hits, we’re content with a few snowball wars indoors with the Hallmark Northpole Magic Snowballs. They are nice and dry, fluffy so not likely to leave a mark and create a beautiful glow. For extra special fun, we love tossing these around in the dark – see where they land with the beautiful light!

Magic Snowballs from Hallmark! #NorthpoleFun #shop #cbias

If the snow doesn’t fall outside, bring some snow inside for a little Christmas fun! Add in the Avalauncher  (complete with fake snowballs) for a little friendly competition!

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2. That’s a Wrap – Book Advent Calendar

Each year, we add new Christmas books to our collection. The boys LOVE nighttime stories with daddy and so to start the excitement of the season, we wrap allof our Christmas books individually as a way to have a physical advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas! Each book is wrapped and then labeled with a number. We let them unwrap a book for some holiday reading each night and it helps to build the excitement, uses something we already have in our decorative Christmas tubs and creates the anticipation we’re looking for.

Happy Reading! #NorthpoleFun #cbias #shop

The boys also love receiving “presents” each day and the cost to us is minimal since we reuse the same books each year! We end with Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve and then fall asleep to visions of sugar plums. This year, we’ll add the Once Upon A Northpole Christmas storybook from Hallmark gifts. The book which tells the story of….also includes a Find me, Santa Snowflake that can help light the way for Santa to find you on Christmas Eve.

3. Ornamental Traditions

Ornamental Traditions #NorthpoleFun #shop #cbias

One of my favorite parts of the season is decorating the Christmas tree. Each year, my mother-in-law buys us a personalized ornament and I love pulling them out each year to see our collection as a whole. The one above was the Christmas right before Jack arrived. Ornaments are a great way to add decoration and sentiment to the holiday season. I love collecting and decorating slowly while either watching a Christmas movie or sipping a big batch of hot cocoa.

Christmas Decorating with Charlie #NorthpoleFun #cbias #shop

This would also be the perfect time to add on your Find Me, Santa Snowflake from the storybook above so that your family can light the night and give Santa a little help in finding just the right house. Personalize the ornament for an extra special holiday touch.

Our first Christmas as expectant parents is beautifully documented in this ornament. Tree trimming is a beloved family tradition that I cannot wait to participate in this upcoming season!

Baby Makes Three - Holiday Tree Trimming #NorthpoleFun #cbias #shop

Building our traditions each year always makes this season extra special for our family. I love carrying out traditions from my childhood and experiencing them with my boys. What holiday traditions will Hallmark gifts help to enhance this year?




Extra, Extra, Read All About It! Sharing the Workload Love with Extra Gum

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

Every year around this time, I started to wax poetic about all the things I am thankful for throughout the month of November. The changing leaves remind me that while we all bring something different to the world, we offer a beautiful landscape when we come together to accomplish something. From the postman to my favorite barista to coworkers that always seem to give Extra throughout the year, I thought this month would be a great time to honor them and give a little Extra gum back to them. #ExtraGumMoments #CollectiveBias

Give Extra, Get Extra #ExtraGumMoments #cbias #shop

 Much like a newspaper, we don’t always see who’s behind the news. Whether it’s the writer, editor or the newspaper delivery boy, each of these people helps to make things happen to get the news out correctly and on time, but all too often their contribution is lost somewhere in the classifieds. This season, I want to take some time to honor those that may not necessarily always have the byline, but play just as important of a role in making sure things run. It’s time to take a look at the players behind the headlines in my life.

Government Service Men & Women

Often I find myself complaining about how slow the “snail mail” seems nowadays. Letters lost, bills misplaced and days of late mail usually exacerbate my frustration with the men and women in blue. This year, however, I decided to leave him a little Extra surprise when he came to drop off my letters today. He always smiles at Jack as he runs out to snatch up the mail and frequently walks all the way to my door to deliver even though our box lines the street like the others. He’s always pleasant and jovial and I thought this might be a nice surprise for him when he makes his rounds this afternoon.  I really want to try and show him that when you Give Extra, Get Extra.

Using the Newspaper as Wrapping Paper for Extra Gum #shop #cbias #ExtraGumMoments

You might consider leaving something at your local USPS office this holiday season, drop by an Extra gift package to your local police station talking about how you “MINT” to tell them they were doing such a great job. You’d be surprised how these little acts of kindness can go a long way.

USPS Special Surprise Extra Gift #ExtraGumMoments #shop #cbias

Retail for the Win

As the Black Friday ads start to swarm your inbox and you plan out your maps of stores and early bargain buys, consider putting together a few Extra Gum care packages for the cashiers you encounter. Chances are they are working on a holiday, overtime or during hours that most humans are normally sleeping. They are probably also encountering guests that are about as pleasant as an angler fish. Consider spreading some cheer this month as you thank them for your service during a time of year where you are lucky enough to be purchasing rather than ringing up your cart full of gifts and holiday fixings.

Extra special surprises to your favorite barista are also sure to brighten their day and who couldn’t use a little fresh breath help after all that coffee consumption? I love handing a surprise back through the drive-thru after receiving my favorite drink. You might even consider making a full care package complete with pampering items such as nail polish or body lotion and a reusable water bottle is always a great hit! Package together in a reusable lunch bag and they’ll be good to go!

Give Extra Thanks this Season #ExtraGumMoments #cbias #shop

Work “Family”

Lastly, I thought I’d create some sentiMINTal surprises for my coworkers. After working with them for over a year, I’ve really grown to love them as part of my own family and hope these little notes of affirmation and a job well done will help them to smile that day. They Give Extra and Get Extra in return. Consider sharing a little something with your coworkers to let them know how they brighten their day. One shared compliment could start a whole chain reaction and bring your kind deed to the front page.

Extra, Extra Read All About It! #ExtraGumMoments #cbias #shop

Give Extra Gift Suggestions

As you start to prepare your little gifts, be sure to keep a few things in mind.

1. Keep it simple. These little acts of kindness are not designed to be a replacement for an expensive gift but rather a small token of your appreciation. Save the brand new iPhone 6 for your significant other or family member.

2. Use things around the house. For this project, I put together packages using newspaper and scrapbooking paper. The more you can recycle, the better!

Extra Dessert Delights - Jay Cutler #ExtraGumMoments #cbias #shop

And Jay Cutler makes a better wrapper than a quarterback…just sayin’

3. Consider the element of surprise. I love leaving my gifts in a space where I can “spy” them discovering the special treat. Those reactions are priceless!

How will you Give Extra this season to those who contribute to the behind the pages aspect of your life?