Christmas Tour: A Trip Down Ornament Lane

Each year we get to take a look back and are reminded of our travels and life together when we take our Christmas ornaments out to decorate the tree. This December is our tenth wedding anniversary, the twentieth Christmas we've known one another, and our last Christmas as a family of three!

Over the years, whenever we traveled somewhere new, we tried to find ornaments for our tree and it makes me smile to hang them up each year and remember the people and places associated with each one.

When we were first married we lived in San Diego and the purple grapes ornament was from a trip to the Thornton winery in Temecula.

When we lived in Switzerland and took trips to Prague we picked up the sun and wooden nesting ornaments that have smaller pieces inside.

I love our collection of wooden ornaments from Christmas markets in Germany and France. They come in handy for lower branches that little hands can reach because they're sturdy.

The Eiffel Tower Santa was from an anniversary trip to Paris and reminds me that we had plenty of dinners out before we had to carry a diaper bag with toys, crayons, and sippy cups.

The Beefeater is from a trip to London filled with museums, shopping, and so much walking.

All of the kids love to pull the string and watch this wooden toy soldier's legs and arms go up and down. We picked him up on a trip to the black forest in Triberg, Germany to find our cuckoo clock.

Another one of my favorite wooden ornaments is the two tone harp I found in Killarney after driving a rental car there myself to go shopping (on the opposite side of the road) while Steve was working.

When we were moving back to the states from Switzerland, a friend gave me these Swiss cow bell key chains to hang on the tree each year and I have ever since.

The fleur-de-lis is from the trip to New Orleans where I first found out that we were going to have a baby. That's all I'm reminded of when I see it even though that trip was filled with so many sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that could come to mind.

From that point on most of our new ornaments looked like these:

All of our travels and experiences led to the biggest adventure of all. Next year when I unpack the ornaments we will have another tiny face to frame in a baby's first Christmas ornament, another little hand to print, and (another moose to add to the moose family.)

Mod Podge Leaves Thanksgiving Art: Crafting with a Toddler

Using Mod Podge to create fall art with a toddler

Having a two year old makes finding time to complete holiday crafts a challenge but also makes me take on projects that he can enjoy doing and create a special memory for me when finished. I wanted a quick craft to decorate the dining room for Thanksgiving and we had fun making this "Grateful" canvas with the colorful leaves scattered throughout the yard.

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

We gathered some leaves, pressed them in a book overnight and then painted them on both sides with Mod Podge. The leaves painted by the little hands had an extra thick coating!

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

I painted some smudgy gold paint on a flat canvas and used some stick on letters to spell grateful, then painted them black.

I chose the word grateful because there's no better way to sum up the meaning of Thanksgiving to us and how I try to live each day.
I know just how lucky we are and never want to take it for granted.

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

I arranged the leaves on our canvas and coated it with a few thick coats of Mod Podge, drying completely and pressing under a weighted cookie sheet between each coat.

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

Once dry, the leaves shine and their colors are preserved. I love that the little basket of leaves we collected together from the yard will be something I can bring out every year with our fall decorations.

Here is the canvas when it was hanging in the dining room.

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

I moved the canvas to our mantel so it would be in a room we will see it more.

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

I hope everyone takes time to focus on what they have and how precious their gifts in life are rather than too much on the round the clock shopping, Christmas countdowns, or anything else that just doesn't matter as much as the moments we can never get back once they pass.

No project could mean to me what one those tiny little hands helped me with because I know they won't be tiny for long.

Using Mod Podge to preserve fall leaves for crafting with a toddler

Thankful for My Favorite Time of Year

We took a long walk around the neighborhood today and even though there are houses with Christmas decorations up already, it was the most perfect fall day with leaves falling on us as we walked and a bright blue sky. It may still be a little too warm in Georgia to remind me of fall in New York but it's getting there!

It is tempting to start putting up Christmas decorations early but we have so much to be thankful for I can't let myself skip right over Thanksgiving.

Instead of rushing through my favorite time of year to get to Christmas decorating, I like to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to deck the halls and then I just leave it all up until February.

We took down most of the black and white Halloween decorations from the mantel and added some more pumpkins and pussy willows.

I finally changed our hallway flowers for fall and hung a fall wreath on the front door.

We went apple picking and drove north to a pumpkin patch.

We worked on some toddler friendly crafting including these Mod Podge leaves that I'm using in a project and a little handprint spider.

It was our first year with a little one old enough to trick or treat!

It may not be a NY fall but I'm grateful for every minute of it so far!

There's No Place Like Home: Chicago and Saratoga Springs

Travel is a huge part of who we are as a family and I love getting to know people with similar experiences so I'm thrilled to collaborate on a little 'tale of our two cities' with travel expert Kendra Thornton. Read on and we'll each tell you why our hometowns are not to be missed!

There's No Place Like Chicago - by Kendra Thornton

I consider myself to be a travel enthusiast. I have been all around the world and I travel quite often. However, when it comes to great places to see, nothing beats my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Chicago is not only one of the most exciting cities in the United States, it is a vacation destination for people all over the world. No matter what you like to do, no matter what your interests are, there is a good chance that you will find numerous ways to entertain yourself while visiting Chicago. Since it is the third largest city in the country, the number of places to visit is enormous. 

Enjoying the Chicago Skyline
You will never run out of things to do, regardless of how long your trip is. They are so many places to enjoy entertainment and so many amazing restaurants in Chicago, I could never list them all. However, here are 4 of my Chicago favorites:

1. Shopping

If you love to shop or you are traveling with someone who has been bitten by the shopping bug, I know a place that you must visit while you are in Chicago. It is Southport Avenue, located in Lakeview. If you are looking for a place that is not extremely trendy and mainstream, Southport Avenue is a place that you must visit while you are here. The legendary Wrigley Field is just a few blocks away. Since the Chicago Cubs usually play in the afternoon, you can take in game and do some shopping afterwards. If you enjoy fashion, you will be able to find all of the most chic trends on Southport Avenue. Local Chicago designers sell their products at the Cerato Boutique, and many others. There are also a wide variety of other stores and boutiques to choose from, such as Tula and Krista K. Have fun, and shop until you drop!

2. Millennium Park
Millennium Park is considered by many to be one of the top attractions in the Windy City, and with good reason. It is interesting to note that Millennium Park used to be apiece of wasteland that was nothing more than an eyesore, but all of that changed in 1997. The Mayor of Chicago at that time, Richard Daley, originally came up with the idea to turn the land into a beautiful public park near the heart of the city. It took a few years for the idea to get off the ground, but by the early 2000s, Daley's dream had become a reality. The park offers activities for families, including tours and exhibitions. The architecture and artwork are sure to impress you enough to pull out your camera and take pictures (something that hasn’t always been as easy in the past!)


3. The City
The Chicago skyline ranks right up there with New York and Hong Kong as being one of the most beautiful skylines in the world. It is truly a magical sight, and an image that you will surely remember long after your trip to Chicago. The downtown area also has some of the best dining you will find anywhere. If you are planning a trip to Chicago, you should take advantage of the beauty of the skyline and the activities offered in the downtown area. You can find a wonderful hotel in the city by using Gogobot. This is a site that allows you to  search for hotels that have the best prices in downtown Chicago. Gogobot allows you to search by average price per night, hotel class, hotel type and average user rating. 

4. Food
Most people are familiar with Ralph Lauren's fashions, such as his world famous Polo line of clothes. However, many visitors to the Chicago area are surprised to find out that Ralph Lauren is also in the restaurant business. Simply called RL, Ralph Lauren's restaurant is located close to the flagship Polo store on North Michigan Avenue, which is also the largest Polo store in the world. It is in the heart of downtown, so after you grab a bite to eat, you can explore all the other things that downtown Chicago has to offer.

Enjoying a Cubs game!

Chicago might be called the Second City, but it will always be number one in my heart. I am certain that after you visit this Midwest metropolis, you will see why I am so enthusiastic about the city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Whether you have a taste for food, fashion, sports, shopping, art, music or theater, Chicago has all of these things in abundance, and so much more. 

Thanks for sharing some of your favorite things about Chicago, Kendra! Now I'll tell you why-

There's no place like Saratoga Springs:

Although we're currently getting settled in our seventh temporary 'new' home in Georgia, my hometown and favorite place to live is Saratoga Springs, NY. I was born and raised there and was lucky enough to spend the last few years living there for my husband's military assignment.

A Beautiful Congress Park afternoon

Saratoga Springs may be most well known for its summer horse racing but there is so much more to the city:

Downtown Saratoga Springs- Traveling along downtown Saratoga's main street, Broadway, you can enjoy shopping, dining, and people watching on par with more metropolitan areas, without the traffic and with twice the charm.
Downtown Saratoga is home to the beautiful Congress Park, where little ones can ride the historic carousel, families can picnic and watch the ducks, and visitors can stroll or just take a breather from shopping on Broadway.

Historic Congress Park Carousel

Each December, Broadway is closed to traffic for a night and transformed for the Victorian Streetwalk, complete with carolers in period costumes, Santa and Mrs. Claus, ballerinas performing the Nutcracker in store windows, reindeer and so much more. It's an event not to be missed that really shows the character of our wonderful city.

For Children- The Children's Museum at Saratoga at 69 Caroline St. is a fantastic way to spend the day with your little ones and has so much to offer not only with clever hands on exhibits but also with the weekly programs hosted there including Silly Science, Wiggle and Giggle, Tuesdays for Tots, and the new Busy Bees baby and toddler program. 

Playing at the Children's Museum

Food- Downtown Saratoga is just packed with options for dining with everything from brew pubs to fine dining. My favorite place to send visitors is Hattie's at 45 Phila St. for their always delicious southern food. Hattie's has been open since 1938 and Chef Jasper Alexander's fried chicken, mac and cheese, and hushpuppies are worth our drive home from Georgia for.

The most exciting thing on the horizon for the Saratoga fine dining scene, 15 Church, is set to open in December 2013. The modern, French/American concept coupled with the amazing style and creativity of Chef Jason Baker, 15 Church is sure to be the Saratoga Springs dinner reservation worth fighting over.

Saratoga Springs is a city with a genuine small town feel to it. There is no shortage of activities, shopping, food, and family friendly fun. The natural beauty and charm, history, sense of community, and energy of the city make it a great place to visit and a wonderful place to call home.

Thanks for taking this little tour of our two cities. Be sure to follow @KendraThornton to get her latest and greatest tips for travel!

Spooky Black and White Halloween Mantel

Though it's been months since moving to our new house many boxes still sit unopened in the garage so I was happy to open the one with my fall decorations knowing that they had a place to be unpacked.

Because it's still a few weeks until Halloween, and it's 86 degrees outside, and feels nothing like fall, I used black and white decorations for the mantel.  My Thanksgiving/Autumn decorations are mainly oranges and browns, and in an effort to avoid looking at those colors until Christmas, the black and white spooky mantel was born.

I love the way all of the black and white looks with the silver metallics of the decorations and the gold mirror I rescued and had restored a few years ago.

The antlers that I painted white look like bony fingers holding up the black cat.

I've used my same white painted branch for an Easter egg tree, a Christmas snowflake ornament holder, and here, as a bat tree that throws the best spooky shadow on the wall behind it at night.

After Halloween, I'll switch out some of the black and white for more of my brown, orange, and green autumn decor for Thanksgiving. I hope that by then, Georgia weather will have changed enough to make me feel just a hint of what fall in NY feels like. But for now, it's the perfect time of year to have a black and white mantel.

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