Gifts of Togetherness - Advent Calendar

Gifts of Togetherness - Advent Calendar Christmas Tradition ideas.  Lovely Matters by Heather Walker
 

I've been so excited to talk about this!  Because THIS is my favorite Christmas tradition!

Every December we fill our advent calendar with what we call “Gifts of Togetherness”.  These are simple, nonmaterial moments we share together.  Many of them only take a few minutes, and some we can spend an entire afternoon with.  

I was inspired 9 years ago when I was a hungry nursing mama and I saw this tiny stocking and mitten advent calendar at World Market (I see similar ones every year like this).  I purchased it thinking I’d put chocolate in each date and it would be mine all mine.  Then I came to my senses and thought it should carry more meaning and help us slow down the hustle and bustle of the season.  December can be a stressful month for many.  This is a great way to slow things down and put the focus on family.

"dancing around the Christmas tree"

"dancing around the Christmas tree"

Here’s my simple way how…  We are all already doing many of these things, but sometimes just being intentional in setting aside time feels different and special.  Every year we print our list and cut each “gift” into a strip.  The children decide which ones they want to include.  I casually put them into the numbered dates and as the days pass I adjust as needed.  Meaning, the day we visit a live manger can be adjusted, vs. printing this on a calendar.  Simple and flexible planning.

viewing our city's lights from the moonroof.

viewing our city's lights from the moonroof.

Feel free to copy and paste our ideas below and get your kids involved in some additional ones.  I’d love to hear what you come up with!  

 

GIFTS OF TOGETHERNESS

Drink hot cocoa under the tree

Make paper snowflakes

Take a drive to look at Christmas lights

Walk the neighborhood to look at lights

Bake for neighbors

Go Ice skating 

Wrap gifts together

Go Caroling with friends

Make a paper garland

Write letters to Santa

Build gingerbread houses

Have a fireside circle chat

Fill a box with items to donate 

Hang candy canes on neighbors’ doors

Make salt dough ornaments

Make a card for a soldier 

Bake with friends

Fill a stocking for someone less fortunate

Take a walk in nature

Leave a $5 bill with a Merry Christmas note on a strangers car

Have a dance party around the Christmas tree

Hot tub party (this will be our first year for this one!!)

Sing Christmas songs

Fill a stocking for someone in need

Family band night (everyone chooses an instrument and gets silly)

Dance lesson night (choreography done by my daughter)

Visit Santa

See a Christmas play

Visit a live manger

Snowball fight (yes you can do this if you live in TX with these! Serious fun!  We were gifted these years ago after leaving the Chicago snow.)

Choose a friend to join us in our Gifts of Togetherness

Facetime cousins

Game night 

Look through family albums (Thank you Chatbooks for keeping me up to date!)

Watch family videos 

Read Christmas stories in Mom and Dad’s bed

Watch a classic Christmas movie

Sleep under the Christmas tree (this is our Adam’s Eve tradition)

And I’ll also share a “gift of togetherness” favorite my husband and I do together.  We always set aside a date night to do some shop together and follow it with dinner out.  His company also hosts an amazing Christmas party that we always can count on as a fun night out to celebrate Christmas together.  

Gifts of Togetherness - Advent Calendar Christmas Tradition ideas.  Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

Happy Advent Season!

 

Finding my simple living to simply live

7 years ago I was so interested in living a simple/minimalism life that we moved out of our traditional sized home and renovated a 1,600 square foot home.  Several garage sales and donation pick ups later, we moved into our tiny home where everything we owned was either useful or beautiful.  That was my intention. It was lovely.  Then baby #3 came and we got the itch to renovate another home, and another and with it our 4th baby.  Our current home is a perfect home for making roots and someday having 4 teenagers that will want their own space.  We still talk about our "tiny home" as our favorite.  We had very few places to put stuff, therefore less stuff.  It forced us to live with our minimum needs.  This gave us more time and space to make room for the people and life experiences that were important to us. 

The subject of minimalism is, of course, quite subjective.  I think of minimalism as less is more. But it's also a mindset.  For instance, if we are talking about clutter in the home...  I can live with the rooms on our second floor cluttered, but my mind will feel cluttered if my kitchen counters and master bedroom is cluttered.  I have found this as my personal balance.  The spectrum of minimalism is extremely wide.  Like everything, we each need to do what is best for ourselves.  

Isn't life all about balance.  I balance my consumption of chocolate with my consumption of greens.  And I balance my splurges with my frugality and thriftiness.  Balancing a life of living with less helps me live with more intention.

I don't have this lifestyle mastered, nor would I want to.  The words "simple and balanced" are simply a reminder to keep myself in check with all the temptations life brings.  What to wear, how to discipline, what to feed my family, how to decorate my home or my child's birthday party, the list goes on.  These words have taken the pressure off mothering and have allowed me to focus on my top priorities.

One mindset I have changed to encourage minimalism is eliminating the word "busy" from my vocabulary.  Busy is a choice.  In our daily life I don't want my family to be busy - but rather productive.  Intentional on how we go about our day.

If you are curious about adding more simplicity or minimalism in your life try writing down all the areas in your life that feel cluttered.  Physically and emotionally.  Start small.  Few people have an entire day they can spend organizing their closet.  Start with your shoe collection and pull everything out.  Make 3 piles.  Sell. Donate. Keep.  Then move on to your jeans.  repeat.  Then see how you feel.  Maybe the minimalism balance doesn't start in your closet but in your head.  Write down what's making you feel "busy" and cross out everything that's not important.  Then tackle the rest.

Now that you know my story I plan to share many more thoughts on how I use simple living to simply live.  Follow your own path and don't let anyone tell you how to live your life according to theirs.  

On simply living to simply live.  Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker
 

On gift-giving: Something to wear (part 4 of 4)

4 thoughtful gifts.  Something to wear". Part 4 of a 4 part post.  Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker

If you haven't read our "4 thoughtful gifts", you may want to read this blog post first. 

"Something to wear" is now my 11 year olds favorite category in our gift giving.  Here I'm going to showcase a few of our favorite apparel brands.  Click on images to link to site.

Athleta

I love the company's motto: SHE is the root of power. So, more power to you.  My daughter and I both appreciate the simple and comfortable style of Athleta.  It's our favorite brand to work out in and our favorite brand for school and work.  Here are some new items we have our eyes on.  The fun part for me is there are a few pieces that we share given some of these layered styles can go both ways, fitted or oversized.  

Zara

This is my go-to when I need something unique for a special event or photo shoot for the kids.  Love the clasic feel of the pieces I find at Zara.

Toms

All 6 of us love Toms.  It's a hard brand to pass up when you know every purchase has a purpose.  I think I've had mine for over 10 years and although they have holes I still can't toss them because there's something that feels okay about wearing Toms with holes.  Just me?  And the collection of sunglasses are beutiful!

Here's some random "something to wear" that I think could help with ideas. 

Have you seen this ring?  My active and handy husband could use one of these!  I think my daughter will love this nail polish color.  I recently saw this brand at a salon and it labeled itself as the "big 5 free nail polish" (a safer toxic free option).  Shouldn't all socks be fun like these or these!  Here's a bargain - for $6 I'll give the purse organizer concept a try.  Yes, technically in my eyes that last one you do "wear".

That completes my shopping guide on "4 thoughtful gifts", Something to read, something you want, something you need and something to wear (the post you are on).  I'm hopeful that Santa Clause is reading this blog because I'll be giving some ideas for stocking stuffers as we get closer to December.  

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through them help support this website.

 

On gift-giving: something you need (part 3 of 4)

Thoughtful gift ideas: something you need (part 3 of 4).  Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

If you haven't read our "4 thoughtful gifts", you may want to read this blog post first. 

The "something you need" category is of course, the most practical.  Every year we take a different spin on the word "need".  My "rule follower" child commented that everyone should get a wrapped water bottle.  And my out of the box thinker tries to convince me that this is the category for a rocket launcher.  Here are my ideas:

4 year old 

I truly think my 4 year old would appreciate a special set of flannel sheets for his bed this winter.  We are short a backup set so this becomes his "need".  Love all the target options of flannel I'm seeing this season. *click images to link*

6 year old

A few extra pairs of underwear are in need right now.  So to keep the practicality in gift giving he'll get his favorite package of undies.  All my boys say the Calvin Klein Briefs from Costco are the most comfortable. They aren't online for me to link, but you Costco shoppers know where to find them.

Here's a "needed" solution for getting out the door quick.  We don't wear shoes in our home so this makes the constant on and off very helpful.  

8 year old

This hair gel for my long haired boy keeps his hair under control with the "I'm not trying too hard because I'm a free spirt wild child" feel.  It's a very safe brand (it's made with quinoa and smells like orange peel for goodness sake) and leaves no flaking or crunchy hair.  I originally found this at whole foods and never thought to see if Amazon had in stock until now.  Win!

11 year old

The advantage of my oldest having a phone is that I can contact her when I need to, but only if she has her phone with her.  I think this would be the easiest way for her to take her phone when she goes for a run or a bike ride.

My daughter is at the age where I'm sharing lots of self-care tips and she mentioned her interest in this when she saw at a friends house.  Caring for skin is something that needs to become a habit at a young age.  I was only familiar with the Clarisonic brands but they are over $100!  This one has amazing reviews and is only $22.  

Hubby:

Most men really don't take the time to shop for themselves (especially Dads).  Shopping for my husband's clothing is simple but when it comes to beauty products and self-care it's trickier to know what he might like and actually use.  I found Birch Box, a beauty box subscription for men!  This is a better idea of a gift than my normal toothpaste or wrapped up toilet paper as his "something you need".  Isn't this what a gift should be, something unique that you wouldn't normally purchase for yourself.  Undecided on starting a subscription for him (only $10 a month!) or choosing one of these two gift sets (one-time purchase).

Me (aka: Mama):

My favorite bowls keep getting dropped by my little kitchen helpers.  Bowls definitely fall under the "need" category.  They are only $6, the perfect size, and more durable than most, so I keep replacing them.  

Okay, saving the BEST for last again!  I know you all rushed off to Anthropology after my post yesterday, but this one you just need to click a link!  At the TOP of my wish list is a subscription box to FabFitFun!  I recently saw a friend's box and my mouth was dropped open at all the fun and unique goodies that I'd never seek out for myself.  The box is filled with fabulous finds in beauty, wellness, fashion, and fitness, hand-picked by the FabFitFun team, delivered once per season.  Each box is limited edition and contains $200+ in retail value. The starter box is only 19 dollars!  What??!! Seriously!  Sweetie, if you are reading... hint hint hint FabFitFun has lots of my "needs" inside.  

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through them help support this website.

 

On gift-giving: Something you want (part 2 of 4)

4 thoughtful gifts for Christmas - something you want (part 2 of 4).  Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

Want want want! 

The "something you want" is the gift category I'd probably let get a little out of hand if I didn't stick with the one gift rule.  If you didn't read about our "4 thoughtful gifts", you may want to read this blog post first. 

I have a good idea well before December what's on my kids "want" list.  When I hear them talk about something, or I see something I think they'd like I immediately add to my amazon wish list so I don't forget.  The other "wants" go on their Santa wish list.

I'll start with my favorite,  Kiwi Crate!  Currently my 9 year old and 4 year old receive monthly boxes.  I can't say enough good things about this company and the products they develop.  My 9 year old gets their "Tinker crate".  It's this perfect combination of STEM education and creative tinkering.  Ironically, he dressed as a Rocket Scientist for Halloween and the week before he received a crate with a rocket project inside.  What's been most incredible is how much he tinkers and creatively explores on his own since starting the subscription.  As for my 4 year old, he receives the "Koala crate".  This is filled with hands on learning and crafting.  Last month he put together a working xylophone and wrote his own music with ink stamps.  Art is extremely important to me and this is such a fun way for me to explore learning through art with my littlest.  So, unknown to my 11 year old daughter, her "want" will be the "Doodle crate".  She loves art and never has much of a wish list so this will be a fun surprise.  Here's last month's Doddle crate below.

all-inside-doodle1.jpg

I think this is also the perfect gift from Grandparents.  They can choose how many months to subscribe and will be thrilled they are giving such a unique and educational gift.  AND, using this referral link you'll get $10 off your first crate.  They set the bar high on finding other gift ideas... moving on:

Family Gifts for all ages (post-toddler stage)

My younger two are the vocalists in our family band.  We have a cheap toy microphone that barely works, but used often.  It's time for an upgrade to this portable Singing Machine with a bluetooth speaker.  Shocked by the low price!

All my kids play with these.  Time after time, one of the most played with toys in our home.  We only have a small set and can be limiting when more than one child is playing, so I'm thinking we add to this great toy.

Between our love of music and our kids' curiosity on how things work, I think we'd all love one of these.  

Kids and adults love playing with darts, but this one has impressive reviews with its magnets.  Hmm, maybe another idea for my hubby?  Men are just big kids who still want toys.  I'm reminded of this every year at Christmas time.

Legos are always high on the wish list for almost 8 years now in our home.  It's still at the top of my 6 year old's wish list, therefore new sets are hard to come by.  I purchased this set because I don't believe we've ever seen it.

I think my active 9 year old boy would love a fitness tracker like this so he doesn't need to share my old one with his sister anymore.  It's practical and almost a "need" because he's constantly asking me what time it is.  He'd also love this computer kit!  When did being a kid become so awesome!

Gifts for Hubby:

I asked if there was anything on his wish list and he gave me this.  We've had a Toddy for several years but, it's gotten old and this would be less expensive than buying cold brewed coffee. 

Gifts for Me (aka Mama):

10 coupons to sleep in over Christmas break would be the best gift!  Followed by breakfast in bed of course.

But if my family insisted I make a wish list, jewelry from Anthropologie and Madewell would be on that list (click on photos below for links).  I explored the jewelry at both these stores today because jewelry is something, in my opinion, that needs to be seen in person.

I would love to hear the top gifts in your family!

 

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through them help support this website.

 

On gift-giving: Something to read (part 1 of 4)

If you aren't familiar with the 4 gifts, you may want to read this blog post first. 

Thoughtful gift ideas with 4 gifts ~ something to read ~ Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

The "something to read" is my favorite to shop for!  My kids love books, and I love previewing books.

7-15 YEAR OLD

I was recently at Costco and spent a great deal of time looking at books.  I found two books for my older two and I was glad to know that my Costco membership is beneficial since these were less expensive than amazon.  I just love feeling the energy of children's books as I pick them up.   Good finds for my 9 year historian and my 11 year old artist.  And this author has several different topics of interest.  

5-7 YEAR OLD

My older son read The Book With No Pictures at school, and just hearing him talk about it made me want it.  It was his idea that we should get it for his younger brother.  I can't wait to hear them laugh as they read this one!

2-7 YEAR OLD

I'm still searching for a book for my 4 year old.  Considering one of these below after looking through amazon reviews.  I hope to visit a book store to preview these.

HUSBAND

My husband is often reading about business and leadership so he'd probably choose something like this.  But I'm thinking something more unique and leisurely.  Before we see Hamilton the musical (I hear it's coming to Austin people!!!), I think my husband would be interested in reading the book... and my older two would probably fight him for it with their obsession of the soundtrack.  I've never done a magazine subscription so this is also a runner up.  

Me (aka. Mama)

The problem with Christmas shopping is I find stuff I want... normally I don't give my husband many hints.  He's naturally an amazing gift giver and gifts are the only surprise I like.  However, two years ago he gave me a cookbook and I've never opened it.  Wishful thinking on his part - there's always hope.  This book would be practical for me right now.  Or I know I'd enjoy this book on raising my wonderful wild children.  And this one I also flipped through at Costco and is of interest to me because I often try focusing on eating the seasons.

This is my top pick! I know our entire family would enjoy.

This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing through them help support this website.

 

giving matters - make it thoughtful

4 thoughtful Christmas gifts ~ lovely matters blog by Heather Walker ~ Christmas simplified

The first year we celebrated Christmas as a family (11 years ago) we decided to keep the focus of gift giving with four thoughtful gifts; something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.  This has not only simplified our Christmas shopping, but it follows the "less is more" reminder.  This allows for more time and thoughtfulness as we choose each gift.  This also allows for more time spent as a family, celebrating our "gifts of togetherness" in December - another post to come explaining this. 

These are the gifts they get from us and then Santa fills their stockings and brings a gift or two for each and or a group gift.  This varies year to year and just depends on what they are asking for.  

My husband and I also give these 4 gifts to one other, but we simplify it even more.  The "need" is often a kitchen utensil that needs replacing, or a tube of toothpaste to show the kids just how practical we are. ha ha.  One year I wrapped lipstick as his "something to wear".  And you can use your imagination on what he wraps for me each year as my something to "wear".  There was 1 or 2 years my husband and I skipped doing this for one another (somewhere between the thick of parenting and birthing and nursing 4 babies), but now especially as the kids are more aware, It's important to us that they see us sharing these thoughtful gifts.

I involve the children as much as possible in shopping for all members of our family.  They've come up with some very creative ideas - like how to give Daddy a gift that they actually want.  Family board games have work well in this category.

The next 4 posts I will share my read, wear, want and need gift ideas for my family.  I hope you'll follow along and find some new ideas for your family and I'd love to hear your gift ideas also!  

 

Thankful chalkboard

Every November I clear our chalkboard to make room for all we are thankful for.  Each child writes the first thing that comes to their mind every day in November.  I have a photo of what this looks like at the end of the month from all the years past.  I love our kids having these daily reminders on how blessed they are.  Here's our Chalkboard on Nov 1st and I'll share what it looks like on November 30th.  

DSC_8317 copy.jpg
 

Halloween matters

Lovely Matters blog - Halloween matters

Hope your halloween weekend was a fun one!  We attended our school fall fest, went to the pumpkin patch (nighttime edition because it's tradition), carved pumpkins and attended our church's trunk or treat.  A couple soccer games, chores, and meltdowns between the fun - but let's focus on the festivities shall we?

When was the last time you watched the Thriller video?  My kids learn this dance at school every year, and Friday night at the school's fall fest I tried to attempt this with them.  Saturday I woke up and realized I should educate my kids on the legend of Michael Jackson.  I had forgotten just how creepy this video is but my older two loved watching the dancing part.  You might want to preview before letting your kids watch but it was a fun blast from the past for me!

I really hope someone comes to my door wearing this costume tomorrow!  And if I see this mask knocking on my door, I will NOT be answering.

lovely matters blog - halloween matters

Do you eat or toss your pumpkin seeds?  We eat pumpkin seeds year round but this is the only time of year I roast them myself.  I'm trying this recipe today!

lovely matters blog - halloween matters
Imitating the Thriller dance.

Imitating the Thriller dance.

I'm so happy flannel weather is here - even if it only stays around for a few days!  And I'm so happy I handed my son my camera to capture my Hubby and I enjoying the cool weather and snuggles on a fun family night.  

lovely matters blog - halloween weekend

I found this Brooks Brothers flannel from Marshalls and I'm loving it!  Never had anything from Brooks Brothers - but love the quality I felt wearing it.  And these socks are my absolute favorite fall thing with boots or wellies.  I'm ready to order a new pair since they are always in the wash.

Happy Halloween!  

 

Why I use Chatbooks

How I use chatbooks to retain our memories
 

Life moves fast.  Many people go from one thing to the next without taking a moment to live in the moment.  Chatbooks is, hands down, my favorite way to tell the story of our lives... and to live in that moment a little longer.  Several years ago I was feeling like I wasn't the family storyteller I once took pride in.  Moments were passing by and I wanted to do more to document our life.  I was sharing on social media but rarely printing images for my children to look back on.   I then decided that if I didn't start somewhere, the feeling of being behind would just get worse.  So I began by printing years of images with Chatbooks via my Instagram account.  I wrapped the series of books and placed under our Christmas tree.  I think it will forever be one of my favorite tangible gifts I've ever given.

Here are the top 5 reasons why I use Chatbooks:

Retains our memories.  This is the most important factor for me.  We all take so many images, but how often do we look back on our memories?  Especially tangibly in print?  I have witnessed through my own life that the more our family looks back on the photos of our life, the more the memories will be preserved.  Growing up, we always had family albums around.  There is a strong correlation for me of the memories that are most clear in my mind and the memories that were printed photographs to look back on.  This is the reason I keep my chatbooks in reach of even the smallest hands in our home.

simple.  Your book basically creates itself.  Each time you post a photo on social media or favorite one on your phone the app adds that image to your book.  The book has a timeless feel with its simple design.  

Affordable.  $8 including shipping (if you choose the snail mail option).  Seriously!  

Includes date and location.  Recently one of our children was recalling a road trip from a while back and I couldn't remember the exact details of our stops along the way.  Then we grabbed our nearby stack of chatbooks (kept on our mantle) and went down memory lane with the date and location recorded on each photograph.  The best part is I did nothing for that information to be there.  Again, basically creates itself.

Private and customizable.  I personally use Instagram to link the photos that go into my Chatbooks.  Then I customize from there to include more private details and additional photos.  I often use Chatbooks as a more personal journal of all the adorable things my children say.  If it's something I don't mind sharing publicly I will add the quote and an image to Instagram and this will automatically be added to my Chatbook app.  However, most of the time I'd like to keep these personal things personal.  To do this I immediately open my Chatbook app and add the photo and my kid's quote directly to the app.  When you reach 60 images you'll get an email telling you that you have two days before it goes to print.  This is when I review and delete any images I don't want and add all the images I do want.  

For a limited time, you can get your first 60-page Chatbook free!!!

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.