Wednesday, November 30, 2016

10 Gift Ideas for Kids (That Aren't Toys!)

When we moved there was one natural byproduct of packing up all of our belongings that we loved and which was totally necessary: We purged. We got rid of SO much stuff... probably half of our belongings were donated or tossed into a giant dumpster. Now that Christmas is around the corner, the last thing we want to do is bring in a ton of stuff again. Neither Eric nor I want to get stuck in that rut!

Our children are so blessed with generous family members, and the influx of gifts we get with as many kids as we have can be overwhelming at this time of year. If you're like me and you're wanting a less toy crazy year, then you've come to the right place. Today I'm sharing a plethora of ideas for fun gifts you can get that are not traditional toys which may be tossed in a box or forgotten! That's not to say our children won't receive any toys at all, but the older I get, the more I realize that I would much prefer to make memories than have more things!

So let's get to it - 10 categories and dozens of ideas for great gifts this holiday season!

1. Experience gifts

Why not start with a bang? These are my favorite! Tickets to a show, a weekend getaway with the family - buy an experience for your kids that they will be able to look forward to beyond Christmas Day and that the entire family can enjoy together. The Lion King is coming to our area soon, for example. You could buy a stuffed Simba and attach the tickets to him! Is a Disney on Ice coming up soon? Have a favorite indoor waterpark to spend the weekend at? There are many ways to present the gift in a fun way, but ultimately the real gift is about making memories!

2. Subscription gifts 

Kids love getting mail, and subscription gifts are truly the gifts that keep on giving. There are a ton of magazines that kids love...does your child have a hobby? I bet there's a magazine for that! There are even fun subscription boxes for kids now, or sign them up for a book club. Just remember that you might have to include a little note that explains the gift. One year when we were dating I bought Eric a subscription to TIME magazine, and he thought the whole gift was a single magazine wrapped in a red ribbon, haha.

3. Membership gifts

Okay, so maybe this one is my favorite! If your family has a favorite local spot, then you should consider getting a membership to enjoy some perks all year round. The zoo, an aquarium, an amusement park, a children's museum - what a great way to encourage more memory making. Perhaps this is something you wouldn't ordinarily shell out the extra cash for, but this could be a much better value than a toy that may be forgotten in a few weeks. Our children might be receiving annual passes to Six Flags this year. Ho ho ho....

4. Something fun for their room

I love gifts that are fun but also practical! An anywhere chair or beanbag, furniture, or even fun new bedding or pillows. Our kids got new comforters one year and you would have thought they won the lottery! Would your kids love a giant wall decal of their favorite character? And can you stomach that? Haha. Grace wants a lava lamp this year. I think she might just get one!

5. Fun clothes or accessories 

I'm not talking regular clothes, though some of your older kids might actually appreciate that! I mean something a little out of the ordinary or extra. All of my kids are getting new bathrobes and slippers this year, for example. I think they will love them! But also included in this category would be a jersey or hat from your kid's favorite sports team, or even a purse or cute tote for the girl in your life that you know would appreciate it. If it's for a little girl, the more sparkles the better!

6. Hobby equipment 

Sports gear, a tumbling mat, new paints or art materials, an instrument - encourage your kid's hobbies this year! Some of these things can be quite expensive and/or not something you would buy ordinarily, but they would make very special gifts. Only...if you decide to get your child a new drum set or something, don't come after me in January, okay? :)

7. Gift baskets

We see these all of the time at auctions and we think to give them as gifts for adults, but there are so many things you could put together in a gift basket for a child, too. A movie night is always popular, with one or two new movies, a few snacks and popcorn, maybe even a new blanket to cuddle up with. You could get really creative! I love the idea of a "kids spa" basket filled with fun things for the bath. This could even include something like new towels - bonus points if they are personalized. Kids love their names on stuff!

8. Sleepover essentials

Does your child like trips to grandma and grandpa's or staying at a friend's house? A new duffle bag, cool pillows, a sleeping bag, or even a new little suitcase can be both practical and fun. If it's in your child's favorite color, design, or has their favorite character on it you will be golden. And once again, many of these items can be made extra special by being personalized!

9. Jewelry 

Jewelry isn't something we normally think to give to children, but there are some instances where it's totally appropriate. My kids seem to have a special interest in watches. A nice kid watch or one with their favorite character would make a great gift or stocking stuffer. My girls love things with their initial or birthstone. An older child might appreciate nice sunglasses. If you choose to give something that isn't costume jewelry, mom or dad can always keep it aside for special occasions. Kids adore having special things that only come out at special times. Don't forget a jewelry box or keepsake box if they don't have one!

10. Shared Memories gifts

Since we're pretty big on memories around here, I can't forget to include gifts that allow your kids to share memories, or for you to share memories with your kids. A kids camera or even a real one would be a great way for them to document their everyday life. An older child might appreciate a nice journal for them to write their memories down. A photo album is awesome - either empty for them to fill or one that you have already created and put together for them. In this digital age we sometimes forget to print and appreciate our pictures, but my girls LOVE looking through old albums - not on a computer screen, but something that is actually tangible, in their hands. Maybe this year you could create photo books for more people than just grandma and grandpa - your kids would love them, too!

I hope this gives you a good starting point for original gift ideas this year! I know I am still very much in the throws of tracking things down for our kiddos. But I am determined to keep this year in check and make sure that we are remembering the real reason for the season.

I didn't think this was possible, but more than ever I am realizing the importance of family and spending time with the ones we's such a short time, after all. Our kids won't remember many of the toys they get years from now, but this year we can create or encourage memories that will last a lifetime!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Adrien here, reporting live from the comforts of my bedroom - NOT Epcot where our family was supposed to be today.

For those of you who don't know, our trip to Disney was cancelled at the very last minute last week. I tried several times to write a post explaining what happened, but it was seriously depressing. I couldn't look at or even think about anything Disney related, and it still pains me to think about. Sometimes circumstances are out of our control and there is just nothing we can do, sucky as it may be. I feel like a real parent of the year right now, let me tell you. But the kids are handling it surprisingly well. (I don't know why I am still surprised by their reactions to things. They are always pretty resilient to this kind of stuff!) As Eric says, "The trip was not cancelled, it was postponed. We'll get to go, just not right now."

Crazy work schedules were among the several reasons for having to cancel. And that's about all I'd like to say about that. :) It was no one's fault. That's just life. Still, as Gracie said at the chilly bus stop this morning, "I sure wish I was in Florida right now!" about that Thanksgiving, huh?! It feels like eons ago to me.

It was a day for playing with cousins and eating lots of yummy food. A happy distraction!

There is no way we could let a few disappointments last week get in the way of being thankful for all that we have!

I love these people so much!

We divided our time on Thanksgiving Day between great grandma's. As usual it was really hard to get good pictures at my grandma's house...packed in like sardines! :) Babies were everywhere - an entirely new generation of people running around to enjoy the holidays with. 

We learned that Lincoln is a total homebody. He was fussy all day but complete smiles when we walked back in the door that night. Charlotte is absolutely obsessed with pumpkin pie...she could probably eat an entire one by herself. And the big kids are still convinced that Red Bud is the best place on earth and our "little house" is infinitely better than the one we live in now. Haha. Five kids in one bedroom, I simply cannot imagine that. But Grace says it's still the best by far!

Lincoln's first Thanksgiving!

He looks so big to me already! These are among the last holidays that I will be feeding and taking care of a little baby. Quiet moments in the middle of happy chaos. I think there will be a tiny part of me that misses this!

As usual, part of Thanksgiving included getting ready for the next big holiday around the corner. We officially have enough cousins now that drawing names for gifts is a necessity. We can't wait for cousins Lilly and Richie to be here at Christmastime. One mention of gifts and the kiddos got very excited! They started combing through the toy ads. :) Oh, to be a child during the holidays again. But I do agree with the sentiment that there is only one thing better than being a kid at Christmas, and that is being a parent and watching your children enjoy the holidays. Nothing beats it!

Our kids got to spend lots of time with grandparents over the weekend, and I'm not sure that anyone was quite ready to get back to the grind today. We were supposed to be on vacation, and instead it's business as usual. I hope that we are able to take the kids to do some special things to make up for it just a little bit!

At the end of the day, it's not about where I am with my family but the fact that we are all together, happy and healthy. We are going through a lot of crazy stuff right now, and some of it feels very lonely. I don't know that I have ever felt the importance of family more than I have over the last week. Maybe someday I will be ready to talk about all of it, but until then...can you pray for us? We would really appreciate your prayers for some unspoken requests today. 

For many months I viewed Thanksgiving as a day we would have to get through before we kicked off the "real" fun of our holiday season. Turns out that this day ended up being an important highlight - a bright spot in an otherwise dark time. We missed grandpa Greg at the Robert/Leach family Thanksgiving. He had to work! Greg was supposed to be on our Disney trip, too, but...crazy work! It couldn't be helped. (I hope you know that no one is upset, grandpa! Hope you get a break soon!) We'll try again and all will be well. :)

I hope YOUR Thanksgiving was spectacular. Now that I have some unexpected time at home, I am on Christmas shopping overdrive. Just want to get it all done so we can enjoy the rest of our season together. I am hopelessly behind where I usually am this time of year!

Thank you for checking in with us. Love!! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dino Sauring!

It was a lovely night at the theatuh!

Evelyn zipped up her scales and strapped on her tail last night to perform in her first musical, "Dino Soaring." There was singing, there was dancing, there was tail wagging...oh boy did Evelyn love wagging her tail.

Photography by Gracie, haha.

We were all set for a rip roarin' dinosauran good time! 

Evelyn auditioned for a speaking part and was also a part of the chorus singing lots of fun and upbeat songs about various dinosaurs. You know what...I actually learned a few things. :) It was super duper cute! I loved being in musicals when I was younger, and I'm so glad that she was able to have the opportunity, too!

But you know...this is one of those times when pictures and words just aren't going to cut it. So of course we have a video for you today of last night's performance. I hope all of the grandparents who weren't able to come will enjoy it. :) Just some clips of most of the songs, and we can't forget about Evelyn's speaking parts!

I was juggling a squirmy toddler through some of this, so yeah...sorry you're not getting Spielberg today. But this will give you the gist! It was a dino-mite, outta sight, rip roarin' good time!

And seriously, if you don't watch the whole video, just tune in for the last 30 seconds. I couldn't keep it together...Evelyn is a NUT! That's why we love her. :)

I can't believe that Thanksgiving is approaching so quickly! If I am being perfectly honest, I have not had a very good last few all. We have had a lot of disappointments in our family lately, and I'm sure there will be questions about what's going on. So if I can gather the energy to explain some of it, I will share here tomorrow. I really want to have a thankful heart for the holidays this year. I'm trying, very hard. 

Hopefully we'll see you back here tomorrow. :)  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A New Home for the Holidays!

Now before the decoration police come out and cite me for some sort of holiday violation, let me just say that we HAD to haul out the holly early this year. :)

Typically we put up our tree and decorations on the day after Thanksgiving, but that just happens to be the day that we're leaving for vacation. It was either put everything up ahead of time or wait until the second weekend in December, and...nope. That's just not an option for this gal! I am so glad that it's done and that we can hit the ground running at home after we spend a week celebrating the season in grand style!

Unfortunately, this brings us to a very sad part of this post.

R.I.P Bertha.

There were many things that we had to get rid of when we moved, and our beloved Christmas tree was one of them. She overlooked many a Christmas in our family. She shined brightly and steadfastly every Christmas Eve. She was the backdrop of over eight years of photos, and we will miss her - a dear, sweet friend. :)

So now, we have a new guy on the block....

I call him Claude. Is that not just the best Christmas tree name ever?

It reminds me of what Santa Claus would call himself in a Hallmark movie special when he doesn't want anyone to know who he is. "Hello, my name is Mr. Claaaaau--uh, Claude. My name is Claude."

Claude is a much skinnier variety than Bertha was. And he has the neat trick of being able to switch between colorful and white lights, something that our children adore controlling via his remote control. By some miracle, we have not lost the remote yet.

But I'm jumping ahead here. It can't be a decorating for Christmas post without showing some of the decorating. :)

The kids were excited and ready to go last weekend! Evelyn was still feeling a little bit under the weather from an ear infection (that's cotton in her ear) but she was in good spirits. Poor thing! 

We brought up all of our familiar ornaments and introduced them to the new place. :) Once again, Eric and I didn't have to do much at all this year. The kids are old pros at this, and they get better every year at decorating the tree.

Charlotte did a great job of kicking ornaments around and banging them together. :) 

Even Eric joined in while Evie took a little rest....

I was hesitant to get an LED tree with colored lights, because in all of the pictures I've seen they just look really blue. For some reason the blue light dominates in photos and in video, but in real life there are lots of pretty colors that shine through. In the end, I'm glad we have options, because I do think the white lights will be better for picture taking.

We turned off all the lights, and the kiddos had a dance party!

There was supposed to be a video to accompany all of this, but my computer has really been hating me lately. Maybe it will show up in a future vlog. :) 

Over the next few days we worked on getting the rest of our decorations out and sprucing up a few more corners of the house. Have I said enough how happy I am to have a mantle to decorate again? This is what my dreams are made of, haha. I spent the last six Christmases wishing for a good place to hang our stockings!

And boy do we have plenty of them these days! If we had "mom" and "dad" stockings, they would barely fit!

Stockings have a tendency to hang pretty limp and lifeless, so if you're going for a real postcard Christmas look, here's a tip: Trace your stocking on a piece of poster board, cut it out, and slip it down inside before you hang it up. Your stockings will keep their shape this way and look fabulous! I cut mine about an inch short from the top so that no part of the poster board is peeking out when they are hanging. 

The kids love this countdown to Christmas ornament, which was a gift from their uncle Bruce and aunt Kathy. As you can see, Charlotte never leaves it alone....

I always struggled with where to put our tree in the last house... there was really no great place for it. Good ole Claude fits perfectly beside our fireplace. Together they make the room cozy and festive.

And beside that, our placemat pillows from last year are looking mighty fine on the new furniture.

Oy. It was right after I posted about these pillows last year that I got super sick with Lincoln and dropped off of the face of the planet for a while. I am so looking forward to puke-free holidays this year. :)

There are a few more things in the dining room...not at ton, just enough to make the space a bit more merry and bright.

If it were up to me there would be a tree in every room! But I'm not the only person who lives here, haha. And speaking of that....

Even though our upstairs is where all of the festive fun is happening, we've been spending most of our evenings below ground.

It's in the basement where we gather around with our popcorn and watch Christmas movies nearly every night. Since Mr. Robert protested putting a tree down here, I'm super thankful for this wreath that Grandma Beulah gave to us which give us just a little bit of Christmas cheer. :) It was too big to go above our mantle, but it fits quite nicely here. The first thing I do when I go down there is to switch on all of the lamps and turn on the flashing lights on the wreath! Makes me happy.

My view from the recliner...already making sweet memories this season. It's always the little things!

(Evelyn always sits on this table, even though there is a much comfier couch right behind her, haha. She cracks me up!)

Now that this is done I am breathing a little easier. We have a lot going on, and I wanted to be able to enjoy our first Christmas in our first house - not rush through it. Mission accomplished. Now we can focus this weekend on all of the prep that comes before we take a trip. 

Evelyn wants to say hello and wish all of you an (early) Merry Christmas!

But never you fear...we haven't forgotten about Thanksgiving this year. Looking forward to heading "home" next week to see friends and family and enjoy good food and good times. Then it's the OFFICIAL official kick off to Christmas! Hope all of you have fun prepping for the holidays this year, too!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Fall Look Back Vlog 2016

*Taps mic*

Hello? Are we all here? Did we survive the weekend? :)

We did...we're limping, but we made it. Poor Evelyn has been sick since last Thursday afternoon. We discovered the culprit on Friday night when she woke up in extreme pain from an ear infection. One trip to the doctor the next day and I thought we were on the mend. Then last night as we were gathered in the basement with our movie and popcorn, Evelyn said, "What is this white goop in my eye?"

Yep. Pink eye. More missed school today, and OH MY GOSH we can not afford to pass this around. We need to get rid of all sickness this week, because next week is huge...YUGE even.

Update: Evie is much better today, but she may have passed the baton to Reagan. Nooooo....haha.

We did manage to sneak in some good times this weekend in between some of us not feeling so great. But before we get into all of that, I feel like we need an official wrap up of fall around here. It deserves a good conclusion. :) Yes, I know fall isn't over until like...a few days before Christmas. But we have officially hopped into our one horse open sleigh to holiday funville in this house. We love all of the holidays that make up this festive season, and we are on fast forward this year...but more about that later. For today, we're enjoying crispy leaves and day trips to farms and pumpkins and trick-or-treating...we're taking a look back with some videos!

I didn't intend to share most of this, but I couldn't resist putting a few clips together of just some of the fun we had over the past couple of months. The kids LOVE looking back on these videos, and I do, too. Seems like a shame to waste such good memories by never doing anything with them. :)

So here ya go. It's a vlog favorite.

Boy, did we have a lot of good times. Now let's work on getting everyone well so we don't miss out on any of the upcoming fun. Here's one last, resounding, "Happy Fall, Y'all!!" from the Roberts. Next stop: Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la, la la la la...allll aboard the holiday train!

Choo choo.

Monday, November 7, 2016

We Breed Stretchy Children

I think just about everyone in this life has something quirky about them. Something a little different or odd that makes them who they are. In our family, it happens to be that our children are extra bendable. It was something we noticed when Gracie was very small. When she stands up straight and tall, her knees don't lock into place like most people's do; instead, they bend backwards. It looks...a little creepy. :) Her fingers are also freakishly like quadruple jointed or something, but so are Eric's so we never thought much about it.

Check out what her thumb does when you ask her to give you a thumb's up....

That's not normal, haha. And more on the wheelchair in a minute!

About a month ago Evelyn came to us and wanted to show us a trick that she had discovered. She put both of her hands together, and what happened next made me SCREAM in slight horror and wonder as I watched my child perform a sideshow feat. Pictures can't really do it justice, but here's the gist....

It's SO WEIRD to see in real life!

Evelyn can put her hands together in front of her and make her arms fully rotate around to her back without letting go. Try it yourself - I bet you can't...because it's NOT NORMAL. :D Not that I hope she ever finds herself in one of these situations, but I'm going to say this would come in quite handy if she's ever tied up or handcuffed for some reason. I'm sure most policemen would not count on someone escaping because of their stretchy joints!

Charlotte is also extremely flexible, but we may have a few years before we discover anything extra special that she can do! So maybe it's just our girls. I just asked Reagan to give me a thumb's up, and his looks just like mine extra joints to speak of! But those girls of ours...they are regular old Stretch Armstrongs.

Fast forward to last night. Eric and I were just finishing up dinner in the kitchen when we heard a little thunk in the living room and Gracie started to cry. This is not unusual in our house. Then she said, "I can't move my leg! It's hurts, it hurts!" We are known for a little drama around here, so I slowly got up from the table to check out what was going on. At first, I honestly couldn't tell if she was faking it or if she was truly hurt. But soon I sensed this was the real deal, and I called Eric over. He tried lifting Grace onto the couch that she had fallen off of, and she let out a terrible yell. 

After about 30 minutes of realizing this wasn't going away and it wasn't going to fix itself, Eric prepped the car and gingerly carried Gracie out for a trip to the emergency room...her very first one.

She smiled bravely for her daddy in this picture, but she was still in a lot of pain at this point.

If you are friends of ours on Facebook, then you may have seen all of the updates online last night. I immediately put out a call to pray for our second daughter. I was really really hoping that her leg wasn't broken. What a bummer that would be with the holidays and vacation coming up. Would she be able to get on and off of the school bus every day? Oh please oh please, let it not be broken!

The wait at home seemed like forever, and I know the wait at the ER was no better! As I was waiting to get updates from Eric, I remembered a time probably a year or so ago when Gracie almost had to go to the emergency room for her arm. She had fallen at her grandparent's house, and we were just about to take her when her shoulder magically popped and all was well. Knowing she has crazy joints, I was really hoping that maybe Grace just has joints that pop in and out of socket more easily than normal. Crazier things have happened, right?

Grace caught the attention of several other people in the waiting room with her, who thought the little girl in the wheelchair was so cute. :)

After what felt like forever, Grace was finally wheeled back for an x-ray. Even after some extreme pain killers she was still in a lot of pain any time she needed to be lifted or moved. As they carefully rolled her over to get a different shot, Grace's knee suddenly popped into place. Eric said he could physically feel Gracie change...relief washed over her face and her body instantly relaxed. The radiologist said, "Well, I think we found the problem!" Gracie's knee had been dislocated out of the side.

She was able to walk back to the wheelchair all by herself! Good as new - thank you, Lord!

All of Grace's waiting room friends were so pleased to see her walking out of there!

I've heard adults describe dislocations they often hurt worse than breaks, but once they are popped back in, it's like magic! Well, this is the second time in just a couple of years that it has happened to Gracie. I have always been SUPER paranoid about the kids pulling around on each other too much for this very reason, and now...well...this does nothing for my paranoia. :) Also, unfortunately, this may mean that some of our kids should stay away from certain activities as they get older. I'm not sure cheerleading or gymnastics as a sport would ever be a great idea for this one, even though she seems to love both. She's just too darn poppable!

The pediatrician on call gave us a name for what she suspects Gracie and possibly some of our other children may have. It's called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome so yes, it is a very real thing after all. It's genetic, as we suspected. Almost all of our babies have come home from the hospital with concerns about popping hips that turn out to be nothing serious, just strange. This might explain that!

We're just one popping, stretchy bunch!

I've made lots of jokes in the past about how we should have our own little circus, and now we may be able to add a couple of more acts to the show. :) The rest of our weekend had been quiet and normal as I did a lot of preliminary prep for things coming up. We just had to add a little bit of drama at the end to spice things up a bit! Grace is now proudly sporting a bandaged knee to school. She couldn't wait to tell her tale to her friends and teachers today, haha.

Now you know a few more of our family's oddities. Eventually there will be no secrets here, but we're all family right? Thank you to all who prayed for Gracie last night. Our prayers were answered, and now we can look forward to all that's ahead with no broken bones in this house...I hope! 


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