While doing some Christmas and birthday shopping for Ethan, I’ve stumbled upon so many cute toys and activities. I was actually ahead of the game this year and started early, which means I got some great deals on stuff that skyrocketed in price once November hit.
Note to self: Always Shop Early.
Not all of these will be making it under our tree, in fact we’re trying to be very conservative when it comes to gifts this year…there are dozens of toys in this house that never get played with (and may get wrapped up and put under the tree to see if E notices…) so adding tons and tons to the stash is very unnecessary.
BUT, I thought I’d share great things I’ve found in my research in case anyone else is on the present hunt for their two or three year old! They are divided into two categories: “2013 Christmas Gift Ideas” and “Construction Lover Gifts”.
It just kind of worked out that way since we have a construction lover in the house.
Just a few gift ideas for
1. This Geospace Jump Rocket will be arriving via Santa for sure. Ethan’s really interested in rockets and space shuttles…we talk about “booster rockets” and chant “3-2-1 BLASTOFF!!” about pretty much anything, so we thought this stomp rocket would be very exciting. Low cost, but it gets great reviews on Amazon and we can’t wait to give it a try! Good thing we have high ceilings…
2. We got Ethan a Strider ST-3 PREbike as a “moving gift” when we made the change from DC to MO. After watching him try out a friend’s Strider, I thought he’d really enjoy this awesome bike. Well, it turns out 2.5 was a little young and he just recently started getting interested in riding. I am so proud of him, getting so confident riding while we walk around the neighborhood! Kids really get going on these things…very cute to watch. (When we bought this bike in March, it was $74…looks like the price went up for Christmas).
3. How cool would this Racetrack be to play with on Christmas morning?! I envision endless hours of car racing fun. Not sure if Ethan is old enough, but I mentioned this gift to Grandma Johnson when she asked for ideas…it has loops and a jump, making it extra interesting. And I love that it’s a two person OR one person activity! I found it in the One Step Ahead catalog that arrives every year before the holidays. They do have some great gift ideas.
4. These jumbo dinosaurs are still some of Ethan’s favorite toys. He plays with them almost every day, making dinosaur parades, building pens for them out of his blocks, and just carrying them around. They’ve each had a good run, but Brachiosaurus and T-Rex are his all-time favs. They are substantial and water proof…which is good because once in a while they “fall” into the bathtub. How can you go wrong?
5. We splurged for this Little Tikes Adjust N Jam Basketball Set which was a little more than other basketball nets out there but gets the best reviews. Can’t beat those reviews! It starts out low enough to fit Ethan’s beginner status now, then extends to six feet for a bigger challenge. We think this will be a great addition to the third floor play room.
6. While I was never a big fan, it’s hard to argue that Play-Doh is an incredible independent OR group activity. And though there are plenty of elaborate tools and sets out there, this simple press set (found one without the set for like $4 at Walgreens) keeps Ethan totally happy and isn’t so hard to clean up. Even if your kid has the tools, a few fresh tubs of dough are always a good gift.
7. We picked up this Dr. Seuss Matching Game a while back and while always fun, Ethan is just now really getting into playing the right way. We don’t use all the cards (it comes with about a million), just about seven to ten sets so games are nice and short but still challenging. I love playing simples games like this to teach turn-taking, rule-following, good sportsmanship, and patience.
8. If you don’t already have a “craft box” going, get started with this ALEX My Crafty Kit. Safety scissors, glue, papers, and other odds and ends will keep three year olds busy (at least we hope!). The idea of “open-ended” supplies makes it extra fun—and messy.
9. On to books. Stuck is a constant request from Ethan. He loves yelling, “Floyd!!!!????” every time the main character has a seemingly good idea then inevitably screws up the execution. Illustrations and story = perfect.
10. The Day the Crayons Quit, another by Jeffers, is absolutely adorable and I, again, LOVE the artwork. Crayons on strike? What makes it even more fun is reading each Crayon’s letter in a unique voice. I imagine Red as a strung out screecher while Blue is super mellow. Green is an always-positive preppy. And purple is a precise perfectionist.
11. A Sick Day for Amos McGee is the cutest tale about animals that visit their favorite zoo keeper at his house…they even ride the city bus! I am in love with the illustrations and story. Ethan really gets the humor of books like these now that he’s a little older.
12. The Goodnight Train has become another bed time favorite. Yet another book I yawn all the way through! Ethan and I love picking which train-car-bed we’d choose for the pre-bed ride through Dreamland. There’s snail with a mustache…just sayin’.
13. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons is just one awesome book in a series of so many. Any story dealing with Pete is sure to delight your kids. I make up the songs, though you can go online and find YouTube videos to learn the proper tunes (which are most-likely much better than my versions!).
14. Extra Yarn has got to my in my personal top ten favorite children’s books. Everything is perfect—illustrations, story, colors, and life lesson. If only we could all be a little more like Annabelle.
and now for Ethan’s favorite category…
1. This CAT Machinery Set is the BEST gift any one can give a two year old. Ethan’s “Uncle Bob” (my uncle) brought him this set of trucks this summer and it was love at first sight! Ethan carried all five machines around for weeks, calling them his “Uncle Bob Diggers”. He still loves these machines and we give them as gifts all the time. (They are $5.89 at Target or $9.99 at Amazon)
2. We picked up this Caterpillar Excavator over a year ago and it’s still one of the most played with toys in our house. It makes noises, plays a song, and “rumbles”. It’s the perfect size to be carted around but not so small that it will get lost. It’s an indoor toy only since it’s got a few bells and whistles, but very sturdy and tons of fun.
3. While weighted wooden blocks seemed like the obvious solution to Ethan’s block desires, these Cardboard ones from Melissa & Doug caught my eye and were eventually the ones we bought. All little kids want to do with blocks is knock them down, and these will do the trick without resulting in injury. Ethan loves stacking them up and running through. The wooden ones will surely be in our future, but these are the perfect fit for now! WARNING: Assembly is required, don’t plan on doing it Christmas morning. You’ll regret it.
4. The Battat Take Apart Airplane is something I’m REALLY excited to give Ethan. He loves airplanes, taking things apart, AND electric screw drivers, so this could be the perfect gift. The little drill is included and has different bits for the different kinds of screws/bolts. I’m sure it will require parental supervision to avoid losing all the parts, so it should be a fun project that goes on and on! (They also have a Battat Take Apart Crane, and Battat Take-A-Part 4X4,Battat Take-A-Part Roadster to fit different interests! All get great reviews, all super cute.)
5. Since Ethan is FINALLY playing with his Legos, I thought I’d throw them on this list. My parents actually saved my old Duplos and brought them to Ethan over a year ago…he was only interested in dumping them all over the floor. SO they were put away on a very high shelf. In the past six months though, Ethan has really started building. I picked up another gently used set on eBay and he’s a happy guy, usually making “rocket ships with booster rockets”. He also loves to make letters, namely the letter “I”. I hope he’ll learn to love Legos like I did…they are so much better than Barbies.
6. Yes I did this. Don’t judge. I’ve looked everywhere for the perfect crane to make Ethan’s Christmas wish come true. He’ll be asking Santa for one when we see the big man (hopefully without tears this time). But this PBK crane was THE one. And I even had a Pottery Barn gift certificate making the price tag a little easier to swallow. I just want one that’s sturdy, not remote control, and won’t break when it inevitably falls off a table. So, hopefully, this one is the answer to Ethan’s crane dreams. It will be under the tree hoisting a huge dinosaur (dog) bone…Ethan’s dreams are pretty specific.
7. Demolition may be under our tree this year. We love it’s literary sibling Road Work so I’m sure it would be a huge hit!
8. Little Blue Truck isn’t technically construction, but it’s about trucks and in Ethan’s mind, it counts. Go ahead, try to read this book without getting into a groove. It’s just fun to read!
9. Dinosaur Dig! looked ridiculous on the shelves. I couldn’t even imagine it actually being a legitimately adorable and fun to read story…just throwing together two things little kids love? But it is totally awesome.
10. Goodnight Construction Site never ceases to make me sleepy…I yawn through the whole thing! In fact, I just yawned writing this. Watching those big machines cuddle up and fall asleep is just so adorable and peaceful. We LOVE this book.
11. Dig, Dogs, Dig: A Construction Tail is new to our collection, a recent gift from Grandma, but has already climbed the charts to the top slot. Ethan knows all the dog names, all the machines, and totally loves what the dogs build.
12. Roadwork is a clever tail of the construction process. Ethan loves watching the machines start and finish building a road…all the steps are accompanied with fun noises and lovely illustrations.
13. Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tail will hopefully be in Santa’s sack this Christmas! I can only imagine it’s as awesome as it’s buddy, Dig Dogs, Dig.
My FAVORITE gift ideas are a little tougher to wrap.
One word: MEMBERSHIPS.
In St. Louis, these memberships could be for the Botanical Garden, Zoo, COCA, Magic House, Edwardsville Children’s Museum (in Illinois), City Museum, or Science Center, just to name a few. They are the gifts that keep on giving throughout the year. Of course you’ll want to be sure the family to whom you’re gifting a membership doesn’t already have one, but a promise to renew is good too! I’m a member at many of these places and get more than my money’s worth. St. Louis kids are so lucky…all this wonderful stuff so close and affordable!
I hope these ideas help you on your gift-buying quest! Please post a few of your gift ideas!!
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We’re still in Hawaii through the first part of December, but I wanted to share a little holiday project!
Since last Christmas I’ve been thinking about beginning a tradition of a Christmas Countdown to help Ethan figure out WHEN exactly Santa will arrive. For these little guys, it feels like the big day will never get here! And after Ethan loved using a simple printed calendar to count down days till our Hawaii vacation, I knew he’d be over the moon for a holiday version.
I was sure about one thing—little linen bags. How cute would they look strung up and down the staircase? But finding them was a little tricky, especially ones that were big enough to fit decent sized gifts. So when I found these on bagsandbowsonline.com, I was sold. They are 5″ x 6″, plenty big, and the total was $27 for 24 bags with a 15% off online coupon, making them $1.12 each. No way I could make them for that price! Plus I was a little squeezed on time this year.
Time to stencil…
I used my Silhouette cutting machine to cut out numbers in card stock, using the font called, ready for this? “Stencil”. I cut apart all the numbers and got to stenciling. Using a regular paint brush and some Folk Art brand Acrylic Paint in Yellow Citron (which is actually lime green), I quickly painted numbers on each bag. I used a folded piece of scrap paper in the bag to keep the paint from seeping through to the back.
I used the typical tapping motion with my brush to keep the paint within the stencil area and had no issues…this muslin fabric soaked the paint right up and only took a few minutes to dry. Using a piece of painters tape helped keep the numbers in place, especially when I got into double digits. All in all it took about 20 minutes to get 24 bags stenciled.
Time to stuff…
Since Ethan has his own little Christmas tree this year, ornaments and other tree trimmings seemed to be a good daily surprise. Most of them are from Hobby Lobby—they have 50% off almost all of their holiday decorations beginning in October—so I picked up about 19 cute (and durable) ornaments at prices of $1.99 – $3.99 each. I also grabbed a mini tree skirt and star topper, both half off. For the remaining days I decided to give books—Ethan’s school recently had their Scholastic book order so I was sure to stock up on inexpensive new books that will entertain Ethan and provide points for his teachers! The books won’t fit in the bags of course, I’ll instead add a little note he can exchange for the book.
Then to hang…
I have a new house to decorate this year! Always fun/challenging. I hit up Hobby Lobby again for 50% off faux garland, as my old stash wasn’t going to cut it. Our new houses’ staircase is about five times bigger than any we’ve had in the past. And while I used to go for the real thing, this year everything has been converted to artificial. I have mixed feelings but know that in the end, our fake tree and garlands will last through the holidays while the real stuff would be on the floor long before. What’s fun about decorating for Christmas if you only get to enjoy it for a couple weeks?!
We wrapped short light strings around the garland and swooped it along the railings, using zip ties to secure, then I used the little drawstrings on the bags to tie each one to a spindle. Day 1 is at the top of the stairs, closest to Ethan’s room, while Day 24 is at the bottom, closest to the tree and fireplace.
Luckily Ethan didn’t notice the bags before we left for our trip, I really wanted to wait till we get back to start opening. I guess he’ll get to open several together since we’ll miss a few days in December?
Overall, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I added some faux poinsettias— I have a huge stash that I stick all over the house—and will probably hang a few ornaments on the garland when we get back. Since we left a whole day early for our trip, I was rushing to get these decorations done so they’d be ready to enjoy upon our arrival.
While I feel like the cost for the whole project was very low, I wasn’t afraid to invest a little money in making something that will withstand years of use. I envision adding ornaments from vacations and special events (like the little hula girl I picked up on this trip) so soon each day’s gift has special meaning. And I may not be buying new books every year, instead just bringing out the same holiday favorites year after year.
Especially since I put a strict moratorium on holiday books/songs beginning December 30. :)
I love how the outside view of the stair case is strictly decoration, while the inside is a personal project for our family to enjoy each day of December. Hopefully Ethan will like it too!
What do you do for a holiday countdown?
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Greetings from Maui!
We escaped the 12 degree temps in St. Louis to enjoy the beautiful warm beach here in Napili with Stu’s sister Amy, her husband Paul and daughter Annette, as well as Papa and Gaga (stu’s dad and step-mom) who are visiting from central California. We’ve only been here a few days but have decided this is THE way to spend the winter holidays.
Ethan is a happy guy, he has been looking forward to seeing his
twin cousin again since their week together last summer. It took them about two seconds to get reacquainted and start having F.U.N.
Six months ago we decided this was our “Sweet Spot.” We only have one kid and he’s old enough to withstand a whole day of flying. This was it, we HAD to go see Stu’s sister in Hawaii!
After six months of planning our trip, we finally made the looooooong trip over the ocean on Sunday—a day early. Saturday we checked on the flights and realized something was wrong…our connection in Dallas was cancelled! When we called to get things straightened out, they gave us the option to leave a day early. Why not?! We were all packed and waiting with bated breath so we dropped off Dewey at my uncle’s and I cancelled my spray tan. The people of Hawaii are used to pasty white Midwesterners, right?
I mean, common, extra day in paradise…yes please!
After fearing this flight for months, we found it was nothing to worry about. Ethan was a perfect traveler and my back didn’t bother me a bit! We did lots of walking (and running) during our short layover in LA, watched plenty of movies on the planes, and before we knew it…
Auntie Amy was there to welcome us with beautiful leis and big hugs…she is over the moon that finally, twelve years after she moved to this phenomenal island, her brother is visiting.
We got in late—around midnight St. Louis time—it was pitch black and we couldn’t see a thing. We didn’t even realize we were bordered by gorgeous blue ocean on our drive to Amy’s house. So the next morning, when we awoke bright and early at 5:30am, we couldn’t wait to see that sun and sea.
Ethan’s first request? “Cousin Nette!!!”
After being told for months and months he would be seeing his twin cousin in Hawaii, he couldn’t wait any longer. Nothing had changed, they are still siblings from two different mamas.
Since then, we’ve been on the beach.
There we were, down the street from Amy’s house, on a long stretch of sunny beach. All by ourselves. Just basking in the fabulous, breezy, warm weather. Watching the kids play and swim. Staring at beautiful islands all around us. Paradise.
So where are we exactly? Napili is a little town just 15 minutes North of Lahaina. That island behind Stu is Moku’ula and we can also see Lanai off to the left.
It took Ethan about 20 minutes to be comfortable with the little waves lapping at the sand…he takes a little warm-up time to take it all in. Then suddenly he stated, “I need my floaties!” OK! He was ready for swimming. They played for hours until suddenly laying down in the sand—it was nap time. After a stop at the nearby Fish Market for Mahi sandwiches, the kids slept like rocks.
Day Two we had new arrivals—Gaga and Papa! The adults headed up to the Haleakala crater while I stayed with the kids, 10,000 feet isn’t all that kid friendly. Before meeting everyone halfway up for lunch, I took the kids to Lahaina to see the huge Banyan tree. EVERYONE we passed asked me if the kids were twins.
Then—more beach. Just another few minutes down the Lower Honoapiilani Road we found another deserted beach haven. This time with a rock break that formed a large tide pool, perfect for toddler exploration and play. We inspected rocks and coral, finding snails and slimy sea slugs, Annette keeping our discoveries collected in the rocks nearby.
This time we brought a snorkel and mask to check out the sea life. Ethan was a bit confused as to how the snorkel worked…he spent at least an hour attempting to use it as a sea water straw. Stu somehow wrestled it away and headed out past the break to see what the ocean had to offer.
He came back shouting, “I saw all the fish from Nemo! The one with the scar on his face? There’s like 20 over there!” Don’t be jealous of our tropical fish knowledge. It takes a lot of Disney movie watching to get this good.
Night Two? Date night. We were practically shoved out the door and told to have a great time. So we headed to Lahaina for dinner at Aloha Mixed Plate…the place which, after browsing the web, we decided was a non-touristy option for a casual meal on the beach.
I rocked my beach hair…I may just stop washing it all together.
We’re here for many more days so the surface is just being scratched. But we’re already ready to book some tickets for next year…this place is amazing. On Monday we move to a condo down the road to get out of Auntie Amy’s hair. Road to Hana, snorkeling, Maui Ocean Center, lots of good food, and LOTS of beach time are still in our future.
Can’t believe it took us twelve years to get here, but man are we glad it finally worked out.
We’ll see if I ever feel like blogging again…it may be a while till you hear from me. But chances are I’ll be itching to share pics of my cute kid in his speedo before too long.
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I’ve been sorting through all the holiday events and realizing this is going to be tough…how many times can a kid see Santa without getting completely confused? St. Louis has so many holiday events happening, it’s just one more reason to be impressed by this fabulous city.
We’re going to be surrounded by lights, jolly fat men, and family fun all holiday season! These are some of the top events, let me know about any of your favorites I may have missed!
Steinberg Skating Rink @ Forest Park - November 16 through February 28
Skate outside in the gorgeous setting of Forest Park! Ethan’s a little too young this year, but Stu’s quite the skater (from his roller blading days) and I know he’ll have our Little Man out there next year. Grab hot chocolate or pop across Kingshighway for lunch in the Central West End after an nice long skate.
Gardenland Express Holiday Flower & Train Show @ The Missouri Botanical Garden – November 21 through January 1
Take the kids to see over 900 feet of track winding through a miniature holiday landscape made up of holiday decorations and plant life. After seeing a similar display at the US Botanic Garden in DC last year, I know it will be a hit with Ethan and we’ll be stopping by for sure. Trains and Christmas just go together! Cost is $5/person or free for members. Check the website for dates and times.
Santa vs. The Snowmen @ St. Louis Science Center – November 22 through December 31
This one’s a little silly, but sounds super fun! This movie about snowmen “waging war” on Santa will be playing on the Omnimax Theater ginormous screen. The animation looks adorable and story-line hilarious…too bad Ethan is terrified of the place. We tried to see a butterfly movie there and it was a huge failure involving tears. Cost is $6/adult, $5/kids, unless you have free passes from your membership.
Missouri Botanical Garden Glow - November 23 to January 4
You need tickets to this event, and I’m sure the good dates and times sell out fast. While I’ve never been, it sounds like a blast! We were there to weeks ago and noticed them already decorating for this event. Lights everywhere. Tunnels, garlands, trees strung up to the max. We’re going on the members only night to beat the crowds! Admission varies per date, but it’s fairly reasonable, under $20/person.
Macy’s Festival of Lights – Friday, November 22
This event is known to “kick off” the yuletide season with the lighting of the huge Christmas tree in Kiener Plaza, holiday characters, and fireworks. Sounds very…uh…festive! And since we will be in town that weekend, I’m sure we will make our way down to the chaos that is a downtown parade. Ethan will love it.
Winter Wonderland at Tilles Park - November 27, 2013 – January 1, 2014, 5:30 – 9:30pm
For years I’ve been hearing about the holiday display at Tilles Park. This year we will be heading over to check it out by carriage, through a display of “one million” lights. Cars are welcome to drive through too, but not on Saturdays. Carriage rides run around $65/four people.
Ameren Missouri Thanksgiving Day Parade - Thursday, November 28, beginning at 8:45am
Celebrating its 29th year, the parade festivities will begin at the corner of Washington Ave and Fourth Street in downtown St. Louis. Over 130 floats, displays, marching bands, animals, giant helium balloons, and Santa will head south and turn West on Market Street, ending at 10th. I never thought I’d say it, but we are parade people. Kids and parades just work together! And St. Louis knows how to put on a good one…it seems like every weekend there’s one going on somewhere in town!
U.S. Bank Wild Lights @ The Saint Louis Zoo - Weekends, November 29 through December 30
Just because it’s cold, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun at the zoo! With so many indoor attractions, it’s still an almost weekly stop for us. The new Monsanto Discovery Room alone is worth a visit! But soon much of the zoo will be covered with thousands of lights making it an enchanting winter wonderland of fun. Check the website for times…they get confusing!
Historic Holiday Traditions @ The Old Courthouse – November 30 through January 4
For something different this season, check out the festive events at the beautiful downtown courthouse. These free events include many musical performances, authentic Victorian decorations, costumed performers, dance instruction, and more. Groups like Clayton Strings and St. Louis Irish Arts will be featured. So many events at different times and days throughout the season, check the website for details.
Dinner with Santa @ The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House - November 30 and December 1, 7, 8, 14 & 15, 4:30pm – 7pm
We’ve learned that special events at the Butterfly House are worth the drive, and I think this event sounds like another winner! Eat a pasta dinner then decorate some cookies, drink hot chocolate, get a picture with Santa, and take the family on a night time butterfly hunt through the Tropical Observatory. Other attractions include face painting, a photo booth, story time, and ornament painting. Tickets are $15/adults, $8/kids. MOBOT members get a $2 discount.
Perennial Holiday Party + Open House - December 5, 5pm – 8pm
If you aren’t familiar, Perennial is this incredible local organization (for which I serve on a committee) that specializes in taking found/used/trashed items and turning them into very cool art, furniture, and fashion pieces. I’m sad we won’t be in town for their holiday party and open house, but I hope to send as many friend their way as possible…your mind will be blown! The event will feature several pop-up shops, Perennial’s sale goods, tea from the Re-trailer, and guests will be able to do some crafting of their own. The cost? Free! But make sure to check out their classes and membership options…they have class to meet everyone’s interests!
Holiday Window Walk @ Central West End – Saturday, December 7, 1pm – 7pm
I had to dig for this information after a tip from a friend, but it sounds like a blast! The ever charming Central West End will be transformed into an winter wonderland street festival as shop and restaurant owners go all out with their window displays. I saw something about Budweiser Clydesdales, music, drinks, food, and special discounts. Apparently celebrity judges are involved? Honestly, the CWE knows how to party, so just head on down.
Christmas On The Hill – Saturday, December 7, 12pm to 9pm
The last event we attended on The Hill was fantastic – sleepy and not over crowded, yet fun and family friendly. We love how everyone on The Hill knows each other, someone always shouting hello down the street and families making the rounds to the local businesses. I think we’ll head over to see what’s going on! Why do I think Italian food and some good music will be involved? They mentioned carriage rides and a Christmas Market on their website.
Breakfast with Santa @ The St. Louis Zoo - December 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, & 22
Enjoy a gourmet meal at the Zoo’s beautifully decorated Living World Building—apparently complete with china-set tables—surrounded by holiday characters and featuring a big entrance by Santa. Families can take complimentary photos with the Big Man and kids will leave with a treat from Santa’s bag of goodies. Parking is free! But reservations must be made and paid for in advance. Dinner with Santa is available too, just click the link for details.
Breakfast with Santa @ The Magic House – Sunday, December 8 & Sunday, December 15 (Members Only Day – Dec. 16)
Eat pancakes, play, make holiday crafts, and talk to the Big Guy in one of our favorite St. Louis attractions, the Magic House. From what we’ve experienced in the last nine months, this place has their act together for special events. Apparently kids get to watch a “master chef” flip the flap jacks! Several times are available each day, cost is $20/person for non-members, $15/person for members and includes breakfast and museum admission. Make reservations early!
Holiday Express Train @ Union Station - Friday, December 14, 1:30pm – 7:30pm
I cannot wait to see the look on Ethan’s face when we stroll up to this awesomeness! Not only will this train be covered with lights, it will be surrounded by the fabulous Union Station—not the shopping destination it once was, but still gorgeous.
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas @ The St. Louis Symphony - December 14 & 15
To me, the holidays aren’t complete without Mannheim Steamroller. Whether these rockin’ compositions are playing along with a house with specifically timed lights or just playing on the radio, Chip Davis’s masterpieces gets my yuletide blood flowing. Powell Hall will host this event for the first time ever this holiday season. You’ll hear favorites like “Carol of the Bells,” “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls” and many more.
Pet-Acular Bazaar and Breakfast with Santa @ Purina Farms – December 14-15, 11am – 4pm
This sounds like it’s right up our animal-lover alley! Over 40 local artisans will be peddling their wares, doggie demonstrations will be dazzling, and kids will enjoy bounce houses, train rides, puppet shows, face painting, and a coloring contest. Santa will be there for photos with your kids AND pets! That’s right, pets are welcome to this event. If you purchase advance tickets ($10/kids, $8/adults, under 2 is free), breakfast and crafting with Santa is offered at 9:30am each day.
Winter Break Puppet Shows @ Faust Park Carousel – December 20 and 27 (Fridays) – 9:30am to 10:00am
I’ve always heard about the puppet shows at Faust Park but amazingly we’ve never been. Sure it’s a quite a drive out to Chesterfield, but we LOVE this park—the playground, picnic grounds, beautiful indoor carousel, and the Butterfly House are all right in one area and worth the travel time every now and then. We’ll be planning to hit up one of these puppet shows for sure, then riding the carousel for free! The cost is $6/person in advance, $8/person day of, includes a free carousel ride. Call 314-615-8383 for tickets.
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I’ve been slowly checking things off my to-do list and one of the items was “Post Soup Recipe”.
A couple weeks ago, on a cold and rainy day, I Instagrammed a photo of a new creation, Chicken Noodle Soup with Lemon and Kale. Numerous comments and emails came through requesting the recipe but, since I made it on the fly, I had no idea how much of each ingredient I used, had few pictures, and didn’t take any notes while making it.
It was probably the best version of this soup in my personal cooking history, so I’ve been craving it ever since and had to make it again.
Chicken Noodle Soup is pretty darn simple, but CAN be done wrong. It can be bland, to salty, under-cooked, over-cooked, or just plain boring. After making it dozens of different ways, I’ve decided my favorite method includes cooking the chicken in the soup, not using pre-cooked chicken. This goes against 80% of the recipes out there, even Ina Garten’s (I’m sorry Ina!! I won’t stray on any other recipe.) There’s just something delicious about meat that’s been simmered in a bath of mirepoix and stock with a little bay leaf, salt, and oregano.
In the first step, caramelization is KEY. As Anne Burrell says, “Brown food tastes good!!” so getting some color on the carrots, onion, and celery is the goal.
Oh, and my all-time-super-important-secret-ingredient? Garlic.
Sure it can be strong, but garlic cooked in soup adds SO much flavor and most of the bad parts of the garlic (breath) gets boiled off. Just don’t use too much.
Another secret? Penzey’s Italian Herb Mix. I pretty much use it any time a recipe calls for oregano. It includes rosemary, basil, thyme—all good stuff that almost always tastes great together. I tossed some in this soup and it added yet another layer of yumminess. If you hit a Penzey’s, grab a jar. I promise you’ll use it!
Anyway, I also like to use a mix of dark and white meat. The dark adds more calories of course, but the flavor impact is worth it. Chicken thighs and a breast or two are my cuts of choice, but “pick of the chick” is always a good option too. I typically keep boneless everything in my freezer, but bone-in of course works too…even more flavor.
When the chicken is cooked through it comes out to be shredded. Shredding adds that rustic touch that, in my mind, works much better than chopping. While I shred, the noodles cook. I’ve gone back and forth between boiling the noodles separately to avoid adding too much starch to the soup and cooking them right in the soup, and I think the latter works best. Whole wheat egg noodles are my starch of choice…they have a bite even when reheated the next day.
Last I toss in kale, sometimes peas, and squeeze in the lemon. Adding the juice of two one or two lemons adds a brightness to the soup…I’ll never go back. Lemons are a staple in our veggie drawer because their bright flavor works with so many recipes. One of my favorites? Fettuccine Alfredo. Try Giada’s, she’s a lemon lover too and knows her way around a white sauce. The kale is just there because it’s good for us and adds a nice green color to the soup. Eat your greens!
So that’s it in a nutshell. An easy recipe done right. Perfect for winter dinners!
Chicken Noodle Soup with Lemon and Kale
- olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- 3 to 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 4 stalks of celery, chopped with leafy parts
- 1 clove of garlic
- oregano or mix of italian spices
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 cups unsalted chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat removed
- 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat egg noodles
- 1 cup lacinato kale (also called dinosaur kale), chopped
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 1/2 cup frozen peas (optional)
- handful of parsley, chopped
Start by sautéing onions, celery, and carrots in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables are browned and caramelized. Once a little color is attained, add bay leaf, garlic, italian seasoning, a dash of salt, and a sprinkle of pepper. Cook, still stirring, until fragrant and browned.
Add broth and water, bring to a simmer. Add chicken. After 15-20 minutes, when chicken is cooked through, remove it to a plastic cutting board and shred with two forks. While shredding, cook pasta in simmering broth. Once pasta is al dente, return shredding chicken to pot along with kale, lemon juice, and frozen peas. Remove the bay leaf and check the salt…another pinch may be needed.
What is the secret to your favorite chicken soup recipe?
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Words on the blog aren’t coming that easily these days.
It’s a good thing.
We’re out enjoying the beautiful fall. Just over a week ago the trees exploded in bright red and orange…the streets of our neighborhood absolutely breathtaking — for once I don’t mind all the stop signs on our drives to and from home.
My mom even came in for a few days to see the fall color. She needed an “Ethan Fix” before the holidays.
I’m also totally consumed with other stuff.
While Ethan sleeps, I’ve been planning a third birthday party, filling Etsy orders, packing for Hawaii, finishing freelance projects, painting the playroom, Christmas shopping, baking for our holiday party, making Ethan’s yearly video, pulling together a few special holiday crafts, designing/mailing our holiday cards, and finally finishing our 2012 photo album. Exactly 100 pages of our lives from last year. It’s only getting more challenging to get these books done…I clearly need to start earlier.
Oh and I’m planning to fix up two bathrooms AND the downstairs guest room. All before Christmas.
I may be biting off more than I can chew.
I’ll probably fail to get all these things done, but as for keeping things straight, I use a little trick. I have a list app that I love called FastShop. It lets you save up to five lists that you can check off as you get things done. I consistently use a couple for shopping—one for grocery, one for Target, and one for craft/thrift stuff. Then the other two rotate between project and/or party prep lists. Sounds stupid, but having a place to quickly jot down things we need at the store or need to do makes life so much easier…otherwise I’ll surely forget. Use the last tissue? Add them to the list. At a great thrift shop and can’t remember anything you need? Check the list.
We all have our phones on us anyway!
There are lots of list apps out there, let me know if you have a favorite! Seriously, I’d never be a bit organized with out this app and my calendar reminders.
One of my favorite little getaways this past weekend was surely the Companion Bakery 20th Anniversary. Unbeknownst to me, Companion (one of my absolute favorite lunch spots with THE best bread), has a bakery location just South of our house. Like five minutes away! And on Saturday they held a fabulous celebration at this place—we ate bread and pastries till we could barely move. My favorite part was the food, but other highlights included cooking demonstrations by local rock stars (we watched Kevin Nash from Sidney Street), cupcake decorating, and bakery tours…with hair nets.
If you haven’t yet, try Companion’s pretzel croissants…I’m pretty sure I could eat ten in one sitting. A perfect mix of salty and sweet that works any time of day. Life. Changing.
I’m still surprised by what our little neighborhood has to offer. This event was just one of many I was shocked to find happening right down the street. Family friendly fun with free food = my personal heaven.
So as for my long (and growing) list of things to do before we enjoy our beach trip, wish me luck. I have a funny feeling there aren’t enough Ethan sleeping hours in my days to get it all done, but I’ll do my darndest.
Oh, and anyone have a tip on buying an artificial tree?
Yep, I said it. ARTIFICIAL. The more I say it, the less it hurts.