Let’s Look: Wrapping Station

Today is the final “Let’s Look” for 2019 and once again I’m linking up with Erika and Shay. This month’s topic is all about our gift wrapping station. Kind of like the pantry post, this is something I never thought I’d blog about, but it actually was kind of fun to plan this post!

I keep all my wrapping supplies in one corner of a closet. It’s certainly nothing fancy, but it is very helpful to have everything corralled together.

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On the floor, you’ll see I keep all my wrapping paper in a storage bin that I bought a few years ago from Target. The handle makes it super easy to bring my paper out wherever I’m wrapping. I keep a variety of boxes in all different sizes from various purchases/packages so I have something to put gifts into.

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On the shelf, my old pink shower caddy from my college days gained new life as storage for all my little bits and bobs for wrapping – ribbons, washi tape, twine, tags, etc.

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I also keep a sturdy gift bag full of various colors of tissue paper. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever purchased tissue paper – this is all just paper I’ve received from my own gifts in the past! When I get a gift with tissue paper in it, I smooth it out, fold it up, and store it in a rough rainbow order. It makes it super easy to find the color I want and I feel good knowing the paper is getting reused instead of just tossed.

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I also have a TON of gift bags. Again, I don’t buy any gift bags. These are all bags I’ve received over the years that I’ve kept to use for gifts to others (as you can imagine, I have a lot of bags for weddings and baby showers!) I keep them stored roughly by size – larger bags get stored in one bag, smaller bags in another. I also keep my smallest gift boxes here, mostly because they fit perfectly in my storage box.

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I also keep extra shopping bags tucked on the side of the shelf – these are nice to have on hand to transport gifts to an event.

Whenever it’s time to wrap a gift, I just get out whatever supplies I need and bring it to my kitchen table. I do love using gift bags for easy gift-giving throughout the year, but there is something about Christmas that makes me want to wrap every gift. Yesterday I started wrapping some Christmas gifts and snapped a few quick pictures of what my work space looked like.

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I like making each gift a little bit special with tags, ribbons, or washi tape so I keep the caddy right next to me so I can grab whatever I need easily.20191210_142808.jpg20191210_14330620191210_144249

My little niece is super girly so so simple glittery washi tape is perfect for her. 😉

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When I’m done, it’s easy to just tuck my supplies back in the closet until next time!

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Now I just need to figure out where to store these wrapped gifts until Christmas! Usually I keep them under the tree, but since I have a very curious toddler who would tear open these gifts in 4.5 seconds, I need to find another place! 😉

Simplified Holiday Decorating

This year, I am really trying to keep the holidays simple. And one of the biggest ways I’m doing this is by simplifying my holiday decorating.

I’ve accumulated many decorations over the years, and I usually have something Christmas-y on every surface. This year, I scaled way back for a couple reasons. We just moved into our new house in May, and we are slowly slowly making it our own. This means we don’t have a ton of furniture and I don’t have many shelves or surfaces to decorate, particularly that are out of my toddler’s reach (he can pull candle lights off the windowsills and end tables are definitely out!) Plus, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas feels really short this year and we have our hands full with a toddler and newborn so we wanted to just spend a few hours decorating and then call it good.

I didn’t want to clutter up the space I do have, so instead of getting everything out, I chose a few of my favorite decorations to use and kept the rest in storage. I actually love that now there are just a few areas where Christmas decor is concentrated throughout the main areas! Today I thought I’d just give you a little peek into our home.

This kitchen counter feels so festive and makes me happy every time I walk by!

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I love seeing this sweet little nativity scene in the playroom and LJ loves to play with it. It’s a great way to start introducing him to the story of Jesus’ birth.

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We don’t have a fireplace, but our staircase is a focal point in our entry and living room, so this doubled as a place to hang garland AND all our stockings. Even Scout and Macie get one. 🙂

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I wasn’t sure how it was going to go to put up a Christmas tree with LJ, but honestly, after the first day, he’s mostly left it alone. He likes to look at the ornaments but he’s only pulled one off the tree. I have shatterproof ornaments I got several years ago at Target (mine aren’t sold anymore but these are somewhat similar and I actually like their look even better!) for the low branches and we also put the sturdiest ornaments at the bottom. So far, it’s worked well and we’ve had no broken ones!

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Outside, Justin hung one row of icicle lights on our porch, I hung a wreath and set up two little trees (my one Black Friday splurge!) on either side of the door. We also have smaller touches throughout the first floor like a festive runner on our table, a few festive pillows on the couch, some holiday towels in the kitchen and half bath, as well as a few candles. We didn’t put any decorations in the basement or any of the upstairs rooms. It’s not much (or at least, not nearly as much as it usually is), but it feels like the perfect amount this year!

My favorite part of Christmas decorations? The way it makes our house feel SO cozy at night.

Did you go all out for decorating or scale back this year?

Low Power Mode

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve mentioned before my great love for the “Happier” podcast, and one of the tips they once gave as a way to live a happier and healthier life was to try going into “low power mode” for a period of time. With a smartphone, “low power mode” means that your phone is still on but conserving battery life, resulting in only the basic functions being used.

I love the parallel that this can have to life. For me, low power mode doesn’t mean I need to totally unplug and go off the grid, but it does mean a reduced connectivity and a focused intent on being present with those I’m with.

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My life these days: a whole lot of cuteness, a little bit hot mess haha!

The holiday season is the perfect time to consider going into low power mode. It is so easy to fill up this season with a ton of commitments and busyness, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you’re intentional with your time and actually let yourself enjoy the season!

I’m not going to lie, I have been feeling pretty overwhelmed by the mental workload I’ve got lately. We are in our fifth week of the basement renovation and I’ve had to make a lot of decisions, both big and small, with this project (how does anyone build a house from scratch?! So many decisions!!) Over the past few weeks I’ve also had to keep up with pediatrician appointments, LJ’s birthday party, holiday commitments, etc. and all the regular things that keep our life running smoothly like grocery shopping, laundry, and feeding all our dogs and humans. It can take a toll! So I’ve decided to use the Thanksgiving holiday as a time to simplify things and enter “low power mode.”

A few ways I’m going into low power mode this holiday season:

I signed off Facebook. I’ve come to realize that while I do enjoy Instagram and draw both inspiration and encouragement from it, Facebook is not something I enjoy anymore. It’s become kind of a time waster and never leaves me feeling filled up after mindlessly scrolling. In an effort to be more intentional with my time this holiday season, I’m taking a step back from Facebook and will be signed off for the rest of 2019 (and maybe beyond . . . we’ll see). Honestly, I have no desire to totally go off the grid and eliminate all forms of social media, but I am feeling the need to reduce its overall presence in my life right now and this already feels like a great step in that direction!

I choose our BEST yes. Lysa Terkhurst wrote a book called “The Best Yes” and it has shaped how I address all the potential commitments that come our way, especially during the holidays. Our little family thrives on routines right now. Both kids are sleeping through the night and I want to keep it that way! This means avoiding commitments that interfere with naptime or bedtime. In some ways, this simplifies things because it is an easy “no” if something is happening at say, noon, because LJ goes down for a nap around 12:30-1. If there is something we really want to do and it messes up our routine for one day, we can say yes! One day doesn’t mess us up, but many days will. Since we’re careful with what we say yes to, it doesn’t throw us off too much when we say yes to that one great thing.

I find ways to simplify my commitments. I’m a natural perfectionist, so letting go of the desire to do everything above and beyond is a hard thing to do but I’ve made great strides over the years! Now I think: how can I do this as simply as possible while still doing it well? Perfect example: a friend of mine recently had a medical procedure and our friend group organized a meal train for her family. I signed up for a meal last night. It’s the week of Thanksgiving, my house is in a weird explosion of unpacked-but-not-set-up Christmas decor, we need to pack for our travels this weekend, I’ve been running around picking out things that I needed to make a decision on this week for our renovation like paint and door handles. Rather than add the task of cooking a homemade meal, I relied on tried-and-true items I know are delicious from the grocery store. I put together pulled pork, slider rolls, pre-made potatoes, frozen veggies in a steamable bag, and store bought cookies. And my friend was thrilled! She had a yummy meal she didn’t have to cook or shop for and I was able to serve her in that way without adding a ton of undue stress on myself.

I hope you can find ways to enter low power mode this holiday season and enjoy this time of year. If you have any other ways to keep things running in low power mode, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

 

LJ’s Second Birthday

Well, it’s official: I have a two-year-old!

LJ’s actual birthday was Friday so we had a little mini celebration as a family. After Justin got off work, we went to Culver’s for a little family date. LJ received a few birthday cards in the mail from family so we let him open those one at a time throughout the dinner. (Sorry for the terrible photo quality! I was actually videoing him opening everything so these are just screen grabs from the videos).

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My grandparents always send some dimes for his piggy bank – so sweet!

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We also got a book for him so that he would have a little present to open during the birthday meal. He loves trains and lift-the-flap books so when I saw this during a friend’s recent book party, I knew it was the perfect choice.

After finishing our meals we each got an ice cream for dessert. LJ usually just shares his dessert with one of us so the fact that he got his own cup of ice cream with sprinkles was a big deal for him. He was so excited and definitely enjoyed it!

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Instead of a bunch of gifts, Justin and I decided to get one big gift that he would really love: a train table! We received a hand-me-down table from a friend and saved it until Saturday morning. Justin woke up early and got it all set up so it was ready to go when LJ woke up. He was SO excited to see it in his playroom and played with it all day!

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On Saturday after LJ’s nap, some of our family came over for his little party.  I stuck with the train theme and just grabbed a bunch of things around the house to decorate. I bought a “happy birthday” sign from the dollar spot at Target back when I was teaching and it gets brought out for every party. I re-used the train and conductor’s hat from LJ’s Halloween costume, grabbed some books and trains we already had, pulled out my white serving dishes and letterboard and voila!

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My friend Amber made some amazing train cookies and I bought a little 4 inch cake from a local grocery store to put candles in. We served super fancy cuisine – Papa John’s pizza, chips, and a veggie tray. LJ loved it! 🙂

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Now unfortunately, once the party actually started, I was so absorbed in it that I lost track of my phone and didn’t take pictures! Justin snapped a few, but overall, we were all just enjoying ourselves without phones.

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I did manage to get this one of my sister and Vi – how sweet!

Justin and I made the decision a few months ago to have a “no gifts” party for LJ. We did this last year and wanted to do it again this year. We agreed that not only is LJ still too little to really understand gifts are typically given on birthdays, but his birthday is super close to the holidays and he will be receiving a lot of things then. Also, we are minimal-ish people: we’re not trying to live with 5 things or be super controlling and never accept more items, but our home is a more pleasant place and our lives are more enjoyable when we’re not overrun with stuff so we’re intentional about what comes into our house.  Because we still wanted family to be involved and participate in his gift, I bought unpainted trains and asked our family members to decorate a car instead of giving a gift. Some did their own, some couples shared one. We painted trains during the party and those that couldn’t make the party had theirs made and sent to us ahead of time.

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This idea worked SO well and it was so fun to see the creativity (check out my brother-in-law’s “hippopotamoose-caboose” ha)! They were all so unique and reflected everyone’s personality. LJ loves them and it’s sweet to see him play with all of them.

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Happy birthday, my sweet LJ! It was such a joy to celebrate your life (and bribe you with one more cookie before bedtime when I realized I hadn’t gotten a picture with you – haha!)

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Let’s Look: Entertaining Ideas

It’s that time of the month again where I link up with Shay and Erika for their monthly “Let’s Look” post and this month is all about entertaining ideas. Perfect timing as the holidays are fast approaching!

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Justin and I love to have people over to our house. We love to host themed parties, game nights, casual dinners, backyard BBQs . . . the list goes on! When we were looking at buying the home we now live in, one of the biggest selling points was how well the space and layout worked for having lots of people over. We love providing a space for people to gather and create memories together.

Hosting can so fun but also super stressful so I try to keep things as simplified as possible. I wanted to focus this post on just a few tips I have that keep my focus on having fun and making memories rather than stressing out over details.

Tip #1: Don’t wait for your house to look “perfect”

When we were first married, we lived in a rental house with a full-sized basement that was just one gigantic room. Some of the room was storage that we partitioned off by duct-taping curtains to a soffit hanging from the ceiling. Not one piece of furniture was new – some of the hand-me-downs had already been used by multiple people before they reached us. It was FAR from perfect, but we made some of the best memories there. We hosted groups of friends for bible studies, Halloween parties, baby showers, and we even managed to squeeze 16 people around a mash-up of tables for Friendsgiving one year. The table was so long we had to use multiple tablecloths and it still didn’t fully cover everything! It was far from a picture-perfect tablescape but it was one of the most joyful and fun dinners we’ve ever had.

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When we moved in May to what is (we hope!) our forever home, we knew we wanted it to be a space to gather friends and family together. We also knew that the house needed some TLC. Bathrooms needed updating, walls needed painting, landscape needed work.

We have a long list of things we want to do to this house to make it “ours” and put our own stamp on it. We don’t have enough furniture for all the rooms and what we do have doesn’t necessarily fit the room or match the existing wall color. It would be really tempting to wait until it was “ready” to have people over. But honestly, we could be waiting years until we have it like we want and we’re just not willing to wait that long to entertain. So we add discolored leaves to our decades-old hand me down table, bring out extra folding chairs, and have people over anyways!

The point is, don’t wait to host until your house looks perfect. Host with what you have.  If this means pulling out folding tables and camping chairs to have seating for everyone, so be it. Memories can be made over paper plates just as well as they can be made over fine china.

Tip #2: Don’t make everything

Whether it’s decorations (if needed) or food, I highly recommend outsourcing what you can. I used to try to make everything homemade but that inevitably led to stress and frustration. These days, I focus on making a few things myself and then buy the rest. Makes things SO much simpler and less stressful!

Potlucks are another way to go – provide a main dish and ask others to contribute a side or dessert. A delicious meal comes together and everyone is happy because they only had to do a small portion of the prep.

And as far as party decorations go, I used to almost exclusively make my own but these days, I save myself a lot of time and trouble by making just a few simple ones and then buying the rest. I also try to save what I can to be re-used for future parties so even less effort is required in the future. 🙂

Tip #3: Have “standard” food ideas

If we’re having a backyard party, we’re either having burgers and hotdogs with chips and potato salad or Justin is grilling chicken with his favorite marinade with grilled veggies and salad. If I’m hosting a girls night, I stick with desserts, appetizers, and drinks and ask everyone to bring something to contribute. For a game night, we’re ordering pizza.

In other words, I’m not trying to recreate the wheel with menus. We have our go-tos that are easy to make and appeal to a wide variety of people and we stick with those. It makes planning and preparation so much easier! I also have a few tiered servers (such as this or this) that help literally and physically elevate a food table. It looks a little fancy but goes with any theme, is super easy to put out, and is also a good option to save space if I don’t have a large table.

 

What are your best tips for entertaining?

 

Non-Toy Gift Ideas

The first snow is on the ground here in Indiana and something about looking outside and seeing a fresh coat of white puts me in a festive mood. I love this time of year – cozy nights snuggled under blankets, candles burning, gathering with friends and family for a meal. I love the holiday seasons!

With every holiday season comes the inevitable gift-giving. My children are lucky to have grandparents, great-grandparerents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who love them and want to give them gifts. Every year around this time, I start getting asked what is on their Christmas list and every year, I struggle to come up with enough things to go around. On the one hand, I love that others want to show love to my children in this way. On the other, I don’t want our family to just accumulate stuff for the sake of getting gifts. I want our gifts to be meaningful, special, and not just clutter-creating.

LJ’s Christmas list does have some toys on it. I get it, I totally like gifting fun items! Who just wants to gift things like socks all the time? But that doesn’t mean that ALL his presents need to be toys. Currently, his list has practical things, experience gifts and consumable products. And yes, we did include a few books and specific toys he’ll love.  That’s completely okay! I’m not trying to be a grinch here. Just trying to keep what comes into our house a little more well-rounded.

Today I thought I’d share some ideas of what I’ve put on LJ and Vi’s Christmas lists. I want to be clear that if you’re all about giving toys for Christmas and want to go that route with all their presents – go for it! I’m not judging anyone for requesting or gifting toys. I just prefer to have a wider variety of gifts and avoid adding lots of clutter to my house. I’m sharing what we’re asking for this year in case anyone else out there is looking for ideas for gifts to ask for that aren’t toys.

Practical Gifts

I know my kiddos are still really little and don’t care so much about getting “fun” gifts, so I loaded up their lists with things that they need for the coming year. This includes things like snow pants, snow boots, and socks. I also put practical things on LJ’s list that are a little more fun like this Paw Patrol potty (he needs one for potty training and he LOVES Paw Patrol so this will be fun for him haha) and a backpack. Since she will only be 4 months old and we already have plenty of age-appropriate toys for her, Vi’s list is almost exclusively practical with things like clothing, a swimsuit for summer, a mirror for the car, bathtub spout cover, diapers and wipes.

Meaningful experiences

LJ adores his grandparents and loves to spend time with them. And on the flip side, they love spending time with him! This makes experience gifts an easy thing to ask for. I love the idea of experience gifts because they keep on giving – they are exciting to get, fun to look forward to, enjoyable in the moment, and afterwards they become fond memories to cherish. I let our loved ones know if they want to give an experience gift, such as a zoo pass, they are welcome to join our family when we use it or they can even take our children on a special date without us and experience it together. Justin and I did this several years ago for our niece and nephew; we bought them passes to a local children’s museum and then took them ourselves. We don’t get to see them as often as we would like so it was a special day just us four and we made some great memories and had so much fun!

Here are some ideas of experience gifts I have requested for my kids (or may ask for one day):

Zoo Pass

Whether it’s a day pass or a full membership, this is an experience gift that appeals to children of many ages. LJ absolutely loves going to the zoo, and we are lucky to live close to a great children’s zoo where he can not only see many different animals, but he can feed giraffes, ride a train, and brush goats (or kiss like he’s doing in the picture – haha! So sweet and so gross). The zoo is always a hit!

Day at a Children’s Museum

We have a science museum nearby. My parents live near a living history museum and my in-laws live near a children’s discovery museum. We all live in vastly different sized towns and cities so just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean there isn’t an option for you within driving distance. Maybe there is something 5 minutes away and this experience gift takes an afternoon. Maybe you have to drive an hour and it becomes more of an all-day trip. Maybe the museum is geared towards something specific, like art or science, or maybe it is more of a play museum. Or maybe it’s not a museum at all – for my nephew’s 7th birthday instead of getting him a physical gift, we bought tickets for our families to go to a trampoline park (highly recommend!) Whether it’s a hands-on museum or an indoor waterpark, there are memories to be made. 🙂

Inexpensive local experiences

Experience gifts don’t have to be expensive. Just think about what your child loves doing and try to create a special experience around it. Maybe the gift is a movie night at grandma’s with a new DVD or Redbox/Netflix/Amazon Prime/etc. movie, popped popcorn, and your child’s favorite splurge candy. Maybe there’s a local farm you can visit and explore together. If you live near a town with minor league teams, you can often find inexpensive tickets to a game. If your child loves to help in the kitchen, perhaps a gift of baking (gifting ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and then spending the afternoon baking together) is something he or she would enjoy. My nephew loves Legos, and if we buy him a set, Justin helps him put it together and this has become a special ‘thing’ they now do. There are a lot of options out there for things to do that don’t cost a ton but will provide lots of fun!

Consumable Gifts

A consumable gift is something that can be used up. It’s no secret that I am pretty minimal-ish and don’t like clutter. A gift that can get used up is perfect for creating fun memories without a ton of long-lasting clutter! LJ is starting to really enjoy doing little art projects at home so we put things like stickers and crayons (I love these!) on his list this year and I know he will be so excited to receive them.

Examples of consumable gifts:

-bubbles

-stickers/sticker books

-crayons, markers, colored pencils

-coloring books/activity books

-sidewalk chalk

-fingerpaint

-bath bombs in fun colors

I also love consumable gifts because they often inspire creativity and play in ways that conventional toys don’t. Win win!

And in addition to all those ideas, we did put a few toys and books on LJ’s Christmas list, although I try to be intentional about the toys I do ask for (I’ll share more about that next week). I’m not about restricting toys, just about finding balance. 🙂

Do you have any other ideas for non-toy gift ideas? Or toys that are definitely worth asking for? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween!

Historically, Halloween is a time I go all out. I loved coming up with costumes and especially themed costumes. Ever since Justin and I have been together, I’ve tried to do a couples costume and then once LJ came along, we did a family costume. I had originally hoped to do a family costume again this year, but with 2 under 2, it’s been a bit hectic around here and coming up with and executing a family costume just wasn’t a top priority.

So instead of a family costume, I kept things relatively simple. For Vi, I found a 0-3 month unicorn “costume” (it’s just a headband and tutu) at a consignment store for a couple bucks and decided that was good enough for an infant who a) doesn’t care about this holiday b) will likely sleep through the whole thing and c) depending on weather, may be too bundled up for anyone to see what she’s wearing anyways.

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For LJ, I went with his interests and what I already had. Someone gifted us an 18-month engineer costume about a year ago and I’ve been saving it for Halloween. LJ is currently obsessed with trains so he’ll be a train engineer (provided the outfit fits – I actually haven’t tried it on him yet – eek!). Then yesterday during naptime I fashioned a Thomas the Tank Engine costume based loosely on something I found on Pinterest.

Look, the key here for me was to shoot for “adequate at best.” I’m not trying to win a costume contest or get a thousand likes on social media. I’m just trying to come up with a cute idea that my son will love and may or may not decide he’s in the mood to wear. I mean, he is a toddler. I found a DIY Thomas costume that had an internal contraption for storing candy so when you trick or treat, the candy goes through the steam pipe and gets stored inside the costume. Look, maybe that mama has an engineering degree or just really loves intricate costumes. Good for her! I’m happy if she’s happy. But I’m not using that as my measuring stick for success.

There are a ton of ideas for how to make a Thomas costume on Pinterest and the end results are all more impressive than mine, so I’m not going to give you a step by step. All I did was take a Pampers diaper box and cut the top flaps to the general shape of the train. When I cut out the bottom flaps, I used the extra cardboard and duct-taped the pieces to the top flap to fashion the back of the train. I had a red box from Aldi that I cut into the shape of the front grill (do trains have grills? I don’t even know that that is called) and I cut circles out for the wheels and taped them to the inside of the box.

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I painted the train blue (I just got a color sample jar from Lowe’s in Sherwin Williams Georgian Blue) and used red masking tape, yellow washi tape, and black construction paper to decorate the sides to look like Thomas. Justin printed out a Thomas face, and I just used construction paper to form a circle around his face which I taped to the front of the box. I wrapped half a paper towel roll in black construction paper and taped it on top and voila!

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It took me about 2 hours (not counting the dry time) and cost about $10 for materials. I’m happy with it and LJ is thrilled. Well, thrilled with the box, we’ll see if he actually wants to wear it tonight  (I do still have to attach some straps today).

I’d love to have a picture of my kids in their costumes to post here, and I give mad props to all the mamas who have already wrangled their kids into costumes to take photos before Halloween. For me, I’m pretty sure I’ve only got one shot to get LJ into his costume so I’m waiting for the main event tonight. So I’ll just leave you with some costumes from years past. Enjoy!

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2010: Katy Perry
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2012: Haymitch & Effie from The Hunger Games
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2013: Little Bo Peep & her sheep (and bumblebee)
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2014: Progressive Flo & Jake from State Farm
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2015: Abby from NCIS
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2016: Nick & Jess from New Girl
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2017: Backstreet Boy & Brittney Spears (BABY one more time!)
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2018: Pooh, Tigger, and Rabbit

Have a safe and happy Halloween!