8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids

8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids

This post is sponsored by Carter’s; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

I’m on a roll with these holidays posts, I know. But one thing I’ve noticed since becoming a parent is that the holiday season, despite the fact that it seems to start earlier and earlier every year, goes by in a flash – so I want to savor every moment of holiday goodness that I can. I told you guys in a post last week that I made a conscious decision to stay in the present and enjoy even the simplest of holiday pleasures this year, rather than fall into my usual routine of setting unrealistic expectations and then feeling stressed and disappointed. I’m including the kids in this plan as well. Rather than go overboard with extravagant holiday plans for them like I’ve done in the past, we’re enjoying the small, low-keys things that make the holiday season so special. And while the season has just begun, so far, we’re doing pretty well. Today I thought I’d share some of the ways we’re savoring the small things that celebrate spirit of the holidays this year.

8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids
8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids

1. Have holiday story time. We put on holiday music, snuggle up, and read holiday books that the kids choose. This is something we all look forward to, include the parents! (It’s also a great way to ease into bedtime. True story.)

2. Bake holiday cookies. I’m not too proud to admit that there are plenty of times baking holiday cookies means placing the ready-to-break, printed Christmas tree variety on a cookie sheet and calling it good. Essley and Emmett enjoy this process just as much as the much more time consuming made-from-scratch kind anyway. Low-key, delicious, and quintessentially holiday.

3. Watch holiday movies. It’s a long time tradition in my family to watch holiday movies starting around Thanksgiving, with a grand finale of It’s a Wonderful Life (my personal favorite) on Christmas Eve. A few times a week, we all snuggle up on the couch with popcorn or cookies and watch a holiday movie or show. It’s a wonderfully laid back way to celebrate the season. (Essley’s favorite is Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Emmett’s is The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Robbie’s is Christmas Vacation. I love all of them!)

8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids
8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids

4. Write letters to Santa. Essley thinks this is one of the most magical parts of the season. And even Emmett, who knows little more about Santa than the fact that he brings presents and says “Ho Ho Ho” (which Emmett likes to say himself, loudly and often), likes to pretend he’s writing letters to Santa all by himself.

5. Wear holiday pajamas. Every year, we get super adorable matching holiday pajamas for the kids from Carter’s. It’s a fun, festive, simple way to instantly feel in the holiday spirit. The kids wear them throughout the season, on Christmas morning, and usually for months afterward. We love Carter’s PJs because they’re affordable, comfortable (Essley always calls them her “comfy jammies”) and stylish, and they always have the best variety of holiday designs. This year Essley even got a matching nightgown for her dolls that came with her fleece holiday gown. (I wish I had a picture of the moment she first saw them.) Emmett got this Two Piece Fleece Set (two words: Santa pockets) to go with Essley’s gown, and they each got a set of Santa Snug Fit Cotton PJs.

8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids
8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids

6. Visit Santa at a smaller or low traffic venue. When Essley was a baby, I think we went to three different “Pictures With Santa!” type places before giving up on the multi-hour lines and overpriced photos. Lucky for us, we discovered that on Sundays at one of our favorite local malls, kids can visit Santa in the (beautifully decorated) mall office and parents could take their own photos, for free. There is a never a long line, and cell phone shots work for us, so now we go every year. It takes the pressure off, saves money and time, and the kids absolutely love it.

7. Do something for those in need. This is another holiday tradition for us. We put on holiday music, and (usually in our holiday PJs) go through the kids’ toys and let them each pick some to donate to a few different organizations that collect them. Emmett doesn’t get this yet, but Essley does, and she genuinely enjoys getting into the giving spirit. This year, buying Carter’s children’s pajamas can do something good for others as well. From November 1st – December 31st, Carter’s is partnering with Pajama Program, an organization that provides children new pajamas. Customers can donate a pair of new pajamas in store, or make a monetary donation at check out either in store or online. Carter’s will also match up to 100,000 pairs of pajamas. It’s a really great way to directly support your local community, and something we are happy to be a part of!

8. Just be together. Even if you only have 20 minutes a night, we just spend time together as a family. We talk about holiday memories. We sing Christmas carols. We have holiday dance parties. We have tickle fests on the floor. We just hang out. I don’t care if it sounds cliche – being together is the most important part of the holiday season, hands down. These are the moments we’ll remember.

8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids
8 Low-Key Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Kids

I’m a sucker for holiday dressing while doing holiday activities (even the low-key ones!), so my kids are pretty much always wearing their holiday-themed PJs and clothes from Carter’s – which are equally cute and comfy, high quality, and genuinely affordable. And I love that Carter’s has such a huge variety of styles perfect for the holiday season. Starting today (11/17), they also have some seriously amazing Black Friday deals happening. Carter’s and OshKosh B’gosh are giving away over $ 700,000 in Dash Cash to the first 100 people to visit their local stores for the Dash In to Win Sweepstake on Black Friday. (Check here to find your local store and confirm what date – either 11/23 or 11/24) the sweepstakes will be held at your nearest location.) Customer will also receive a gift from Shutterfly on their $ 40+ purchase that day. So yeah, there’s lots of goodness happening! (Visit carters.com/dashintowin for official rules.)

And here’s one more bit of Carter’s awesomeness before I go. They’re giving you 20% off your purchase of $ 40 or more in store or online through 12/31/17. (Some exclusions apply: www.carters.com/couponpolicy.) In store, just use code 070716. Online, use CART4198. Woooot!

After last week’s post where I talked about my plans to savor the simple pleasures of the season this year, many of you said you hoped to do the same. I’d love to hear any other ideas those of you with kids might have for low-keys ways to enjoy the holidays together!


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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RSVP for Our #PawZaar Twitter Party on Cyber Monday!

We’re excited to announce a special Twitter party on Cyber Monday, the biggest online day of the year! On Monday, Nov. 27, we’ll be hosting the #PawZaar Twitter party. For one hour,…

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Meadow fox finds a mate

gray fox winter

It is the “dead of winter” or so the sobriquet for that time of the year goes.  It is the time when the trees stand as gray skeletons and the piercing winds come questing down from the arctic and the snow comes in storms to blanket the land. It is a time of darkness, a time when the sun seems to rise only for the purpose of setting once again with the ancillary effect of torturing sun-worshiping humanity with its sallow winter rays.

And so our kind curses the winter. Much of our natural history occurred in the tropics, so this relatively recent remove to the middle and higher latitudes means that we spent the winter yearning for the sun upon our skins.

Most of the herbivores don’t like it much either. The deer had better have built up a nice layer of fat for this time of starvation. If oaks don’t drop tons of acorns in the autumn, then the deer don’t built their fat, and the hunger sweeps through them. The does reabsorb their fetus, and the old ones die in agony.

But not all things suffer through the long winter darkness and cold.  A gray fox vixen, which we last saw mousing in the July swelter, has come to run the logging roads in search of cottontails that might be trying to graze a bit of sustenance from the dead winter forage.  They are not the dumb bunnies of high summer but predator-tested quarry that can give a fox a good course. But as winter’s famine takes its toll, they become weaker and weaker, and the coursing runs more often end with a squealing rabbit in the vixen’s jaws than a white tail diving for the impenetrable thickets.

She is a lone vixen still, but she is a master of the cottontail hunt.  She has come to know where the rabbits hang during the long winter twilight and when they likely will run when she puts pressure to them.

What’s more, she has found a good winter supplement of corn, which gets shot of out of a deer feeder every night.  Omnivory is another of her tricks.  Corn shot from deer feeders and sand pears from an ancient tree at the edge of the old meadow have been welcome additions to her diet.

But a lone vixen can only be alone for so long. By winter’s end, the estrus clouds will rise from her genitals, and the male foxes will want her.

Unlike a domestic dog, which will typically come in heat and mate with the first male she encounters, the gray fox is a bit more choosy.  She will pair up with a mate before the estrus time hits, and he will breed her and then stay with her through her pregnancy and help raise the young.

Now is the time for the pair up, but every night, the vixen goes on her hunts. She smells where people and dogs have crossed the road.  She smells where a sow raccoon and her two nearly grown kits have moseyed along the ditches in hopes of catching a hibernating frog. She smells the skunks and the deer and the wandering opossums.

But not once does she catch wind of another of her kind.

However, as she sniffs a bit of grass that she likes to mark with a few drops of urine,  the pungent odor of a dog fox’s urine rises into her nostrils.  She lifts her nose and casts it into the wind as if hoping to catch scent of his body.

Gray foxes are so territorial that the scent of a stranger would have her a raging war dog by now, but this time, she’s not in the least aggressive. Instinct and hormones are telling her to be curious and flirty.

Air scenting doesn’t reveal the stranger’s location, so she casts about, trying to pick up his trail in the leaf litter.

A great rabbit tracker like her soon finds his scent and begins trailing him along the logging road. Her receptors tell her that this dog fox is one of this year’s kits, one that has spent the autumn months trying to catch voles and chipmunks.  He will be long and lean from those days of running long and hard for such little food.

She tracks him along the edge of the multiflora rose thickets. He’s been trying his luck as a rabbit courser, but he’s had no luck at all.  He’s just been running like a fool, and the rabbits have been scared off.

If this were a normal time of the year, she would be ready to fight. But not now.  Right now, she is intrigued by this stranger.

She sniffs to inspect his urine marks, which he leaves every hundred yards or so, and she becomes almost intoxicated by them.  The smell is so good, so pure, so perfect.

She soldiers on through her long track. As she makes her way along the logging road and visits each thicket, she becomes lost in the scent.  She begins to prance with an air of cockiness, the way only truly confident animals can.  This is her domain, and this dog has her fancy.

As she sniffs along another stand of multiflora rose, a raspy gray fox bark rises from a boulder some 50 feet away. The dog fox knows the vixen is about, and he has his defenses up.

She lets loose some whines and whimpers and soft little fox chuckles. She is calling to him, telling that she comes in friendship.

The little dog fox rises from the boulder. and he is gaunt and rangy from running so much and catching so little.  He left his mother and father’s land back in August, and he has spent most of his time chasing quarry or running from coyotes or dogs or resident gray foxes that don’t want him around.

A big dog gray fox took the tip of his right ear in September when when decided to go grasshopper hunting a little too close to that mated pair’s den.

His life has been that of an urchin, a vagabond, and now when he hears the approach of another gray fox, he becomes flighty.

But it hasn’t been since those warm spring days when he suckled his mother’s teats that he’s heard another fox make those noises. He wonders if his mother is calling him, and so he runs down to the thicket to the vixen.

She hears his approach and runs toward him. They touch noses and lick faces. He instantly knows he’s not looking at his mother, but the softness of her eyes and the gentleness of her face tell him that she is all right. She is more than all right.  She is good.

They whimper and whine in the darkness. Young dog fox and wise mature vixen, now begin the process of pair bonding in the night. They lick each other’s muzzles and ears,

They are fully smitten.

That morning, they den up in the great boulder pile where the vixen has made her home. These are ancient rocks of Permian sandstone, more ancient than even the old lineage of canids from which gray foxes are derived.

The flinty wisps of snow flurries fill the air.  Bigger snow coming tomorrow.  The rabbits will be lying low in the thickets, easily caught by the fox who knows where to sniff.

The two foxes sleep near each other. They haven’t quite bonded yet, but they will soon be curled up together, a truly mated pair.

And the estrus clouds will rise in the frosty air, and they will be together.

The meadow fox has found a mate once again.

She doesn’t need one to survive.

But now, she can thrive.





Natural History

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The “civet cat” of West Virginia

When I was a little boy, my grandmother once told me that one of her childhood dogs killed a civet cat.  I was old enough to know that civets lived in Africa and Asia, so when I got the chance, I asked my dad if grandma had ever been to Africa.  He said “No.” And the whole discussion ended.

I always wondered what grandma was talking about.

When I first started this blog, I was a little confused about the existence of spotted skunks in West Virginia. I asked if anyone had seen a spotted skunk in West Virginia, and of course, I got no response.

But it turns out there are some. It turns out that they are found only in the High Alleghenies, where the snow falls hard every winter.

This perplexed me.  I had always thought of Eastern spotted skunks as being a more or less “Southern” species, and although I often saw range maps of the species that included almost the entire state, I had never knew anyone who had seen one.

But maybe I did.

It turns out that one of the vernacular names for the spotted skunk is “civet cat.”

And that’s when the little anecdote my grandmother told me made a bit more sense. Her childhood dog had killed a “civet cat,” but it had most likely killed a spotted skunk.

As for that broad range map I linked to earlier, I think the reason the range appears to be so truncated now is that the spotted skunk was reviled in much of its range as a vector of rabies. Another common vernacular name for spotted skunk is “phoby cat”– “phoby” is short for “hyrdophobia” (often “hydrophoby” in some dialects)– it is very likely that there was massive persecution of spotted skunks in the lower elevations of the state.

It was just too hard to settle and farm in the higher mountains, and those mountains provided some sort of refuge for what is really a more subtropical species than one would typically find in such snowy country.

My grandmother’s childhood dog likely killed one of the few spotted skunks left in the lower elevations of West Virginia.

But I liked to pretend that she had gone to Africa.

Boyhood flights of fancy are tough to beat.

Natural History

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Fetch our free Holiday Treat Cookbook!

The countdown is definitely on to the holiday season–and nothing says holidays like holiday treats! We’ve got a new, free cookbook for you including recipes to our goodies ranging from…

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7 Tips For Keeping Your Home Safe (+ A 3 Camera Security System GIVEAWAY from Blink!)

7 Tips For Keep Your Home Safe

This post is brought to you by Blink Home Video Security. While this was a sponsored opportunity, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

As a mama to two young kids who travels often (and who has a husband that is gone close to half the year working on the road), home security is important to me. I won’t go into the detailed scenarios that have repetitively played in my head that more or less involve multiple masked burglars in striped shirts attempting to invade my house a la A Christmas Story. Instead I’ll just say that, while I refuse to live a life fueled by fear, I am realistic about the fact that break-ins do happen. Like all of us, I want to do the absolute best I can to keep my family and home safe. I’ve done research into ways to do this, and have come up with a system of things that (knock on wood) has worked for us. And today, I thought I’d share them here, in hopes our personal recommendations might help out those of you looking for ways to best protect your home and family as well.

1. Choose your locks well. Not all locks are created equal, and it’s worth it to invest in well made models that do their jobs. We actually have a smart lock system for our front door with a keypad that’s connected to our phones. On other doors, we’ve made sure to get quality deadbolts with hardened steel bolts. And of course, always change the locks if you move into a new home or apartment.

2. Connect with your neighbors. There is strength in numbers, and it’s a proven fact that when neighbors look out for one another, crime is reduced. We always let our next door neighbors know if we’re going to be out of town so they can keep an eye on our place, and we do the same for them.

3. Avoid “hiding” spare keys outside. It might seem like common sense not to do this, but I actually know a lot of people who keep an extra house key under a doormat or in a flower pot. I used to do this myself, until I read an article that talked about how many break-ins occurred using a house key that was easily discovered in one of these common spots. If you feel better having an extra key available outside your home, leave one with a neighbor that you trust or a local friend or relative.

4. Use timers on your lights. This is an easy way to make it appear you’re home even when you’re not. You can set them on both indoor and outdoor lights.

5. Pay attention to your landscaping. Make sure that trees, bushes, etc. that might conceal entrances to your house are trimmed so they don’t become convenient hiding places and/or ways to enter through windows.

6. Get a Blink Wireless Home Security and Monitoring System for inside your home. This was truly the best move we made in terms of increasing our home security. We have the Two Indoor Camera System, and it is awesome you guys. The completely wireless home security cameras send motion-activated alerts and high quality HD video right to our phones. (Check out my Instagram Stories to see a video from our outdoor camera!) The system is also incredibly affordable (and has no contract or subscription fees), is super easy to set up, and runs on two AA batteries for 2 years. And it’s really cute too! That cameras are small with modern, minimal design that fits in beautifully with our decor. The system gives us peace of mind when we’re traveling and makes me feel safe when it’s just me here with the kids. It’s also a great way to spy on the kids (ha!) when they’re in a different room than I am. True story.

7. Get a Blink XT Outdoor Camera for outside your home. Package theft is a huge problem these days. I can’t tell you how many friends I have (both city and country dwellers) who have had boxes stolen right from their front doors. I receive numerous shipments for work each week that are left on my porch by carriers, and was in need of an effective way to help prevent this by allowing me to easily see when I have packages on my porch (and/or if there seems to be any sort of suspicious activity going on in that area). The Blink XT is the official weatherproof outdoor version of the Blink indoor cameras we love so much, so it was the obvious choice for me. It has all the great features of the indoor camera, and is also weatherproof and has infrared night vision. In addition to the fact that the Blink XT helps my packages stay safe, it provides extra security for our home as well.

GIVEAWAY TIME! We love our Blink wireless home security systems so much that we’re teaming up with Blink to give one lucky Bubby and Bean reader a Two Camera Indoor System AND a Blink XT Outdoor Camera (a total value of almost $ 300!). To enter, just click here and enter your email address. This giveaway runs until November 20, 2017. Woot!

What ways do you keep your home and family safe? I’d love to hear any other tips you might have!


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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The Love of a Mama Dog

How sweet! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!

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The Veteran

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Carrion bird

turkey vulture in november

We have begun our descent into the grayness of November. The deer are entering their time of being libidinous and dumb, and arrow have already taken a few of the bucks.

But soon the guns will crack, and gut piles will be scattered throughout the land.

And the turkey vultures will glide through the sky, casting their nostrils into the air current for the scent of blood and bile and stinking rumen.

The will drop from the sky and eat their late autumn repast, and then fly up into bare trees to digest their grisly fare.

Odd among the avian kingdom, the turkey vulture has fine sense of smell, and the black vultures and the ravens are keyed into their wanderings.

Turkey vultures will soon be heading south.  But maybe not. If the snows don’t fall, they’ll hang around to cast around on the air currents, fighting with the winter ravens as winter’s famine takes its toll upon the land.

I came across this big carrion bird on Saturday as I traipsed around in the first gloomy weekend of November. It had three companions that soon took to the wing at my approach.

But this vulture stayed put for a while longer, staring down at me with imperious disdain.

The great feast for the vultures is nigh.  The gray skeleton trees and the rutting bucks mark its coming.

This one seems to know what it is coming along with the sinking sun.

Natural History

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