Trading More Kids’ “Stuff” for Christmas Gifts That Make Memories

Christmas is here and with it comes the search for the “perfect Christmas gift”. Often time’s children get inundated with trinkets and toys that pile up and become overwhelming from a parent standpoint. Unique experience Christmas gifts are a great way to alleviate some of this holiday anxiety while at the same time making lasting memories. I know as a parent I would personally be elated if someone did some of these things for my children instead of getting them more “stuff”.

Here are some ideas that I think would be valuable to fill their memory bank instead of the clutter your house!

Experience Gifts:

A Membership to the Children’s Museum and/or Science Museum

We LOVE our local Children’s Museum!

These museums are gems, filled with play-based learning that you can do with your children. They become a great haven for kids to explore and learn with new materials. Get a family pass for them to go any time throughout the year or just a few passes for them to go with you! Set aside the time to go with them and get in on the action as they create projects, do experiments, try out hands-on stations, and have tons of fun! Best of all you are helping foster their love of learning!

A Membership to the Local Zoo, Playgroup Areas, Pools, Arboretums, etc.

Do a little digging for some fun local areas to take kids. Many of these places sell memberships or passes that you can give as Christmas gifts. As a Mom who loves to take the kids on adventures, having memberships to different places can be very helpful. Often pools, zoos, arboretums, nature centers, and playgroup areas have season passes that might not normally be in the budget but if they receive it as a gift they may be able to experience it more often.

My girls loved experiencing the Butterfly House at Beaver Creek with their Mema and Grandma-Great!

In our local area, we have unique places such as Tiny Tots or the Indoor Sports Center, where kids are able to play. These venues are especially nice in the winter or on rainy days! We also have Beaver Creek Reserve which has a lot of fun nature trails and activities, as well as an area for the kids to play. Our local pool also sells summer passes that might be a fun idea, however, living in the midwest this gift wouldn’t be used until summer…or for a winter option, we have a local volleyball complex that turns the sand area into an indoor kids’ beach party! They sell passes for that as well!

Indoor beach parties are perfect for March in WI!

When we were in Dallas, we fell in love with their Arboretum. It had a whole area dedicated to children where they could explore and learn in an outside setting that was similar to a children’s museum. You can bet that if we lived there, we would LOVE a membership!

Each city has its own unique venues for children!

Dig around the area that the children live in and find out what are the great family-friendly places. There might be a whole bunch of hidden gems that you can help them experience. Any of these places would make great Christmas gifts! Parents would be thankful and kids would be reminded of you each time they visit!

Classes for the Children

Swimming lessons were a hit with this little fish!

Cooking classes, dance classes, karate, soccer, piano lessons, painting classes…all of these are fun activities for kids but add up for parents. It is such a blessing when a family member says that these lessons will be their Christmas or birthday gift!

We have a fun place called The Lily Pad lab that offers a variety of different classes geared towards younger children and their parents. As a mom of three, I struggle with providing a class for one and not the other. Taking all of them to class would break the bank! Having the flexibility to do this because it was given to them as a Christmas gift can be such a relief as a parent. You want your children to have experiences, but they must fit in the budget as well! You can feel good that you are helping out the parents and helping give them experiences to make them a well-rounded person.

If someone does give them a class as a gift, we always make it a point of talking to the children each time we go to the lesson how lucky they are that they are able to go because “Grandma Susy” got them these classes. And as an added bonus, if you are able to go with them to the classes that would be even better! Then you are making memories with them!

Day-Date

My oldest spent an evening packing meals for people in need with her Mema.

Taking the children on a date is a great Christmas gift! They will be so excited to have that special one-on-one time with you. It will be something you can be sure they will talk about for days and they will remember for years! Do something they enjoy together whether it is going to dinner and a movie, go bowling, play at the library, checking out a park, or picking out a craft at the craft store to go home and complete together. Giggle, have fun, and let their youthful excitement rub off on you!

What kid wouldn’t like a date to Chuck E. Cheese?

Trampoline Park Pass

Trampoline park Christmas gifts

Winter time and rainy days make for lots of cooped up energy! Give them the gift of time at the Trampoline Park! By the end of it, they will happily have quiet rest time and their parents will be so thankful!

Theater Productions

Get them tickets to see a live theater production! Support the local arts while providing the children with a cultured experience of viewing a live theatrical performance. This year we are giving our girls tickets to go see the Annie at our local theatre, ECCT. They are so excited and so are we!

Tickets to Unique Events

Christmas gifts
Tickets to the Princess Tea for a gift!

Is someone a big music buff? Does another one love princesses? Is one in love with a certain sport? Get tickets to a concert, Disney on Ice, Princess Tea Parties, or a local sports game. Take them to the event and invest in that time together. Not only are you investing time with them but you are also showing them you are in tune with what things they like and care about their interests.

Hotel Stay/Water Park Night

What is more fun than spending the night at a hotel and hitting up their pool!? Rent some movies, pop some popcorn, and swim to your heart’s content! Enjoy the time together. That is more important than any toy that will lose its luster after a few days.

Kids Love Mail:

Millennials are big into things coming to them in the mail. Subscription boxes are in big demand. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love it when something shows up in your mailbox or on your doorstep? They are also a great Christmas gift that keeps on giving for months! It can be something easy for relatives that are farther away or who aren’t as familiar with local venues. Here is my tip since I’m all about making connections and going the extra mile…have them Facetime or Skype when they open the box or get the subscription each month! You can still be a part of the excitement from afar.

Magazine Subscriptions

My grandparents did this for me as a child and I loved it! Now our children get a magazine a month sent to them and it is so fun to watch their excitement when it comes in the mail! Here are some great magazines to look into:

Box Subscriptions

Christmas Gifts

There are so many fun subscription boxes to choose from. My current favorites are The Story Box and the newly launched Little Feminist Book Club for kids. I love books and these provide questions and interactive activities that go with the stories! And while you are at it maybe you want to look at a Date Night In subscription for the adults!

Why These Types of Christmas Gifts?

I recently was at dinner with a good friend whose Aunt was passing away. One thing she said really resonated with me. She said, “She was the Aunt that got down on the floor and played with us and spent time with us.” It was in the little things that she did to foster a relationship by creating experiences together that she honored and remembered at the time of her passing.

At the end of the day, it will not matter how many things you bought them, but what will stand out is that you connected with them!

Cheers to 30 Years: My True Fear

It is time to kiss the good old 20s good-bye and begin the next chapter as a 30 year old! Yikes!

In all honesty, I guess the thought of 30 doesn’t really bother me. I’ve always been that girl who was ready for the next big thing, charging through life and taking it on head first. As a child, I started a few days’ worth of kindergarten and moved to first grade. I got work release my senior year so I could save up money instead of staying at school. I took college classes in high school so I could graduate college in 3 1/2 years and start teaching right away. My husband and I bought a house together about a month before we were engaged! We were married long before we decided to have children and well, as you can see we didn’t wait long between each one for the next one to come along! With all that being said…

I’m ready for 30 and for slowing down.

I look back on my life and think to myself…”Girl, why did you rush it?!” You can’t go back on that time again. You can’t go back to the days that you were a little kid running barefoot and free, playing kick the can till the street lights turned on. The days are gone where you sat on the phone for hours poring over all the things that happened that day at school. The anticipation of the dance… that “nerv-cited” feeling as all eyes were glued to you during the big game… that sideways glance that made your stomach do somersaults and kept you up all night wondering.

This was my childhood playhouse that my Dad (pictured here) built for me 28 years ago when I was 2!

It just makes me think of the Tracy Adkins song “You’re Gonna Miss This”.

20s were fun. Life was a whirlwind of late nights, exciting changes, and welcomed adventures.

But 30s…

30s will be even better. I’ve accepted the “mom-bod” that’s evolved. It is time to say to hell with it and just wear the darn swimsuit. Instead of worrying about what it might look like, I know now to embrace the changes. I have the wisdom and experience that can only come from time and experiences. My confidence has grown and matured. I now am okay being me and embracing the quirks that make me who I am. I realized as I looked around at all the family, friends, and neighbors that are here celebrating with me that I’ve got amazing support and love.

My cousin even surprised me and flew in to celebrate with us!

My True Fear of Getting Older:

Truthfully, the thought of my kids getting older is more frightening to me than me aging. I’ve always been the one that worries that I might miss something. What if I don’t see them do something big or I can’t be a part of an important moment?

One of my biggest fears is that the memories of them will not stick with me. Hence why I take a million photos. I want to hold on to everything they do and all their funny little nuances. The fresh baby smell and the touch of their smooth, buttery skin to be forever accessible to me. I want my senses to remember all the things that make them my babies.

This time when they are little is such a blur of sleepless nights, shower-less days, and more coffee than I should truly admit. You are so busy and engrossed in everything. The changes happen so fast and just when you think you have something figured out, it all changes again. It is somehow in that fog of being a mom of young kids that you are supposed to store all those important memories.

Somehow you are supposed to remember the moment even when at that time you didn’t realize it was so important.

It is true that you never know it is the last time until later on when you reflect back on it. As you pack away those tiny outfits you never realized it was the last time they were going to wear them. The last time they stare up at you when you nurse and you watch their eyelids growing heavy. That last time their tiny hand slips into yours as they trustingly gasp on to you when crossing the street.  That time when you held them and they wrapped their little arms around you and nuzzled their sweaty forehead into your neck, it was the last. You don’t realize that before long they won’t want you to carry them down to bed.

My honest fear isn’t me getting old. It is my kids getting older. I know that it will come with great changes and exciting adventures but this is what I know right now. Although it is crazy and stressful, it is beautiful. I am not ready to let that go.

So cheers to 30 years…and while I can’t slow down how fast my kids grow up, I can slow down the day-to-day so I can enjoy every minute.

How do you (or did you) feel about turning 30? Do you have advice for your 30s? Leave a comment and tell me your thoughts!

 

Twin Cities Parks with Littles

Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN a.k.a. the Twin Cities has so many great parks and places to explore with your littles on a sunny summer day! Since the Twin Cities are right in our back yard it makes for a great day trip. I actually just returned from spending three days there with my three littles. I’m going to highlight a few of the fun places that we spent a good chunk of our time at. My kids loved these places and so we felt compelled to share these great Twin Cities parks with you so that you too can experience the fun!

Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Located in the Three Rivers District, this park seems to have access to everything you could want! It is home of the Richardson Nature Center . The center has many different events for families as well as a bunch of fun kits that the kids can borrow to catch bugs, explore the ponds, or go on a bird watching hike.

Along with having a variety of landscapes for walking and picturesque spots for a picnic, the main attraction to this park for us was their massive playground!

I mean seriously massive. This place spans 16,000 square feet and has slides up to 50 feet long!

A word to the wise I would definitely go with man to man coverage on your kids if you are a little more on the cautious side like I am. There is truly something for everyone at this park. I can honestly say I have never been to anything like this before. One look at it and you know why they have won awards for creativity and ingenuity!

There are multiple different play areas that are perfect for different ages and stages.

The toddler park is located to the left and has a small plastic climber with a few small slides. The only downfall to this part is that it is sand which we all know can be a little challenging with littles who love to put everything in their mouths.

There are only two swings at this playground so it does take a long time to get a turn if your little one has their heart set on swinging!

At the center is a play set that is the next step up. It’s got a lot of ramps and smaller slides for those kids who are a little too old for the toddler area but not quite ready for all the climbing of the other areas. This was where my two year old found her niche. She could run and climb on everything independently and wasn’t scared of going down any of the slides by herself.

All the other areas of the park are great for stronger, more independent children probably ages 4+ (depending on your child). A large area of the park reminds me of the McDonalds Play Area only on a much larger scale! It has netted tunnels that are a maze to me from down below. My oldest had a heyday climbing through these. Coming back to this park I would make her wear something super bright colored (avoid blue or black clothing-the color of the equipment) so that I could spot her as she spider monkey’s her way through all the netting. At one point I chuckled out loud as a large mass of children were climbing their way through ropes and sitting on a suspended chair because it truly did look like a troop of monkeys!

Good to Know:
  • It is completely free!
  • Bring lots of help (one adult to one child ratio is best especially with younger children) or try to avoid weekends/holidays where it may be extra busy!
  • Establish a meeting spot in case you do get separated.
  • Have kids wear bright colored clothing (avoid black or blue).
  • They do have a Visitor Center with bathrooms and concessions.
  • Pack a lunch, snacks, lots of water or drinks, and of course SUNSCREEN!
  • Towels, swimsuts, or a change of clothes may be helpful since there is an area that sprays a mist of water.
  • Wear shoes that are good for climbing but that can also get wet. The equipment and floors can get very hot so I would make sure to bring shoes.
  • Fenced in with only one exit (whew!)
  • Handicap accessible with ramps for wheelchairs and strollers
  • Open April through October (weather permitting) 9 a.m. to sunset

 

Central Park of Maple Grove

12000 Central Park Way
Maple Grove, MN

I can’t even begin to express how much fun the Central Park of Maple Grove is and how nice it is!

Let’s start out with the interactive fountains, a 2,100 sq. ft. area with 49 jet sprays and 18 arching sprays. It is a hot day haven for kids and parents alike! This feature is free and open seven days a week starting at 10 a.m. Bring swimming suits and towels and use their clean restroom facilities to change before heading home!

Fun fact: It goes into show mode from 8:45-10:00 p.m. where the fountains light up with different colors!

Next to the fountains is the playground with seven play zones, 24-foot climbing tower with tunnel slides, a hillside slide area, a 3 unique swing including one that was like a teeter-totter swing (I seriously considered making my sister try that one out with me!), and a 120-foot long climbing wall. This park is customized with unique play equipment you won’t find anywhere else. It really is almost like a piece of art!  Most of the area is rubberized so I would advise good play shoes since it does get very hot! A few areas are sand which can be a little tricky if you are still wet from playing in the fountains.

I want to go back in the winter to try out their LED lit 810 feet long ice skating loop! Check back and who knows maybe I’ll update you on this park’s winter features!

Good to know:
  • There is a picnic area as well as a lot of beautiful green space if you want to pack a lunch or snack.
  • They do have a small concession stand inside near the restrooms.
  • Be prepared with good shoes and sunscreen since there isn’t much shade so the ground gets hot and the sun is strong!
  • Changing areas and restrooms are available.

 

Van Cleve Park

901 15th Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414

In the heart of Minneapolis is a little park with a great wading pool for little ones. At it’s deepest it is 2 feet deep, perfect for little swimmers! It is open daily from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and will stay open till 10 p.m. if the temperature is over 85 degrees at 6:00 p.m. They do have a playground and toddler playground but truly the best part about this park in the summer is the wading pool! It is free for anyone to use and has been newly remodeled. Best of all, it isn’t crazy busy like a lot of the other parks I have mentioned so you can have a more intimate and relaxing time with your family.

(And it might just be on my winter ice skating list as well since they too have a rink in the winter!)

 

Como Park Zoo ad Conservatory 

I’m always surprised with the number of people that haven’t been to Como Park Zoo! We frequent it multiple times a year and are always please with our visit! It is a free zoo (donation based $3 for adult and $2 for children is suggested). Como is filled with elaborate gardens including a fun butterfly garden with moths, I kid you not, as big as birds, an amusement park, a splash zone, and of course a variety of animals! Every time we go we are pleasantly surprised with how active and engaging the animals are! The monkeys and gorillas are sure to put on a fun little show for you as they play together. And of course there is a whole carnival, amusement park with a splash pad to explore as well!

Before you go be sure to check out their website to find out what unique programs they are offering that day!

Good to know:
  • You can pack a cooler with drinks and food.
  • They do have a restaurant and concession stands.
  • Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes and sunscreen!
  • Strollers and wheelchairs are available to rent. Single strollers and wheelchairs are $5/day and double strollers are $8/day. Electric scooters are also available for $20/day.
  • There are multiple bathrooms throughout the area.
  • It is open every day of the year! (April-September 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and October-March 10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
  • Also in the area is Lake Como, mini-golf, a pool, and picnic areas!

Elm Creek Park Reserve

Elm Creek is the largest park in the Three Rivers Area. It has a wide range of things to offer including a whole area dedicated to disc golf, a nature center, an archery range and a swimming pond!

The play area itself is one of the largest in the state and offers something for each age group. It opened in 2011 and was a $1.2 million project, just to put it in perspective a little…

It is sectioned off into seven play zone which does make it a little harder to watch multiple children if they all want to be in different areas. I will say though I saw play equipment here that once again I’ve never seen before in my life and it had me wishing I was a kid again! It is designed to inspire creativity and imagination while exercising and strengthening gross motors muscles. For example, it has a 30 ft. dinosaur buried in the sand to climb and explore!

Take for example this awesome skateboard track:

If you haven’t explored this park, I highly suggest you give it a go! And plan for an all day event! There is plenty to do to keep everyone busy!

Good to know:
  • There are bathroom facilities right near the park in two different locations.
  • Picnic tables are around for adults to sit and relax or for a little lunch/snack break.

  • The play area is entirely wheelchair accessible!!!
  • The swimming area is located just to the right of the playground area.
  • You may want to bring your swimsuits and towels if you would like to partake in the swimming pond. It does cost $5 per person ages 1 and up to swim at the beach. But it is a very clean (chlorinated and filtered) water and beach to spend the afternoon. The water gradually increases from zero feet to six feet deep. It also has facilities located at the beach area for restrooms, changing, and concessions. There is a lifeguard on duty at the lifeguard stand. It is open Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend.
  • The swimming area has a wheel chair ramp into the three feet deep area and you can rent floating beach chairs.

Future Parks we will be visiting:

  • Centennial Lakes

Check back or subscribe so you don’t miss out on info on these parks when we go try them out! And of course be looking for more about our winter adventures as well!

 

 

 

 

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

“It takes a village to raise a child.” –Traditional African Proverb

When our first was born five and a half weeks premature those words rang so true to us. We stayed in the hospital that was two hours from our home. I was discharge early (only 24 hours) after an emergency C-section so that we could go be with my baby. My husband still had to work so he would drive up in the evenings and drive back home at night. We bounced from hotel room to hotel room until finally the Ronald McDonald house had an opening.

It was something we would wish upon no one. But dang did our village come through for us. People put their lives on pause, took off days of work and stayed with us. They brought us little things to brighten our day or bought us dinner to make sure we took the time to nourish ourselves! Their words and hugs were things that some days we clung to. They were our village.

In big moments in life it is easy to see the need to let people help. We know we couldn’t have done it without them.

Today, with a sick two year old, a four year old who just wants to have her playmate back, and a 10 month old who just wants Mommy to hold her ALL the time, I’m reminded again of my village. My poor toddler hasn’t been keeping anything down or refusing to even try to drink anything. As the hours dragged on I was frightened that I may have to take her in for IV fluids.

Today, my village came in the form of a close friend yielding Pedialyte, popsicles, and a treat for the rest of us. (She knows me too well. Feeding myself was the last thing on my radar.) Next thing I know another village member comes to swoop up my four year old. She is busy playing with her little guy, eating ALL the popsicles and drinking gallons of chocolate milk, and best of all being smothered in hugs and kisses. I don’t have to have the guilt that I can’t give her the attention she craves. She is happy as be and that is worth so much to me.

And somehow the stars have aligned and the baby is actually napping (which if you follow me on Instagram you know this truly NEVER happens), the four year old is busy playing, and I’m able to cuddle this sleeping sick little one who kept a 1/3 a popsicle down!

I need you guys and I’m so thankful for YOU!

Often I think we feel like we can do it ourselves. We don’t want to bother anyone else or burden them. But I’m here to tell you that you need your village and that is OKAY! Lean on them. That is what they are here for. And if they are anything like me, they feel good knowing they are needed and can help. Plus, they wouldn’t have offered if they didn’t want to. (Or at least that’s the way I feel…so if you are reading this and offer something, just know I might say yes!)

You are human. You are one person trying to do so many things. Let people in. Let them help and I think you will find that not only will you be a happier person but your village and your relationships will strengthen.