Advent Calendar :: the details, the activities and a new twist

Advent Calendar Ideas |
advent calendar found online at years ago
here is a similar version, even though it is out of stock
Growing up with a German Catholic Mom, the advent calendar was a yearly fixture in our holiday home. And it still is. For me, it's a tradition that comforts me and makes me look back on my childhood with fond memories. Memories of whether or not we would have the calendars with the sparkly glitter {and no chocolate} or the calendars with no glitter but that wonderful sweet chocolate treat hiding behind each door. In the Ackerman house, our calendars were hung above our beds and each evening before bedtime, we would jump onto our beds and stand to reach the calendars, searching for the right date to open.

Advent Calendar Ideas |
December 2009 {ages 18, 4 and 6}
These days, we have just one calendar and our opening routine falls after dinnertime.  There's a rotation, each kiddo getting a turn every three nights. And trust me, the tall, young man on the left does not want to be left out. In years past, I would have the same small treats for each child. Since the treats would not fit behind the calendar doors, I made up hints at what the treat might be and then tell them where they could find their treats.

Advent Calendar Ideas |

Since 2 of the 3 can read and 3 out of the 3 are as nosy as their Mommy, I learned to only put that night's clue in the calendar so that they couldn't sneak an early peek! I kept a master calendar so I would know when the treats would be appearing {and I could check to see when I was supposed to have the fixings for hot chocolate and not be caught with bare cupboards!}.

Advent Calendar Ideas |
Partially through the Advent Calendar

Here is a list of all the activities/events/clues that have made an appearance in our advent calendar to date:
  • Scooby Dooby Doo | our kids love to watch Scooby, so they received a new DVD to watch
  • it's time to make some Christmas cookies | weekend and/or school break activity
  • Santa says...don't forget to brush your teeth | new toothbrushes {my kids loved this}
  • everyone gets a chocolate snowman | and Mommy gets the rest!
  • what color is your glowstick? | glowsticks from the Dollar Spot
  • make Christmas ornaments together | annual Wright art project
  • we'll all watch Frosty the Snowman | family movie night
  • family game night | kids pick which board or card game to play
  • want to play hearts? | kids received new hearts card game
  • we all decorate the tree outside | new activity last year, which we'll do again this year
  • pop, pop, pop | Pop Rocks peppermint flavored candy
  • Woof, Woof, Woof | our dog got a new chew toy
  • let's make some hot chocolate | this year, we'll be making homemade marshmallows, too!
  • is it snowing yet? | snow globes from the Dollar Spot
  • let's read your new book | we love to read and always look forward to a new book
  • read our new book together | another new book
  • do not pass go, go not collect $200 | play monopoly
  • what are your family favorites? | included the answers in my December Daily                           {this page was featured on Ali's blog}
  • play with the princess magnets | another Dollar Spot treat
  • did anyone see Santa's reindeer? | town Christmas tree lighting
  • you just made an easy $5 | obviously for Zach
  • let's have a cookie party | invited both families over for a holiday treat taste test
  • see Isabella perform in her school Christmas program
  • start reading your new book | did I say we like to read?
  • it's time for an art project | school break activity to keep them busy
  • could anyone use a princess tiara? | Dollar Spot treat
  • fun time with Oma and your glow necklaces | Date Night and my Mom babysits
  • work on putting your puzzle together

And here is the collection of handmade tags made from scraps.

Advent Calendar Ideas |
here are mini manila shipping tags to make your own

Last year, I saw that the little ones were disappointed when there was an activity or project rather than a treat and I didn't really like that at all. I can't recall where I read this idea, but many people could probably claim it as their own: this year, I am wrapping each of our Christmas storybooks, attaching a number and they will be our daily advent calendar treat. A nice bed time story to look forward to and try to guess at which one it might be by the shape of the book.

Edited to Add: I just read this post on Rebecca Cooper's blog, Simple as That by Melissa Deakin and since I read her blog, it is very likely that's where I came upon this book-a-night concept. You really should read what she has to say.

Of course, we'll still have the cookie party and the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and probably a few of Isabella's basketball games to attend. And some art projects, and we'll have to try out those homemade marshmallows, but the focus is really going to be on the stories, the reasons for our celebration and the meanings behind the traditions.

It's all in an effort to scale back and appreciate and remember what presents we have in our life each and every day. 

Christmas Print Download |

Here's a free download, my gift to you. For this and other free downloads visit the Features section in the sidebar.

Christmas Print Download |

cyber monday...25% off!

11x14 art prints now through Tuesday morning ---> just $21.oo
original price $28.oo


If you're not in the mood for shopping, but would love to enter a giveaway to win your very own copy of the latest Ella Publishing e-Book, Double Page Design, visit my friend Donna Jannuzzi's blog!

This e-Book is a collaboration between two greatly inspirational companies, Ella Publishing and While both Donna and I contributed layouts to this e-Book as members of the  w.c.s. team., there's more: 
  • 170 photos scrapbooked on just 21 layouts
  • 16 bonus 2-page sketches by Donna Jannuzzi
  • 24 essential tips, tricks, and ideas

Go here to enter the giveaway, which is open until Monday {11.29.2010} at 11:59 p.m. PST.

sharing the love

I have the privilege of being a member of several Design Teams {, Ella Publishing, and The Twinery}, each loaded with incredibly talented and crafty ladies. As I was planning out my blog post calendar, I came upon the idea that I needed to share their many talents with you. These ladies are crafting divas...making, producing and designing items that are delightfully unique.

I have been offering this special, which doesn't expire until 12.31.2010, to my Etsy customers and I'm pleased to offer it to my blog readers as well!

buy an 11x14 art print
get a second 11x14 art print for 1/2 off


custom listings and personalized prints are not eligible for this special offer

mention this offer in your message to seller on Etsy 
and I will refund your 50% discount after confirmed payment through PayPal

As you plan your gift-giving lists, I'd like to present a few places for you to browse.
And ooh and aah.
And add items to your cart to purchase.

Ella Publishing is offering up a tremendous line-up of offers this Thanksgiving weekend. If you aren't sure which e-Book bundle to purchase, I'd like to suggest the Design Bundle...I was lucky enough to have a layout included in the e-Book, Double-Page Design and I have to say that I am quite thrilled about it all.

Bundle Up and Save!

Incredible Thanksgiving deals this weekend only.

Bundle up, everyone! It’s cold out there, and Ella has some incredible BUNDLE PACKAGES for sale this weekend—plus a few free eBooks up for grabs. Find details, coupon codes, and links on The Daily Trumpet today!

Design Bundle: $13
Enjoy Ella's NEWEST eBook, Double-Page Design, along with Design Workshop and Stretch Your Sketches for just $13.  (Regularly $17.97)

Photo Bundle: $12
Enjoy 40 Top Tips for Better PhotosPicture Perfect, and Special Effects for Digital Photos for just $12. (Regularly $17.97)

Word Bundle: $11
Buy Journaling That MattersQuick & Creative Quizzes, and Text Tricks for Scrapbookers for just $11. (Regularly $16.97)

Holiday Bonus
Buy any single eBook and get Vintage Hip Christmas Crafts for just $3 more (reguarly $5.99)!

And that's not all, folks! Three random winners will get up to three eBooks for FREE. Click over to The Daily Trumpet for details, links, and coupon codes.

Happy Thanksgiving from Ella!

The Twinery  is having a crazy deal on CYBER MONDAY...they'll be giving 30% OFF EVERY order that comes through from Monday, November 29 from 12am-11:59 pm - ONLY MONDAY!! The code that you need to use at checkout is: CRAZYSALE30. There's even the sampler pack below available, if you can't decide which color is your fave!

Our twine is made from 100% cotton, it's eco-friendly and made in the USA. Whether you're gift wrapping, crafting or tying up baked goods to give to a friend, our baker's twine adds a fresh, yet nostalgic look to any project at hand! Our baker's twine comes in 8 delicious colors and is uniquely twisted against a bright white hue, creating an eye-popping burst of color and a creative embellishment! Our twine has lots of color which lends to a fun, candy-striped look. 

Be sure to share deal with your friends, I don't think they've ever offered a discount like this one. And be on the lookout for some really neat baker's twine Christmas ornaments I'll share soon!

Pearenthetical Press is a custom stationery shop specializing in tastefully designed, personalized paper goods for a variety of correspondence needs. Our products include personal stationery, holiday cards, invitations, birth announcements, bookplates, and more. 

All of our stationery is printed on premium, smooth, matte, ultra-thick 110 lb paper using archival pigment inks. 
Pearenthetical Press is owned and operated by twin sisters Karen Glenn and Kimberly Morgan. Each design is our own original and each order is carefully personalized and beautifully printed by us.
You can find our little shop at

Kim Glenn is a Design Team member.

Francine Clouden, another and Ella Publishing Design Team member, has an Etsy shop called Callaloo Soup Designs that I just might have ordered some super cool adhesive chalkboard die cut labels from for myself. She even prepared some chalkboard vinyl in a custom size that I requested. Be watching out soon for what I create with those lovely items.

If you're looking for some shabby chic/vintage cool gift wrapping ideas like the ones pictured above, check out these blog posts from Francine here:

Melissa Kaiserman has just opened her shop, a time for everything, and you won't be disappointed in the craftsmanship or the cuteness factor! She just finished hosting over at this week, sharing awesome downloads for holiday organization, Christmas card templates, gift tags and more. Go check it out here.

Amy Sorensen, writer-extraordinaire and Design Team member, is also a Big Picture Classes instructor. Her newest class, The Gift of Words, is a two-week course and registration is open only until December 1, 2010.

The Gift of Words
If you want to make connections with the important people in your life this holiday season, this class is for you. If you want to spend less money on gifts this year, this class is for you. If you're tired of giving gifts just for the sake of giving — a button-down shirt your brother-in-law might not even like, another knick-knack for your mother's curio cabinet, some fruity lotion your best friend will exchange three days after Christmas because she really likes the vanilla scents better — this class is for you. Give a gift this year that truly tells the recipient "our relationship matters to me."

Rebecca Cooper, also a Design Team member, also happens to be an Ella Publishing e-Book author. She's also authored the book, Real. Life. Scrapbooking.

No time to go page-by-page through your camera’s manual? Never fear! Professional photographer and scrapbooker Rebecca Cooper will show you how to take better everyday pictures in a flash (no pun intended!). With easy-to-follow instructions and tons of images to guide you, you’ll increase your photographic know-how and improve your photography in an afternoon. Composition and lighting tips suitable for photographers of all levels. Technical tips aimed for beginning DSLR or point-and-shoot camera owners.
I know, I know, pretty cool, huh! This e-Book is also part of the Photo Bundle offered by Ella Publishing this weekend only. I already own this book, and here's the link to purchase your own copy:

There are so many delightful items out there to capture your attention, but I hope that you will consider some of the items I've presented to you today. By doing so, you are supporting Moms all across the world...Francine lives in France and Rebecca is currently  living in the Carribean!

I hope to be updating this great roundup with more gift ideas throughout this holiday season.

thank you notes & december daily :: tutorial and free downloads

This post was originally presented in July 2010 at where I am a Design Team member.

Christmas in July :: Thank You, Thank You, Thank You & December Daily

My heartfelt thanks to you all for your kind and encouraging comments. I read each and every one of them and they are all appreciated by this first time blog host, I assure you. 
What secret to reveal about myself today? Hmmm. Well, I have two actually, but they're kind of related. Secret #1: There are some Christmas carols I don't know all the words to in English. My Mom is German, so I learned the carols in both German and English and to this day I sometimes mix a little German in with my English while singing. If I catch myself doing that, I try just to hum along so as not to embarrass myself. But I'm not a very good singer so let's just say that I embarrass myself while singing. Period. 
Which brings me to Secret #2: I find it very difficult to sing Silent Night without being overcome with emotion. The song, the sentiments, the tempo, the music...they all just fill me with emotion and bring tears to my eyes. For me, it is one of the most beautiful songs ever. 
What are a few secrets shared among friends?
Now, to make your Mama proud, another download to add to your collection of Christmas in July goodies!
 download thank you notes or visit the downloads section in my sidebar or the menu under the blog header 

There are two notecards. One is for your munchkins to write thank you notes to the aunts, uncles, grandparents and family friends for the goodies they were gifted. The other note is for you to sent to the aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents and family friends for the kindness they showed your family. We are a big thank-you-note-writing family {blame my German Mom!}. Well, let's put it this way, you don't write the don't get to keep the gift. 


If you're not sure you can get holiday photo cards sent out this year, use this note as a chance to include a photo! Instead of folding the card with the printed sentiment on the outside, here I added a photo to the front and let the sentiment be the inside of the card. There's still plenty of room for the kids to write a short note, which they will appreciate, let me tell you! Since this one was printed as a black and white sample, I used a color envelope to add a dash of color and you could let the kids use markers or crayons for color, too.


These notecards were printed in color and look equally charming with either a white or red envelope. Embellish them with a heart button and embroidery thread or a chipboard shape for an easy and fun note card. Older kids could even help with this project!


I used one of my favorite stamps to embellish the inside of my notecard and an epoxy sticker to take the notecard one step further.
Although I didn't share any layouts with you this week as I thought I might, I will share with you a few of my 2009 December Daily pages. 

These are 3" binder rings. Silly me didn't think that she would ever utilize the full 3", but you can see that they are almost overwhelmed by the number of pages I included!  I began the album on Thanksgiving Day and documented through to New Year's Day. Whew, that's a lot of layouts in 38 days! 


This flip-open page utilized a digital template to include several of our homemade ornaments, which happens to be one of our advent calendar activities...making the annual homemade ornament. And we always have 4. One ornament that each child makes for their own family tree one day and one for our family tree so that we can look back and smile.
December Daily Thoughts: this year I am thinking of designing a hybrid version to force myself to try something new, learn something new and become more comfortable with digital! Don't hold me to that, though. Looking through this album as I was posting photos makes me realize how much fun I have playing with paper!
And in the spirit of being prepared for the holidays, my last secret? I pre-made most of my pages so that after adding photos and journaling, very little else is needed to make my December Daily album complete. 


I included notes that coordinated with Advent Calendar activities, family plans and holiday projects so that it would make it easier for me to remember {and also in case I lost the calendar page I had printed out with my Master Plan}!
Here's to wishing you all the jolliest of times in preparing for the holidays!

Holiday Tags and Handprints | Free Downloads and Tutorial

With Christmas just around the corner, are you already making your lists? If so, why not take a moment to look at the right sidebar of our blog? Do you see that "our sponsors" tab? Those lovely people believe in reason #1 of our mission statement: telling stories. And they all have products, tools and ideas to help you in your own personal mission to tell the stories that define you and your life.

Want me to let you in on a little secret? I don't have a Christmas list, haven't purchased a single gift and wouldn't have all these tags and toppers made if it weren't for my hosting gig this week!
OKAY, NOT SUCH A BIG SURPRISE, IS IT? But, I wanted to keep it real for you. I am organized and efficient, yes, but not that organized!
Christmas Gift Tag Printables |
Let me share with you just a few ideas for using these gift tags, which coordinate with the rest of the downloads I've designed for you this week...all using the same font each day.

Christmas Gift Tag Printables |

It's always good to have tags prepared and ready to go. Using this punch from Stampin' Up makes threading the ribbon through so easy. 

Christmas Gift Tag Printables |

Using your Crop-o-Dile and some baker's twine gives you yet another option in Tag-Making 101! I've been using my Round-it-All by Zutter for all the tags. It rounds corners in anything! 

You could even use your kids' school supplies to embellish your tags. These green stickers are page reinforcements from the office supply store! 

Christmas Gift Tag Printables |

I used a punch from EK Success, some cardstock and a little glue to make my own hole reinforcements for the tags here. 

Christmas Gift Tag Printables |

After using my sewing machine to make some simple straight lines...

Christmas Gift Tag Printables | 
...I folded it over to resemble a book. I used my Crop-o-Dile to adhere the gift tag and keep the book closed. {I'll use this as a teacher gift.}

Christmas Gift Tag Printables |

You could even use the tags as journaling spots in your December Daily albums.

Christmas Gift Tag Printables |

I'd like to share two gift ideas that involve paint and handprints, and probably a little bit of a mess. But, it will be worth it when you see the Oma's, Nana's, Mamaw's, Meme's and Grandmothers open their gift!


Christmas Gift Tag Printables |

The handprints of the Kindergartener that made this adorable wreath graduated in June 2010, but each Christmas season, this still hangs on the door of the bathroom the kids use, and it will continue to do so until I can't make my own decisions anymore!

Handprint Tote Bag

These bags are so handy, our girls use their handprint bags as Library Book Bags. I used this same idea to make similar bags for the Grandmothers for their Mother's Day gift. I think you could use these as a gift for any occasion and they would be a hit. Mine is used to carry coupons to the grocery store, my to do list and a pen with an extra pair of reading glasses, just in case.  

Handprint Tote Bag

treat bag toppers and an advent calendar :: tutorial and free downloads

I am a happy little elf knowing that you're all enjoying the downloads! Mission accomplished.
Ready for me to reveal another secret? These are the first downloads I have ever completed entirely on my own! Designed, saved as PDFs, uploaded to blog...and it worked!  I did design one other download {scroll to bottom of post for free download} but I had to rely on Ali to work out the details of the PDF. But not this go around. I wanted to master it on my own and make it work...and I did! {Okay, I'm a little Type A and hate asking for help!}
REMEMBER: Never underestimate the power of CAN do it!
So, on to today's adventure in crafting...Treat Bag Toppers to the rescue! {The reverse side of the design was left blank for you to have room to add your own personal message before folding over and adhering to the treat bag.}
ThumbnailChristmas Treat Bag Topper Download | 
Yes, another download! Did you notice that all of the downloads to this point coordinate with one another? And if you're interested in the name of the font I've been using, it's called Pharmacy. I downloaded it for free from here. It's my new favorite.
So. At some point, we've all made up treat bags, haven't we? I happen to like the whole process of choosing the treats and packaging them up, but know that others feel like it's a chore. Here, two pencils are wrapped with ribbon and an eraser is covered with scrap holiday-themed paper and inserted into a snack bag before adhering {with glue dots} the treat bag topper to the snack bag.
Christmas Treat Bag Topper Download |
If you prefer, use the ellophane bags that are available at Wal-Mart, Michael's, JoAnne's and Hobby Lobby in the candy-making aisles. 
But, if you're doing this the night before the Pre-School and 2nd Grade holiday parties, don't be discouraged. By all means use the zip top snack bags as I have here. It won't make a difference to the's all about making what you have on-hand work for you. I used colored staples to adhere the treat bag topper to the sandwich bag, these items were too heavy to use glue dots.

Christmas Treat Bag Topper Download |

One can never go wrong gifting chocolate, especially Dove's dark chocoloate! I used my Crop-o-Dile from We R Memory Keepers to punch through the bag topper and the snack bag, strung some baker's twine through the holes and added an embellishment. I think this version is my favorite.


And what is Christmas without an Advent Calendar? At least for our family. I purchased this calendar at Target {online} two years ago, and saw the same style again in the store last year, but in red.

Advent Calendar |

  1. gather your Christmas-themed supplies and unscrew door handles
  2. embellish door layouts so that door will still open, remembering to punch hole for door handle
  3. decide if you will put dates in number order or random fashion 
  4. choose your daily treats and make tags for each date
  5. reattach door handles
For the past two years, our tags have included an assortment of clues to hidden, inexpensive gifts that would not fit behind the door, chocolate, dollar bills, family game nights, watching favorite holiday movies together as a family, family date night {dinner out} and items from the Dollar Spots at Target, Michael's and the Dollar Tree.  And we do all this x3, since we have three kids {18, 6, 4} and trust me the 18-year old does NOT want to be left out! 
At times it felt that they were more interested in the treat than the meaning behind it all. This year, we're adopting an idea I found in blogland and I wish I knew who to credit: reading a Chrismtas story for each of the 25 nights! We already have a nice collection of stories, but not 25. So we'll supplement that with new books, Bible stories and library books.
Here's a different spin on a countdown calendar I posted to the Flickr gallery before I was a design team member. Yes, it really is a cookie sheet. And those are wedding favor heart tins. I displayed this in the kitchen, so it fit the theme. You could also spray paint the cookie sheet for a cute alternative.
Valentine's Day Countdown Calendar |
Valentine's Day Countdown Calendar |

And one last calendar idea: a birthday countdown. Now they won't have to ask you how many days there are until their birthday! Here's the before, which was purchased at the Dollar Tree.
Birthday Countdown Calendar |

Here it is after I sanded down the shiny finish, painted with blue and green acrylic paints and used spray chalkboard paint for the middle. I might still try to cover the chalkboard paint and spray the outer rim with clear acrylic spray so that the colors will really pop!

Birthday Countdown Calendar |

I plan to share more on the advent calendar and our plan for this year very soon!