Alternative Advent Calendars

With the last of the turkey made into soup using the broth I made from the turkey carcass, I can officially call Thanksgiving DONE! And now I can say…




This is my favorite time of year, hands down. It takes everything I’ve got to put up Thanksgiving decorations after Halloween and not just go straight to Christmas. I revert back to my 6 year old self when it comes to December time, so to be able to hold it all together, I plan a bunch of fun Christmas related activities to last throughout the month.

December 1st is often kicked off with the start of an Advent calendar. Did anyone ever actually hold themselves to eating only one of those tiny little pieces of chocolate a day until Christmas? I never could as a kid, but my daughter has been pretty good at it so far. Anymore, there are a multitude of Advent calendars to choose from – you are no longer limited to that tiny square of chocolate wrenched out of it’s plastic shell. Here are some fun ideas for alternative Advent calendars, which range from cheap to pricey, and easy to involved. By creating your own calendar, or by purchasing a fun new kind of calendar, you can feel like a kid again experiencing something new each day of Christmas time!

Toy Advent Calendars

I don’t know if these are technically new, but I’ve noticed them more and more lately and actually bought one for this year. Advent calendars are available for sale by many different toy companies, like Playmobil, Lego, Disney, Fisher Price, Play Doh, and Barbie. While these are considerably more expensive than your $1 chocolate calendar, they do provide a longer lasting, tangible reward. The calendar I chose was a Playmobil Advent Calendar whose pieces add up to make a family Christmas scene. What I enjoy about that is that the pieces can become a part of our holiday decorations and come out year after year – IF my daughter doesn’t abscond them as part of her toy collection. Either way, it’s a fun way to see a scene build day after day and make the excitement last for 25 days, rather than 24 days of anticipation for 1 big day.

DIY Drink Advent Calendar


This calendar is definitely not for kids 😉 With the help of some PVC and spray paint from a hardware store, some Advent stickers from the Target Dollar Aisle, and many, many bottles from my local grocery store (Hy-Vee has a great selection of mix & match craft beer), you can put together an advent calendar that will bring 25 nights of deliciousness.


This calendar isn’t just limited to beer, either – mine contains craft & vintage sodas in glass bottles, as well. If you’re a fan of just one beer, you can certainly fill it with 25 of your faves.

To construct the tree, I had a 10ft section and a 2ft section of 3 inch diameter pvc cut into five inch sections. You’d think 5 inches into 10 feet would work out to not require so much extra, but when you account for the small amount removed from the cut itself, it adds up. Using PVC glue, the sections were attached together to form a Christmas tree shape, with 4 pipe sections at the base for the trunk. Spray paint added the festive colors.


Next, I used the advent stickers to top each bottle cap and loaded the tree up!

My husband is really looking forward to picking his bottle each morning and putting it into the fridge for a cold drink in the evening. It was really fun to put together as well. I’m not a beer drinker, so if I were to make one of these for myself, I’d have to get a much bigger diameter pipe to hold the wine bottle and would likely need rehab after the holiday season! But for someone that drinks an occasional beer here and there and likes to sample many different kinds, this is a fun gift to put together. I’ve paired with it a taste tracker so that he can remember which of the drinks he liked, and which weren’t as great.

Santa Beard Calendar


Who else remembers the advent calendars that soda companies gave out for free where you glued a cotton ball a day to Santa’s beard? I know they are truly a thing and not just my imagination, because I’ve met one other person who remembers this, and surely two people can’t be wrong!


I wanted to recreate that memory of my childhood, but also wanted it to be more permanent than a sheet of paper & cotton balls. With the help of a friend, I had a Santa head cut out of pine. Using Rustoleum Magnetic primer, I painted the bottom half of the santa head with two coats of the special paint. This paint is loaded with iron filings that make it magnetic upon drying. One drawback to this is that it is super expensive – so find a few friends that want to do this project along with you and split the cost.

After applying & drying the magnetic paint, I painted on a Santa face. You do not have to be an artist to do this if you have carbon paper – this was not free handed! Do not let this intimidate you. If you have a santa pic that you love, just use the carbon paper between your wood & print out to put the lines onto the santa to guide your painting. Instant artiste.

Finally, using some white pompoms scored from the quite successful Target Dollar Aisle and some glue & magnets, I made 25 beard balls (need a better name) that stick to the beard, despite my fears. Success! Instant Santa Beard Advent Calendar.

There was so much excitement that she couldn’t hold still for a second picture…

DIY Jar Advent Calendar


A pretty jar, some scraps of paper, and a pen make a really simple & quick advent calendar. Cut out 25 strips of paper and determine what you’d like to add to them each day. You can either start with 25 pre-filled items and pull one each day, or fill them out as you go and end up with 25 filled tags at the end of the day. Here are some ideas of what to write:

  • 25 favorite Christmas memories
  • 25 acts of kindness to perform during the holiday season
  • 25 types of baked goodies to make (if you have all the time in the world to bake daily)
  • 25 Christmas movies to watch
  • 25 Christmas stories to read
  • 25 Christmas songs to listen to
  • 25 bible verses to read
  • 25 Christmas themed activities to kill the time while you wait for the big man in the red hat
  • Have children write nice things about their siblings and read them each day until Christmas (you may want to pre-read these and remove the element of surprise)
  • Any combination of the above

Alternatively, you could use this as a perpetual advent calendar by reusing the same scraps over and over again. On each scrap, leave a lot of room for writing. When you draw a scrap for the day, write your best memory of that day. The next year, you start over with new memories being written right below the previous year’s memories. It’s a great way to keep a Christmas journal that you revisit year after year.

Envelope Advent Calendar


Similar to the jar calendar above, you can use an envelope to hold a daily treasure for the days leading up to Christmas. Fix your envelope to a cute bunting using some safety pins, or just tape them strategically around your home or on your fridge.

Treat Crackers


While not diet friendly, making 25 holiday crackers with your favorite holiday treat is easy if you can save 25 toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes. Simply fill them with your treat of choice and wrap them in some leftover wrapping paper scraps. Then hold yourself to only opening one per day!


Even though we now have a variety of advent calendars around the house to keep us busy until the big day, my daughter insists that she still needs the $1.99 chocolate advent calendar or her holiday will not be complete. There’s no pleasing some people! This is one craft project where you can let your imagination go wild and turn anything into a 25 day long activity that fits your family, home, style, tastes, and effort levels. Remember – putting together a red & green paper chain still counts as crafting!

Make Money with your Smart Phone – 3 quick, easy apps to put more dough in your holiday shopping!



“It’s the holiday season! So whoop-de-do, and hickory dock…”

I always thought that was the strangest lyric in a Christmas song ever. Maybe whoop-de-do had a better connotation in the days of Andy Williams? Maybe it wasn’t as sarcastic as it is today… Who knows!?

Point of fact- Andy Williams was born in my wonderful state of Iowa. There’s some great trivia for you the next time someone wants some good Christmas trivia. Which happens all the time, I’m sure.

At any rate – IT’S THE HOLIDAY SEASON! And while I feel a lot more excited than I do whoop-de-do about Christmas time, it’s a strain on the budget, even when I’m taking it easy. I attribute it to my love language of gift giving – I’m a giving person. It’s hard to reign me in once the Christmas music starts playing in stores and I see wrapping paper and tinsel and bows…

Here are three apps I’ve used to make some extra spending cash this season, along with the pros and cons of each. Hopefully you can find these useful like I did and make a little something on the side!


Poshmark calls itself a fun and simple way to buy and sell fashion, and I do agree with it being simple. Fun? Well, I suppose if you find fun out of buying clothes on your phone, you won’t find this not-fun, so, sure!

Poshmark is a buying and selling marketplace for all things clothing & accessory related. Much of it is second hand clothes being sold by people like you and I – although it does appear that there are some retailers using it – or people that appear to be acting as retailers.

I have used it both to buy and sell items, and I do agree that they make the process rather simple. To buy, you simply find an item you’d like to buy using their easy to use search functions and can choose to purchase it. You can link it through your PayPal account for convenience, and you can even make offers on items if you don’t agree with the price the seller has listed. Sellers have ratings that you can read from other people that have bought from them. Once you receive a package, you have three days to accept it or reject it and send it back, using a shipping label provided to you by Poshmark. So you don’t need to worry about buyer’s remorse.

I’ve actually used this app more for selling, and somewhat successfully! To sell an item, you can simply take a picture of it using your smartphone. You can take up to four pictures and load them all on the item listing. Then you need to provide a description, including the color, size, type of item, and state it is in (brand new, hardly worn, in good condition…). Before the listing goes public, you can enter the price you’d like to list it at. The app automatically shows you what your earnings would be if it were to sell at that price. Yes – Poshmark does take some off the top. But with the calculation done for you, it is easy to set the selling price at one that will make you happy with the earnings. You can also go in later if your item isn’t selling and adjust the price.

When your item does sell, sending it to the buyer is easy as long as you have a shipping container lying around and a printer. Poshmark covers the shipping, and you can download a shipping label and print it out at home, tape it to the box, and just drop the box in your mailbox. Once the buyer has received and accepted the purchase, Poshmark will hold your funds either in a Poshmark account for you to use to buy from, or they can transfer them to your Paypal.

I have found this a great way to not only get rid of clothes I hardly wear, but to get money for items that I would have otherwise just sent to the Goodwill. And it’s a great way to save money on clothes if you’re willing to buy clothes from your phone. This is actually the app that I’ve had the best luck with, believe it or not!

PROS – Simple & quick to use, shipping to a buyer is simple, and it’s easy to see how to price your item for maximum earnings.

CONS – If you have your phone set to allow notifications (which I would recommend as I originally did not have notifications set and it took me two days to realize I had my first sale), you will get A LOT of notifications. There are “parties” that you can be invited to, which I imagine is a way to get your item seen by more people, and I get notifications for at least 10 of those a day.

Words of Advice – Before you list, take a look at similar items and their prices & descriptions to get an idea of how to price competitively and what sort of information to share in the listing.



Ibotta is an app that gives rebates for products you’ve bought. You need to have your smartphone to be able to not only scan the barcode of the item, but to take a picture of your receipt. There are many different categories of rebates, as well as categories of stores you can browse. To earn a rebate, you select the item that is shown for rebate and for some, have to watch a quick commercial video or answer a quick market research survey question. So there truly is no such thing as a free rebate…

You can cash out on your accumulated rebates in a few different ways. One way to cash out is to receive a gift card of your choice with the amount of your rebates credited onto it. There are many different stores/restaurants/etc. to choose your gift card from. Another way you can get your earnings is to have Ibotta deposit them in your PayPal account. However – the minimum amount of earnings required for this is $20, which doesn’t seem like much, but for me, took a long time to reach.

Of all of the apps, I have found the least luck with this app, but that is likely based off of my lifestyle. I heard about this originally from a blog I read that talks about couponing, and there is a lot of money to be earned if you combine an Ibotta rebate with a coupon. Additionally, it appears that at almost all times of the year, you will get a $5 bonus for your initial sign up with Ibotta, which is large compared to the size of the other rebates. However, if you’re not a coupon shopper, or a sale item grocery shopper, it may take you a long time to rack up enough rebates to cash out. The items that are available for rebate are rather random at times, and were not items I saw myself buying normally. I didn’t want to go out of my way to buy something for $4 that I wouldn’t have bought otherwise for a $0.25 rebate, so it took me almost 3 months of use alongside the $5 bonus to reach the $20.

If you are the type of person that doesn’t mind buying things that you wouldn’t otherwise to stock up on them and take advantage of the related savings, this is right up your alley.

The other thing that disappointed me about this service is their customer service and the policies that they don’t share with you until you’ve gone outside of them. To explain, I do a lot of my grocery shopping on my local grocery store’s website, and then I pick them up curbside the next day. This saves me a lot of time on the weekends where I already have so little time. It is truly a lifesaver for me. I had submitted many receipts through Ibotta this way with no problem; however, when I submitted my final receipt to reach that $20 threshold, my rebates from it were all declined because the receipt had printed on it, “DUPLICATE RECEIPT.” This happens often when I do the online with curbside pickup, I’m sure because one copy of the receipt is created when I do the online checkout, and the other is done when the person at the store puts my groceries together. At any rate, Ibotta told me – after waiting for my email to be replied to for 3 days – that the purpose of Ibotta is to get people into the store to see products, so they could not honor my rebates. Strange that they had every other time… I was frustrated, so I went to Target and bought a bottle of liquor to get the associated rebate and be able to cash out. Good deal, though, because now I have a batch of fresh vanilla extract brewing and $21.75 in my bank account.

PROS – Simple & easy to use

CONS – Policies that you aren’t aware of until after you’ve stepped outside of them, very random assortment of items up for rebate, long wait to be able to cash out your accumulated rebates

Words of Advice – combine this with coupons to increase savings or use this if you’re a stock-up grocery type of person, but if you are particular about what you buy or aren’t buying to store a surplus, the effort may not be worth the payout.


Letgo reminds me of Craigslist in a way. It’s an app that lets you sell just about anything and ask for whatever price you’d like. You can load pictures taken with your smartphone and add your own description. What makes this different from other online secondary markets like Ebay is that it assumes you are listing locally, or that if you are looking outside of your geographical area, you’re going to figure out how to transport the item. It seems to be geared toward local buying/selling. So the items that will pop up in your listings if you are browsing are those that are close to where you are located.

The interface when it comes to listing is very easy to use and understand. I haven’t purchased anything from this app, or even browsed, so I can’t speak to how that works. But I have sold a few items from this and do think it’s a simple way to make some cash if you have something that might be worth value to anyone else. It works very similarly to the new Facebook Marketplace (before I got rid of my facebook account, that is.)

It does seem to be harder to sell items on this app than it does for me on other apps, but I don’t know if that is attributed to the types of items I am selling, or just that people are inundated with other ways to buy things. But, if you have something worth money that you’d like to part with, it’s much quicker to list with LETGO than it is on Craigslist or other types of services. There is a messaging area where you can speak back and forth with the buyer/seller without giving away any personal information like phone number or email. There are also verified sellers, but I don’t really know what it takes to be verified. It must be pretty cool, though. It is also easy to discount previous listings if they don’t appear to be selling quickly enough for you.

PROS – really quick & easy to get an item listed.

CONS – can take a long time for things to sell, if at all.

Words of Advice – as with any transaction where you are meeting a person that you don’t know, use caution & common sense! Only have a person to your house if you don’t have another alternative, and meet them outside. I would only advise having a person to your house if you have another person there to intimidate them ;).  Always have a 2nd person with you for added safety whenever you can. Only accept cash. Many Police Stations have places now at the station dedicated to these types of transactions for safety – if this does not exist in your area, consider meeting at another location that is well traveled and only in daylight. I’m a big fan of meeting at places like gas stations or grocery stores – places where there is always likely to be someone walking around that could aid if anything bad were to happen. That said – I’ve had many transactions that have all been 100% safe and legitimate by following these steps, so don’t be intimidated to give it a try.

I’d love to hear about your experience with these apps, or with any other similar apps that you’ve used and had success (or failure) with. Share with me in the comments section!

Thanksgiving Dollar Tree Craft Challenge

Can anyone believe that Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away? I sure can’t! Maybe it’s the warm weather we’ve been having, which I loved at first, but I’m actually starting to want weather that is more fall like to get me into the holiday spirit.

At any rate, it is truly coming quickly. It’s not too late to create some easy, quick, and cheap décor for your home to help usher in that Thanksgiving feeling faster than a blobby cylinder of purple sour “cranberries” will. It’s another Dollar Tree Craft Challenge!

For this project, you will need:


  • Plain glass vase – or other vessel – from Dollar Tree
  • Tissue paper in fall colors – or colors of your choice – from Dollar Tree
  • Mod Podge – not from Dollar Tree, but a versatile supply that will be an investment in many craft projects. This should really be in every crafter’s tool box!
  • Brush to apply mod podge – this could come from Dollar Tree! I use the spongy brushes for this, but you could use a standard paint brush in any size just as easily.


To start, tear or cut your tissue paper into small bits no smaller than the size of a quarter, but no larger than the size of a post-it-note. You could really do them in any shape – if you like a more uniform look, cut them into squares. For a more random or unplanned look, rip the paper into different shapes. There are no rules in craft club. That’s not true. There are rules. But for this step, go wild.


To affix these to the outside of the vase, we will start by working in small sections to put a base layer of mod podge onto the vase. Mod podge does tend to dry quickly, so I work one piece at a time by putting down the mod podge in a layer that I think is the size of the piece of tissue paper, then putting the tissue paper down on it. Smooth any wrinkles out as much as you can, but tiny wrinkles here and there won’t impact the overall piece.



For my vase, since I had lost my yellow tissue paper somewhere so only ended up with red and orange. Because it was going to be difficult to really alternate two colors, I didn’t worry about placing a red next to a red or an orange next to an orange. So placement of colors/shapes of paper is entirely up to you as the artist. Depending on if you want a uniform piece, a random piece, or a logically random piece (red, orange, yellow, red, orange, yellow…), you will place your pieces how you like them. Don’t stress it, though. This is a Dollar Tree craft, after all! If you don’t like how it turns out, Goodwill it and head out for another $1 vase.



Once you have a section with a few pieces of tissue paper glued to the vase, go over these with a top coat of mod podge. This will put a good seal on the pieces, making them stick for a long, long time. Mod podge has different finishes – the product I was using has a matte finish, so I tried to keep my top coat thin to avoid having too much of a cloudy appearance once dry. Mod podge does dry mostly clear, but the thicker you put it on, the cloudier it is. I’ve never used a glossy mod podge, so if you use it, let me know what you think of it!

Repeat this process until your vase is as covered as you want it to be – base layer, tissue paper, mod podge! The tissue paper is great for this project because it’s thinness allows for a really great adhesion using less mod podge, and it also still allows for some light to shine through. Allow this to dry for at least 24 hours before handling or using.



I finished my vase with some fake flowers that I also got at Dollar Tree! For a $1, I think this looks pretty good!

Things that are coated with mod podge are not food safe, and not all finishes are water safe, either. I would also not recommend using mod podge for anything that will hold a candle or be near a flame as all glue finishes should be considered to be highly flammable. Here are a few alternatives if you were using this on something you hoped to be able to eat off of, wash, and/or use with a candle:


  • Food Safety: Mod Podge is non-toxic, but is not recommended for food touching surfaces as it would have to be tested and approved by the FDA to be considered food-safe. If you are doing a glass plate, mod podge your decorations to the BOTTOM of the plate so that the top can still be used for food. This would make a really cute charger or saucer!
  • Waterproof-ness? (not a word…) Mod Podge is not water proof. That said, you can get items wet by accident and not lose hope. You can even clean items that have been sealed with mod podge with a lightly dampened rag. But I wouldn’t submerge anything that’s been Mod Podged in water. There is an Outdoor Mod Podge and a Dishwasher Safe Mod-Podge, however, even the outdoor mod podge is not water-proof and is water-resistant. Using the outdoor version would be your best defense if what you’re making will be in wet elements, but it’s still not fool-proof. I have not personally used the Dishwasher Safe Mod Podge to be able to recommend it or not, so if you have, please share with me your thoughts!
  • Flammability – I always assume anything that has glue or sealant or paint to be highly flammable. Actually, I assume EVERYTHING to be highly flammable. Thankfully modern technology has come up with flameless candles – which are basically tiny flashlights that look like tea lights or other candles. I like using these as much as possible when decorating as I don’t have to worry about the cats starting their tails on fire or my daughter starting herself on fire, or falling asleep without remembering to put them out. This vase would look really pretty with the glow of a flameless candle coming out from it!


For more Mod Podge related questions, you can visit their website at or their blog at where they have some extensive tutorials and Q&As that will surely inspire you and answer any lingering questions you may have.

As always, I’d love to see your version of this if you attempt it, or anything inspired by this! Please feel free to share in the comments section.





I received an email on my phone today that actually caught my attention – unlike the handful of emails I find myself deleting each morning out of habit (I should work on unsubscribing more often). The attention grabbing email was from WordPress, and it was notifying me that my subscription was going to renew in 2 days since my year was up.




I’ve had this website for a year now (in two days).


Not that you’ve seen it for a year – I did a lot of prep work before I took the website live. But wow – so much has changed in a year! Outside of New Year’s Eve or my daughter’s birthday, I never really take the time specifically to think about how much has changed in a year.


So much has changed for me in one year’s time –

  • I started out on this blogging journey.
  • I’ve learned A LOT about blogging do’s and don’t’s.
  • I’ve gotten slightly better at taking pictures.
  • I’ve gotten a little better about time management (but not much).
  • I’ve learned a bit more about the size of “my plate” and when I have too much on it.
  • I’ve learned that I’m really not good at some things I’d like to be good at (like painting).
  • I’ve learned that I’m actually good at things I’d never thought I would be good at (like wood crafts).
  • I’ve gained new skills that I hope to go even further with.
  • I’ve enrolled to finish my bachelor’s degree.
  • I’ve un-enrolled for my bachelor’s degree in business and re-enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design.
  • I’ve un-enrolled for my bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and have completed courses to become a Web Developer.
  • I’ve re-enrolled for more Associate’s degrees in Front End Web Design, Web & Database Management, and yes – Graphic Design.
  • I’ve learned that I’m not as bad at math or logical thinking as I always thought I was.
  • I’ve lost 20 pounds.
  • I’ve gained back 15 pounds.
  • I’ve decided that my focus right now is not on the numbers on the scale, but on being healthier overall – mentally and physically – and making lifestyle changes that are small baby steps toward someday worrying again about that number on the scale.
  • I’ve found through experience that time truly does go faster the older you get, and that it’s hard to have it all.
  • I’ve learned that there are friends out there that understand that, and will be there three months – or six months – or nine months later to pick back up exactly where you left off ages ago when you weren’t quite as busy as you are now.
  • I’ve learned to recognize in myself when it’s time to phone-it-in.


  • I’m still learning that when I’m afraid of failing or letting other people down, that there are no other people to let down but myself, so I should stop making up imaginary people that will be left down by my “failings” (lack of consistent blog posts, changing school directions once again, still having a credit card bill because for some reason I just cannot commit to not spending money on things).
  • I’ve learned that no matter how old I get, I’m still going to make bad decisions sometimes, but life goes on.
  • I’ve still not gained much patience in my life, but have instead learned ways around my lack of patience and how to be calmer.
  • I have a lot of room to go still toward being calm.
  • I’ve been to another new foreign country.
  • My husband and I got matching tattoos in the new foreign country. His faded quickly, and mine got infected.
  • I have fully lived many times the idea of “too good to be true.”
  • No matter how hard I try, I’m still NOT an outdoorsy person, and I don’t think I really ever will be.


Possibly the biggest thing that has happened over this year is that I’ve truly learned that there are things in my life that I am unhappy about, and what those things are. It can be hard to pinpoint the thing that isn’t working for you, but I believe I have. And I believe I’m taking the steps necessary to fix it. It’s been a slow road – and it’s hard when I see people doing similar things much faster than I am (some have started and succeeded in the time that I’ve still been working on it). But I’m sure there is an adage about how things that take a long time and are hard are usually better than if they weren’t hard or didn’t take as long.


I’m going to fail along the way.


I’m going to get frustrated along the way.


I’m probably going to waste a little bit of money along the way making bad decisions and failing (see above). But money is just paper. They print new money every day, right?


I think it will be worth it. I think I’m teaching my daughter important things by being at class at night when I’d rather be home with her. I think I’m teaching her that you have to work hard at life sometimes to make it how you want it, and it’s worth it. Nothing is truly ever given freely, and you can’t count on luck to get you through.


What does all of this have to do with blogging? Well, nothing, and everything. Taking the plunge and putting myself out there has opened me up to new possibilities and reminded me of what I enjoy spending my time on, which has led me on many paths I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Hopefully all will become clear and transparent in the next coming months.


I guess the moral of this almost-anniversary post is to put yourself out there, fail, make mistakes and bad decisions, but keep growing and learning. Because the only time you are DONE learning, DONE evolving, DONE changing as a person, is when you are dead. There is no age of being done, or having your life together.


What’s the phrase? If you want God to laugh, show him your plans? I’m sure I have that wrong, but the sentiment is there. If you think you’ve finally got it all sorted and your ducks are in a row, those ducks could be running amok at any moment.


Be ready with a duck grabber.