Early Childhood Homeschooling Made Easy

Taking teaching and your child's future into your own hands.

Beaded Salt Dough Ornaments

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This was the first year we made salt dough ornaments.  For the most part, they came out pretty good.  We’re happy with them, and my daughter was very proud of what we did.  Yesterday, we made some beaded salt dough ornaments.  We didn’t do anything all that special to make them.  My daughter rolled out the dough is circles/ovals, then put beads in them.  We used different colored dough for each ornament.  At first sight, these ornaments can look unimpressive.  But…The ornaments look great when put in front of a light.  They catch the light from the tree, and the beads kind of glow.  Very pretty.

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Once we added the varnish to them and hung them on the tree, we could see their true beauty.  I think these are my daughter’s favorite salt dough ornaments.  We might end up hanging them in our window during the summer like sun-catchers.

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* See previous post for salt dough recipe.

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Easter Sunday, Easter weekend

Me and Kayla

Me and Kayla

Our Easter Sunday wasn’t as hectic this year. My sister hosted Easter brunch at her place, so I only had to bring a couple of casseroles over to help out. When Kayla woke up in the morning, she looked at her Easter basket from the Easter Bunny. Then she looked at her basket from mommy and daddy, and her gifts from grandma. She searched for the hidden plastic eggs around the living room and put them all in her big purple bucket. Once she was done finding the eggs, I got her dressed and headed to the kitchen to pop the casseroles I prepared the night before into the oven to bake. We had a very laid back brunch at my sister’s house, then headed home for a nap. (Yay for naps!) Later on, we made salted caramel chocolate nests for dessert. Kayla tried to help out, but she was busy stealing the jelly beans that go on top of the nests as a decoration. All in all, we had a great Easter Sunday.

Basket from the Easter Bunny.

Basket from the Easter Bunny.

Gifts from grandma (my mom)

Gifts from grandma (my mom)

Basket from Mommy and Daddy

Basket from Mommy and Daddy

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The salted caramel chocolate nests are a fun dessert to make with kids, but prepared to get a little messy. It’s worth it though, because these are a great treat. If you want the recipe, check out my other blog at: http://kaylakakes.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/salted-caramel-chocolate-nests/

We had a busy Saturday before Easter. We took Kayla to a Helicopter Easter Egg Drop at a local entertainment place for kids. It was an outside event with pony rides, inflatable jumpers, and a tractor ride. I don’t think it was worth the money, but Kayla had a great time. We met up with her Aunt (one of my husband’s sisters) and one of her cousins at the event. It was kind of neat watching all the plastic eggs fall from the helicopter and blow all over the field. If I was a little kid, I would have been impressed. Afterwards, we headed to lunch at McDonald’s (something Kayla rarely gets to eat), then to my in-law’s house for a visit. Since we were spending Easter with my family, we decided to take Kayla to see her grandparents (my husband’s parents) the day before. She had a blast running around with her cousin and acting silly. At night, Kayla and I colored Easter eggs together. She did a lot better this year and was very proud of her eggs. The best part was when she was talking to the eggs because she was convinced there were baby chicks inside. This kid cracks me up.

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Even though we had a nice weekend, I am glad it’s over. It’s nice to just sit down and relax, and not have to think about another holiday for a few months. I’m off to bed now. I hope everyone had a Happy Easter with their family and friends.

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Easter Projects, Egg Hunts, and a New Car

I have a few partially written blog posts that I just haven’t had the time to complete. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. We bought a new (used) car last week. It took a few weeks of research, looking up cars at dealerships, and going in for test drives before I decided on the one I really wanted. My husband traded in his very old Pontiac Grand Am, and he is now driving my old car, a Chevy Trailblazer. I am now the proud owner of a 2012 Dodge Journey SXT with AWD, and only 26,000 miles on it. So far, I love my new car. It’s one of those crossover vehicles that kind of looks like a SUV, but it handles like a car. It has plenty of storage space and can seat up to 7 people. This thing is about as close to a minivan as I’m ready to deal with at this point in my life. I’m looking forward to having this car for the next 5-10 years.

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Since Easter is right around the corner, I’ve been doing Easter projects with Kayla and my nephew. Today, they did a do-a-dot egg picture, a chick hatching coloring page, and they decorated foam bunnies. Kayla already did a foam bunny last weekend, but she was still excited to do another one with her cousin. They always like doing projects together.

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Last weekend, I took Kayla to an Easter Egg Hunt hosted by a local park district. The weather was actually decent outside that day, so it was great to get out and enjoy some fresh air. The only thing Kayla was really interested in was going up to the Easter Bunny and giving him/her a big hug. As soon as she saw the bunny, she kept pulling me until we got close. Then after she saw the bunny once, she had to go back again before we left. I was happy to see her excited, since last year she was a little unsure about the extremely tall bunny we saw at a local mall. Of course, the bunny from last year wore glasses and clothes, so maybe that seemed odd to her. This bunny was just a simple white bunny with no attire. Maybe she prefers the Easter Bunny to be in his/her birthday suit. Who knows.

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This has been a fun week preparing for Easter. We’ll be attending another Easter Egg Hunt this weekend with some of my husband’s family members. Kayla should have a blast hanging out with some of her cousins she doesn’t see as much. I’m currently trying to make out my grocery list so I am ready to start preparing food Saturday night. Thankfully, my sister has offered to host Easter at her house this year, so all I have to do is bring a few dishes. I loved hosting it last year, but we just have too much going on this year. Happy Easter!

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Valentine’s Day

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Four years ago on Valentine’s Day, my husband proposed to me. It wasn’t a huge surprise. We talked about getting married and I knew he was getting me a ring. I just didn’t have any idea when he was planning to give me the ring. He proposed in a very cute way, and a little less than 5 months later, we were married on a beach in Hawaii.

Now days, with a 2-year-old daughter, Valentine’s Day tends to not be as romantic as when we were dating. I’m not complaining by any means. I kind of enjoy the laid back Valentine’s Day rituals we’ve settled into over the last few years. Yesterday, my husband went to work like any other day. Around 11:00, the doorbell rang and the FedEx guy delivered a Build-A-Bear for Kayla and a box of flowers for me. Kayla was super excited to receive her first box that was actually addressed to her. Kayla also enjoyed getting her other small Valentine’s gifts from me and from her grandma (my mom). She got four books, a box of Scooby Doo candy, a light up Scooby Doo cup, and a Scooby Doo box.

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Once Kayla was dressed, we went with my mom over to my sister’s house to drop off some small Valentine’s gifts for my nephews. Kayla was very proud of the finger-paint Valentines she made herself, and the Scooby Doo Valentine’s that she scribbled on. Kayla got a few small gifts from my sister and her family. My nephew is currently recovering from strep throat, so it was a very short visit. Afterwards, we stopped off at a bakery to pick up some special after dinner treats, and then we went out to lunch. The bakery we went to had some cute little heart-shaped cakes with strawberries on top. I couldn’t resist.

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When my husband got home from work, we had Valentines left out on his desk to surprise him (along with a blueberry danish from the bakery). My husband suggested we get soup and sandwiches from Panera Bread. We called in an order and he picked it up. We had a very filling dinner, and waited till later to eat our special treats from the bakery. We spent some quality time together as a family watching TV and playing. And my husband and I were even able to find a little bit of time to ourselves, which doesn’t always happen. We may not have gone out to a fancy restaurant, but it was a nice day. I went to bed happy.

Valentine’s Day is about spending time with people you love. Sure, the romantic stuff can be nice, but sometimes a quiet evening at home with your family is just as sweet. I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day.

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Valentine’s Day Projects

I may not be in a hopelessly romantic mood this year, but I still feel like it’s important to teach Kayla about every holiday that we celebrate. I put together some activities and projects for Kayla and my nephew to do over the last week. I think Kayla enjoyed doing the Finger-paint Valentines the best.

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I hope everyone has a great Valentine’s Day. Spend it with your loved ones.

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Red Velvet Bundt Cake with a Cream Cheese Filling

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Here is the recipe for the Red Velvet Bundt Cake my daughter and I made for my mom’s birthday. Enjoy!

Click link below to be taken to the recipe:

via Red Velvet Bundt Cake with a Cream Cheese Filling.

If anyone tries this recipe, let me know how it turns out for you. Thanks!

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Cookies, cookies, cookies!

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One of my favorite things about the holidays is all the cookies. Growing up, my mom always baked cookies for every holiday. She made the most at Christmas-time. She’d make butter cookies, sugar cookies, bar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, etc. We’d have plenty of cookies to take to school with us for our holiday parties, and we’d still be eating cookies for weeks at home. It was wonderful! Ever since I was in my mid-20’s, I have tried to keep this tradition going. It’s been hard with working over the years, and now with a kid to take care of at home. It’s hard to find the time for all the baking I want to do. This year, I had the added challenge of being sick and having a sick kid to take care of while trying to get my baking done. I think I managed alright.

I love peanut butter, so I decided to make peanut butter blossoms this year. This is one of those cute little cookies that are very easy to make. The recipe is quite simple, and it takes minimal effort to make.

Peanut Butter Blossom Recipe

48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional granulated sugar (for rolling cookies in)

Directions

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.

2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy.
Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into center of each
cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.
Recipe can make about 4 dozen cookies.

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A newer recipe I have started to use is one for Jello cookies. These are so yummy, and also easy to make for beginners. Kids will love helping with these colorful cookies. Since I was going with a Christmas theme, I used strawberry and lime Jello, so the cookies would come out red and green. The colors aren’t bright, but they are still festive.

Jello Cookie Recipe

1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2-1/4 cups flour
1 pkg. (3 oz.) JELL-O Strawberry Flavor Gelatin (only use half of package)
1 pkg. (3 oz.) JELL-O Lime Flavor Gelatin (only use half of package)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Directions

1. BEAT first 4 ingredients in large bowl with mixer until blended. Mix flour and baking soda; gradually add to cream cheese mixture,
mixing well after each addition. Divide cookie dough into two bowls. Add half of strawberry jello gelatin package to one bowl of
cookie dough, and half of lime jello gelatin package to the other bowl; mix well. Refrigerate cookie dough for 30 min.

2. HEAT oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 60 (1-inch) balls, or 30 (2-inch balls). Place, 2 inches apart, on baking sheets sprayed with cooking
spray.

3. BAKE 9 to 11 min. or until edges are lightly browned. (For bigger cookies, bake for an additional minute or two.) Cool on baking sheets
2 min. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

4. SPRINKLE with powdered sugar just before serving, if wanted.

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Kayla and my husband love the Jello cookies. They’ve been a big hit in our house and are super easy to make. They are a great cookie for kids to help out with since there are no raw eggs in the recipe. I let Kayla lick the spoon to her heart’s content. The kids also enjoy adding the jello gelatin to the cookie dough and watching the dough change colors as it gets mixed in.

I hope you all enjoy these simple cookie recipes. They are great additions to any holiday cookie menu. Enjoy!

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Whew, it’s Christmas, already?

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The past couple of weeks haven’t gone exactly how I planned. First, Kayla came down with a cold. Then not even a week later, I caught her cold…and was still trying to get rid of my cough from the last colds we had back at the beginning of November. Since we’ve both been sick, we never got around to doing half the stuff I wanted to do before Christmas. I barely got to bake any cookies, we didn’t get to make a gingerbread house, and I have various holiday crafts that never got done. Not to mention, all the holiday movies I never watched, and the holiday music that I never got to play. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched some holiday movies and listened to some music, but not as much as I normally would at this time of year. I’ve been a sucker and let Kayla watch some of her holiday shows over and over again to keep her happy. It’s hard to say “no” when your two-year-old has a red, runny nose and is coughing. So instead of watching some of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies, we’ve watched the Curious George Christmas Special every single day for the last few weeks. I am not kidding. EVERY SINGLE DAY. Thankfully, it’s cute, and I kind of like it.

Even though there’s been a lot we didn’t get to do this year, we still managed to have some fun. We started the Elf on the Shelf tradition this year. Kayla watched the Elf on the Shelf Christmas special last year, and has watched it all year long, so I decided it would be a good tradition to start with her. She loves her elf. She named him Chippey, like in the cartoon. She enjoys finding Chippey every morning when she wakes up. That silly little elf sure gets around our living room and kitchen. Kayla likes to say, “Chippey is watching me.” It’s cute, but the way she says it is slightly creepy.

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Kayla has a countdown to Christmas tree like the one George has in the Curious George Christmas Special. Each day, she marks off a day and I tell her how many days she has left till Christmas. She was extremely happy today when I told her that she only has two days left. She’s not very good with numbers yet, but she seems to understand that two isn’t much. So instead of getting a heavy sigh like all the other days, I actually got a “yay” today.

She also has one of those countdown calendars where you open the door and get a piece of chocolate each day. This kid is a chocoholic, so it took a few days before she got used to the idea that she only gets one piece of chocolate per day. She eventually was okay with that, but she makes sure to remind me every day that she needs her chocolate. “Mommy, I need chocolate! Now!” She hasn’t quite grasped the concept of “want,” not “need.” Everything is “I need” right now. The calendar she has is a Disney calendar with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, etc. My mom bought it for her, and she absolutely loves it. I’m sure my little pack rat will want to keep it after the holiday. I think I used to keep mine for awhile when I was little, and then my mom would throw it away once I forgot about it.

We have baked some cookies this year. Not as many as I planned, but we still got in a few. We’ve done chocolate chip cookies, toffee butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter blossoms, strawberry jello cookies, and lime jello cookies. We also did some toffee butterscotch chocolate bars today. And since Kayla and my nephew like them, we’ve done some store bought holiday sugar cookies with Frosty the Snowman on them. It’s been fun having Kayla in the kitchen helping me bake. She likes using the hand mixer and mixing stuff with a spoon. She also helps by adding ingredients to the bowl, but most of it tends to end up on the counter. I remember helping my mom bake cookies at Christmas-time, so this is very special to me to be able to do this with my own daughter now. It’s nice to carry on traditions.

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Kayla and I have watched a lot of Christmas cartoons together, including shows from when I was little. It’s nice to see that she enjoys watching Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol, Yogi Bear’s First Christmas and Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas. Those were some of my favorites when I was little. We’ve watched Christmas classics like Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman. She also enjoys a lot of the newer Christmas specials with Scooby Doo, Curious George, Mickey Mouse, etc. I’ve spent the last few weeks watching tons of Christmas cartoons with Kayla and enjoying every minute of it. No, I really didn’t need to watch them repeatedly, but it’s fun to watch her eyes light up when she sees Santa. The look of wonderment on her face is worth every minute to me.

I did most of my Christmas shopping early, and had the majority of the presents wrapped and under the tree by Thanksgiving Day. I did have a few extra things I bought after Thanksgiving that I let Kayla help me wrap. This is the first time I’ve really let her help me wrap anything. I usually just try to keep her away so she won’t mess it up, or unwrap it. She was uber excited to help me, however, her wrapping skills need some work. She randomly puts tape all over the present, not necessarily where I need it. She has a very unique placement of gift tags, and likes to scribble with a pen all over the wrapping paper to sign her name. And her idea of wrapping the gifts is more like rolling them in the wrapping paper. It’s been an interesting experience. Both funny and frustrating at the same time. I’m sure if I asked my mom about how I did when I first started helping her wrap presents, she’d have some stories about me too. We all have to start somewhere.

It will be nice to wake up Christmas morning and finally let Kayla open her presents. She’s been eyeing them like crazy. When I first started putting presents under the tree, with a baby gate around them, she kept reaching over and taking them out. Then she would unwrap them or empty the Christmas bags. Some of the presents were hers, some were not. This is what happens when your kid’s birthday is so close to Christmas. She’s in unwrapping mode and thinks every present is hers for the taking. I was getting very frustrated with re-wrapping presents all the time. Luckily, after a week or so, she stopped doing this. Then she moved onto ripping just a small corner off of a present and giving it to me. She’d say, “I rip it, mommy.” After a few more days, I pretty much got her to stop doing this as well. But then she just started picking stuff up to shake it, or trying to rearrange everything. She’d try to tell us, “It’s Christmas!” and hand us a present she knew was ours. I think in her mind she thought if she gave us a gift and we opened it, she would get to open one too. It didn’t work. Now she likes to stand by the tree and stare at the presents longingly. I’m starting to feel sorry for her. I know it must be hard to be patient when you’re only two. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas can feel like eons. I am very proud of her for being as patient as she possibly can for her age. It will be a delight to see her finally get to open all of her presents, and to see her face Christmas morning when she realizes that Santa finally came.

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Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

* I will be adding recipes for some of the cookies listed above in a separate post.

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Holiday Sticker Scenes – For the kids who love stickers

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Kayla and Alex (my nephew) are getting increasingly excited about Christmas, and I am trying my best to give them cute little Christmas projects and crafts to do each day. It’s been hard though since I’ve been battling a cold, and so has Kayla. It’s hard to find the motivation when I’m constantly blowing my nose, wiping my nose, wiping Kayla’s nose, and then washing my hands…over and over again.

I did manage to have the kids do two holiday sticker scenes today, and that thought it was a lot of fun. I ordered them from Oriental Trading Company and got them a few days ago. They are super cute and easy for kids to work with on their own. Kayla needed a little help with the smaller stickers, but Alex did it all on his own.

If you have kids that love stickers, this might be something for you to look into for them. There are a variety of different ones to choose from, even some Nativity Scenes. And they are pretty cheap too, which is a bonus. It’s always nice to find cost effective projects for them to do. Since the packs come by the dozen, I was able to do one with them too, and still have plenty left over for another time or even next year.

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Going to see Santa

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I’ve been meaning to take Kayla to see Santa, but I’ve been struggling to find the time during Santa’s business hours.  In my family, it is a tradition to take the young kids to see Santa every year.  (And truth be told, sometimes when we’re not so young anymore.)  They can tell Santa what they want for Christmas, get their picture taken, and wish Santa a Merry Christmas.  The kids in our family tend to not be afraid of Santa, so it’s a fun experience that we look forward to each year.  I have very fond memories of going to see Santa when I was little.  By the age of about 4 or 5, I knew that he wasn’t the REAL Santa, but just a guy who worked for Santa at the malls.  His job was to meet and greet the kids, make sure we’re being good, and to get our official Christmas wishlist.  I believed this with all my heart.  And a part of me has never stopped believing in the magic of Christmas. A magical time of miracles, giving, forgiveness, thankfulness, hope, and joy.  It’s a time to put your faith into things that you can’t see, and believe in something bigger.  Greater.

I love seeing Kayla’s eyes light up when she sees Santa, or even just talks about Santa.  Yes, my 2-year-old is quite the talker, and you can’t grow up in this family without knowing all about the big guy.  By last Christmas, when she was just over 1-year-old, I already had her referring to the big guy as Ho Ho.  And by this past Summer, she was already well aware that Ho Ho is Santa Claus,  and that he has elves and reindeer.  We even took her to Santa’s Village Amusement Park twice over the Summer.  (A great little kiddie amusement park in Illinois.)  So now with only a few more weeks until Christmas, Kayla is super duper excited about Christmas and the prospect of Santa coming to our house to bring her toys.  She watches all her Christmas cartoons over and over again.  I am happy to report that she absolutely loves Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which is one that I always watched when I was growing up.  We sing silly Christmas songs together, do craft projects, bake cookies, she tries to help me wrap presents, and we read meaningful (and some fun) books about Christmas.  Ah…what’s not to love about this magical time of year?!!!

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When we got to the local mall today, Kayla was ready to run right up to Santa to say “hi.”  I informed her that we had to wait in line for our turn.  There were two other families in front of us.  Going during the middle of the week at 3:00 in the afternoon was definitely helpful.  Kayla looked around at the animated figures with a look of wonderment on her face, and she patiently waited for her turn to see the guy in red.  When it was finally our turn, she ran right up to him and said hi.  She was all smiles and had no issues sitting next to him in his big chair.  (But she wasn’t willing to sit on his lap…let’s not push it.)  She happily chatted away with Santa about who knows what.  I only caught bits and pieces of what she was saying to him.  When he asked her what she wants for Christmas, the only response I heard her give him was “toys.”  I guess that pretty much sums it up.  As I fumbled to get my camera ready for a few shots, and Santa’s helper prepared to take a picture, Kayla continued to ramble on to Santa.  And of course once we were ready to start snapping some shots, she wouldn’t give us her big, cheesy smile anymore.  The pictures still came out nice, but I was hoping to get a picture with a really big smile like we got last year.  Oh well.  I was just happy to see that she never got scared of him.  She was too excited about seeing him in person to be scared.  And I think it always helps when the kids in front of you in line are also in good spirits.  There is nothing like a crier to to ruin it for everyone else.  I’ve seen it happen…not cool.

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Kayla told me she had fun, and she was all bubbly when she went home to tell grandma about her visit to see Santa.  That was more than I could have asked for today.  The smile on her face made the seven bucks I had to pay for the mall picture completely worth it.  And there is something nice to be said about the few malls that still do the traditional one picture shot for a decent price, like when we were little, compared to the big picture packages that you have to buy at most malls now.  I’m okay with keeping it simple, but making it memorable.  I’m already looking forward to taking Kayla to see Santa again next year.

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