Christmas Gifting for the Small Fries

I am almost finished shopping and I think this is the earliest I’ve ever said that. I’ll tell you what the kids are getting because I think that sort of thing is helpful sometimes (and so many of you have given me these ideas, thank you!) and also because if I lose this one scrap of paper that it’s all written on (extremely likely) I AM TOTALLY SCREWED.


A blue gummi bear nightlight and a two pound sack of Haribo gummi bears.

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Hair Chalk

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A random Jake and the Neverland Pirates fishing game I found at a discount shop and it will probably fall apart before lunch but it looks like fun for those three hours where it’s all still working.

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A Batman robe from Costco.

crazy nail kit that I found at my favorite discount shop.

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A pink gummi bear nightlight and a two pound sack of Haribo gummi bears

A pink robe from Costco

A Rainbow Dash hoodie

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A small cheapie metal princess bank (because her sister is getting a bank from Grammie and I am all about getting them SIMILAR but DIFFERENT gifts to keep the bickering to a minimum).

A purple princess dress.

A My Little Pony Nail kit

They are both getting:

A cardboard castle that I got at a discount shop for $15 and new markers (from us).

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Santa is bringing:

A super neat game table that I got on ridiculous sale last summer from Land of Nod. They don’t sell it any more but it has several tabletops on it and you can play air hockey, ping pong, foosball and something else I’ve forgotten. This is the BIG gift for both of them.

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Frozen fiber optic lights

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Texas A&M rubber stamps

Books that I got at the book fair this fall

Candy, and lots of it.

A crazy big My Little Pony pillow I found at Walmart that is super cheap-o (it was $9) and it will fall apart but it’s FUN.

Ridiculous plastic bracelets with characters

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A bunch of random stuff I got at Target in the stocking stuffer section that I took to my mom’s house a few weeks ago and I have already kind of forgotten what exactly I bought so here is my personal reminder DO NOT BUY ANY MORE STOCKING STUFF, YOU ALREADY BOUGHT IT.


A tricycle that I have not yet purchased.

Disney World Little People (it was only $20 earlier this week and now it’s back up to $45 so I am feeling QUITE SMUG about this one).

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A plush barn with five horses (I wanted to get the one with dogs but they want $40 for it and the ponies were $15 so….ponies it is.)

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A board book about dogs, if I can find one I like.


I bought A LOT of this stuff at Tuesday Morning, which is totally my new favorite place to shop because they have tons of toys for cheap and they open at 9 am. It’s sort of like TJ Maxx with no clothes and it’s very edited about 1/6 the size. Lots of dishes, towels, pillows, decor, kitchen stuff. Super easy to pop into, see what’s new, and get the heck out. My location is super organized but they can be…difficult to shop in depending on which one you go to.

I scan everything I buy in that place with my Amazon app and a lot of the time it’s the same price but a lot of the time it’s way less.

My kids are totally spoiled but I’m pleased with what’s on this list. They also have grandparents and aunts and uncles buying for them so if anyone in my house is upset on Christmas morning, well, they’re probably on the naughty list because there’s nothing to be sad about here.

7 Quick Takes: Christmas Music, Las Vegas, Etsy Finds

1. I started listening to the Christmas music yesterday. At first I turned to Pandora but then I couldn’t remember my login because it turns out I only listen to Pandora for Christmas music. Then I remembered Amazon offers music for free in their Amazon Music app, so I tapped over there to check it out.

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Are you using the Amazon Music App? You probably should. If you’ve ever bought a CD on Amazon it’s very probably been auto-ripped and is available for you to listen any time via the app. Like their offering with movies and TV shows for Prime members, there are also a TON of albums you can listen to anytime you want, freeeeee. (Well, not freeee since Prime is a paid service but whatever, you get what I’m saying.)

There is SO MUCH good Christmas music for the listening without commercials in the Amazon Music App! Albums I had even considered purchasing!

The very best pop Christmas album ever ever ever is there (for freeee!).

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I made a Christmas playlist and added holiday albums from: Kelly Clarkson, Willie Nelson Michael Buble, N’Sync (DON’T JUDGE, YOU KNOW YOU ALSO WANT TO LISTEN TO IT), Martina McBride, a few instrumental albums, Elvis, Trans-Siberian, Mannheim Steamroller and some other things I’ve already forgotten about because THERE WAS A LOT.

I am pretty stoked about this. I can listen on my iPad or through the TV via Roku and NO COMMERCIALS YAY! Done!

2. I bought the Taylor Swift album and it’s so great. SO GREAT. But now that I know about the Amazon Music app I bought the hard copy online and three minutes later I tapped over to the Amazon Music app and started listening to it RIGHT THAT SECOND, which allowed me to capture this amazing video of my children.

(Sorry it’s Flash. SORRY SORRY. I just can’t figure out another way to post videos right now, here’s a direct link if you are feeling like this is a CAN’T MISS.)

I felt very smart about that method of purchase. My car is from 2006 and the best way to listen to music while driving is the old fashioned way: popping in a CD. Then we also have the actual CD to rip and copy and do whatever we want with.

Anyway, then I bought (I was really on a roll that day) the Idina Menzel holiday album and IT IS LOVELY. It’s a little more pop than traditional but it’s good.

See how it says AutoRip? That’s what you want.

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3. We went to Las Vegas and I already wrote like a thousand words about it but it’s all negative and grumpy and…if you don’t have anything nice to say, maybe don’t say anything at all, right? So here’s what we did like: Red Rock Canyon. The end, I am never going back.

4. I have decided that we are buying a new bed (that is, a mattress) for ourselves for Christmas. I am extremely tempted to buy whatever the best reviews/most reasonable price at tell me to buy but if you have very strong opinions about another method of purchasing a place to pass out after being asked for eight million cups of eater each day, go ahead and let me know.

5. Let’s have another round of Things I Am Loving On Etsy.

This set of six glass bird ornaments for $34.50

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Printable cupcake calendar for 2015, $4

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Beer and Food Calendar, $20

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6. Eh, that’s it. I have laundry to do and things to clean up before Preston wakes up from his nap. There is more time in my life than there used to be, but it’s still not much.

Great Wolf Lodge: Kids Loved It, Adults Tolerated It


What is this place?

Great Wolf Lodge bills itself as a Resort (they even charge a $20/day resort fee, which is the hotel equivalent of a checked bag fee in that it is a totally annoying and obvious way to disguise the rate as cheaper than it actually is).

It is a (totally fine, but not exceptional) hotel with an indoor water park, two restaurants, an arcade, an ice cream shop, an outdoor ropes course, a small mani-pedi shop for kids and an all-property scavenger hunt with a magic theme (called MagiQuest).

You pay for the room and you get in to the water park for free, but everything else is an extra expense.

Why did you go? 

It’s super close to my house. It sounds dumb to stay at a hotel ten minutes from home, but the indoor water park is neat and you can only go if you book a room. You can’t just buy a ticket to the water park. (I asked.)

About a year ago I signed up for their emails and figured if a crazy great deal came my way I’d maaaaaybe think about taking the kids.  A year of clicking through those emails taught me what their pricing trends were and when a deal for a $175 room came along with dates that fell over Claire’s birthday I thought “YEP. This is what we are going to do for Claire’s birthday.” (Over the top? Yes. Fun? Yes. Having fun is allowed.)

We booked the lowest level room. They’ll sell you a room with bunk beds and a separate TV in the kids area but I just wanted to get in and out for the cheapest price possible.

How was the hotel/room?

There are a bunch of Great Wolf properties all over the country and ours (Grapevine) was built in 2007 and is one of the newer properties.

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Our room looked EXACTLY like the picture on the website. It was called a Family Suite and had two queen beds and a fold out sofa. We stayed for one night. It cost $223.98

Room Rate: $179.99

Resort Fee: $19.99 (that’s PER NIGHT, so watch out)

City Occupancy Tax: $14

State Occupancy Tax: $12

This is the website picture. But trust me, IT LOOKED JUST LIKE THIS.

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  • It was clean and super spacious. Much bigger than our room at Fort Wilderness at Disney.
  • AC worked great.
  • Chris didn’t love the bed linens, but I thought they were fine.
  • I really liked the part where there was a small partition between the beds and the sofa. The girls liked hiding over there with a blanket and pillows. Perfect mini play area. If Preston (1) had been with us it would have been a good spot for his crib.


  • The vanity/sink/mirror was out in the room and the toilet/shower were in the bathroom with a door. For a large group this is sometimes nice because someone can shower while someone else puts on makeup/brushes teeth, but it can also be annoying. For us it was fine.
  • There is no full length mirror in the room.
  • The towels were totally crappy and sized for a toddler. They were rough and I could tell they had been bleached within an inch of their existence. I’m 35 and I like nice towels. Crap towels are the WORST.
  • The television was laughably tiny.
  • The soaps/shampoos are crap. There’s a slim bar of meh soap, a bottle of vanilla shampoo and a bottle of kid shampoo and that was IT. No lotion, no conditioner. That sounds picky/snooty but come on, I have seen better soaps at Holiday Inn. When I pay a resort fee I expect CONDITIONER.
  • We could hear every damn thing that went on in the hallway. The doors SLAM and the place has tons of tweens running around doing that dadgum MagiQuest game.
  • The carpet in the room was tired. It needs to be replaced soon.
  • The hotel is set up with two wings, which means the hallways are about 150 yards and it was a loooooooong walk to our room.


Tell me about the water park. BE HONEST.

The water park was fun! FUN! I really liked that it was indoors and I did not have to mess with sunscreen. That was a huge huge huge plus to me.

There are tons of splash pads and every pool had a beach entry, so ANY age kid can enjoy it. I saw tons of babies (6 months+) sitting in 2″ of water, splashing and played with the wee fountains. There are water slides of all sizes (from about 2.5 feet long for toddlers to several hundred yards for adults/teens), lots of buckets to dump water, guns shooting water, structures to climb on and slide down. There was a wave pool and a lazy river and a pool with basketball and some lily pads/nets you could use to cross the pool obstacle course style.


This is not the kind of place you can supervise your children and expect to keep your hair dry. There are fountains and sprayers all over the place and…you will get wet. Even if you hang back. It’s also humid and very chlorine-smelling in there. Water shoes are a must. But overall, for an indoor water park? I thought it was totally clean and fine.

Charlotte (3) had tons of fun. She spent most of her time in the age appropriate pool that was 18″ deep with lots of little slides. She was able to motor around on her own while Chris supervised from a reasonable distance.

Claire (6) absolutely freaking LOVED this place. She was tall enough to ride everything but the biggest/baddest slide and we had so much fun riding in the tubes down the slides. You have to be 48″ to ride alone on some of them and she’s a few inches shy. I rode with her in a double tube and that was more fun anyway. Claire gives this place, “ONE THOUSAND AND TWO STARS!”


  • Wide variety of age-appropriate things, and the lifeguards did a great job of enforcing the height restrictions. No big kids were allowed on the toddler slides. The depth of the various pools and scary/fast factor of the other items seemed to do a good job of self-selecting the appropriate audiences. I never saw teens in the toddler area and I didn’t see over eager parents taking small tots down bigger slides.
  • My 3 and 6 year old both had endless things to do that they thought were fabulous.
  • There are life jackets EVERYWHERE. Claire would put one off and on freely as she felt she might need it. Charlotte willingly wore one all the time and delighted in her buoyancy. You can take your own puddle jumper but I really don’t see a reason to.
  • It’s so easy to just walk over there from your room. It’s open from 9a to 9p so there is TONS of time to play.


  • I am not sure how it’s possible, but the towels out here are even worse than the ones in the room. BARELY absorbent, ratty beyond belief, rough as sandpaper. Like, I’d use these as bar mops.
  • Not enough tables/seating. People would put a single pair of shoes at a table to “save” it, which is such annoying public behavior. There’s a small restaurant out there where you can get fries or a beer but there’s NO PLACE to sit. It would be best if they designated a small section of tables for dining only. In fact, if they did this they’d sell more food because several times I thought, “I could go for a snack!” but there was no point in buying one because there wasn’t anywhere to sit and EAT it.
  • It’s SO LOUD. Can’t be helped in an enclosed space where what amounts to several waterfalls are running and echoing around but…my ears were ringing at the end. The kids can’t hear you unless you’re right on top of them.
  • There weren’t enough inner tubes for the big slides. The line wasn’t even long or filling up the queue, but the tubes were all gone. They need to blow up some more. The double tubes were in short supply because kids under 48″ can’t ride alone and require a double tube with parent, but teens were scooping up the doubles because they’re fun.


We ate at The Lodge (which is their “nice” restaurant). I am not sure I would call it “nice.” It was more like Chili’s. I had a salad and it was great, though the restaurant was incredibly loud. (The entire property is LOUD though.)

We got coffee at their Starbucks and the coffee was fine but they were quite low on pastries which is probably because the place was absolutely MOBBED by the parents. The line was 20 people long.

Our Great Wolf is located in the middle of a crazzzzy suburban area with tons of restaurants. With free on-site parking it’s a snap to leave for dinner or lunch, which we did at one point.

I packed a bunch of candy and birthday presents and the girls had a candy picnic in the room.


Checking In and Checking Out: Kiiiiind of a Scam

Check in isn’t until 4pm, which is PRETTY LATE in the day. You can start swimming as early as 1p on the day of your reservation, and go to your room as it becomes available. The day you check out you can swim ALL DAY until the water park closes at 9p, even though check out is officially at 11a.

So, you have to be out of the room by 11, but you can stay all day if you’re willing to go home wet. Which…probably nobody does. I dunno, 4p to 11a seems like kind of a crap thing.

We checked in about 330p (after school on a Friday), went swimming and had dinner. Then on Saturday we went swimming in the morning, checked OUT, went home and watched a football game, and went BACK at 2p to swim for another few hours. (Remember, we only live ten minutes away.) You can’t get away with this if you are traveling in a serious way, but it helped maximize the value for us. I bet this wonky check in/check out thing gets a lot of people to stay for two nights instead of one.

At check in you get a pair of wolf ears for each kid (fun!) and they tell you that the plastic wristbands cost $40 to replace if lost. Claire and Charlotte were really upset that they could not take their wristbands off at night. I think Claire expected them to be like the Disney Magic Bands (you can remove those and put them back on as much as you want) and she whined, “AW MAN. WE WILL HAVE TO SLEEP SO UNCOMFORTABLY!”

The bands were a standard adult size – they’re the ones with the hole and plastic clasp that you get at a concert or festival. They didn’t fit the kids very well. The tails were really long and we folded them back but they were still annoying. For a place with kids they ought to have different sizes.


Anything Else?

I did not see a single high school kid there. Kids ages 9-12 seemed to have the most fun. They were running around in groups all over the place and it’s really perfect for them. You can give a kid charging privileges on their wristband or set them up with a prepaid package of activities and set them loose.

In Conclusion…

This was fun. It was a fun way to celebrate Claire’s birthday and she thanked us for it endlessly. She had an amazing time. We might go back in a year or three with another great deal and reason to celebrate. But make no mistake, this is a place you visit to delight your children.

You, as the adult, will probably not leave with that warm and fuzzy “What an AMAZING family vacation,” feeling like you do when you come home from Disney. You will think, “I am so happy my kids had such a great time. Now let’s shower and wash everything in very hot water.”

I would not want to spend one penny more than we did. ($223 for a one night stay for 4 people.) I certainly wouldn’t be spending $300/night on this place and I wouldn’t stay for more than one night. I’ve heard that at busy times it gets close to $500/night which is crazzzzzzy. It’s not worth $500 a night.

It’s a Holiday Inn with a water park, but priced like a Disney hotel. And…Sorry Great Wolf, but you’re no Disney hotel. Not even close.

The property is not very old (7 years) but it is right on the edge of needing to be refreshed with new carpet, fixtures, etc. For a “resort” I expected more amenities, gathering areas, and places to sit and relax outside of our room. I expect quality, brand-name toiletries and soft towels as BASICS at a resort. (Especially a resort where you swim and lot and take lots of showers!) The employees were present and did their jobs, but I did not leave with any Great Wolf magic feelings. We spent $223 to stay one night and I think $175 is more what it’s worth.

Chris says: “The beer options were good. Lots of local craft options. The restaurant had a sports bar vibe and not a family vibe. Was super loud. Layout of the room was nice, lots of room to walk around. Big fridge. Elevators were super fast. MagiQuest looked cool for 8-12 year old. If my kids wanted to go back I would. I…I would take you back. If you really wanted.”

Charlotte says: ”We swimmed at Great Woof! My favorite part was going down the green slide. It was SUPER FAST. And, well, I really liked the little blue slide. And the yellow slide! We got to have dinner there, too! “

Claire says: ”I don’t really have favorite part. I LOVED IT ALL.”

This is the kind of place that is going to nickel and dime you, but you aren’t going to happily part with your money like you do at Disney. Everything costs extra and nothing is really much of a value. We didn’t spend much beyond our room, but we didn’t have to because we live so close. I wouldn’t travel JUST for this place. I’d layer a trip to a city with one of these with other outside activities and probably another hotel after one night.

Would do again, several years down the road, but only for a low price.

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