Christmas Movie and Dinner Combinations

Our family is big on traditions, and we have a wide variety that we incorporate throughout the year ranging from a visit from the leprechauns on St Patrick’s Day to watching “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” the night before Thanksgiving.  But topping the favorite traditions list in our house are the Christmas movie and dinner combinations that we enjoy throughout December!  In early November, I write out our schedule to make sure we have time to get through all of our favorite combos.  We do have five kids after all and five kids worth of activities to attend, so the planning definitely gets done early!

Christmas Movie and Dinner Combos

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So without further ado, here are our favorite Christmas movie and dinner (or a treat…) combos!

Home Alone 1 & 2

kids eating pizza and watching Home Alone

With Home Alone, we always have pizza for dinner.  Sometimes it’s from our favorite pizza place, sometimes it’s homemade, and sometimes it’s take & bake, but it is ALWAYS pizza. Because really, at its core, Home Alone is a movie all about pizza!

ice cream and Home Alone 2 Christmas movie and dinner combination

And for Home Alone 2, we have ridiculously big ice cream sundaes.  Our kids LOVE ice cream (who doesn’t?!), and while they definitely have their fair share, we don’t usually go all out with the toppings, so it’s a special treat when we break out the hot fudge, caramel, whipped cream, and cherries and watch Home Alone 2.

A Christmas Story

Chinese food while we watch A Christmas Story


While A Christmas Story isn’t one of my favorite Christmas movies, the kids definitely get a kick out of it, and since we get Chinese take-out for dinner, I’m totally down with it for movie night!  Our Chinese take-out isn’t quite the same as eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant while being serenaded by waiters (“Deck the harrs with boughs of horyyy, Fa-ra-ra-ra-raaa, ra-ra-ra-raa!”), but it still makes for a fun night!

Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn Christmas Movie and Dinner Combos perfect holiday movie night

One of my all-time favorite movies, Holiday Inn, is fun to watch year-round, but we especially enjoy watching it at Christmas. Since the movie goes through all of the holidays in the year, we pick out dinner from a different holiday to enjoy.  Our go-to pick is the 4th of July, and we have a summer barbecue in the middle of the Christmas season!

Christmas With the Kranks

Christmas with the Kranks dinner and a Christmas movie

When we watch Christmas With the Kranks, we get take-out Peruvian from our favorite Peruvian rotisserie place, Viva Chicken.  Why Peruvian, you ask??  Because the daughter in the movie travels to Peru with the Peace Corps!

Christmas Vacation

Christmas Vacation and green jello and eggnog

Christmas Vacation is another favorite in our house.  We don’t coordinate dinner with the movie, though the kids said we could do turkey jerky and an asparagus Christmas tree(!!), we ALWAYS have eggnog and green jello since they’re both such a big part of the movie.

The Santa Clause (All Three!)

dinner and a Christmas movie Santa Clause marathon

We always plan a Santa Clause movie marathon on a Saturday in December.  We start in the afternoon with the first movie…

kids at Denny's for Santa Clause Christmas movie and dinner marathon

And then we head to Denny’s for dinner in Christmas jammies.  Why Denny’s?? Because “everyone likes Denny’s- it’s an American institution”!  Every year the staff gets a kick out of how festive the kids look in their jammies, and we fill up on all-you-can-eat pancakes.  After dinner, we head home to watch the next two movies.


Christmas Movie and Dinner Combination Elf dinner by candlelight

On the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, we always eat dinner by candlelight and make our “Elf” dinner and watch the movie.

Elf dinner full of sugar

Like Buddy the Elf, our kids LOVE sugar!!  Our Elf dinner started because the kids were absolutely convinced that noodles with syrup and crumbled-up pop-tarts sounded delicious, and they realllllyyyyy wanted to try it.  We added pancakes and bacon to the mix to add some substance to dinner, and over the years, we’ve added more sugary deliciousness like donuts and candy corn (they are one of the 4 food groups for elves!).

Our annual Elf dinner is easily our kids’ favorite Christmas movie and dinner combo since it’s so far from a “normal” dinner in our house. Still, we all look forward to the fun dinner and movie combos that we do throughout December.  Family traditions are a great way to get the kids excited for the holiday season’s fun without focusing on the gift-giving aspect. Our dinner and a movie tradition allows us to spend quality time together doing something that we all look forward to and enjoy!

What’s your favorite Christmas movie??  Do you have any fun Christmas traditions??

Book Review | Explorer Academy: the Nebula Secret

If your kids are anything like mine, I imagine that there are times it’s been hard to find something for them to read. With all of my kids, it was easy to find engaging books or ones that interested them when they were early readers, and it’s been easy to find ones at a high school reading level. However, the tween years proved to be tough – too old for the cartoony books of youth and too young for most young adult/adult literature. But Explorer Academy from National Geographic Kids totally changed that!

tween girl reading Explorer Academy

I received this product for free from Moms Meet ( to use and post my honest opinions. Compensation for this post was provided, and this page may contain affiliate links.

With adventure, danger, and a thrilling global mission, what’s not to love?! Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret follows a group of 24 kids who train to become explorers. But for Cruz Coronado, there’s more to the story as he uncovers his family’s mysterious past. It’s not often that Lexie packs a book when we travel, but she couldn’t put this one down – and brought the next one as well!

tween girl reading Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret

Even parents will love this fact-based fiction series that was inspired by real National Geographic explorers. STEM and geography are incorporated into the storylines so that kids are learning something while they’re reading. And kids will love the codebreaking challenges, future tech, and problem-solving included in each book.

Books for tweens Explorer Academy

Right now, you can get 50% off of the first book, The Nebula Secret, on Amazon. Click here to order and make sure to use code 50OFFEA1 in order to save!!

Lexie’s Recommendations: This series is great for tweens or older siblings reading it to younger siblings – Ellie thought it was a great read-aloud book. All the details made it feel like you were actually there, and it’s one of those books that you want to just keep reading and never stop. The art in the book was very detailed, and the colors popped, which is different from a lot of books. Definitely two thumbs up in our house for Explorer Academy!!

Kids in the Kitchen with Arnold Bread

This post is sponsored by BabbleBoxx on behalf of Arnold Organic Bread.

Arnold Organic Bread has long been my go-to, and now that they have Arnold Organic White made with Whole Wheat Bread, it’s Ellie’s favorite, too! And her favorites, Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are right on the package, making it a total win with the elementary school crowd!

Ellie has been begging to help in the kitchen more, and now that she’s SEVEN (sidenote: how is that even possible?!), I figured that she’s old enough to use the stove – while supervised, of course! I love carving some time out of our chaotic schedule to spend some one-on-one time with each one of the kids, though at this age, I feel like Ellie appreciates it the most.

Grilled cheese is her all-time favorite lunch, and it just might be her favorite food ever, so it was the clear first choice as we figured out what she could learn to make. And if I’m being completely honest, it’s one of my favorite lunches, too, so it was totally fine by me!

She listened intently to all the instructions before we started. I’ve found that going over the whole recipe before we start, as well as any expectations, makes the whole thing run smoothly and stay fun – whether you’re dealing with kids or adults. And really, who wants to learn to cook if the experience isn’t fun?!

She was SO proud of herself when she slid her perfectly grilled cheese out of the pan, and she was excited to dig right in! White made with whole wheat bread is perfect for picky eaters since it combines a soft, smooth texture, and great nutrition (including vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E).

I quickly whipped up a grilled cheese sandwich for myself and pulled up a chair next to my sweetheart, and we enjoyed lunch together. While we ate, we chatted about cooking and what she wants to learn to make next!

I love that the bread is made with whole grain without any artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, or high fructose corn syrup, and she loves that it has the delicious white bread flavor. It’s a win-win for everyone!!

Grilled cheese, an apple, and a glass of milk – it’s Ellie’s favorite lunch and one that checks all my boxes – delicious, nutritious, and now, one that she can make all on her own!

‘Happy’ Memorial Day from an Army Widow

Memorial Day is upon us once again; it has new significance for our family this year because it’s our first since Jacob died. Its been a really weird week for me- lots of memories, and just feeling off. . . And I finally realized that while Memorial Day weekend was always a hard one for Jacob to get through, it didn’t affect me the same way. . . until now. Going from “wife” to “widow” changes things.

difference between memorial day and veterans day

As a military family, Memorial Day has always been a somewhat reverent occasion in our house. Sure, we “celebrate” with a backyard barbecue every year, but we also reflect on the real reason for the holiday. Both Jacob and I have been to (or planned) more than our share of military funerals, and that certainly makes the holiday more real and reinforces the fact that it’s not just a long weekend to kick-start summer or a weekend with great sales.

It used to really bother Jacob when people would wish him “Happy Memorial Day” because it was not a day for him, nor is it a “happy” occasion. We went to great lengths to ensure that our children know the difference between the various military holidays because while they all honor our military, they each celebrate a very specific population.

Difference Between the Military Holidays

us army soldier in a humvee

Armed Forces Day: Celebrated on the third Saturday in May, Armed Forces Day honors those that are currently serving. For this one, it’s definitely appropriate to say “Thank you for your service” or “Happy Armed Forces Day”.

us soldiers raid

Veterans Day: November 11th is the day to celebrate the living that served our country over the years. “Happy Veterans Day, thank you for your service,” is a completely acceptable (and appreciated!) greeting/comment for those that have served.

vietnam veterans memorial and washington monument

Memorial Day: The last Monday in May, this is a day to remember and honor every man and woman that died for our freedom, especially those that died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. It’s a day about sacrifice, service, and remembrance. It’s not about current or former service members, it’s about those that didn’t make it home, and to a degree, those that made it home, but later died from their injuries incurred while in service.

But how do you explain Memorial Day to the person that has never been handed a folded flag? Or explain it to the wife who has never said “See you later” to her husband and watched him leave for a warzone on the other side of the world? Or to the person that has never dealt with the after-effects of that war? Or explain it to a family that isn’t trying to survive now that their service member isn’t here anymore?

army widow being handed a folded american flag

In a lot of ways, I don’t think you CAN effectively explain it. There’s not a way to explain how hearing Taps, which used to lull me to sleep when we lived on-post, now makes me feel like I can’t breathe and I will forever associate it with Jacob’s funeral. Or how seeing someone in uniform makes me both immensely proud and makes my heart ache for their family because I know what their future could hold. There’s not really a way to explain the gut-wrenching pain that you feel when your loved one gives their life for their country. There’s not a way to explain the immense sacrifice that our military families make on a daily basis, knowing that the ultimate sacrifice could be around the next corner.

While Jacob didn’t die AT war, he died because of this war. Even though his death came five years after his medical retirement, it was service-connected. His death was a direct result of injuries sustained while he was in the Army. And because of that, this Memorial Day is the first where we will honor him. . . honor his memory. . . honor his sacrifice.

memorial day american soldier

It’s completely okay to have a barbecue and enjoy the three-day weekend because part of remembering the sacrifice of our fallen service members is remembering what they liked to do before they died for their country. They loved spending time surrounded by family, and most likely, having a barbecue on a long weekend. So this Memorial Day weekend, we’ll be having a barbecue with our family, but we’ll also be remembering.

And just a piece of advice from a surviving spouse, please don’t say “Happy Memorial Day” because that “happy” has an unexpected sting. It’s a hard time of year for many people- active duty, veterans, and surviving families alike. It’s a time of remembrance and grief, a reminder of those who did not make it home- and the guilt associated with that for those that did. A reminder that our lives are forever changed.

arlington national cemetery

And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me. ~ Lee Greenwood

Virtual Tech Camps with iD Tech

Nick has been begging to do a camp with iD Tech, the world’s #1 STEM summer program, for years but it never worked out with our busy summers of traveling. When his school made the change to distance learning for the foreseeable future, he asked if there was anything fun he could do to pass the time. Enter the brand new Virtual Tech Camps from iD Tech – a perfect fit for our new distance learning family.

Virtual Tech Camp with iD Tech Pin ImageThis post is sponsored by iD Tech- as always, all opinions are honest and my own.

There are camps for all skill levels and ages 7-19 so there’s really something for everyone. We checked out the different offerings- everything from Python to Roblox to 3D modeling- before he settled on the Minecraft Mods in Java course. The classes are offered in multiple time zones which meant that we could easily find one that worked with our schedule- he does his digital coursework from school in the morning and then checks in for iD Tech after lunch.

Teen sitting at table with a laptop and the iD Tech Virtual Tech Camp course schedule

Having a set schedule has been a HUGE help for our family during this time. I normally work from home and I’m used to having an empty house from 8:30am-3pm where I can work- or do whatever I want! Like most families, this change to having the kids home 24/7 and having to manage their virtual learning, has been tough. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful that we’re home and safe, but it’s still been an adjustment. Of all my kids, Nick is the one that will wander around the house complaining that he’s bored so having some extra structure in place for him has been a lifesaver for me- and he’s LOVING it!

smiling teen working on Minecraft Mods during iD Tech Virtual Camp

The camps feature 2 hours of live instruction plus 2 hours of self-paced project development every day, Monday – Friday. Nick is excited and ready to go every afternoon, eager to meet up with his new online friends and his instructor to learn about production-level Java coding. There’s a max of 5 students per instructor, so I know that he’s getting a personalized experience and his questions (which I’m sure he has many!) are getting answered. He really enjoys the live video aspect because they can share what they’ve done with the group and ask for help.

Teen working on Minecraft mods during iD Tech Virtual Camp

After his session with the instructor, he has about two hours of self-led project development to work on at his own pace before they meet again. He says it makes Minecraft more fun because you’re able to change what’s already in the game. I love that he’s focusing on something constructive and learning new STEM skills, plus, I’m able to get things done while he’s busy- it’s a win-win for our family!

Are you looking for something for your kiddo to do while everyone is stuck at home? Head to iD Tech to check out their newest Virtual Tech Camps and right now, you can save $125 using the code JENNIFER125.

Additionally, iD Tech offers Online Private Lessons where your kiddo can get one-on-one attention in a 60-minute session (there are single lesson options as well as 5-packs and 12-packs). Plus, right now they’re running a promotion where you can bring a sibling (or friend!) to your session for free!

Are schools in your area doing virtual learning for the rest of the year? Are you adding to the curriculum?

Warm-Up This Winter with Some Tween Faves

It’s that time of year where people start getting sick and with five kids I need to make sure everybody stays as healthy as possible. With our busy schedules, it can be difficult to get enough rest, but that downtime is imperative to staying healthy. Lexie is playing club soccer again this season and that means late nights at the field and lots of time outdoors in the cold and rain. So when her practice is canceled or she has some free time, she’s all about relaxing. Check out some of her faves for when she gets some much-needed downtime.

This post is sponsored by, however, all opinions are my own.

Cropped Waffle-Knit Tee and Washed-Terry Champ Sweatshirt from Alternative Apparel

This time of year calls for some comfy clothes and Alternative Apparel is one of our favorites for basics. The Cropped Waffle-Knit Tee and Washed-Terry Champ Sweatshirt are great for fall in North Carolina since they’re a transitional weight and perfect for layering. You can find Alternative Apparel at Bloomingdales and

Original Ginger Chews and Ginger Honey Crystals from Prince of Peace

Lexie is a big hot tea drinker- in fact, she loves to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and watch a movie. We’re loving the Ginger Honey Crystals from Prince of Peace this fall and I stocked up to get us through the winter. Their proprietary instant tea blend combines raw ginger with the sweet taste of natural honey and makes a DELICIOUS cup of ginger tea, perfect for a cold day. Plus, the ginger in it is full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.

The Original Ginger Chews are a great way to get some additional ginger- including all of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits so I’m excited to have those on hand through the winter.

Ecosmart Sweats from Hanes

Y’know how there are days where you just want to curl up on the couch and relax? The Ecosmart Sweats from Hanes are the best for lounging around. They’re partially made from recycled plastic bottles (how cool is that?!) and renewable energy sources so they’re earth-friendly, too! I’m pretty sure that Lexie will be living in her go-to sweatshirt and sweatpants all winter long!

Cold Sore Treatment from Campho-Phenique®

I don’t know about your kids, but mine get the occasional cold sore- typically when they get a fever, but sometimes when they’re overtired or stressed. And with the grueling soccer season, overtired and stressed perfectly describes Lexie. With Campho-Phenique® Cold Sore Treatment, she can get fast relief from the pain as well as protection from secondary infections which is a win-win in my book!

Saying Goodbye

I know I’ve been pretty quiet on here for the past month and a half, but six weeks ago, our lives changed in the blink of an eye. Six weeks ago, we had to say goodbye.

Y’know how you kind of go through life and you hear about bad things happening to other people, but you move on, somewhat unaffected because bad things don’t happen to you? Well, sometimes they do. And while I feel like I was kind of prepared for it when he was deployed, this was one of those completely blindsided situations.

Jacob in the Army

Six weeks ago, I tried to wake Jake up, but I couldn’t. At some point overnight, he passed away. Thankfully, it was peacefully in his sleep.

Even harder than finding him and dealing with the EMTs, police, and funeral home that spent the day at the house, was telling the kids when they got home from school. I am so grateful that our amazing neighbors picked them up at the end of the day and took them to dinner which bought me a bit more time and ensured they actually ate dinner before they got the news. Telling them that Daddy went to heaven was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

The past six weeks have been a blur. I said goodbye to my best friend, my favorite person, my Disney buddy, my world. I planned a funeral that I never wanted to plan. And I’ve started to pick up the pieces.

Jacob with Grumpy at Storybook Dining

I could not have done any of this without the support of friends and family, near and far. I so appreciate the way they all stepped up to take care of us and help us through this rough time and I am eternally grateful.

So yeah, that’s why I haven’t been around, but now that the funeral is over and we’re starting to settle into our “new normal” I’m looking forward to getting back to writing. Even though it will be different, we’re still going to keep traveling and moving forward because Jake wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“The best things in life are the people we love, the places we have been, and the memories we’ve made along the way” – unknown. This perfectly sums up how we try to do life— surrounded by those we love and always on an adventure, each and every day, and I don’t plan on changing that.

Box Tops for Education at Sam’s Club

We’re gearing up for Back to School at our house so Ellie and I headed to Sam’s Club today to stock up on some of our fave BTS essentials! Right now at Sam’s Club, you can earn 12 Box Tops on eligible General Mills and Nestle™ products, and so that means that when you’re stocking up on all of your back to school faves, you can earn a boatload of Box Tops for Education!

Buy 1 Get 12 Box Tops for Education at Sam's Club PinThis post is sponsored by General Mills and Nestle™, but all opinions are my own.

Do you remember clipping Box Tops for Education off of your favorite products as a child or doing it for your own kiddos? I know that it seems like we’ve been collecting them for years at our house! At my kids’ schools, they even have classroom parties for the class that brings in the most Box Tops so we’ve always been diligent about cutting them out and dividing them up for the kids to take in. But now, the entire process is getting a whole lot easier! Box Tops are going DIGITAL!!

Found the Cinnamon Toast Crunch at Sam's Club

As we made our way around Sam’s Club, I told Ellie to make sure to look for the Box Top label, and we found them on all of our faves! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and on hectic mornings(which quite honestly is most of them at our house!), it’s cereal for breakfast, which I make sure to have several varieties on hand at any given time. I mean, with five kids, they all like something different, but the one that they can all agree on is Cinnamon Toast Crunch- so I try to NEVER run out!

Grabbed the Honey Nut Cherrios for her bro.

As we were stocking up on our General Mills faves, I tasked Ellie with finding the Honey Nut Cheerios since Ben eats them for breakfast EVERY morning (well, unless he’s having Cinnamon Toast Crunch). She thought it was pretty cool that she could pull from the middle of the display and they didn’t all fall- don’t worry, we filled the hole with a different box!

Can you tell that she loves Fruit Roll-Ups?

As a rising kindergartner, one of the things that Ellie is most excited about this back to school season is FINALLY getting to eat lunch at school like the big kids do! She’s already decided she wants to pack her lunch and insisted that we get fun treats for her to take in her new lunchbox.

Cart full of Box Tops at Sam's Club

We always head to Sam’s Club to stock up on essentials and snacks for back to school, and now we can stock up on Box Tops at the same time- a total win-win! When our kids were younger, we had to remember to clip all the Box Tops and then remember to send them into the school, but now that they’re digital, it’s soooo much easier- and with all five kids in school now, I’ll take “easier” any day!

Enjoying a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch at home

As soon as we got home, Ellie ran upstairs to change into pajamas (because apparently, that’s what we do as soon as we get home?!) and wanted a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch as an afternoon snack. Literally all I had time to do was unload the car and she was perched at the counter, patiently waiting for a bowl of cereal. Luckily, her much needed snack time gave me a chance to turn in those Box Tops by scanning my receipt on the Box Tops Bonus app which earned me the bonus Box Tops!

Huntington Learning Center SAT Prep

I cannot believe that it’s already time to be thinking about the SAT in our house. It seems like yesterday that I was preparing for my own, where I spent countless hours poring over SAT prep books and trying to teach myself how to effectively solve analogies with words I’d never heard of and do math problems that I could barely comprehend.

Huntington Learning Center SAT PrepThis post was sponsored by Huntington Learning Center but all opinions are honest and my own.

Christopher is heading into junior year in the fall so it’s definitely time to get the SAT prep rolling. I know my limits and my kid, and even though I have a Master’s degree, there’s no way that I can teach him everything he needs to know to succeed. Enter Huntington Learning Center and their SAT prep program- a lifesaver for busy parents as well as those that realize they may not be the most effective teachers for SAT prep. The test-taking strategies are a huge part of the program and the well-qualified tutors at Huntington Learning Center know exactly how to prepare your child for what they’ll see on the SAT.

Huntington Learning Center SAT prep

I gave Huntington Learning Center a quick call and scheduled Christopher for an SAT practice test the following week. It worked out perfectly that he had a random Wednesday off of school so we were able to go in the morning and it didn’t affect our crazy after-school schedule (tennis, club soccer, scouts, etc). I dropped him off and while he got started on the practice test, I chatted with the executive director for a bit about the program as well as my impressions of Christopher as a student and his educational goals.

Christopher has always been a pretty good student- he gets A’s and B’s and the majority of his classes are Honors or AP. But, because of all the time spent teaching for standardized testing, I was worried that he had some coverage gaps in math and reading that would ultimately make it harder for him to score well on the SAT. He spent the next 3.5 to 4 hours taking a practice SAT (including the essay portion) and we headed home!

We visited Huntington Learning Center again the following week to go over the results of the practice SAT test and to develop a game plan for moving forward. We talked about how he felt going into the test as well as during the test (like if exam fatigue was an issue) and how he felt about the exam as a whole. We learned about superscoring (pulling math and reading scores from different test dates to create a superscore) and he was excited to find out that his top choice colleges accept superscored tests. Ultimately, we came up with a comprehensive plan that will get Christopher to where he needs to be to have the best SAT score possible.

Huntington Learning Center SAT Prep Sign

His personalized plan includes some academic content hours in order to solidify foundational components before moving into the official SAT prep. Then the hours are broken down for SAT math, SAT critical reading, SAT writing, and the SAT essay so that everything is covered. Christopher (with some parental input) made growth goals so he knows exactly what he needs to do to be competitive at the colleges he’s interested in attending.

A student sees over an average 200-point increase in their SAT score when going through the Huntington Learning Center program which is absolutely amazing! And one of my favorite parts is that in addition to the in-person, one-on-one help, you can also work on the test prep from home using their online program. That means that even when we’re traveling, Christopher can still work on his SAT prep and achieve his collegiate goals!

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