What COVID-19 taught me about simplifying my life

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I spent the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 feeling really overwhelmed. By Thursday of each week I was pretty much running on fumes. I knew something had to change and I needed to start focusing on ways to simplify my life and just be less busy.

Like most, pretty much everything that kept me feeling hectic and out of the house came to a complete halt in March of this year and unintentionally, parts of my goal to simplify my life were accomplished through this situation. Obviously, a lot became more complicated simultaneously- working at home full-time while not having childcare, worrying about the state of the world- but a lot of the things that kept me running around all week completely came to an end.

I hope to never live through anything like the COVID-19 pandemic again and can’t wait for the feeling of regularity again. I just want to be sitting at a crowded restaurant table with a group of friends or family. I even want to go back to my cubicle!

But through the crazy circumstances, living with the virus brought me ways to simplify my life that I plan to carry over when life goes back to normal so I can live in a less frazzled and more fulfilled way.

Think long and hard before signing up for another activity. I previously thought, the more activities, the better. We’re learning and accomplishing more that way! That line of thought (for myself and my daughter) completely wore me out. She was signed up for things that kept us hectic on the weekdays that she didn’t even like to do.

Once all the activities had to end in March, it was a good reflective point on this mindset. It’s not worth it to keep yourself so busy on a weeknight for something you don’t enjoy. Going forward, we’ll keep extracurricular activities to one or maybe two things per person, and make sure they are things that we really want to do instead of things we feel like we should be doing. When a new option comes up, I’ll think long and hard before signing my daughter up for it, and make sure it’s something she truly is interested in and wants to stick with.

It’s more fun to stay home than I thought. I’ve never been much of a homebody, so quarantining and social distance was something I knew I would initially have a tough time with mentally. However, the more time we spent at home, the more I realized that we can make it fun. Staying at home doesn’t have to be all sitting on the couch, channel-surfing on the TV. It’s been nice to use this time to start new family traditions, like our Fancy Italian Dinner Night. We make a more complicated meal, turn on music, and take our time eating. I’ve found that if you’re intentional about how you use your time, being home can be fun, and is a much more relaxing way to unwind on evenings and weekends than being out and about in crowded places.

Additionally, I’ve found ways to do day-to-day things at home that I used to do out of the house and it’s really simplified my daily schedule. This year we saved up to buy a Schwinn IC4 indoor spin bike, which is compatible with the Peloton app. Having workout equipment right in my basement that I really enjoy using has been one of my best investments. After or before a long day, sometimes I just really don’t want to get myself to the gym (and sometimes the daily schedule doesn’t allow for it), but I do genuinely like to exercise. Having this has been a game changer.

You don’t have to be in-person to fill your cup with friend time. When the pandemic first hit I assumed I would feel really, really isolated, but I actually ended up having a lot of interactions with friends and family that filled by cup. FaceTime, Houseparty, and group texts and emails actually kept me in close contact a lot of the time with people I love. Before the pandemic, I never really used video chatting apps before, and so unless we were in person together, I didn’t interact with out-of-town friends and family very much. That’s something that will definitely change going forward. Sometimes schedules get so busy that a lot of in-person time with people just doesn’t always fit in. But now I’ve realized it doesn’t mean my social interactions need to languish during those times. A quick FaceTime or a funny thread on a group text can really brighten my day.

 

What are some lessons learned from the pandemic that you’re planning on carrying over when life returns to normal?

 

 

Easy Recipes for a “Just Us” Small Thanksgiving Dinner

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Thanksgiving might look a little different for many families during our COVID year. (Please let it just be a year!). In an ordinary year, more than 50 million Americans travel more than 50 miles from home to be with family and friends at the holidays. But, as we all know, 2020 has been anything but an ordinary year. If you have been one of those 50 million travelers in the past, but are thinking about staying home this year, Iowa City Moms has some great recipes to help you create an easy and delicious Thanksgiving meal for your “just us” family meal. These recipes will easily feed a family of 4-6. We’ve got everything you need – from turkey to dessert and everything in between. 

No Stress Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes
I make the crock pot “Drunken Turkey” recipe for my family every Thanksgiving and the cranberry turkey recipe is delicious, too! It’s even great with chicken thighs for an easy fall weekday dinner. With 4 ingredients each, these recipes couldn’t be any easier. 


Corn Casserole
This corn casserole is a foolproof family favorite at our contributor Dawn’s house. 



Roasted Green Beans with Fall Flavors
This recipe comes together quickly and looks beautifully colorful on your holiday plate. 

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs of fresh green beans
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries (like Craisins)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Snap stems off of green beans, then rinse green beans.
  3. Place green beans in a large bowl, add 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper and stir together. 
  4. Place coated green beans on a baking pan.
  5. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and add almonds and cranberries.
  7. Return to the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes more. 

Pumpkin Pie
If you’d like a pumpkin pie with a little extra flavor than the recipe on the back of the Libby’s can, check out this Spicy Pumpkin pie that’s, well, easy as pie. 



Iowa City Area Guide to Family Holiday Activities: 2020 Edition

As with everything else in this crazy year that is 2020, holiday events – and therefore this holiday guide – will look a bit different this year. While there are still events that will be held in person with COVID-19 precautions in place, others have moved online. Some have cancelled altogether, so we’ll appreciate what we have this year and look forward to their return next year. Whatever your current comfort level, there are activities for you!

At the top of the list are some ongoing events. Events are then listed by date and marked as Virtual Events, Mom Events, or Date Night as appropriate.

Another difference you will notice in this year’s guide is that events that are a little farther away are included. I don’t know about you, but these days I’m willing to drive some to inject a little bit of “normal” into the year!

Keep checking back, as additional events will be added as they pop up! (Look for “Added!” and “Updated!” events!)

*Note: Many events are ongoing or take place on multiple dates. For brevity, they are only listed here under their opening day.


Ongoing Events

** Virtual Event **
Updated! Coral Ridge Mall’s Virtual Visits with Santa at Home

What: A North Pole Virtual Visit! Make this holiday magical with a virtual visit to the North Pole! Santa’s helpers have been working hard decking the halls for you and your family, so don’t be late! Choose from our list of enchanting experiences for a jolly good time.

Visit with Santa
Live from the North Pole…it’s Santa Claus! Enjoy exciting pre-session entertainment and a live virtual visit with Santa. For extra holiday fun, add storytime with Santa or Mrs. Claus to your session. Invite up to four guests for this experience.

Storytime with The Clauses
Shhhhh, it’s storytime! Choose a session with either Santa Claus or Mrs. Claus and gather the family around as they read you a story. Choose from a selection of stories and invite up to four guests to join. Enchant your family with this unforgettable experience.

Pre-Recorded Personalized Santa Video
Bring Santa and his magical world straight into your home! Receive a pre-recorded message from St. Nick that’s personalized just for you. Santa will record a video message to your kids based on information you provide in your family profile during your booking. Watch your children stare in amazement as they watch their very own video from Santa.

Who: All ages, families
When: Daily, Now through Thurs., Jan. 7
Where: Online
Cost: $19.95 to $24.95, depending on the package. Make your reservations here!

** Virtual Event **
** Mom Event **
Downtown Iowa City Holiday Market Online

What: The traditional Downtown Iowa City Holiday Market has moved online! The Iowa City Downtown District in collaboration with downtown retailers has launched a new one-stop online shop for holiday shopping. As customers look to shop earlier and focus their spending locally this holiday season, the Downtown Iowa City Holiday Market will provide an easy, curated online shop for over 20 downtown stores in one location. The new holiday site is another initiative from the downtown district to help keep a focus on supporting local while recognizing that online shopping may be a popular option for 2020. The Downtown Holiday Market will allow customers to shop from a variety of downtown stores and select pick-up or free local delivery through the Downtown Delivers program. Additionally, the shop will be changing weekly as stores continue to add new items throughout the holiday season.
Who: Moms and older kids
When: Open now!
Where: Online
Cost: Just the cost of your purchases!

** Virtual Event **
University of Iowa Dance Gala 2020: IN MOTION (Multiple Dates Nov. 13-27)

What: Dance Gala 2020: IN MOTION celebrates the 39th anniversary of Dance Gala. The UI Department of Dance believes the arts can bring us together with hope and humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges to our in-person creative research activities. Rather than shutting down and taking the year off, we decided instead to find safe ways of allowing our students and faculty choreographers to continue their work and express their thoughts, ideas, and emotions to a broader audience than ever before.

The University of Iowa Department of Dance presents works in progress created by celebrated UI Dance faculty. Six works will be included. See descriptions of each piece here!
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Nov. 13 – Fri., Nov. 27, each night at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Online
Cost: FREE

Updated! Downtown Holiday Pop-Up Market (Ongoing Nov. 15 through the end of December)

What: The Iowa City Downtown District is set to bring back the Downtown Holiday Market/Pop-Up Shops on the ped mall this holiday season. The pop-up shops that make up the Holiday Market were originally constructed by Hardy Lawn Furniture and designed by AKAR Architecture in 2017. Starting in mid-November the Holiday Pop-Up Market sponsored by GreenState Credit Union will open, features different vendors and shops each week.

For 2020, the Holiday Pop-Up Market will look a little different due and will incorporate strict COVID-19 precautions. Each shop will be available for vendors and shops to occupy but capacity for shoppers will be limited to one party at a time or by appointment only. “The holiday market is one of our favorite traditions. These unique and gorgeous spaces continue to offer a fun festive shopping experience while adding opportunity for makers and our local shops to host a small pop-up shop”, said, Director of Creative Services for the Iowa City Downtown District, Betsy Potter. “It continues to be a challenging year for small businesses, if we can provide a fun and safe attraction for the holiday season that supports our overall mission to continue to drive spending towards our locally owned businesses, we will continue to do everything we can.” See the full schedule of shops here!
Who
: All ages
When: Daily from Nov. 15 through the end of December
Where: Black Hawk Mini Park at Ped Mall Iowa City
Cost: Just the cost of your purchases!

Downtown Gingerbread House Competition – AT-HOME EDITION (Nov. 19-Dec 22)

What: Join the Iowa City Downtown District this Holiday Season for the Annual Downtown Gingerbread House Competition (AT-HOME EDITION). Your ticket includes full gingerbread pieces to build your house and frosting from Molly’s Cupcakes, an assortment of candy from Sweets & Treats, pretzel and marshmallow packs, and an aluminum baking sheet for the base of the house.

All you need to do is purchase your ticket, select your pick-up or delivery date, create your masterpiece, take photos and submit, and see if you’re a winner!
Who: All ages
When: Kits are available to pick up Nov. 19th, and winners will be announced Dec. 22nd
Where: At home!
Cost: $40.00

** Girls’ Night Out or Extended Family Gathering **
Outing in an Igloo!

What: Tin Roost has 3 private igloos, complete with lounge-style seating for eight, festive lighting, and a heater that takes the edge off of the winter weather. You’ll have two hours to enjoy your private igloo. Every igloo experience includes keepsake camp mugs for your party to take home and enjoy, plus additional upgrades of your choice. An exclusive menu will be offered to all bookings. Our food and beverage menus are designed to be shared and great for casual gatherings. When you book your igloo, you will select food that will be waiting in your igloo when you arrive. More food can be added throughout your booking.
Who: All ages
When: Ongoing!
Where: Tin Roost, 840 W. Penn St., North Liberty
Cost: Depending on your package, there’s a $100-200 minimum for food and beverages for up to 8 people

** Virtual Events **
Classes + Events Online with Michael’s Arts & Crafts

What: Get your crafty on with a host of classes and events hosted online by Michael’s. Classes range from holiday cards, to brush lettering, to ornaments, to wreaths, to string art, to gingerbread houses, and more! Look through the catalog of classes here!
Who: Classes are geared toward ages 13+. Check out Kids Club Online for projects for kids 3+ or Boredom Busters that can be done any time!
When: Days and times vary
Where: Online via Zoom
Cost: FREE


Wednesday, November 18

** Mom Event! **
5th Annual Ladies Night Out: Holiday Edition

What: Tis the season to shop, and this year it’s more important than ever to SHOP SMALL and support local businesses! Grab your girlfriends and enjoy the 5th annual Ladies’ Night Out featuring extended hours and special offers from brick and mortar shops in West Branch, West Liberty, and Oxford.

Please help keep the communities safe by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing from anyone outside your group. Some shops will require masks for entry.
Who: Moms
When: Wed., Nov. 18, 5:00-9:00 p.m.
Where: Shops and restaurants/bars in West Branch, shops in West Liberty, and shops in Oxford (see full list in link above)
Cost: Just the cost of your shopping!


Thursday, November 19

Mount Pleasant Festival of Lights (multiple dates)

What: Come and visit the 1-mile Holiday Light Drive-Thru Park with over 120 Holiday displays! View 2018’s display via drone on YouTube to get a flavor for the show!
Who: All ages
When: Nov. 19-21 and 25-29. Dec. 2-6 and 9-31. 5:30-9:00 p.m. each night
Where: 405 E. Threshers Rd., Mount Pleasant, IA (~50 minutes south of Iowa City)
Cost: $10/family vehicle, $25/limo, $30/mini coach, $60/motor coach


Friday, November 20

Corridor Market: Holiday Edition (2 Dates)

What: Grab your gal and guy pals and head on over to Bella Sala Event Center for the area’s BEST holiday market! You’ll be able to complete your holiday shopping for every name on that list! Head over Friday afternoon for a signature holiday martini while perusing the booth spaces of over 70 Midwest makers and pickers. Want to beat the crowd? Check out EARLY ACCESS HOUR from 2:00-3:00 p.m.!

The Saturday morning refreshment line-up includes a Bloody Mary AND Mimosa bar; shopping is always more fun with a drink in hand! And top-notch FOOD TRUCKS!? And wine tastings!? And craft beer tastings!? Great drinks, AMAZING tunes, scrumptious food, and the greatest shopping weekend of the year… what more could you ask for?!

Show up in your UGLIEST SWEATER, and there may be some goodies with your name on it!
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Nov. 20, 2:00-3:00 p.m. for Early Birds ($10) and 3:00-8:00 p.m. for general admission ($5) AND Sat., Nov. 21, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. ($5)
Where: Bela Sala Event Center, 205 S. Park Rd, Tiffin
Cost: Admission $5 ($10 for Friday Early Bird). Kids 12 and under are free

Thanksgiving Feast Food Box Distribution

What: South District Neighborhood Association has teamed up with HACAP Food Reservoir, Habitat for Humanity, Table to Table, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, Dream City, Open Heartland, Antelope Lending Library, and the City of Iowa City to bring our neighborhood its 3rd Annual Thanksgiving Feast and keep a South District neighborhood tradition alive!

While we usually get together, mix and mingle to get to know our fellow neighbor, this year we are working together to decrease food scarcity in our neighborhood and stay safe in this pandemic. Drive or walk thru along the “Our Children Spoke” neighborhood mural on Broadway street to pick up a holiday food box filled with Turkey breast, corn, fruit, milk, potatoes, cheese, pasta, orange juice, and more.

There is no requirement to provide personal information or sign up for services. Social distancing and masks are required. There will be disposable masks available.
Who: Families
When: Fri., Nov. 20, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Where: Faith Academy, 1030 Cross Park Ave., Iowa City
Cost: FREE

** Mom Event! **
Ladies Day Out Block Party (multiple dates)

What: Join us in Downtown Swisher for our Annual Ladies Day Out Block Party – shopping, vendors, wine tasting, live music & more! There will be shopping & specials at Vault Boutique, shopping & vendors at Salon 221, live music at Black Squirrel Tap (Sat. 11 a.m.-2 p.m.) along with food & drink specials, 20+ vendors at the Swisher Legion, and specialty drinks, food, and shopping available at Kava House. **Masks will be required in vendor areas**
Who: Moms
When: Fri., Nov. 20, 5:00-8:00 p.m. and Sat., Nov. 21, 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Where: Downtown Swisher
Cost: Just the cost of your purchases!


Saturday, November 21

** Virtual Event **
Cozy Holiday Movie Snacks: Virtual Cooking Class

What: Join home chef Angie as she kicks off the holiday season with three delicious snacks, inspired by Hallmark Channel holiday movies! Cook along with her in this festive holiday-themed cooking class for all ages. Recipes include Sugar Cookie Popcorn, Ham and Gruyere Crescent Rolls, and Bread Bowl Dip. Stayed tuned for some holiday movie trivia and more!
Who: Families
When: Sat., Nov. 21, 5:30 – 6:45 p.m.
Where: Online in the comfort of your own home!
Cost: FREE! Just the cost of your ingredients. Register for this free class here.


Sunday, November 22

** Virtual Event **
“The Little White Church” Virtual Paint Party

What: Join Julie of Julie’s Paint Party for a painting tutorial of a white church with snow-covered trees! Here’s what you need: 12×16 canvas (or whatever you have); black, white, turquoise, and gold (or brown) paints; big 3/4″ flat head paintbrush; 1/2″ flat head paintbrush; liner/detail paintbrush; a cup of water to rinse your brushes; a napkin to wipe; and a paper plate to put your paints on!
Who: Tweens, Teens, Adults
When: Sun., Nov. 22, 12:00 p.m.
Where: Online Facebook Live on Julie’s FB page
Cost: FREE, you just need to get your materials!


Thursday, November 26

Cedar Rapids Turkey Trot – The 2020 Virtual Thankful Turkey Edition

What: The Cedar Rapids Thanksgiving tradition continues virtually in 2020 featuring the Thankful Turkey Half Marathon, 10K, & 5K commemorative gear.

Here’s how it works: Register to secure your spot and get your commemorative event gear mailed straight to your door. Run/Walk the distance between Thanksgiving Day – November 29th on a course of your choosing. Create a Team O’ Turkeys, run with your team bib, and celebrate with commemorative finisher certificates with your team name! Submit your results to the leader board, print off your finisher certificate and share (brag!) with your friends using this year’s selfie smile medal.
Who: All ages
When: Thurs., Nov. 26 – Sun., Nov. 29
Where: Wherever you want to run/walk
Cost: Early Bird Deal (ends 11/11): Kids 12 and under $14.99, Adults $29.99. After 11/11, prices go up to $30 and $60. Sign up here!


Friday, November 27

Opening Day at Cedar’s Edge Evergreen Market

What: Have you always wanted to go cut your own Christmas tree? Here’s your chance! Walk off that Thanksgiving turkey at Cedar’s Edge Evergreen Market. Be one of the first to get best pick of Choose and Cut Trees then spend some time picking out local gifts, coffee, and just enjoy good old-fashioned outdoor time!
Who: All ages
When: Opening day is Fri., Nov. 27, 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (You can also get a pre-cut tree starting Sun., Nov. 22, 1:00-5:00 p.m.)
Where: Cedar’s Edge Evergreen Market, 2188 Ivanhoe Rd., Ely, IA
Cost: Varies

2020 Christmas Tree Opening Day at Colony Pumpkin Patch (Multiple Dates!)

What: There is nothing quite like a fresh tree for the holidays to bring a warm sense of yesteryear of how things used to be, a simpler time, and a peaceful time. And it seems like no better year than this year to start a new tradition by enjoying ‘a little country in the city’ at Colony Pumpkin Patch to pick out that special tree! We invite you to do just that starting Black Friday at 9 a.m.!
Who: All ages
When: Fri. Nov. 27, Sat. Nov. 28, Sun. Nov. 29, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day; Fri. Dec. 4, 4:00-6:00 p.m.; Sat. Dec. 5 and Sun. Dec. 6, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. each day.
Where: Colony Pumpkin Patch, 2780 Front St. NE, North Liberty
Cost: Varies.

Photos with Santa at Center Court (Multiple dates!)

What: If you’re looking for a fun and festive way to celebrate the holiday season in Coralville, IA, you’re in luck—we’re offering photos with Santa at Coral Ridge Mall! We know your celebrations will look a little different this year, and want to make you feel safe during your visit. Face coverings for you and Santa may be required during your contactless visit based on current state regulations. Additional COVID precautions can be found here.
Who: All ages, families
When: Fri., Nov. 27 through Thurs., Dec. 24 – See hours below:
November 27 – December 23:
Mon-Sat:
11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sun: Noon-6 p.m.
December 24: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Coral Ridge Mall, Center Court (by JC Penney)
Cost: Packages range from $39.99 to $49.99. Reserve your time here.

Tannenbaum Forest opens (Multiple dates!)

What: Step into a winter wonderland when you visit us at the Tannenbaum Forest in the Amana Colonies! Come to the Festhalle Barn to see over 40 unique Christmas Trees, each decorated by a different business, organization, group, or family. The entire barn will be decorated for the season, and we will have several areas for photo opportunities set up. Our 17-foot German Christmas Pyramid will be front and center!

This year, Santa Claus is unable to join us. To make sure he stays safe and healthy to deliver present this year, he and Mrs. Claus are hunkering down in the North Pole. He will miss you all dearly this year, but he can’t wait to get your gifts to you on Christmas Eve!

To protect each other, we will be requiring the use of face masks that cover both your mouth and nose in the Festhalle Barn. While you’re viewing our forest, please practice social distancing as well. We will have markings on the floors and walls to demonstrate a 6-foot distance, and we will also have a backup supply of masks in case you’ve forgotten yours. If you are experiencing any symptoms of illness, we ask that you please stay home. If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are awaiting COVID-19 test results, please stay home. Remember to wash hands frequently and refrain from touching your face.

Who: All ages
When: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Nov. 27 through Dec. 20. See schedule here.
Where: 622 46th Avenue, Amana
Cost: Suggested donation is $3, with proceeds benefiting the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital


Saturday, November 28

Downtown Hunt for Elves (Ongoing Nov. 28-Jan. 1)

What: Join us for the Downtown Hunt for the Elves, a FREE kid-friendly scavenger hunt in downtown Iowa City! Starting Friday, November 27th, there will be elves hiding in different downtown businesses waiting to be found! Make sure to check the sign on the shop’s door to see if their elf is hiding in the front window or inside the store. Please remember to wear a mask and keep a safe distance while doing the hunt. Shops who are hiding the elf inside will have capacity limits while the shops who have the elf hidden in the front window will allow you to search from outside.

Once you have found the elves in each participating store, get a stamp on your card or write in the name of the elf on the card to show proof you found it. Most elves hiding inside will have a stamp with their name for you to use and the elves hiding in the window will have a nametag next to them so you can write their name in the blank as proof you found them. Turn in your completed cards after finding 10 of the elves to Iowa Book to receive a small prize and to be entered to win a grand prize gift basket.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Nov. 28 through Fri., Jan. 1, 2021
Where: Downtown Iowa City

Added! Small Business Saturday – Downtown Iowa City

What: Our Favorite DAY of the year! It’s time to celebrate what we in Downtown Iowa City Celebrate EVERY DAY but on a national level! The holidays might look a little different this year, but we can still show up for each other. #ShopSmall with us online, use curbside pick-up, or look into personal shopping appointments. Downtown shops will have limited capacity limits and customers are required to wear a face-covering while shopping downtown. ***Thanks to the City of Iowa City, there will be FREE PARKING in all downtown ramps on Saturday, November 28th.***
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Nov. 28, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Where: Downtown Iowa City

Santa Saturdays Downtown (multiple dates)

What: Santa is making four special trips to Downtown Iowa City to meet the area’s good girls and boys! Kids and families are invited to visit Santa in his sleigh and drop off their letters and wish lists in his mailbox from the North Pole. For the safety of visitors, Santa’s visits have been moved outdoors with a socially distanced line and photo area, so bundle up and dress warmly. Additional COVID-19 precautions will require visitors and families to take their own pictures using their own cameras. Santa’s helpers will help direct groups as they take their photo and ask everyone to please keep a safe distance and wear a face-covering. Santa will be in his sleigh with a mask and groups can stand in the photo area marked 6 feet away.
Who: All ages
When: Saturdays Nov. 28, Dec. 5, 12, & 19, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Where: Outside in the Pedestrian Mall at the Weatherdance Fountain Stage from at 210 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
Cost: FREE

Downtown Tractor Wagon Rides (Multiple dates!)

What: There is no better way to take in the sights and sounds of the holiday season than a Tractor Wagon Ride around downtown. Enjoy a FREE whimsical ride in an antique tractor provided by Bass Farms and sponsored by Hills Bank & Trust.

For the safety of attendees, the wagon ride will be in an open-air carriage with limited and spaced seating (15 spots per ride). For COVID-19 precautions, we ask families to sit together and that all riders wear a mask (except 2 & under). Hand sanitizer will also be available to use. Riders should come 15 minutes prior to their time but no earlier. All waiting will be done outside.

Who: All ages
When: Saturdays Nov. 28, Dec. 5, 12, & 19, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Downtown Iowa City, starts outside Hills Bank, 201 S. Clinton St., Iowa City
Cost: FREE but tickets are required.
**“TICKETS” WILL BE NEED TO BE RESERVED ONLINE AHEAD OF TIME. We recommend reserving your time ahead before arriving to reserve your spot! In the chance seats are still available, walk-ups will be accepted. Watch the Hills Bank FB page for details!

** Virtual Event **
“The Happy Snowman” Virtual Paint Party

What: Join Julie of Julie’s Paint Party for a painting tutorial of a happy snowman with a cardinal and snow! Here’s what you need: 10×20 canvas (or whatever you have); black, white, light blue, red, and orange paints; big 3/4″ flat head paintbrush; 1/2″ flat head paintbrush; liner/detail paintbrush; a cup of water to rinse your brushes; a napkin to wipe; and a paper plate to put your paints on!
Who: Tweens, Teens, Adults
When: Sat., Nov. 28, 11:50 a.m.
Where: Online Facebook Live on Julie’s FB page
Cost: FREE, you just need to get your materials!

** Virtual Event **
Thanksgiving Leftovers Remixed: Virtual Cooking Class

What: Home chef Angie shows you how to create a delicious meal utilizing your Thanksgiving leftovers. Reach into the refrigerator and discover a new way to cook up your leftovers. Home chef Angie guides you through an inspired take with her Thanksgiving “stuffle” (stuffing + waffle). Learn how you can quickly craft this yummy creation or remix into a completely different entree.
Cook along with Angie by picking up your ingredients before the event begins.
Who: Families
When: Sat., Nov. 28, 5:30 – 6:45 p.m.
Where: Online in the comfort of your own home!
Cost: FREE! Just the cost of your ingredients. Register for this free class here.

Santa at Hotel Millwright

What: Santa is here to share some socially distanced Holiday Cheer to the Amanas! After families take their seats, Santa will arrive to tell holiday stories from a stage. After storytime, Santa will stay on stage and children can get a socially distanced photo with Mr. Claus. As families leave, hotel staff will pass out house-made and packaged sugar cookies.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Nov. 28, 6:00 p.m.
Where: Hotel Millwright, 800 48th Ave., Amana
Cost: FREE


Tuesday, December 1

Added! Wickiup Hill Winter Outdoor Academy (Multiple dates!)

What: Winter Outdoor Academy at Wickiup Hill is taking education outside! Linn County Conservation (LCC) is offering small group, outdoor, in-person, enrichment programs at Wickiup Hill. These programs address the growing need to introduce and engage today’s youth in the natural world. Activities are designed to be fun, dynamic, and active while providing high-quality environmental learning experiences through games, crafts, stories, and in-depth nature exploration. Each Outdoor Academy session builds upon each other with different activities. Register for multiple days to help with home school learning.

Drop-off program. You will be greeted by a naturalist at the parking lot to welcome your child. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. To ensure all necessary health and safety group size will be limited to 12 students per session and social distancing guidelines will be followed. Program may be cancelled if minimum number is not reached. Students are required to bring a mask and wear it when instructed.
Who: Kids grades K-5
When: Tues., Wed., Thurs., Fri., Dec. 1, 2, 3, and 4; Tues., Dec. 8; Thurs., Dec. 10; Tues., Wed., Thurs., Fri., Dec. 16, 17, 18, and 19; Mon. Dec. 21. Each day from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Where: Online!
Cost: $10 per child. Register here!

** Virtual Event **
North Liberty Rec Center Santa Live on Zoom (multiple dates)

What: For the health and well-being of Santa and everyone, this year we are holding our annual chance to talk to Santa virtually. Sign up and have Santa call you over Zoom live from the North Pole. You can tell Santa exactly what you want for Christmas from the comfort of your own home.
Who: Kids ages 3-9
When: Tues., Dec. 1 and Thurs., Dec. 3,  5:00-8:00 p.m. each evening; Sat., Dec. 5, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Wherever you are!
Cost: FREE, but you need to register at the above link

** Virtual Event **
** Mom Event or Date Night! **
CR Library “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Trivia Night

What: Enjoy a festive Trivia Night with friends and family at home this month as we play “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.  From Rudolph to the Rockettes, the Cedar Rapids Librarians have researched all things holiday!

Trivia Night is a Facebook event, so be sure to follow the CR Library on Facebook and mark “going” to the event (watch for it to be posted!) so that you will be notified when the quiz link goes live. The link is only live from 6:00-7:00 p.m., so get your team together and have some good holiday fun.
Who: Program listed for adults
When: Tues., Dec. 1, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Where: Online! Make sure you follow the Cedar Rapids
Cost: FREE

** Virtual Event **
Added! Coe College Christmas Convocation

What: This Coe Christmas celebration service is brought to you by the Chaplin’s Office and the Department of Music, featuring Coe Music Department ensembles.
Who: All ages
When: Tues., Dec. 1, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Online here.
Cost: FREE


Wednesday, December 2

** Virtual Event **
Virtual Chanukah Cooking Class with Michael Solomonov

What: Our Chanukah gift to the Lehigh Valley Jewish community, in partnership with Federations across the country! Learn to make delicious dishes for Chanukah with Executive Chef and Co-owner of Zahav, Michael Solomonov, the 2019 James Beard Foundation award winner for Outstanding Restaurant.

In celebration of the holiday, Chef Solomonov will be making apple shrub, Abe Fisher’s potato lakes, roman artichokes with arugula and olive oil, poached salmon, and sfenj (Moroccan doughnuts) with cinnamon and sugar.
Who: Families
When: Wed., Dec. 2, 7:00-8:15 p.m.
Where: Live streamed over Vimeo
Cost: Optional donation. Register ahead here to get the ingredient list and event password!


Thursday, December 3

** Mom Event! **
** Virtual Event **
Updated! VIRTUAL: Wreaths & Wine

What: Since we know many of you aren’t comfortable with in-person events we’ve scheduled a virtual event! Come into Vue before the event to pick-up your supplies. NOTE: You’ll need your own clippers! You’ll get a bottle of wine (choice of White or Red) and Wreath Making Kit, provided by Beno’s Flowers. You’ll login virtually to learn a few assembly and decorating techniques and then be free to get creative with your decorating!
Who: Moms
When: Thurs., Dec. 3, 6:30-8:00 p.m.
Where: Online
Cost: $60 per person. Get your tickets here!

** Virtual Event **
Added! The Man Who Invented Christmas

What: The West Branch and Mechanicsville Public Libraries are sponsoring this program via Zoom. Would you believe Christmas used to be a very low-key affair? It’s true! Until the mid-19th Century, people did little to mark it & businesses didn’t consider it a holiday. Yet by 1900 it was our largest & most popular annual celebration. What changed society’s view of Christmas? The answer may be Charles Dickens & “A Christmas Carol”. Historian Kathy Wilson investigates how a novel about social reform transformed Christmas from a date on the church calendar into the holiday we know today.
Who: Likely geared toward tweens, teens, and adults
When: Thurs., Dec. 3, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Online via Zoom here.
Cost: FREE

Updated! A Christmas Past

What: With a heavy heart the WBCDG Board has decided to alter the Christmas Past plans in light of the increasing COVID-19 rates and new safety recommendations.
See the updated list of events here.
Who: All ages
When: Community Tree Lighting (from a distance): Thurs., Dec 3 at 5:00 p.m. Santa Claus Cruise: Sat. Dec. 5 at 9:00 a.m.
Where: Tree Lighting – Village Green, West Branch. Santa Cruise – Main Street, West Branch
Cost: Mostly FREE (although some events have a charge)


Friday, December 4

** Virtual with contactless pickup **
Updated! Nature’s Noel

What: Indian Creek Nature Center’s annual holiday fundraiser featuring fresh green decor, artisan gifts, frozen soups, appetizers, baked goods, and more will look a little different this year. Things will look a little different this year: to ensure physical distancing (COVID-19 safety procedures), sales will be entirely ONLINE this year. Sales open Fri., Dec. 4, at 12:00 p.m. and will close at 12:00 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 5. Contactless pick-up will be Sunday, Dec. 6 and Mon., Dec. 7 (times TBD). Items will sell quickly. As soon as the sale opens, we recommend adding your most favorite items to your cart and purchasing right away. Putting an item in your cart does not hold the item. Only until you hit purchase will it be yours. Shop early for the best selection!
Who: All ages
When: Online: Fri., Dec. 4 at noon through Sat. Dec. 5 at 10:00 a.m. In-person Sat., Dec., 1:00-4:00 p.m. (Contactless pick-up Sun., Dec. 6 from 12:00-4:00 p.m.)
Where: Indian Creek Nature Center, 5300 Otis Road SE, Cedar Rapids
Cost: Free (Other than your purchases!)

Updated! Prelude to Christmas

What:  Check out the Amana Colonies’ 35th Prelude to Christmas celebration! A magical weekend with special events and food/beverage sampling in the shops, carolers on the street, and the town decked out in Christmas finery that’s Prelude to Christmas in the Amana Colonies. The streets of Amana come alive with old world charm at no time more than Prelude to Christmas. The fences and storefronts sport pine boughs, there are red ribbons fluttering in the breeze, and an occasional melody from beloved Christmas Carols in the air.

Join us for a weekend of special shopping, activities, and much more. While you shop, eat, and sample, bundle up and join us at the Tannenbaum Forest to see over 40 unique Christmas trees decorated by local businesses and families. Throughout the Amana Colonies, you’ll find gifts for the whole family to enjoy. You’ll find the Prelude to Christmas brochure at the Amana Colonies Visitors Center as well as in businesses throughout the Amanas. Don’t forget to dress warm and bring your Christmas shopping and gift wish lists!

This year, the annual Amana Church Cookie Walk and Bazaar has been adjusted for the pandemic. Instead of the Cookie Walk, the Amana Church is hosting a cookie order fundraiser, for which you should order cookies through the Amana Church website prior to Thanksgiving. Click here for details.

As we plan, we will release more information on activities and specials for Prelude to Christmas. Keep an eye on the link above and on Facebook for updates!
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 4 through Sun., Dec. 6
Where: Amana Colonies, 622 46th Avenue, Amana, IA
Cost: Varies, but many things are FREE

Deck the District 2020

What: Deck the District is a collaborative community holiday celebration in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District. Celebrations in years past have included shopping, dining and drink specials, crafts, a holiday movie, bingo, cookie decorating, music, free admittance to the National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library, and more. Watch the above link for details!
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 4 through Sun., Dec. 6
Where: New Bohemia and Czech Village, 3rd St. SE & 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids
Cost: Just the cost of your purchases!

Added! Manger Project

What: Come participate in a one-of-a-kind Christmas tradition that will have your family thinking about the true meaning of Christmas! Each family will receive materials and help to build a wooden manger. The manger can be part of an outdoor Christmas display or set near your tree to remind the family what Christmas is all about. Families also get an advent booklet they can work through together. Families are invited to enjoy Hot Chocolate and cookies in the Atrium before, during or after building your manger. This is an open house style of event where families can work on their own.
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 4, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Where:
Parkview Church, 15 Foster Rd, Iowa City
Cost: $15 per family to cover the cost of materials. Register here!

** Virtual Event **
Added! Ely Public Library Kahoot! Christmas Movie Trivia!

What: Join the Ely Public Library and test your Holiday Movie knowledge during this family fun trivia night! Play from the safety and comfort of your home using your own devices, such as computer, smart phone and/or tablet! You may be familiar with Kahoot from your children. It’s an online quiz format where multiple choice questions are posted, and you get points for correct answers and speed! It may help to download the Kahoot app ahead of time so you’ll be ready. Join in through Zoom here to get the Kahoot PINS to login and play.
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 4, 7:00 p.m.
Where:
Online! Join the Zoom to get the login info for the Kahoot!
Cost: FREE

** Virtual Event **
Christmas at Luther 2020: For Everyone Born

What: All are welcome to experience the online premiere of Christmas at Luther 2020: For Everyone Born. Newly formatted for this unique time in history, the performance will be free and available to be viewed from the comfort of your home.
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 4, 7:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: Online – Register here for the link!
Cost: FREE


Saturday, December 5

** Virtual Event **
Added! Letters to Santa!

What: Santa’s helpers at the West Branch Library have been busy making preparations to deliver your child’s letter to Santa!

They will be handing out letter kits in the take-home craft bags as a part of the Santa Claus Cruise during Christmas Past on December 5th (OR you may drop off your own letter if you are unable to get one that day). 𝗗𝗿𝗼𝗽 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗹𝗲𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗶𝗯𝗿𝗮𝗿𝘆 𝗯𝗼𝗼𝗸 𝗿𝗲𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗻 𝗯𝘆 𝗗𝗲𝗰𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗲𝗿 𝟭𝟭𝘁𝗵 so Santa has plenty of time to read your letter and write a letter back to you from the North Pole!
GUARDIANS: Santa, of course, knows where each child lives; however, the post office needs home addresses to deliver the letters! And because each child at the same address will receive their own letter from Santa at home, it is most important that you check to see that your child’s name and complete home address are correct and legible.
Please contact the library with questions!
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5 through Fri., Dec. 11
Where: West Branch Public Library, 300 Downey St., West Branch
Cost: FREE

Breakfast with Santa – Dubuque, IA

What: A Toys for Tots Fundraiser. Great fun for the kids! Join us for a delicious breakfast, crafts, cookie decorating, Christmas stories, music, and (of course!) a visit from Santa! Children eat free with a donation of a new, unwrapped toy for Toys For Tots.
Breakfast will be plated and include French Toast Sticks, Sausage, and Apple Juice Boxes for the children, and Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Chef’s Potatoes, Orange Juice, and Coffee for adults.
Reservations are recommended. Due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, only tables of six guests may be reserved. Temperature checks will be taken in order to attend and to visit Santa. Call 563.588.5595 to make your reservation.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 8:00-11:00 a.m.
Where: Hotel Julien Dubuque, 200 Main St., Dubuque (~1.5 hours NE of Iowa City)
Cost: $9.50 or a Toys for Tots donation for children; $16 for adults

Updated! Breakfast with Santa – Vinton, IA

What: To encourage social distancing, this year our Breakfast with Santa event will be drive-thru style! Santa will be handing out gift bags through vehicle windows and breakfast will be given in to-go containers! Includes breakfast, a visit with Santa (a wave through your car window), coloring book and crayons, and a special treat from Santa! All family members welcome.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
Where: Vinton Skate & Activity Center, 1703 C Ave., Vinton, IA (~45 minutes north of Iowa City)
Cost: $5.00 per person

Holiday Thieves Market (multiple dates)

What: Summer of the Arts happily stepped in to continue a favorite, 50-year holiday tradition. They are proud to offer this fine art show as an opportunity for area residents to shop for those special holiday gifts. Attendees can browse the amazing ceramics, fiber, drawing, glass, jewelry, metal, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and wood items. Many of the participating artists have been involved for over 20 years! Masks and social distancing required at this event.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 6, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, 300 E. 9th St., Coralville
Cost: Just the cost of your purchases!

Santa at the Farm!

What: Join Bass Farms for another year of Santa at the Farm! Come sit on Santa’s lap and give him your Christmas Wish List!! Grab a picture with Santa while you are here! (Please bring your own camera, BYOC!) Shop the country store filled with local honey, jams, jellies, meat sauces, salad dressings, Edgewood Locker Meats, fabulous wine, local hand soap, and more! Grab a scoop of peppermint ice cream or another favorite from our shop!
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Bass Farms, 840 Bass Lane, Mount Vernon, IA
Cost: FREE

Cancelled Christmas in Kalona

What: Join us for a full day of holiday festivities! Christmas in Kalona will have some changes this year due to COVID but we are still planning to have activities downtown for all ages! Watch here for upcoming details.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Kalona, IA
Cost: Just the cost of any purchases!

Added! 2020 Holiday Retail Open House

What: Join our downtown shops for the annual Holiday Retail Open House! Each participating retailer will be hosting a holiday party at their store that includes snacks, drinks, or a small gift for you at each stop. See details below whether each shop is hosting the event in-person, online, or by curbside pick-up. Make sure to check the shop’s websites or social media pages for store hours.

For the safety of customers, the shop’s hosting the event in-person will have a limited capacity. Check the signs on their doors to see how many patrons are allowed in at a time and remember, face-coverings are required, hand sanitizer is provided, and please keep a safe distance while shopping.
Participating Retailers:
In-Person: Active Endeavors, Akar Design, Beno’s Flowers, Catherine’s Boutique – Iowa City, Discerning Eye Optical, Dulcinea Iowa City, Ewers Mens Store Iowa City, Herteen & Stocker Jewelers, Luxe Interiors, Prairie Kitchen Store, Tailgate Iowa, Ten Thousand Villages, Iowa City, Velvet Coat, Textiles, Domby, Om gifts for body and soul, and Glassando
Online Only: Revival Clothing Store
Curbside Only: rsvp, Sweets and Treats of Iowa City
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Where: Downtown Iowa City
Cost: Just the cost of your purchases!

Christmas at the Farm

What: Join us for our first Christmas at the Farm in Walker, IA. Christmas market held indoors featuring the best local handmade crafters. Cozy up by the wood stove, shop, and support local business! Pine Hill flower shop will be open and filled with holiday inspiration and goods. Handmade wreaths, centerpieces, Pine Hill candles, Door County Coffee, and more. Slow down with an outdoor campfire & take in the holiday sights of the farm.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Where: Pine Hill Farm, 4022 Campfire Rd., Walker, IA (~1 hour north of Iowa City)
Cost: Just the cost of purchases!

Updated! Old World Christmas Market

What: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we will not have our traditional in-person Old World Christmas Market the first weekend of December. We are doing things differently this year so we can all be safe, healthy, and happy together for many holiday celebrations in the future! The NCSML will be open regular business hours from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 5, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 6, with a reimagined virtual market:
– Shop the award-winning Museum Store online at store.ncsml.org. Free shipping available for orders placed Nov. 27 through Dec. 24, with local delivery options. The Store is available for in-person shopping whenever the NCSML is open.
– Support the vendors online at store.ncsml.org from Nov. 27 through Dec. 24.
– Pick up holiday treats at the first-ever Drive Through Cookie Walk from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 5. Pre-order will be available starting Nov. 23 through Dec. 4 here.
– Thanks to UFG Insurance, visitors can enjoy free admission to NCSML galleries Dec. 5 and Dec. 6. All visitors must wear facemasks and maintain social distancing.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: National Czech & Slovak Museum, 1400 Inspiration Pl. SW, Cedar Rapids
Cost: Just the cost of your purchases!

** Virtual Event **
Added! 19th Annual Cedar Rapids Area Merry TubaChristmas 2020

What: Yes, we are having a Greater Cedar Rapids Area Merry TubaChristmas event for 2020, and yes, due to COVID-19, it will be quite different than previous years! This year our event will be a virtual streaming event via Facebook. This year we have partnered with the Cedar Rapids Municipal Band to produce an online streaming event via Facebook. The Low brass quartet from the Municipal Band will perform the usual line-up of great Christmas tunes from past TubaChristmas concerts. These musicians are volunteers and will follow social distancing guidelines during this performance.

If you are interested in playing along at home, details can be found here!
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 2:00 p.m.
Where: Online here
Cost: FREE

** Mom Event or Date Night **
Prelude to Christmas Vintner Dinner

What: The Ox Yoke Inn and White Cross Cellars present our Prelude to Christmas Classic Vintner’s Dinner. Enjoy a specially prepared four-course Prime Rib meal at the Ox Yoke Inn featuring White Cross Cellars wine paired with each course. Celebrate the holiday season with a classic meal on the evening of Prelude to Christmas after enjoying the ambiance of Amana’s candlelit streets.
Who: Adults
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
Where: Ox Yoke Inn, 4420 220th Trail, Amana
Cost: Please check back for more details on this menu or call the Ox Yoke Inn at 319-622-3441 to purchase your tickets.  Seating is limited.

** Virtual Event **
UI Choirs Broadcast

What: The University of Iowa choirs will be streaming their December concert online!
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Online here
Cost: FREE


Sunday, December 6

Updated! Virtual: Santa at NewBo City Market

What: Santa is returning to the Market! This year, they’ll be reading stories live on Facebook every Sunday! They’ll also be reading your letters LIVE! Starting November 29, Santa’s mailbox will be at the Market, and you can come drop off your holiday wishes to be read on the Facebook livestream the following Sunday!
(We’ll also be seeing some different faces represent Santa this year! Check back soon for more info!)
No need to register to have your letter read, although you can use the ticket link here to donate to the Market so that they can continue providing fun and family-friendly programming in the future!

Who: All ages
When: Sundays Dec., 6, Dec. 13, and Dec. 20 from 12:00-2:00 p.m. each of these dates
Where: Online!
Cost: FREE, but your donations are welcome here.

Holiday Pet Pictures

What: Head to the Cedar Valley Humane Society for a holiday professional photo session with Carl from Visions Photography, a fantastically tempting bake sale, and be sure to check out our retail pet toys and supplies while 20% off! Bring your kiddos (dogs, cats, and kids alike) and have some fun Christmas photos taken!
Who: You and your pets!
When: Sun., Dec. 6, 12:00-4:00 p.m.
Where: Cedar Valley Humane Society, 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids
Cost: You will receive a digital photo for only $10. Book your time slot here today!

** Mom Event **
Wood Sign Painting Workshop at Guild

What: Come create a one-of-a-kind piece with Creative Expressions Galena! There are over 250 wood sign designs to choose from, or they can customize something for you. There are many different shapes and sizes, and various stain and paint-color choices, and prices vary. Your seat will be waiting for you with all of your supplies, and your wonderful instructor will guide you through each step.

Be sure to support the location by purchasing food and/or drinks as they are generous in welcoming us into their space.

Please read their Covid-19 disclaimer prior to registering for the workshop. This workshop is not recommended for persons over 65 years of age or women who are pregnant at this time due to COVID-19.
Who: Tweens, Teens, Moms
When: Sun., Dec. 6, 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Where: Guild, 52 2nd St., Coralville
Cost: $55.00-$119.00; prices vary depending on the project you choose. Register here.

** See this link for more dates in Kalona, Blue Grass, Iowa City, Lisbon, Muscatine, West Branch, Morning Sun, Coralville, Mount Vernon, Riverside, and more! **


Monday, December 7

** Virtual Event **
North Liberty Rec Center Calls from Santa (multiple dates)

What: Here is your chance to have Santa Claus call your house and talk to your kids! The calls are free and will fall within the selected date and time. Please take the time to fill out all the questions and write down what day and time you select. Each call will last from 2-3 minutes.
Who: Kids ages 4-9
When: Mon., Dec. 7 through Thurs., Dec. 10, 6:30-7:30 p.m. each evening
Where: Wherever you are!
Cost: FREE, but you need to register at the above link

** Virtual Event **
UI Bands Broadcast (multiple dates)

What: The University of Iowa bands will be streaming their December concert online!
Who: All ages
When: Mon., Dec. 7 and Thurs., Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Online here
Cost: FREE


Wednesday, December 9

** Mom Event **
Wood Sign Painting at Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant

What: Join Gena’s Designs from the Heartland for a fun time where you will make your own wood sign to take home and show off! Not creative? No problem! Gena will walk you through the class step-by-step. All supplies will be provided. Pre-registration is required by December 1st or when seats are full. See designs here.
Who: Tweens, Teens, Moms
When: Wed., Dec. 9, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Where: Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant, 101 Windflower Lane, Suite 500, Solon
Cost: $49-$100, depending on what sign you choose. Register here!
** See this link for November dates in Marengo, West Branch, Muscatine **

** Virtual Event **
Added!
The World’s Best Christmas Tree Competition 2020 (Online)

What: “Santa Claus Live” has set this World’s Best Christmas Tree Competition 2020 event up as a bit of fun in the hope that people enjoy taking part in the competition or just looking at all the amazing trees. Remember, no Christmas tree is better than the next no matter how big or expensive, it is what the tree means to you that makes it special.

If you would like to enter your Christmas Tree in to the competition or simply look and vote on the amazing tree’s then please click “Going” on the event then join the Competition Facebook Group here. Details on entering the competition or voting on your favorite Christmas Trees are on the pinned post at the top of the group.
You can post your entries from today and the first round winners will be announced on 15th December in the group.
Who: All ages
When: Wed., Dec. 9 through Wed., Dec. 23
Where: Online
Cost: FREE

Thursday, December 10

** Virtual Event **
Happy Hanukkah (Chanukah)!!! Story Book Read

What: Kick off the first night of Hanukkah with a special storybook read. This event will include learning new songs and reading themed books such as Elmo’s Little Dreidel.
Miss Melissa will teach us, including Miss Lydia, how to play with the dreidel!
Who: Geared toward preschoolers
When: Thurs., Dec. 10, 2:00-2:30 p.m.
Where: Online here at the Hackley, Michigan, Public Library’s FB page
Cost: FREE

** Mom Event **
Event Full, but…

See this link for more dates in Kalona, Blue Grass, Iowa City, Lisbon, Muscatine, West Branch, Morning Sun, Coralville, Mount Vernon, Riverside, and more!

Wood Sign Painting Workshop at Cedar Ridge

What: Come create a one-of-a-kind piece with Creative Expressions Galena! There are over 250 wood sign designs to choose from, or they can customize something for you. There are many different shapes and sizes, and various stain and paint color choices, and prices vary. Your seat will be waiting for you with all of your supplies, and your wonderful instructor will guide you through each step.

Be sure to support the location by purchasing food and/or drinks as they are generous in welcoming us into their space.

Please read their Covid-19 disclaimer prior to registering for the workshop. This workshop is not recommended for persons over 65 years of age or women who are pregnant at this time due to COVID-19.
Who: Tweens, Teens, Moms
When: Thurs., Dec. 10, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery, 1441 Marak Rd. NW, Swisher
Cost: $55.00-$119.00; prices vary depending on the project you choose. Register here.

** Virtual Event **
Virtual Menorah Lighting (multiple dates)

What: Join us for a virtual lighting of the Menorah which represents the Jewish Festival of Chanukah. It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights. This is a recurring event. We will be lighting the Menorah on Facebook Live on December 10, 14, 15, 16, and 17, at 5:00 PM PST each day. We hope you can join us!
Who: All ages
When: Dec, 10, 14, 15, 16, and 17 at 7:00 p.m. each evening
Where: Online!
Cost: FREE! Join the FB Live here!


Friday, December 11

Event Full Cedar Rapids Library Program to Go: Family Holiday Fun Pack

What: “Programs to Go” are kits that patrons reserve in advance for pickup. The Program to Go Holiday Fun Pack will include loads of activities for the whole family. Paint a wooden ornament, read a family-friendly book, create a Santa Claus craft, and more!  Make some Happy Holiday memories! Everything in the kit, including a book, is yours to keep. Register in advance to pick up a Holiday Fun Pack on December 11 at the Downtown or Ladd Library. One kit per family, please.
Who: Families
When: Fri., Dec. 11
Where: At home, but kits may be picked up at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Library (450 5th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids) or Ladd Library (3750 Williams Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids)
Cost: Free, but advance registration is required. Registration opens 11/16/20. See link above.

** Mom Event **
The Maker’s Second Annual Holiday Market (Multiple dates)

What: The Maker’s was started by a group of local artists and makers. Come celebrate this holiday season shopping small and gifting handmade goods for all the people in your life. The Makers: Holiday Market in December will look a bit different this year. To allow a safe shopping event, for both artists and shoppers, masks will be REQUIRED at all times while in the building. A limited number of people will be allowed in at one time. Private shopping hours will be available upon request, both Friday and Saturday. These shopping times are outside the normal hours of operation. Please contact them to schedule a private viewing.
Who: Moms and maybe your older kids
When: Fri., Dec. 11, 11am – 6pm; Sat., Dec. 12, 10am – 5pm; Sun., Dec. 13, 10am – 3pm
Where: 312 E. College St., Iowa City
Cost: Just the cost of what you buy!

** Virtual Event **
Holidays with the Hawkeyes – Tubas!

What: The tubas must go on! Celebrate the holiday season virtually with the University of Iowa Holiday Tubas. Make a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy this annual campus tradition in the comfort of your own home.

Can’t tune in for this virtual performance? Watch it later on the University of Iowa Center for Advancement’s YouTube page.
Who: All Ages
When: Fri., Dec. 11, 12:30-1:30 p.m. (or later on YouTube)
Where: Online!
Cost: FREE, but register here for the link

Holiday Laser Light Show (multiple dates)

What: See holiday lights in a whole new way! Join us for a drive-in laser light show on the grounds of Hawkeye Downs! Each show is 30 mins long.
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 11, Sat., Dec. 12, and Sun., Dec. 13, shows at 5:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. each night
Where: Hawkeye Downs Speedway & Expo Center, 4400 6th Street SW, Cedar Rapids
Cost: $25/car. Tickets available here.

** Virtual Event **
Added! Ely Public Library Kahoot! Christmas Music Trivia!

What: Join the Ely Public Library and challenge your holiday music knowledge from the safety and comfort of your home using your own devices, such as computer, smart phone and/or tablet! You may be familiar with Kahoot from your children. It’s an online quiz format where multiple choice questions are posted, and you get points for correct answers and speed! It may help to download the Kahoot app ahead of time so you’ll be ready. Join in through Zoom here to get the Kahoot PINS to login and play.
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00 p.m.
Where:
Online! Join the Zoom to get the login info for the Kahoot!
Cost: FREE

** Virtual Event **
Added! Jim Brickman: Comfort & Joy at Home Live! Virtually

What: THIS IS A VIRTUAL CONCERT! Enjoy a one of a kind personal concert experience with Jim Brickman and support the Paramount Theatre from your couch, bed or comfy chair! Grammy Nominated Songwriter and piano sensation Jim Brickman will be taking the nation by storm this holiday season with the “Comfort & Joy at Home 2020” Virtual Tour. A portion of each ticket purchased to this LIVE event will be benefit the Paramount Theatre. Fans and their families can enjoy this unique virtual concert experience from the comfort of home, while supporting the Paramount Theatre during this challenging time.

Brickman will bring the LIVE concert experience up close and personal by blending yuletide memories and holiday carols with his own hit songs such as, “The Gift,” “Sending You A Little Christmas,” “Angel Eyes” and “If You Believe.” Brickman will warm the hearts of all as sweet sounds of faith and love make spirits bright, bringing family and friends together for anything but a silent night. The Jim Brickman’s Christmas tradition continues, with a front row experience like never before.
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Online!
Cost: $40-$125. See the different levels and get your tickets here!

** Virtual Event **
Added! It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play

What: This beloved American holiday classic comes to captivating life as a live 1940s radio broadcast by The Giving Tree Theater in Marion. With the help of an ensemble that brings a few dozen characters to the stage, the story of idealistic George Bailey unfolds as he considers ending his life one fateful Christmas Eve.
Who: The movie version is not rated. Common Sense Media recommends it for ages 9+
When: Dec. 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, and 20 from 8:00-10:00 p.m. each night
Where: Online!
Cost: $22, and you can get your tickets here!


Saturday, December 12

Added! Holiday Hoopla (Drive-Thru)

What: Hosted by Infuse Church. Santa, Cookie, Crafts, and more are back this year, Drive-Thru style. Stay in your car the entire time, decorate cookies, get your pic with Santa, and it’s all free. Event will continue so long as supplies last, so get there early. Check FB for weather-related updates.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 12, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Where: New Tiffin Soccer Fields Parking Lot
Cost: FREE

Added! Virtual Gingerbread Party

What: Stop by Center Court on December 12th and pick up your gingerbread kit to make at home! Post your finished house to social media and tag Lindale Mall to be entered to win a gift card!
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 12, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Where: Pick up your gingerbread kit at Lindale Mall, 4444 1st Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
Cost: FREE

** Date Night plan for the kids! **
Kidcreate Studio Date Night – Silly Santa

What: Do you have plans that don’t include your little ones? Do you want to see a movie that isn’t animated or enjoy a dinner that doesn’t include french fries? Sign your kids up for their own night out!

Ho ho ho! Silly Santa stuck in the chimney again?? In this class, artists will use clay, paint, and more to create a hilarious sculpture. This whimsical creation is sure to be the hit of your Christmas display… or it makes a great gift for a friend or relative with a silly sense of humor. Be sure to register early; this class fills up FAST!

Please pack a nut-free snack and a drink for your child.
Who: Kids ages 4-9
When: Sat., Dec. 12, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: 1121 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, #300, Cedar Rapids
Cost: $33 for members, $37 for non-members; Additional children 50% off! Register here.

** Mom Event or Date Night! **
WineStyles Annual Holiday Showcase

What: Mark your calendar so you don’t miss WineStyles’ Annual Holiday Showcase. This annual event is their way of saying “thank you” for a great year! Stop in and have a drink on them – they’ll have about 50 open bottles for you to taste.
Who: Adults 21+
When: Sat., Dec. 12, 6:00-9:00 p.m.
Where: WineStyles Iowa River Landing, 920 E. 2nd Ave., Suite 115, Coralville
Cost: The Annual Holiday Showcase tasting is **FREE** for you, and for everyone. So tell your neighbors and bring your friends! (Register here to help them with their headcount.)

** Virtual Event **
Added! Canadian Pacific Holiday Train At Home Virtual Concert

What: The 22nd annual #CPHolidayTrain is back. And this year, its first—and only—stop is your home! Although the train might look a bit different this year, we’re keeping the spirit of Christmas alive with a virtual concert via Facebook Live to raise money for food banks across North America. Celebrate the holidays with us and listen to great music, including performances by Serena Ryder, The Trews, JoJo Mason, Logan Staats, and Kelly Prescott.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 12, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Online
Cost: FREE


Sunday, December 13

** Virtual Event **
Tour the Old City of Jerusalem this Hanukkah – A Free Live Virtual Tour

What: Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to connect to Jerusalem and Hanukkah! This virtual tour, led by David Sussman Israel Tours, will be engaging for families and people of all ages. Will walk through the streets of the Old City leading up to the Kotel, or Western Wall. Meet local residents of the Old City and discover how they celebrate Hanukkah. Watch the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall.
Who: All ages
When: Sun., Dec. 13, 8:30 a.m.
Where: Online!
Cost: FREE. Register here!

** Virtual Event **
Hanukkah LEGO Virtual Workshop

What: In this Virtual workshop, kids will become one with Jewish heritage as they learn the history of and recreate several relics of Jewish traditions, such as placing mezuzah’s on homes, the history behind Hanukkah, and the functions of dreidels and menorahs. Students will use a combination of learned history and their imaginations to create their own twist on these items using LEGO bricks and other building materials you have at home (bricks, baseplate if available, paper, and pencil).
Who: Ages 5-12
When: Sun., Dec. 13, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
Where: Online!
Cost: $10.00. Register here!

Coralville Aisle of Lights

What: See how thousands of white paper sacks, each filled with sand and a votive candle, create a magical scene on a winter evening! Miles of luminarias are available for viewing by foot or car. Aisle of Lights is held annually on the second Sunday in December.

Area businesses and organizations host a merry day of activities for all ages and then participating residents and businesses light luminarias to burn in the evening. Coralville’s annual Aisle of Lights luminaria display began in 1980. The City and community volunteers will light luminarias on 5th Street (1st Avenue to S.T. Morrison Park), 12th Avenue (Highway 6 to Oakdale Boulevard), and Holiday Road (1st Avenue to 12th Avenue).

Watch here for updates on all the activities for Aisle of Lights!
Who: All ages
When: Sun., Dec. 13, 5:00-9:00 p.m.
Where: Throughout Coralville
Cost: FREE

** Virtual Event **
Added! The Hip Hop Nutcracker Streaming Version

What: A holiday mash-up for the whole family, directed and choreographed by Jennifer Weber, The Hip Hop Nutcracker – recorded live at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center – is a contemporary dance spectacle set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music.
Who: All ages
When: Sun., Dec. 13, 6:00-7:25 p.m.
Where: Online!
Cost: $20 ($50 for VIP) – Get your ticket here!


Tuesday, December 15

** Virtual Event **
A Magical Family Hanukkah Celebration

What: Join the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and jkidphilly for some safe, festive, holiday fun — 2020 style.
– Celebrate the festival of lights with neighbors and friends.
– Light candles.
– Belt out Hanukkah songs.
– Be mesmerized by the magic of Adam Elbaum.
– Compete in fun games like Hanukkah BINGO.
Hanukkah BINGO card and prayer booklet will be available via digital download upon registration!
Who: Families
When: Tues., Dec. 15, 4:30-5:15 p.m.
Where: Online!
Cost: FREE! Register here.


Friday, December 18

** Virtual Event **
 Coralville Center for the Performing Arts & City Circle Theatre Company present “A Christmas Cabaret”

What: When the quarantine blues cause Santa to consider canceling Christmas, it is up to the elves to restore his holiday spirit! Featuring talented performers from throughout the Corridor, this musical variety show will bring the holidays right to your screen in this internet broadcast.

This virtual performance is professionally filmed and streamed right into your home! Buy your tickets now, and watch the show at a time of your choice on December 18, 19, and 20!
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 18 through Sun., Dec. 20
Where: Online
Cost: $12 for students, $15 for seniors over 55, and $17 for adults. Selecting the right ticket is on the “honor system”—thank you for choosing the correct ticket price, it makes City Circle possible. Tickets available here.


Saturday, December 19

** Mom Event or Date Night! **
WineStyles Annual Bubbly Tasting

What: Love Bubbles? Please join WineStyles for their Annual Bubbly Tasting. They will be featuring wines from around the world: Cavas, Proseccos, Champagnes, Sparkling Wines…anything with bubbles! Stop in and pick out some bubbles for the Holidays. These wines are great food wines (think Christmas morning with cinnamon rolls or Christmas dinner with your family).
Who: Adults 21+
When: Sat., Dec. 19, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Where: WineStyles Iowa River Landing, 920 E. 2nd Ave., Suite 115, Coralville
Cost: $15 per person (Club Members: $10 per person): Refunded upon purchase of greater or equal value. Get your tickets here!

** Mom Event or Date Night! **
Holiday Trivia night with Kenny “Kringle” Weets

What: It’s time to test your knowledge with round three of our popular trivia contest. This time it’s all about celebrating the season with some fun holiday-themed trivia! Guests can compete in teams of up to four members. Back by popular demand, Riverside’s own, Kenny “Kringle” Weets will be the trivia master and leader of holiday cheer for the evening. Your ticket gets you a table for up to four team members, your own personal spread of pub food favorites, and three drink tickets per team member. What’s a holiday festivity without gifts? Don’t you worry! Kenny and his elves will be giving away exciting door prizes throughout the night. What if the Hawkeyes are playing? We’ll broadcast the game on the big screen during the event so you won’t miss a thing! Grab your social distancing pod members and come play some holiday trivia!

It’s all part of our Winter Fest Entertainment series!  A chance to get out of the house for a date night with your significant other or bestie in a fun, safe, socially distanced environment! Seating is general admission, and all tables will be set up to follow proper social distancing guidelines.

The Menu: Pita Chips with Spinach Artichoke Dip, Grilled Beef Sliders with Cheddar Cheese on Brioche with pickle spears, Buffalo Chicken Wings, Pork Spring Rolls with Sweet Chili Sauce, Bourbon BBQ Meatballs with Crispy French Onions. A cash bar will be available at the event.
Who: Adults 21+
When: Sat., Dec. 19, 7:00 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for team check-in)
Where: Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, Riverside, IA
Cost: $140 for a table of 4 ($35/person) plus an online/phone ticketing fee (this fee is waived when tickets are purchased in person in the Gift Shop).  Tax and gratuity are included.  No individual tickets will be sold.  Each ticket gets you a table for up to four people. Tickets available here.

Added! Christmas in the Key of A – Alisabeth Von Presley

What: As many local performers and touring shows have cancelled their holiday shows this season, Alisabeth Von Presley thought to try something she’s always wanted to do – perform in her own full-length production at the gorgeous Paramount Theatre. “Christmas In The Key Of A” will feature all of your favorite holiday music, choreographed dancers, backup singers, costumes, a live band and, of course, sequins! There also might be a few surprise visitors, including the big man himself.
Who: All ages
When: Sat., Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Paramount Theatre, 119 3rd Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Cost: $20/ticket. Get yours here!


Sunday, December 20

Added! Christmas Toddler Time at Sky Zone Cedar Rapids

What: Come see Santa & The Grinch at Sky Zone! Join in this Toddler Time Event, and celebrate Christmas with your little ones at Sky Zone!
Who: Ages 6 and under
When: Sun., Dec. 20, 9:30-11:00 a.m.
Where: Sky Zone, 5515 Council St. NE, Cedar Rapids
Cost: $14.99 for one parent and one child; $4.99 for each additional parent; $2.99 for socks.

** Virtual Event **
Added! Mini Muni Music – Horn Quartet

What: The Cedar Rapids Municipal Band’s horn quartet shares beautiful music as part of our Mini Muni Music series.
Who: All ages
When: Sun., Dec. 20, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Where: Online here.
Cost: FREE

Kwanzaa Celebration 2020: Global Edition

What: A holiday created by Africanist scholar Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa is a celebration held across the United States and in other nations of the African Diaspora. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba, consisting of what Karenga called “the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world.” Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the principles.

Join in on December 20th for the third annual Kwanzaa Celebration as a YouTube Live streaming event! This year, things are going to be a little different, but the amazing quality of dance performances and good storytelling will still be the same!
Who: All ages
When: Sun., Dec. 20, 5:00-6:30 p.m.
Where: Online!
Cost: FREE. Register here to get the link!

Tuesday, December 22

** Virtual Event **
Added! Virtual Doodlebugs: Boxing Day

What: Boxing Day. Grab a cardboard box—any size will do—and whatever else might be lying around the house! Paint it, cut it, glue stuff to it… Turn a boring box into something completely new! We’ll check out Stan Widerspan’s super-realistic painting of cardboard boxes, read a story about the things a cardboard box could possibly become, and then set your imagination loose to come up with something awesome! Each child could work on a separate box, or several could work collectively on the same box. Who knows what could happen!
To do the art project along with Miss Erin, you’ll need these materials at the ready: A cardboard box (any size), and any other art materials you have handy (paint, markers, pencils, scissors, glue, paper, tape, string, stickers, stamps, etc.)

Who: All ages
When: Sun., Dec. 20, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Where: Via Zoom here. (Meeting ID 569 551 9009)
Cost: FREE


Friday, December 25

Community Christmas Dinner

What: You’re invited to celebrate the true spirit of community! The meal will be a traditional Christmas meal and be available for carryout or delivery only, due to COVID-19 guidelines. To receive a meal, call 319-653-3749 and specify your name, carryout or delivery, the number of meals you’re requesting, your address, and phone number.
Who: All ages
When: Fri., Dec. 25, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (Doors open at 10:30 a.m.)
Where: Washington First Assembly of God, 1602 E. Washington St., Washington, IA (~30 minutes south of Iowa City)
Cost: FREE


Tuesday, December 29

Vinton Parks & Recreation Winter Carnival

What: Check out the Winter Carnival sponsored by Vinton Parks & Rec!
Who: Grade school age
When: Tues., Dec. 29, 9:00-11:00 a.m.
Where: Vinton Skate & Activity Center, 1703 C Ave., Vinton, IA (~45 minutes north of Iowa City)
Cost: Game tickets are just $0.10 each!


Thursday, December 31

** Virtual Event **
Cedar Rapids Library’s Noon Year’s Eve

What: Grab your party hats, noisemakers, and balloons, and get ready to count down to noon with the Cedar Rapids Public Library at home! Join a special guest for some music, fun, and a celebration of the start of 2021!
Who: All ages
When:
Thurs., Dec. 31, 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Where: Virtual event that can be viewed on the CR Library YouTube channel or Facebook page.
Cost: FREE

Vinton Parks & Rec’s New Year’s Eve at Noon

What: Vinton Parks & Recreation is hosting a New Year’s Eve at Noon party! Roller skating, pizza, games, party favors, and fun! Held at the Skate Center.
Who: Grades: K-5th.
When:
Thurs., Dec. 31, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Where: Vinton Skate & Activity Center, 1703 C Ave., Vinton, IA (~45 minutes north of Iowa City)
Cost: Cost is $7/person, and you must pre-register here.

** Mom Event or Date Night! **
Boy Band Bingo

What: It’s Gonna Be May! Boy Band (Music) Bingo Come out on New Year’s Eve for B-I-N-G-O + Name That Tune + Sing-a-longs while we play Boy Band Music Bingo! #ThisAintYourGrandmothersBingoNight
Who: Adults
When: Thurs., Dec. 31, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Where: DanceMor Ballroom, 77 2nd St. SE, Swisher, IA
Cost: FREE to play, Win FREE drinks


As 2020 winds down, making family memories seems more important than ever, so review the list, choose some activities, and enjoy some together time, whether online or in person!


This is a sponsored post. ICM was compensated for sharing this piece.  However, we love connecting our readers with people and organizations that are doing good in our community, and we think you will find this information helpful and informative!

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Thanksgivings in Quarantine

During dinner last week, my 7 year old asked if we would be going to grandma and grandpa’s house for Thanksgiving this year. “No baby, not this year.” It’s the phrase I utter like a broken record. Ugh…

Growing up I had both traditional and non-traditional Thanksgivings experiences. A meal with all the trimmings. Playing football with my cousins in the backyard. Some years adding a few non-traditional twists, which included a trip to the bowling alley or movie theater. Sometimes heading out late into the evening for a little Black Friday shopping. But they all had one thing in common – family. Whatever we did, we did it together. It didn’t matter whether we had a huge Thanksgiving meal or ordered pizza. What mattered was having everyone in the same room.

 

Unfortunately, having everyone together just isn’t an option this year. So after we put the girls to bed, I hopped on Pinterest in hopes of finding creative ways to make Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving, even in quarantine. Alas, the only posts I found were how to have a socially distant outdoor meal with family. And since we live in the midwest, that’s not a suitable option. So I decided to see if I could fill in the gaps and make it feel more like Thanksgiving, even without a full house.

Here are my tips for creating a fun and safe Thanksgiving during the pandemic:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

First on my list, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A quick google search revealed that due to the pandemic, Macy’s is shifting to a televised only presentation. I am thrilled! Although it will look very different this year, it’s one tradition my family can adhere too.

Turkey Cookie Cutter

Metal cookie cutters are the perfect breakfast tool. Nothing says Thanksgiving morning like Turkey shaped pancakes! I typically leave the pancake batter in the cookie cutter for 5-7 minutes, depending on the temperature. Once the pancake has bubbled some and appears to have taken a solid shape, I promptly remove the cookie cutter and flip the pancake.

Kids Thanksgiving Tablecloth

I found these adorable tablecloths while perusing Amazon. My girls love to color. So it’s a great way to make our time around the dinner table more fun!

Food

When it comes to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, I am not a stickler for tradition. And since we are spending the holiday at home, as a family of five, I think we should get creative. My husband and I are getting our girls involved in the dinner selection. Should we order pizza? Make tacos, chicken lips, or a Mississippi Mud Roast? Who knows!? Just being a part of the process is getting them excited for Thanksgiving.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Unfortunately the beloved holiday special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, will not be airing on any broadcasting television networks this year. Instead, Apple TV+ will air the special for free November 25-27.

Crafts

My simple go-to are free printable coloring sheets. But since we plan to spend the day relaxing at home, turkey crafts are the way to go! Now, more than ever, it’s important to show gratitude, so we are planning to incorporate this activity into our day.

 Board Games

Yahtzee and checkers were a Thanksgiving stable when I was a kid. So naturally, I have a closet filled with board games that we play often and Thanksgiving will be no different!

 Books

Our family really loves books! We rely on them heavily to make the holiday’s extra special. If you forget to check out a few from your local library, the YouTube channel, Storytime Anytime is filled with great read aloud books for kids. Here are a few of our favorite Thanksgiving books:

The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing

The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving by Charles M. Schulz

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson

 

2020 is one for the books, that’s for sure! And Thanksgiving may look different this year, but there is always a way to celebrate! How do you plan to celebrate this year?

 

 

 

Easy and Pleasing: Simple Recipes That Turn the School Lunch Items Your Kids Won’t Eat into Delicious Family Dishes

If your children are enrolled in the ICCSD’s PK-12 Online Learning Program (the fully-online option), you can pick up free school lunches every weekday school is in session from 12-1pm at select schools. Children don’t need to be present – just roll up to the staff member in the parking lot and tell them how many lunches you need. These are free to everyone regardless of income level through at least December 2020. Get the details and the schedule here.

These free, easy meals have been a godsend to my family. My kids gobble down much of the fare every day – but there are always some items left over they don’t eat that day, and a surplus can build up, because the school district cycles through a limited array of menu options. Because I hate to waste food, we’ve come up with some creative ways to use up the leftover or “less liked” options:

Frozen Yogurt Bark (using school lunch yogurt cups)

Ingredients:

Whatever cups of school lunch yogurt you have on hand

Whatever toppings you have on hand or want to include: granola, shredded dried coconut, berries or other diced fruit (fresh or frozen), chia seeds (our families’ favorite!), honey, peanut butter, chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper.) If you only have a cup or two of yogurt, you can just use a plate.)

2. Spread the yogurt in a thin layer around the surface using the back of a spoon.

3. Add desired toppings – sprinkle/dollop/drizzle as much as you like on top.

4. Freeze until solid; then remove and break apart into chunks for eating.

Rice Pudding (using school lunch milk cartons) from Spicy Southern Kitchen

Ingredients:

6 cups milk, divided (1 school lunch milk carton = 1 cup)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 heaping cup long grain white rice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

ground cinnamon to taste (optional)

Instructions:

1. In a large saucepan, combine 5 1/2 cups milk, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Stir in rice and reduce heat to low. Be sure to adjust the heat so that it is at a gentle simmer.
3. Stirring occasionally, cook for 50 to 60 minutes. Mixture should thicken up to consistency of yogurt.
4. Once thickened, remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
5. Let cool and then refrigerate. The last 1/2 cup milk is stirred in just before serving. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.
Shepherd’s Pie (using school lunch mixed vegetables)
Ingredients:
8-16 ounces of mixed vegetables (at minimum, 3 of the little school lunch packages of vegetables, and you can use more)
1 lb. ground beef (or turkey, or vegetarian meat “crumbles”)
1/2 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 medium yellow onion, diced
Box of instant mashed potatoes, pre-made mashed potatoes from Hy-Vee or Costco, or mashed potatoes from scratch (if you’re making them from scratch, you’ll need 2 pounds of russet potatoes, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 cup milk, and salt and pepper to taste)
2 cups shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:
1. Brown onion and ground meat (or meat substitute) together in a skillet until meat is cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. While that’s cooking, make either your boxed instant mashed potatoes or make mashed potatoes. (If you’re making them from scratch, try this recipe.) Add half the cheese to your potatoes and stir it in.
3. Back to your meat and onion, add the school lunch mixed vegetables you have on hand (at least three of the little bags, and you can use more), the ketchup, and the Worcestershire sauce (you can add less or more than the suggested amounts depending on your family’s taste). Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are warm.
5. Take the meat mixture and layer into the bottom of a 8×8 or 8×11 pan. Cover with the remaining cup of cheese. Finally, layer on the mashed potatoes.
6. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
Ingredients:
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 pounds baby carrots
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks
Instructions:
1. Spray the insert of the slow cooker with cooking spray. Pour the chicken broth in and then dump the carrots into the slow cooker.
2. Sprinkle the salt and brown sugar over the carrots. Place the small chunks of butter evenly over top.
3. Cover with the lid and cook on LOW heat for 5-7 hours.
4. Stir when done and serve with some of the sauce from the slow cooker drizzled on top.

 

A Beautiful Game In An Ugly Time

We shouted (encouragingly) as the players ran down the pitch. (If you didn’t know, pitch is the proper name for a soccer field. One of the many things I learned this season.) Coaches were giving instructions, the kids working together as a team to move the ball into their attacking half. As the scene unfolded, one of the players took a shot on goal, and everyone collectively held their breath. We watched the ball sail into the net and erupted into cheers. The beautiful game in an ugly time.

Being a parent during the pandemic has been stressful and at times depressing. Activities canceled, life milestones altered. Just recently does it feel like we’ve settled into something that resembles normal. Schedules have started to fill back in. Dance and tumbling came back first. All with strict safety requirements. Reduced class sizes, masks, temperature checks and more. One of the more common measures we’ve encountered is parents and spectators aren’t allowed in. This has been extremely tough on me personally as I cherished watching my daughter dance or achieve a new tumbling milestone. Afterwards maybe getting a word of encouragement or advice from her instructor that we can take home and work on. She’ll be our only child, and I’ll never get another chance at this. Now I watch her walk through a door and am unable to see her at all. Video is offered depending on the activity, but it’s not the same. Quite often we rely on her feedback alone to see how the activity went.

Last spring we signed up for a new soccer league being brought to Tiffin. It was exciting as the organization is well known nationwide for youth soccer. Unfortunately and understandably the pandemic caused that season to be canceled. With dance canceled along with everything else spring activity wise it wasn’t a surprise, but it still stung.

Fast forward to the fall. A small group of volunteers, largely composed of a family from the Tiffin and Amana area, put on a herculean effort to hold a fall soccer season. They focused on protecting players and spectators while continuing to teach soccer amid a difficult time. Masks were required for spectators, to and from fields, etc. Temperature checks were to be done before games. Social distancing meant parents were to sit on a single side of the field, players on the other side. Practices were to be held on the same day and games shortened in turn so that contact tracing would be feasible, if that situation were to arise. Participants were to exit immediately after games and not arrive too early. Most participants respectfully complied with the mask mandate and social distancing was observed. The volunteer crew kept on the messaging and mask requirements throughout the season. There will always be outliers unfortunately, especially with masks, but generally speaking I found the requirements were respected.

This group was serious in teaching their participants fundamental soccer. At the parents meeting they needed volunteers, which in these times is harder to come by as there is increased risk. My husband, who had said he wasn’t going to coach as he wanted to sit back and watch, volunteered. Then next thing I know he’s also refereeing. I shouldn’t expect anything less from a Veteran to step up when help is needed. We both decided due to my employment and risk that I would not volunteer as to avoid any potential quarantine outcomes. By end of year I was signed up to be a team parent, so I can help in areas where I won’t be required to expose myself to a potential quarantine. Thankfully, a quarantine situation never materialized.

Diving in headfirst, we learned soccer as parents who had never played. A streaming package later, soccer somehow became a fixture on the TV. My husband and daughter were outside as part of PE and Recess for virtual school, running through drills. As we studied the game, we talked about rules more than those other depressing topics. It gave us an outlet from the pandemic and other issues for 7 weeks. Saturday became a day to look forward to as we’d be able to get out of the house, see other people cheer and watch the kids for just a little bit, play a game and not worry about the unknowns we face. We moved our pre-game activities to our backyard. We played music like normal and had fun before games. During the games she’d shout instructions to her teammates, and it was great to see her getting some socialization she had missed due to our decision to start her in virtual school. The positivity from soccer was infectious.

Circling back to the beginning. The player who scored that goal I talked about earlier? My small but mighty girl (queue baby Yoda thoughts), nearly two years younger and a few head at minimum shorter than the boys she was battling, had scored a goal. Her fists pumped in the air like she scored a goal in a major competition. The smile beamed on her face. At the end of the game she ran into my husband’s arms and he lifted her off the ground in celebration. Walking back to the car, she talked about how amazing it was to score a goal and how happy her dad was. She told the coach/player trainers with immense pride she scored her first goal. It was a beautiful and emotional moment. I never realized how much more possible it was to cherish seeing an in-person event of my child, but this pandemic has made that so. In those moments, the pandemic was ever-present but relegated to the background. The kids playing the beautiful game took center stage.

I’ll miss fall soccer. I’m grateful for what it did for my family to alleviate some of the pandemic strain. Our daughter has decided to play futsal (indoor soccer) this winter and participate in some developmental practice. No spectators will be allowed for these, more of the same. Masks will be required for the players. Protecting everyone the best we can during this time while not shutting down any hope of activities for potentially years to come. I’ll yearn for spring, in hopes we can hold an outdoor season and get another chance at a weekly eyes-on 60 minutes of responsible soccer in this new world.

What Happens When You’re a Coronavirus Close Contact?

Disclaimer: This post is not medical advice.  If you have medical questions regarding COVID-19, coronavirus, or anything else please contact your primary care physician.

When we first started hearing things about a new and novel virus popping up on the other side of the world, I don’t think many of us had a real understanding of just how substantially this pandemic would change our lives.  It’s November now, and while schools are back open in many places and toilet paper isn’t in such short supply, we are still grappling with new infections, exposures, quarantines, isolation periods, and other new words that COVID-19 has pressed into our vocabularies.

I had really hoped that we in Iowa would be in a better place at this point, but currently infection rates are rising and community spread is a very real threat.  If you are going out into the world at all, even with careful infection control protocols, sooner or later (if it hasn’t happened already) you’re probably going to get a call or an email like the one we got a few weeks ago.

“This notice is to inform you that you have been identified as a close contact of someone who recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus during the time that they were infectious.”

What does it mean when you’ve been identified as a “close contact” of someone who tested positive for coronavirus?  As a family, we found this out last month when my oldest son received notice that he had been exposed to the novel coronavirus at his child care program.  While different healthcare providers may give differing recommendations, here’s what it meant for us:

Medical Advice

If you or your child have been exposed to COVID-19, it’s important to seek medical advice for your specific situation. Don’t just show up at a doctor’s office or urgent care, however. It is better to call your healthcare provider and ask what to do.  Many providers (including the University of Iowa) are offering video visits for those with symptoms, potential exposure, or even just questions about COVID-19.  You will likely talk with a triage nurse or other healthcare professional first.  Then, if needed, you will be scheduled a time to meet virtually with a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant.  We spoke first with a nurse and then with a physician, who recommended testing through their clinic based on our situation.

Quarantine

We were advised that my son needed to quarantine for 14 days from the last date of his exposure.  He was not allowed to go out into public except to receive medical care.  He could not go to school, gymnastics, child care programs, visit relatives, or play with other kids in the neighborhood, even with a mask or outside. Since my husband worked from home, he was able to care for our son during the day while I continued to go to work as a healthcare worker.  Our other son was allowed to continue going to his child care program as he had not been directly exposed.  We kept them apart as much as possible, although this was difficult.

Testing

Recommendations may differ based on each person’s individual situation, but the healthcare provider we spoke to recommended testing at day 5 and day 12 after exposure, or sooner if symptoms developed.  The reasoning behind waiting a little while is that it can take several days for a viral load to increase to the point that it becomes detectable with a nasal swab.  It’s important to remember, however, that even with a negative test we were told he still had to complete the 14 day quarantine, as symptoms can develop at any time during that period.  A negative test is not a pass to get out of quarantine early.

Monitoring

We closely monitored my son for symptoms.  We took his temperature several times a day, and watched for any signs of cough, sore throat, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, or muscle aches.  Had he developed any symptoms, we would have immediately isolated him and called for medical advice.

Isolation

Isolation is different from quarantine.  Quarantine just means you need to stay out of public in case you MIGHT be infected.  Isolation means attempting to contain the virus once you KNOW you or someone in your household is infected.  Luckily, we didn’t have to move to this step, but we did consider how we could best isolate a family member in one part of the house, using a different bathroom and using masks when in common areas should that become necessary.  At this time, the CDC recommends that a person with lab confirmed COVID-19 (meaning a positive test) should isolate from other people for a minimum of 10 days from when symptoms began OR 10 days from a positive test if there are no symptoms.

Happily for us, our 14 days passed and my son had two negative COVID-19 tests and no symptoms.  He’ll be heading back to school tomorrow, happy to be able to play with friends and get back to life as normal as it can be in these times.  And we will keep wearing our masks, maintaining physical distance, avoiding crowds, and doing everything we can to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.  We can’t do everything, but we can do some things.

If you need information or have questions about COVID-19, potential exposures, or individual risk situations, call your healthcare provider right away.  You can also call the Influenza Like Illness Clinic phone number at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics at 1-319-384-9010.  If you have any life threatening symptoms such as difficulty breathing or other emergency symptoms, please don’t wait.  Call 911 and follow their instructions.

The Dragon Your Kids Have Always Wanted

As parents, we know how much our children LOVE playing and snuggling furry (and even scaly) friends. “Can we get a puppy?” or “I want a pet!” are phrases that we hear all too often. Pets are a huge responsibility though and shouldn’t be an impulsive purchase. Pets (of any species) need careful thought, planning, and a committed family.

Adopting a dog, or a cat, aren’t always the best (or affordable) options for some families, especially since they are considered to be more “high maintenance”. For those parents who are interested in welcoming a new member to the family, but would like an option that is a little more relaxed from the aforementioned pet, you might want to consider a more reptilian option.

Insert the sweet loving Bearded Dragon, aka beardie. They are a non aggressive, low maintenance, kid friendly, social, funny, and hygienic pet. They are also a real life “dragon” which is cool to bring up in conversation. Not the Game of Thrones type, of course, but one that is kind and won’t exhale fire. 

An adult bearded dragon

Bearded dragons are GREAT companions and are considered to be one of the top choices for a family pet. We recently adopted our funny little Gary Cocoa and absolutely adore having him as part of the family. Our daughters, ages 9 and 5, love to spend time with him and the feeling is mutual.

Unlike other lizards, beardies are fond of being in the company of their owner, aren’t picky eaters, easy to care for, and very friendly. Although they grow to be quite large, approximately two feet in length, the maintenance of their enclosure and care is quite simple. 

If you’re intrigued, good! Read on for some tips on how to care for your dinosaur looking friend. 

Docile nature – let’s just say that the beardie is similar to a couch potato. They simply just… well …. chill. As stated before, bearded dragons like to hangout with their owners; watching TV, cuddling in a “beardie burrito“, or cozying up on your chest. They have a sweet temperament and are quite gentle. 

Our beardie, Gary Cocoa, wrapped in his beardie burrito

Deciding on a habitat – Although beardies are considered to be low maintenance once adopted, the upfront costs can be a little pricey. Be sure that you are able to financially support your beardie with the proper habitat and equipment before bringing him or her home. Since bearded dragons grow to be quite large they will need a fairly large habitat and they need an environment that is similar to the Australian dessert. Because of this, beardies are commonly kept in glass tanks and ones that are at least 4 feet in length to ensure that there is an ample amount of room. Bearded dragons also need a basking bulb, as well as a basking area for them to keep nice and warm. They love and need the heat so this is extremely important. Our beardie has a basking rock, a large stick, and two hammocks which gives him many options to choose from. Many of these items (except the bulb) can be gathered outside vs. in the store. Of course, if you are going the al natural approach with items in nature, be sure to bake them at 180 degrees (80 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes to kill off any bacteria that could potential harm your lizard friend. You should also have a thermometer perched in the habitat to monitor the temperature. Beardies like the temp during the day to be at least 85 degrees Fahrenheit and in the evening a bit cooler, around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another option, if you’re the DIY type, is to make your own habitat or purchase a starter kit that comes with the basics.

Feeding your beardie – Beardies are omnivores and require protein (crickets) and vegetables (leafy greens, sweet potatoes, bok choy, collard greens, and yellow squash). They also love certain fruits for a snack (mango and papaya are a great choice).

Under the age of 1, your pet should have an 80% (protein) to 20% (veggie) ratio. As they get older, this ratio will switch to 20% (protein) to 80% (veggies). Crickets typically cost around $3.00 and should last you about 1 month. For an additional snack you can also give meal worms.

It is essential to give your bearded dragon calcium. This is needed for bone strength and growth. You can do this by simply “dipping” their food (aka cricket) into calcium powder before feeding it to your beardie. This sounds a lot more gross than it really is…

The calcium powder costs about $5-10, depending on where it is purchased, and will last for several months.

Having fun with your beardie – Although bearded dragons are pretty lazy in nature, there are occasional moments when you can see their goofy side through playtime. As your beardie gets older, you can begin taking them on walks with a reptile harness outdoors. As long as it’s warm enough of course. Beardies also love to play with small rolling objects and swim (bathe) in shallow water.

If you need more convincing check out this video for more information.

 

Does anyone else have pets of the reptilian type? Do share!

DIY Magic: The Iowa Children’s Museum Play Pack

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Do you wish you could wave a magic wand and make the world return to its pre-Covid state? I can’t make the pandemic go away, but thanks to the latest Iowa Children’s Museum Play Pack, you can make some magic at home!

In August, The Iowa Children’s Museum introduced their Play Packs–curated boxes of activities to entertain and educate your children. Out of this World was all about space, astronauts, and stars. Crash Course in Engineering included projects like “Tallest Tower” and a DIY roller coaster to keep busy hands engaged.

Now, just in time for the season of ghosts and goblins, The Magical Mysteries Play Pack is here! This pack is a fun combination of mystery and magic, with art, science, and even a small sewing project to keep your little wizard busy. My daughter is in 6th grade, the age where something has to be pretty cool to earn her approval. After about five minutes into the first activity, This Wand Has Chosen You (complete with a magic wand!), she was hooked.

The Magical Mysteries Play Pack has three more activities:

Pick Your Pet: Discover animals with a magical history and then use the materials to make your own.

Rainbow Revealium: Create a potion with rainbow colors and watch it swirl in a glass ball.

Reducto Redinko: Turn a large, scary beast into something tiny and cute while using the scientific method of observation, making predictions, and identifying patterns.

It’s all packaged around the idea of a magical academy (think DIY Harry Potter) with  supplies to make your own “book of lore” and stories to get your kiddo in a mystical mood. Within each project are more games and crafts to extend the time on task and use of fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, reading, and writing.

This Play Pack is great for older kids as there are a lot of smaller objects, and multi-step, challenging projects. The shrinking project requires the use of an oven, and sewing requires fine motor skills that may be more challenging for tiny hands. My 11 year-old was thoroughly engaged in making a basic circuit to light her magic candle, even if she did have to call on the resident Wizard (Dad).

If you have younger kids, you could still enjoy this pack together by modifying the projects and reading the stories aloud. I loathe imaginative play, so I was more than happy to hand her the box and send her off to the magical kingdom on her own!

If you love your Play Pack and want to keep learning, each box comes with additional resources, including book recommendations, links to online resources, and there’s even a Facebook group you can join to share your child’s projects!

These packs would make a great gift from grandparents–just send them the link to the Iowa Children’s Museum and their shopping is done! I plan on buying a pack for my nieces and nephews to enjoy…and to give my sisters some quiet time while the kids are engaged in educational fun.

 

 

 

 

The Bravest Thing I’ve Ever Done

“How many kids do you have?”

It’s really an innocent question, but one I always struggle to answer. I’m a mom to three little boys; two of them are earth side and very much alive and active and my first son passed away when he was 7 months old. Depending on how well I know or will know the person, I may say two children or three. Either way, I feel like my answer needs some sort of footnote or notation. If I answer three kids, I prepare to see “the look” on the other person’s face; shock, pity, or sadness when I say my first son passed away. If I answer two kids, then I feel horrible because what kind of mom omits her kids? I’ve also had a miscarriage, and I’m ok with opening up about that but I also know society doesn’t really talk about it.

As time goes on, I feel like I don’t have as many opportunities to share about my sweet angel babies. It’s not that I don’t think of them, but it seems like our society tends to put an expiration on grief and after a while people think you should be over it. In reality you never really get over it because a parent never stops loving their child.

My son’s name is Mason. He was my first baby, born in March 2016. He was a perfectly healthy little boy. Fuzzy, straight blond hair, navy blue eyes, and the most adorable gummy grin. Even at only 7 months old, his goofball personality came through. He was quite the pro at blowing raspberries and making all sorts of crazy sounds to get a reaction out of people. Often when I’d burp him after his bottle, he’d blow a slobbery raspberry on my shoulder and he’d look at me and then just laugh his cute little belly laugh. I miss that laugh so much. He was such a smiley baby, but whenever I’d try to take a picture of him the smile would typically melt away into a more stone faced or poised expression until picture time was over and then his grin would reappear. He loved his stroller rides and being outside. He had no patience for hunger and would not settle until he was full, even if all he needed was just a half an ounce. He never cut his first tooth, but with the amount of drool and bibs changed multiple times a day we expected a tooth any day. He was so close to figuring out how to crawl, but he had mastered rolling to wherever he wanted to be. We have pictures of him in his Chicago Cubs onesies as we rooted on the Cubbies during the season all the way until they won the World Series. Yes, in his short life the Cubs won the world series. He was such an easygoing baby and we could take him anywhere. I felt so lucky and blessed to have such an amazing little boy.

Then, on November 4, 2016, I received a call while at work. Mason hadn’t woken from his nap. My sweet little baby that was rolling around and giggling earlier that morning was somehow gone. Little did I know that  “I love you, buddy-boo. Daddy’s going to pick you up later. I’ll see you when I get home from work” would be my last words to him.  I still remember the outfit he was wearing. I have his bright yellow socks he was wearing that day in a small silk pouch packed away in a trunk with his other special items.

It’s every parent’s nightmare, but there was no waking up from it. The shock when the doctor tearfully told me Mason had peacefully passed in his sleep, holding his body that felt simultaneously familiar and foreign, the unnatural empty feeling when leaving the hospital without my son, coming home to a quiet house with his things still there, planning a funeral for my baby when earlier in the week I was thinking about what to get him for Christmas and imagining his first birthday. Nothing can ever prepare you for the deep and unending grief, the heartache, or the emotional triggers. When life gets rough, the advice is to take things day by day, but when something really tragic happens even going hour by hour is overwhelming.

A few months later, I found out I was pregnant again. It was nerve-racking, but for the first time in months I felt hope again. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. At my first doctor’s appointment there was no heartbeat and later during the weekend I would miscarry. Two days after that heartbreaking appointment was Mason’s first birthday. That same week, we finally received Mason’s autopsy report. His cause of death was labeled undetermined. Life felt like it couldn’t get much worse. 

Luckily, soon after the miscarriage I got pregnant again and gave birth to my rainbow baby boy in January 2018, followed by another boy in January 2020. Pregnancy and parenting after loss is definitely a different experience. Physically the pregnancies were fine, but mentally and emotionally I was just waiting for the the next thing to go wrong. I always describe it as the scariest and bravest thing I’ve ever done.

Now, nearly four years later I still think about Mason and that other baby all the time. I still have triggering moments. Some of them are expected, like his birthday and angelversary. Seeing an ambulance with sirens blaring still gets to me. Holidays are hard. Mason never got to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day always sting, even though I now have two boys here. Halloween is bittersweet because it was his last holiday. He was dressed as a tiger while my husband and I dressed up like we were going on a safari and we had one of our last family photos. I always wonder how family trips or vacations would be different if he was still here. What would be his favorite things or activities? I feel triggers when my living children hit milestones that Mason never reached: crawling, first tooth, hearing “mama” and “dada”, celebrating a birthday. I cried each time when my living babies reached 7 months 6 days (the same age as Mason) and felt so grateful that I could put them in the crib that night because that was the night Mason didn’t get to come home. There will also be the future triggers. Next year he would be starting kindergarten. I’ll never get to take his first day of school pictures, watch him play t-ball, or see him graduate. And of course I think about my babies when I’m asked how many kids I have.

One thing I’ve learned on my journey is that eventually grief and joy can coexist. Mason’s presence is still felt in my life. I see it when his little brothers are together sharing a sweet moment and I get a glimpse of the brotherly bond he would have had with them. I see it when my boys play with some of his toys and read his books. His presence was with us when my boys were christened in the same baptismal gown as their brother. Hearing my toddler say “Mason” when he sees Mason’s pictures around the house is one of the sweetest sounds. I also love hearing other people talk about or mention Mason. It brings me joy that he’s remembered. I think of him when I see butterflies because every day during the summer months one crosses in front of me or flutters in front of my windshield and it happens enough that it no longer seems like a coincidence. Whenever a friend has a baby I gift a copy of “B is for Bear” since it was one of his favorite books and it’s a way I feel like I can keep Mason’s memory alive. I feel awe when I go to the cemetery and see all the beautiful and colorful flowers and decorations at all the headstones to celebrate and honor so many departed loved ones. It’s a reminder that even death can’t stop love.

Child loss is not something you get over or move past, but you learn to move forward with it. Grief has become a familiarity in my life and I’ve accepted the fact that it will always be there. After all, grief is actually love.

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Iowa City Area Guide to Family Holiday Activities: 2020 Edition

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As with everything else in this crazy year that is 2020, holiday events – and therefore this holiday guide – will look a bit...