Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wish List: Picture Books

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Books are one of my favorite things to give to my kids. I love adding to our steadily growing library of children's books, and bringing in books that I love just means that the chances are better that the book I'll have to read 14 times in a row is one I like. Here are a few of the books on my wish list this year, since my two year old can't make her own. Pass along your favorites in the comments!

Brontorina by James Howe. If the author's name sounds familiar, it's because he wrote classic from my childhood, Bunnicula, which I am sorry to say I have not read, but I've never forgotten the days of it floating around my elementary school. However, this book  about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina is just ridiculously charming. Plus, one of the little ballerinas shares her name with my older daughter, and I think she thinks that the ballerina is her. I don't want to take it back to the library, which I think is a sign that someone in the family should own it.

Press Here by Herve Tullet. Have you seen this book? I know it's been around for a bit, but it is seriously so clever that I can't even stand it. The way it involves the child in the book is just brilliant. Press here on this circle - oh look! Now it's two circles! Turn the book on its side - and oh, the circles have all fallen to the side of the page! I love it.

I Want My Hat Back or This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. I can't decide which of these slightly macabre books is better. My husband likes I Want My Hat Back best, and I think I am slightly more drawn to This Is Not My Hat, but both are funny in a subversive and twisted way that just makes them fantastic.

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett. A princess and a piglet are accidentally switched as babies, and instead of jumping to logical conclusions, people assume fairies and spells are involved, because it's the sort of thing that happens all the time in books. Hilarity ensues. When we checked this book out from the library, my little girl asked for the "princess piggy book" almost every day, and I renewed it so we could keep it for another month.

Sleepy Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford. When my husband brought this book home from the library, I was confused. And then we read it with my little girl and it quickly became one of our favorite books EVER. With phrases like, "Sleepy little yoga baby hangs upside down like a bat," and "Sleepy little yoga baby hums like a bee," to accompany pictures of simple yoga poses, it is impossible for my toddler to resist doing the poses. ("I up-down like a bat too!") It's great for getting the wiggles out before bedtime.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. Yes, this book was written by Ryan from The Office. Yes, it actually does not have any pictures. If you aren't familiar with this book, please watch this video of B.J. reading it to a group of kids. I don't know if my little girls will get it quite yet (the two month old definitely won't, but the two year old might get a few giggles) but I just feel like it does such a great job of showing just how powerful books and words can be, and it's hilarious at the same time.

What books are you wishing for this year? 

Monday, December 15, 2014

5 DIY Gifts for Small Children (That I'm Actually Giving This Year)

I had big intentions to get this post up in early December so you could all benefit. But then, I had intentions to be done with all of my DIY Christmas gifts by now, so I should have known it wouldn't happen. Full disclosure, I've been working on some of these things for awhile so they haven't been stressful to put together, but I don't recommend you tackle them all in the remaining 10 days before Christmas. However, if you need a last minute idea or want to save it for next year, I've got you covered!

I really love Christmas, and I love giving gifts, but I really don't like the huge price tag that you can very easily attach to Christmas if you aren't careful. To stretch our budget this year (which was intentionally small since we just had a baby and a gallbladder and bought a bigger car), we made quite a few of our gifts (and fixed up things we got at the thrift store for some of the others.)

A couple of tips about DIY gifts from someone who has spent many years being overly ambitious and has repeatedly overestimated her skills:

  • Making your own gifts is really only a pleasant experience if you pick projects that are doable for you and that you will enjoy making. I've used my sewing machine to make some gifts before, but this is the first year I've felt confident enough to tackle multiple and varied projects with it - and that I've enjoyed sewing enough to even want to. Even then, I keep it simple and try to avoid things that I don't know how to do. Learning new skills isn't for Christmas time. 
  • Be realistic about how much time you've got an plan accordingly. Don't wait until December 20th and then decide to make homemade gifts for everyone on your list. I love to tinker around with things in my sewing box, so sometimes I restrain myself and toss whatever I've made in the back room to save for Christmas or birthdays or whatever. I think part of the reason homemade gifts get a bad rap is that people try to make them all in December and make themselves crazy - or they think that have to make something perfect that is out of their skill range and then they just want to cry and throw it on the fire.) 

Here are a few of the things I am giving this year that I made myself (or with my husband) without resorting to swearing. I'd love to hear what you've made!

For my baby, I made these soft blocks. The first couple of attempts were a little lopsided because I was not very precise and then was too lazy to unpick my mistakes, but since I added lots of little ribbons and there's bumpy minky on a couple of the sides, I think she'll like them anyway. In my experience, 3 month olds seem to care little about things like right angles. By the time I'd made a couple, I was ready to make the next present.

Next we made a version of this game, which is actually quite reasonably priced (I thought), but which my husband saw and said, "We could make that!" So I made a 10" by 10" soft block using the above tutorial (this one finally came out square) and a little pocket using . . . my brain . . . and a scrap and some velcro, and my husband drew cards, and it's the cutest thing you've ever seen. Observe:
There's no real tutorial for it that I know of (maybe I'll make one sometime), but if you decide to try it, I decided to sew a couple of strips of velcro to my cube and to the little card pouch for storage purposes, and the cards will each be outlined in one of the colors on the block so that when you roll you pick one of the cards in that color and do an activity in one of 6 categories. We found out what categories were in the game from the comments on Amazon, then modified it so it was something we thought our 2.5 year old would really love. My husband has been drawing cards while we watch Fringe, but if you don't have an artist in your house I imagine you could use clip art.

Another thing that struck my fancy a few months ago was this toddler sewing kit that I found while browsing Pinterest. My toddler is ALWAYS wanting to dig in my sewing box, and since it's full of needles and pins and scissors, that means it can't be out when she's around. Her sewing kit includes some empty spools, some pipe cleaner, some pom poms, a plastic needle, an embroidery hoop with some drawer liner on it, various bits of yarn and fabric, plastic mesh for "sewing," a zipper I had for a project I didn't use, and measuring tape. I found a little jewelry making box that looks like a tackle box or a tool box (except pink) for $8 at Walmart and decided that would keep things together better than a basket (the closest I could find online was this one, but the one in the store was much cheaper and didn't have the green lid), and voila! I think she'll love tinkering with it while I'm working on projects.

This is the inspiration basket. Mine looks nothing like this.

I also whipped up a couple of these hooded animal towels for my girls, since they are both using the three towels I got when CB was a baby, which are starting to look a little ratty well-loved. Because I was feeling a little lazy pressed for time, I made a ladybug and a butterfly and didn't sew any spots on the back, because eyes + antennae = the easiest of these, except maybe the Mickey Mouse one (although I did find some kind of fun towels to attach the hoods to that had some pretty stripes). I've made these before to give as baby shower gifts, so these came together in about 1.5 Doctor Who Christmas specials. (I've made a cow and a lion before, and they are a bit more time-intensive, although not ridiculously so.) 

Of course my favorite option is always this doll pattern from Wee Wonderfuls, and I have some fabric stashed away for one this year that I'll hopefully post later.  My girls aren't getting any this particular Christmas, but my new baby needs one at some point, so I'll be working on that when this stretch is over. The creator of the pattern just posted this Elsa doll that she made using the pattern on her blog, and I am dying. I'm not sure if I can figure out the hair, but I'd like to try (and I think an Anna doll would be easy-peasy). 
Isn't she darling? See her here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What's In A Wedding Ring

About three months ago my wedding ring went missing. I have horrible pregnancy brain that left me putting lotion instead of toothpaste on my toothbrush the other day and a very mischievous two year old who loves to hide things and just figured out how to get our heat registers up. Prospects did not look good.

Nevertheless we searched high and low. We took apart our entire house, we searched our yard, we scoped our heating ducts, we were getting ready to rent a metal detector when one day, three months after I lost it- I was looking for a shirt in my drawer that I had emptied and searched through previously when tangled up in one of my shirts, my wedding ring fell out! The best part is that my husband happened to be standing right next to me when I found it and we both got to experience the joy of finding it together.

Now my wedding ring is beautiful and just my style and I love it. But it wasn't the amount of money it cost or the diamond size or clarity that I missed and cried over when I lost it. It was the real cost of my wedding ring. It was the entire summer my at the time boyfriend moved across the country to work his fingers to the bone to save up to buy me a wedding ring. It was every morning that he woke up at 5 a.m. to go to work. It was every night we spent talking on the phone late into the night and the tired guy would fall asleep and ask me in a sudden loud voice if I needed an oil change. It was the way he sacrificed for three months to give me the ring he thought I deserved even when I told him I would be perfectly happy with a ring that didn't require all that. It was the way that when I lost it and told him I would be thrilled with a non-diamond wedding ring he told me he had already called the jeweler to see if they still sold my exact ring. It was the reminder that someone in my life thinks I deserve the very best even if I don't and is willing to work as hard as he possibly can to make that happen. It was the reminder that I chose a partner who makes that same sacrifice for me every day only in different ways, sometimes smaller ways that are just as meaningful, like staying up late to put together a crockpot meal so I don't have to cook dinner the next day.

My wedding ring is the reminder of the person that gave it to me.

And that's why I love it.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Infusing Thanksgiving into Christmas

So many people eagerly jump straight from Halloween to Christmas, with just a quick break for a big Thanksgiving Day meal before the dreaded/lusted after Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday shopping frenzy.

On the other hand, there are those who won't pull out a Christmas decoration or listen to a Christmas song one minute before the day after Thanksgiving, some not until December first.

I am one who appreciates that November is about Thanksgiving and gratitude, however I like to plan ahead and am thinking of Christmas presents already too.

How can these major holidays live side by side?

Be grateful you have someone to shop for.

So many people get depressed around this joyful time of year because they have had a significant loss. There are many with no grandma, no father, no husband, no best friend, no ten year old granddaughter, no four year old little boy, or no newborn daughter to shop for.

There are also so many kids who won't get anything or hardly anything for Christmas because their parents can't afford it or they have parents who don't care. It's hard to forget the little boy from Polar Express.

This Thanksgiving and Christmas, be grateful for those you have around you. Add Thanksgiving into your Christmas this year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What matters most

My daughter Hannah is one smart cookie. Developmentally, she's hit every milestone early, from walking and talking, to reading and writing. It's something that I love about her, and it makes me super proud in that obnoxious honor-roll-student-bumper-sticker-parent kind of way.

Last school year, Hannah was involved in a mixed abilities class as a typical peer, which means her class was composed mostly of kids with some sort of delay or anxiety and needed a little extra help. I explained to Hannah that her job was to be on her best behavior to help kids see how they were supposed to behave. She was supposed to be a leader.

Pretty early on I noticed that several of the kids got excited when she arrived for class. They'd wave excitedly and give her hugs and high fives when she'd approach the line. I also noticed that most of the positive comments that came home from school mentioned her helping a peer when they were sad, or being a good friend to someone in need. I thought it was nice, but then I didn't give it a second thought. I just kept pushing her to read, or write her letters better. I kept focusing on the state kindergarten standards so that when the time came she'd be ahead of the curve.

On her last day of class we were all invited to a party. Hannah picked a spot for us and I went and sat by her. Soon two other kids joined us. There wasn't enough room at the table so we moved and they moved with us, and we were joined by a third kid. I noticed this small group of kids seemed to gravitate to Hannah. It wasn't because she is on the ball, or super smart, or put together, or any of the things I'd hoped she'd be. It's because she is KIND. She is a good friend to them.

And I had one of Oprah's golden aha moments.

I've spent the last five years hoping she'd excel in life and essentially be perfect. I've gotten frustrated with her when she wasn't meeting my high expectations of her. I've thought of her as a reflection of me. I thought, if my kid was super obedient, or exceptionally well behaved then that must mean I'm doing my job, so when Hannah wasn't perfectly perfect I'd get embarrassed.

Apparently, this is an oldest child thing, because I haven't been that way with my second as much, and I don't think I'll be that way with my third. Also, maybe I'm just wound too tightly.

I've wanted her to be the best academically, but really, what I should have been wanting was for her to be kind and to be a friend. Thankfully, it seems that it is one of her inherent qualities, and my personal negligence in that department hasn't negatively impacted her. I became extremely emotional realizing my own mistake: missing her greatest asset and abilities. She is able to love, and be loved. She treats her peers with respect and kindness. She listens. She is fun. She cares about people, and what they have to say.

When Hannah is a grown woman nobody will remember that she walked at nine months old or she was reading at four years old, and nobody will remember the things she achieved in high school or college or in her chosen career. They'll remember how she treated them, and I hope she continues to be her same sweet, loving self. Hopefully she knows how much I appreciate the person she is. Even when I'm a little neurotic.

Alaina, Hannah, and Emma. They've known each other their whole lives, and are in the same kindergarten class.