Saturday, November 30, 2013

Religious Stocking Stuffers for Toddlers

The ideas below are meant to inspire you with some religious ideas for toddler stocking stuffers.  Many are generic ideas, but are linked to specific products simply to make it easier for you to find examples of those items.  (It can be very frustrating to get a great idea from a blog and then have a hard time looking it up yourself!)  Even if you love a specific item, you might want to look around for it elsewhere to price compare.  I've linked to a variety of stores depending on where I first found the idea, but most items, unless they are handcrafted/etsy products, can be found elsewhere.  Speaking of price, the price range on these items greatly varies, from a few dollars to over twenty.  In my family growing up, stocking stuffers were usually low-priced items (we got lots of toiletries) but some families like to include a more expensive "main gift" as part of the stocking, so I thought I would add anything that seemed "stocking sized". 

There are a few DIY ideas below linked to tutorials, however, for the crafty reader, you may be able to make your own versions of many of the suggested ideas.  Some ideas are Catholic specific, but many others would work for all Christians.  At the bottom I list some ideas for coloring books, board books, and picture books just to give you some ideas, there are, of course, more great religious Christmas and Christian books than I can list.  (Some may be too big for stockings, but I'll leave that to your discretion.)

If you have any additional ideas, won't you leave them in the comments for others to benefit from?  That said, make sure you check the comments for more great ideas!

14. Saint magnets (thanks, Sarah)

15. Noah's Ark bandaids

16. Wood lacing toys

17. Tiny Saints (thanks,  Liz)

18. Saint felties

19. bag to bring books/toys to church

20. Brother Francis DVDs

21. Saint DVDs

22. CD of kids Christmas music

23. Noah's Ark Matching Game

24. A rosary case (toddlers love putting things in & out & in & out...) (thanks, Alix)

25. Color and Hug Nativity 

26. Color and Hug St. Nicholas

27. Noah's Ark stickers

28. Shining Light Dolls

29. religious hair bows

30. Happy Saints tokens (DIY)

31. religious ornament

32. Saint alphabet blocks (DIY)

33. Story Stix

34. Days of Creation Stacking & Nesting blocks

coloring/activity books

35. Holy Heroes coloring books

36. God is Wonderful coloring book

37. Peanuts Christmas Activity Sticker Book (thanks, Rakhi)

38. Wipe Clean Bible Story activity book

39. Christmas coloring book

40. Let's Sing to the King activity book

board books:

41. A Christmas Prayer (thanks, Rakhi)

42. any of the St. Joseph board books

43. any books by Maite Roche

44. The Story of Christmas

45. The Story of Christmas (a different one)

46. The Special Baby

47. Just in Case You Ever Wonder

48. The Legend of the Candy Cane

49. any of the Maggie Swanson board books

50. What Did Baby Jesus Do?

51. Lion Misses Breakfast: Daniel and the Lion (and other Bible Animal Board Books)

52. Merry Creature Christmas

53. A Walk on the Waves

 54. Room for a Little One

55. Tell Me the Christmas Story

56. Really Woolly Bedtime Prayers

57. My Day with Jesus

58. The Legend of the Christmas Tree

picture books:

59. Danny Celebrates Advent

60. An Alphabet of Catholic Saints

61. Little Golden Books The Christmas Story

 62. Little Golden Books The Animals' Christmas Eve

63. The Donkey's Dream

64. any of the Arch books (thanks, Mo)

If you have written a similar post of religious gift ideas (for any age) and want me to include the link here, leave the link in the comments and I'll add it here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Feature This! and other things #7QT

--- 1 ---
I'm being featured as part of Momma's Meals Featured Friday Won't you head over there to see what she has to say about me? (As I write this, the post is not yet published so I'm hoping that asking if she could feature me means she has something lovely to say!)  While there, you might want to check out some of her fantastic recipes.  A few of my favorites: No-Bake Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecake, Jalapeno Chicken in the Crock Pot, and I'm planning to make the BBQ Chipotle Chicken Pizza for a surprise for David someday soon.

--- 2 ---

Speaking of Momma's Meals, this recent post on the blog had Tammi telling why she and her husband make a good team.  That's such a big question, isn't it?  What makes you and your significant other a "good team"?  I think what makes David and I are a great team is that we have the same faith, values, and outlook on life, but are very opposite personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, so we balance each other out and keep either of us from going to extremes. 

--- 3 ---

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We spent the day with David's coworker and his family.  He has three little boys and Lucia was in heaven playing with other kids, especially "big kids" (the two oldest are 2 and 4). She has a bit of a cold and we called it an early night because she was a sleepy, sleepy tot, but it was a great day overall. 

--- 4 ---

Tomorrow is the last day to enter to win $50 + free shipping to Tiny PrintsAlthough I'm sure everyone is already on top of their Christmas cards, right?  Even so, I'm sure you could find something to spend it on.
--- 5 ---

Did you hear Dwija's news? I think a congratulations are in order, so head over to tell her!

--- 6 ---

I shared a post with the 10 favorite Thanksgiving books Lulu and I read this year.  Of course, putting it up the day before Thanksgiving doesn't do anyone much good, but maybe you could pin it for next year?  Anyway, have you written or stumbled upon any good Advent/Christmas books for toddlers that can help me this year?  Would you leave the link(s) in comments?

--- 7 ---

If you are interested in trying Lilla Rose hair accessories for yourself or holiday gifts, there is a great Black Friday sale going on today and tomorrow.  At least 20% off all items, up to 50% off some, free shipping for orders over $50.  I'll also be sharing some Black Friday deals from small businesses on my Facebook page today.  

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

10 Picture Books for Thanksgiving

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow, this post is too late you be useful to you, but maybe you'll pin it for next year?  We got nearly 20 Thanksgiving/fall books from the library this month and I wanted to share our favorites, which just happened to be of the nice round number 10.  I'll admit, a few of these books were more of my pick than Lucia's as they were a bit over the head of an almost-two-year old, so this list isn't just for toddlers, but for older children as well.

Board Books

 1. What is Thanksgiving? by Michelle Medlock Adams, Illustrated by Amy Wummer
Cute, funny rhymes that remind that Thanksgiving is not about the football or parades or food, but Thankfulness and the Lord.

2. The Story of Thanksgiving by Nancy J. Skarmeas, Illustrated by Stacy Venture-Pickett
Explains the historical basis of Thanksgiving in simple language for little ones.

3. My First Thanksgiving by Tomie dePaola
In very basic language and the beautiful illustrations typical of Tomie dePaola, this book shares the basics of Thanksgiving understandable by the youngest of children.

Picture Books

4. 10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston, Illustrated by Rich Deas
A really silly turkey book in the vein of "5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" only the turkeys are falling off a fence for various reasons (including one riding a boar).  Was so off the wall, it even made my husband laugh.  

5. The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon
 A fun Thanksgiving variation of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.  Probably best for preschoolers on up.

6. A Child's World of Thankfulness by Janet McDonnell, Illustrated by Mechelle Ann
Not Thanksgiving specific, a sweet book that helps children to understand the concept of thankfulness by mentioning the things, big and small, that they might feel thankfulness for.  Lucia was stuck on the cookies, so maybe we'll have to pick this one up again next year.  

7. The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene, Illustrated by Susan Gaber
I loved this book - the rhymes were very soothing, the book built phrases upon each other, the illustrations were gorgeous.  Lucia was a little young for this one, although she enjoyed looking at the pictures.

8. Strega Nona's Harvest by Tomie dePaola 
This one is also not specific to Thanksgiving, but ties into the fall and harvest.  I am a huge fan of Tomie dePaola in general and Strega Nona in particular, so this was a no-brainer for us.  Although it's a bit lengthy for Lucia's attention span, she had no problem staying engaged in the story and following along with the beautiful illustrations.

9. Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley, Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
This is one of my absolute favorites.  It's hard to pinpoint just a few of it's merits.  Unlike most Thanksgiving books, it features Americans of various ethnicities.  The main character is a young Puerto Rican boy, Miguel, who lives in New York with a multigenerational family and whose father is gone as a truck driver.  His father send him a turkey to "fatten up" for Thanksgiving and Miguel predictably becomes attached to the point that the turkey, Gracias, even follows him into Mass one day.  I don't want to give too much away but this book is charming.  Charming!

10. A Gift of Gracias by Julia Alvarez, Illustrated by Beatris Vidal
Another one that doesn't mention Thanksgiving, it recounts the tale of Nuestra SeƱora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of Thanks), a image of the Virgin Mary in the Dominican Republic. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Our Pregnancy Loss Story

After just over a year of unemployment/underemployment following David's PhD graduation, David was offered his current job and we started trying to conceive immediately. We wanted Lucia to be close in age to her first sibling and would not have waited as long as we did if David had found a job sooner. We love being parents and have dreams of a large family. We were more than ready for a new addition.

One cycle passed. Then another. And a third. We conceived Lucia in our fourth cycle of trying and lo and behold, the fourth cycle yet again resulted in a baby! We got a positive pregnancy test on September 1, several days after a missed period and after many negative pregnancy tests. My due date was May 8.

We were waiting to announce our pregnancy until after our first appointment, which was scheduled on October 8th.  I was just shy of 10 weeks.  At our appointment, the midwife could not hear the heartbeat, which isn't unusual for that early in the pregnancy.  My uterus was also measuring a few weeks too small and the midwife assumed I was just off on my dates and just "less" pregnant than I thought I was.  She assured us that she was not worried in the least but suggested that we get an ultrasound to get a better idea of our due date.

But I knew something was wrong.  I use Natural Family Planning and have been charting my cycle for years.  I hadn't charted the cycle I got pregnant (because it was getting to be too stressful for me trying to conceive while charting and not being successful right away), but still, it's hard not to notice where you are in your cycle when you've been doing it for so long.  So I knew that it was highly unlikely that my dates were two weeks off.

It was much more likely that the baby had passed two weeks prior.  We didn't tell anyone we were pregnant after the appointment as planned because we were worried and no one else needed to worry with us.  The night after my appointment, I started bleeding.  I wasn't too concerned because the midwife warned I would probably bleed a little after my appointment and the blood was dark.  The following night, Thursday, October 10, when I was exactly 10 weeks pregnant, the bleeding picked up, turned bright red, and then the cramps began.  And the back pain.  And the hip spreading pain.  And pain shooting down the tops of my thighs.  And while the midwife we called in the middle of the night said that there was a chance it wasn't a miscarriage and the baby was fine, I knew.  It felt like labor.  The purpose of labor is to push out a baby.  

I stayed up almost all night.  The pain was just too much.  We rented "World War Z" and in typical fashion, David fell asleep on the couch as we watched it.  I watched it intently and fully credit it with getting me through the worst part of the physical pain and allowing me to avoid some of the emotional pain.  Something else to focus on was good.  Thank you, Brad Pitt.

By Friday morning around 8 am, the bleeding had slowed and the pain had completely subsided.  In all, the pain lasted for about 12 hours.  We went in for a midwife appointment.  The midwife did an exam and said that indeed my cervix was open and that I was passing "something".  She removed some clots and "tissue" that were at the opening of my cervix.  I bawled. Another midwife was in the room as well and said things like, "Maybe the next one will take." And, "Miscarriage is very common in Western cultures; it's probably caused by something environmental." And some other equally hurtful things that she for some reason thought were helpful as I sobbed on the exam table. I was asked if I wanted to keep the "tissue". I said yes.

We already had our ultrasound scheduled that day for "dating".  When we went in for the ultrasound, the ultrasound tech was so excited for us and told us where "daddy can sit to see the baby".  It hurt so much to tell her that we were just there to check if "anything" was left.  It really hurts to stare at your empty womb on the screen.  Then the doctor came in and told me that it looked like I had probably had a miscarriage but they couldn't be sure because I hadn't had a previous ultrasound so they couldn't be sure anything was ever there. I only had a pregnancy test to say that I was ever pregnant, he said, in a tone that told me he thought perhaps I was never pregnant at all. I was too choked up to tell him that yes, we did have proof, the remains of our child were in the car.

We went home and it was over. David called our parents to tell them.  I bled for two more weeks and then all physical signs that this child even existed were erased from my body. We struggled to find a place to bury our child. Lucia continued to kiss my tummy and talk about the baby in there until she finally forgot because we had stopped talking about it.  We received condolences from family and friends and then...nothing.

It was over.  But not for me.  Life goes on, it seems, and we must too. I read somewhere that grief lasts much longer than sympathy and it rings true. The suitable time for mourning has passed (after all, I was "only" 10 weeks pregnant; I've been unpregnant for longer that I knew I was pregnant, so I should be "over it" by now, right?) and so I feel like I must now grieve in private. Alone. So very alone.

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Favorite Holiday Recipe #CartonSmart

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Carton Smart for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

There are so many reasons to love Thanksgiving - time with friends and family, reflecting on our blessings, time off work - but the traditional foods of the holiday have to be close to the top of everyone’s list.  To me, it’s also a great excuse to bake, especially to bake treats with traditional holiday flavors.  Like pumpkin!

In the next week I’m going to be baking my favorite recipe twice.  I came across this recipe last holiday season and made a batch for Christmas and it was to die for (and super fun to bake), but once the holidays are over, pumpkin treats just don’t feel right.  So when we were invited to two Thanksgiving meals this week, I knew exactly what I was bringing: cheesecake-filled pumpkin cupcakes.

I would share the recipe with you here, but I follow it word by word, ingredient by ingredient from Rachael Ray’s recipe so I’ll just direct you to it here.  I am making one change though - instead of pumpkin from a can, this year, I’m using pumpkin from a carton. 

Why a carton?  Tetra Pak cartons have several advantages over cans.  They are much more eco-friendly than cans, resulting in 60% less landfill waste than cans.  They also are easier to stack and store (we don’t have a pantry so saving space is a huge draw) and they can are re-closeable, so you can use the amount you need and save the rest for later (helpful for when you are making the same recipe twice in one week!).  I have been shying away from cans in recent years because of the BPA that most contain, but I had wrongly assumed that meant completely giving up the foods that usually come in a can.  I didn’t realize that many of these foods are now available in cartons (and cartons made by TetraPak are BPA free). 

I was sent a sampling of products from Pacific Foods to get a first-hand look at the holiday staples they offer in carton form, including Pacific Foods Organic Pumpkin Puree, Pacific Foods Organic Jellied Cranberry Sauce, and Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Simply Stock.  As you can see, I had no problem figuring out how I was going to use the pumpkin! 

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A few notes on the recipe: It makes WAY more than it says.  Both times I've made it, I've doubled the recipe and it's made much more than 30 cupcakes instead of just 24 (and even more if you don't overfill them like I always do).  Also, these are very addictive.  And the cheesecake filling is so delicious on it's own, so get some of those already pasteurized eggs to make it with so you can eat it uncooked.  (You're welcome.)

By swapping a few of the ingredients you usually buy in canned form during the holiday season for these carton options, you can make small steps toward caring for the environment, your health and your family.  To learn more check out Become Carton Smart, Tweet @CartonSmart, or Follow #CartonSmart on Pinterest.

What is your favorite holiday dish?  How can you make it #CartonSmart?

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More Than Turkey...

We are so, so blessed.  Despite having just moved far away from our family, we have such a strong community here.  We have a few friends from when we lived here before, but several are new and we are new to our parish community which is incredibly vibrant.  This will be the fourth Thanksgiving David and I have been married and the third we will be spending without family.  We have never had to spend a Thanksgiving alone though and in fact, this year, we're having two Thanksgiving dinners.  One was this past Saturday hosted at a friend's home with several others there as well and the other will be with one of David's coworkers and his family (who also attend our church) on Thursday.  For us, Thanksgiving has become more of a friends event while Christmas remains focused on family.  

David only has 2.5 days of work this week!  Talk about something to be thankful for!  What a wonderful Thanksgiving break it will be this year framed on the ends with Thanksgiving and the first day of Advent.  The holiday season is truly here.  Are you prepared?  Last week, I shares some small businesses for you to shop for holiday gifts (click here to see that post).  This week, I have some more for you (and a blog to peruse on your breaks from shopping).  By shopping with these small businesses you're helping make Christmas a bright season for so many other families as well.
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