Wednesday, November 28, 2012

DIY Felt Activity Advent Calendar!

Here is the Advent calendar I made my preschooler. Below you'll find info on all the materials and techniques needed to make the tree, plus a printable PDF of all the activities we are doing.

Still need to stitch it together & sew on buttons...
I'm super excited to share with you the felt Advent calendar I've been stitching up for my preschooler. I saw the idea of having activities for each day in Advent rather than the focus being on getting a small toy or piece of candy each day, and I LOVE it! I know it will be fun for my son, and it will be a great way to keep me accountable to actually do all the fun things I'd want to do with him in Advent but would be too disorganized to actually make happen otherwise probably. By putting them in his Advent calendar, I'll * have* to do them!

I decided to make a felt Christmas tree covered in buttons along with 2 1/4" square felt pockets to hang on each day (I have a 4.5" quilting ruler that made the cutting fast for that size which was my primary motivation in choosing it-you could use any size square you wanted!) Since Advent can vary between 22 and 28 days and I want this to be usable every year, I didn't put numbers on the pockets*. I made some of the pockets special colors to represent special days. For example, the Sundays of Advent have pink or purple pockets that correspond with which color of candle ought to be lit on the Advent wreath that night, and a few Saint days have special colors as well.
I ended up with:
  • 3 purple (Sundays in Advent)
  • 1 pink (3rd Sunday in Advent)
  • 2 blue (Feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupe and of the Immaculate Conception)
  • 1 yellow (St Lucia Day)
  • 2 white (St Nicholas Day and Christmas Eve)
  • 9 red
  • 9 lime green
Some of the pockets!!

What you need:
  • 3-4 triangles of green felt so that the tree is tall enough to accomodate all of your pockets (or one big piece of felt, then cut it to be shaped like a tree. I used scraps from a previous project so triangles was my only option!)
  • a brown rectangle of felt for a tree trunk
  • a yellow star or white angel cut out of felt for a tree topper
  • 56 felt squares (see above for color suggestions)
  • 28 buttons-bright Christmasy colors or shiny gold, white, or silver recommended!

What you do:
  • Cut your triangles out. Fold each in half to make sure the sides are even and the bottom is straight all the way across.
  • Layer them on top of each other in a way that look cute to you, tucking the trunk under the bottom layer, and pin the layers together (or glue, if you aren't interested in sewing).
  • Stitch the layers together. Either use green thread and sew just in the overlapping portions, or choose a contrasting color like red or gold and make your line twist and turn across the tree like garland! Be sure to glue or stitch your star or angel for the top as well, and attach a loop if you want to use a loop to hang it up (I'll probably be using masking tape this year to stick it to the side of a desk I think)
  • Stitch or glue the squares together in pairs, stitching or gluing only 3 sides to form pockets.
  • Sew or glue a small loop of ribbon to each pocket so it can hang.
  • Sew or glue your buttons on your tree so that pockets can hang from them. Be sure to add 28 buttons, or leave spaces that you can do so in future years (brown buttons on the trunk can be a discrete way to add buttons for years with "extra" days)
  • Print your activity slips off for each day of Advent, and choose a place for a new pocket to appear each day for your child to hang up on the tree! Each night, put the next day's activity slip into the pocket (or have them all in ahead of time) to get it ready for your child, and prepare any supplies you need for the activity-they may want to start on it immediately after reading their piece of paper for the day!!
You can find the word document version of the activity slips I plan to use here, and feel free to customize it for your own family (I included specific movie titles and specific types of cookies we plan to make, and we are Catholic so I used the word "Mass" instead of "church", so you may want to change those and other specifics!). But in case you don't want to read that document, here's an overview of our activities:
  • Mondays: bake cookies (eat a few, freeze/store most to save for Christmas)
  • Tuesdays: theme days based on songs-Away in a Manger (get out Nativity, read story, sing song), Jingle Bells (bell related craft, sing song), and Frosty the Snowman (build snowman if weather permits or do snowman craft indoors, sing song, watch movie)
  • Wednesdays: make ornaments
  • Saint days (mostly ended up on Thursdays): St. Nicholas day we'll be learning about how Christmas is celebrated in France, St. Lucia Day we'll learn about how Christmas is celebrated in Denmark, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe we'll learn about how Christmas is celebrated in Mexico
  • Fridays: "Be Santa to someone else" by donating toys to Goodwill, caroling to Grandma over the phone, etc
  • Saturdays: Watch a Christmas movie with mom and Dad and eat popcorn
  • Sundays: Go to church, light a new candle on the Advent calendar.
  • Christmas Eve: read "Twas the Night before Christmas"
I like that by the end of Advent we will have baked lots of cookies to share with family on Christmas, made some new ornaments, learned about other cultures, helped others, practiced some good songs, and had tons of Christmasy fun. And I love that it is flexible. If I ever realize that I'm out of butter or have a sore throat and can't sing, I can easily change the next day's activity!

We have all been sick for at least a week or two each this November, and my sewing projects got pushed aside. But I'll try to post another pictures when I have it all sewed up and the buttons on! And I'd love to hear what you are doing for Advent with your kids!

*Advent refers to the liturgical season before Christmas and the start date changes each year (but always falls on a Sunday-the 4th Sunday before Christmas, to be exact!); many people choose to have Advent calendars that begin on December 1st instead of beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, which could be before or after December 1st.. If you are one of them, just use 24 buttons and pockets!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Catholic Family Advent: Book Review

I recently had the opportunity to reivew a great new book, A Catholic Family Advent, and I'm excited to share my thoughts about it with you!

What it is:
A Catholic Family Advent is a book with Bible verses, prayers, discussion questions, activities suggestions for families to do each day in Advent.

Who wrote it:
Susan Hines-Brigger, a Catholic mom of 4 and managing editor of the St. Anthony Messenger. She writes the "Catholic Mom Speaks" column for the St. Anthony Messenger and blogs at Too Tired to Blog.

First Impressions:
I immediately liked this book because it is so pretty! Obviously that isn't enough to make a great book if the content is bad, but it sure makes me happy...and luckily the rest of the book lived up to the high expectations set by its prettiness!

Overall Impressions:
I really like this book! I love that each day has scripture excerpts, prayers, disuccsion questions, and activities. It seems like it'd be easy to adapt to fit our family. Some of the activities and many of the discussion questions clearly wouldn't work with my 3-year-old, but would be great for elementary school kids. I love the activity suggestions and plan to incorporate some of them into my activity Advent calendar rather than doing them when we do the Advent wreath. I think I'll probably plan on lighting the wreath each night before dinner and reading the Bible verse of the day, then blow them out after a nice candlelit dinner. One other thing I really loved about this book is that it is written to be usable every year. Advent can vary from 22 to 28 days depending on which day of the week Christmas falls, and I think it was a great idea to include pages for every day of the longest Advent to really make this a preactical, usable book for more than just one year. And at the time of posting, the book was only $6.95 from the Catholic Company, which is a really awesome price for a book to use each Advent!

The Bottom Line:
A great book for Catholic families to use year after year. Especially appropriate for families with elementary school aged children
Get it: To order A Catholic Family Advent directly from the The Catholic Company, click here.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on A Catholic Family Advent. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your family Advent activities and supplies this year, such as Advent wreaths and calendars for kids, as well as Christmas decorations such as nativity scene sets and religious Christmas gifts for the whole family.

**Last time I checked the book was sold out from the Catholic Company and the link was directing to their homepage instead of the book itself. I still highly recommend getting it when it is back in stock!**

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cure for the Mondays, Nov 26, 2012

On Mondays I post fun ideas I've seen in the past week or so that made me laugh, smile, and want to create! I hope they brighten your day too, especially if you've got a "case of the Mondays".

In honor of December and Advent both beginning this week (Saturday is December 1st; the liturgical season of Advent begins on Sunday, December 2nd this year), I thought it'd be fun to post my favorite Advent calendar and Advent wreath ideas. Tomorrow I'll post about the Advent calendar I'm working on for my son (it's a big felt Christmas tree!) and about what we are doing with it (activities instead of candy-or or some days, in addition to!) But for now, here are some of my favorites from around the web:

I love these brown paper packages tied up with string and clipped to festive clothespins for each day of Advent:

I think I know what activities I want to do with my son, but I'll definitely be checking out all of these great suggestions-I may want to change a day or two!! And I love the cute design of these cards for each day.

These muffin tin Advent calendars are cute and easy enough for even super-busy or not-interested-in-crafts moms!

And this was the inspiration for the felt Christmas tree Advent Calendar I'm making:

I think this Advent wreath is really cute (and I'd be tempted to make the construction paper candles shorter and fatter and put some battery-powered tealights inside each so they could really glow!)

What Advent traditions do you celebrate at your house?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cure for the Mondays-Nov 19th, 2012

On Mondays I post ideas I've seen in the past week or so that made me laugh, smile, and want to create. I hope they brighten your day too, especially if you've got a "case of the Mondays"!

A little shameless self-promotion: last year I saw some cute cookies that look like acorns made of Hershey Kisses and Nutter Butter bites on Pinterest, but there was no tutorial with it. So I made up my own, and blogged about it. It is super easy and fun and you get to eat half of each Nutter Butter cookie while you are making them, so I highly recommend it. Anyway, click on the pic below if you want to see how I make them!

These cranberry apple galettes from The Way the Cookie Crumbles look super scrumptious:

I'm bringing a veggie tray to Thanksgiving this year and I admit to being quite tempted to make it cute like this one from Living Locurto:

And I'm really excited to try this color-by-numbers turkey coloring sheet from Criss-Cross Applesauce with my 3-year-old who is just starting to recognize numbers bigger than 10.

What fun ideas have inspired you lately?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Steps to a Lactose-Free Thanksgiving!

When you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, holiday meals can be much more stressful than they ought to be. My lactose intolerance sure throws a kink in my usual Thanksgiving strategy of eat-as-much-as-possible-of-everything-yummy! Here are a few of the strategies I've developed for making sure the only reason I regret eating Thanksgiving dinner is the excessive caloric intake!

Identify Threats
If you aren't a big cook yourself, take time anyway to look up how common Thanksgiving foods at your house are made. Some of the most common Thanksgiving foods that most people use milk in are mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and rolls. But many other things have milk products in them. Be suspicious of dips and spreads, desserts other than fruit pies and cookies (especially watch out for chocolate cakes and anything that resembles pudding), and any kind of casserole. Pre-meal mingling is a great time to say things like "Aunt Julia, that kumquat quinoa casserole looks delicious! How did you make it?" without any pressure to actually take some at that time.

Managing Threats
  • Offer to make them yourself: this year I'll be making the pumpkin pies and bringing the veggie tray. I'll use lactose-free milk to make both the pies and the ranch dressing dip so I can enjoy them as much as everyone else. Last year I made rolls too, but my husband's family prefers the storebought ones they tradtionally have at their home. Even my hand-kneaded efforts couldn't trump years of history!
  • Buy lactose-free milk for the hostess: my MIL is kind enough to just buy a half gallon of lactose-free milk of her own accord for use in the mashed potatoes and some chocolate cake/pie things she makes, but if she weren't the type to think of it herself, I'd offer to buy a half-gallon for her. Doing that makes sure your dietary restrictions don't result in added cost and inconvenience for your hostess.
  • Bring your own: if someone else is bringing the veggie tray, for example, you could bring your own small container of ranch dip. Or a single portion of mashed potatoes, or bake yourself a pie and bring just two slices if there will already be ample pie provided by someone else. This would probably be my last resort, as in many cases it would be very easy for this to come off as tacky and/or rude (this would work better in a situation where you go through buffet tables to get your food than one where everyone is sitting around the table passing things. If everyone goes through a line then disperses to eat, probably no one would notice you disappear into the kitchen to get your own special food.)
  • Avoidance: If there are enough delicious lactose-free options, just eat them instead. You could eat your heart's content of turkey, corn, beans, cranberry sauce, apple pie, etc without having to worry one bit!
  • Nibbles & Pills: My other strategy on Thanksgiving is to take a few Lactaid supplements and then take just a very small scoop of things that look tasty, but suspiciously milky or cheesy. Judge your own tolerance the best you can, and keep in mind your obligations for the next day before choosing quantities. Personally, even with lactaid supplements, I still can't have a scoop of ice cream, or a big dollop of normal ranch dressing. But I can have a little bit of a cheesy broccoli rice casserole and all the rolls I want! 
What are your strategies for managing food sensitivities and intolerances at family holidays?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cure for the Mondays-Nov 12, 2012

On Mondays I post fun ideas I've seen lately that make me laugh, smile, and want to create. I hope they brighten your day too, especially if you've got a "case of the Mondays"!

I love this idea of enlarging the sheet music of your favorite song for some custom wall art. One of my best friends from high school (who is also the best pianist I know) is pregnant...I'm thinking Brahms' lullaby as a shower present?

Totally drool-worthy cranberry eggnog muffins. I hope I can find lactose-free eggnog to try them this year (last year my grocery store never got the lactose-free eggnog they ordered-so sad!!)

This makes me think of my lego-loving big bro, but I know my son would love it just as much! The gist of it: clean Legos well and use them as jello molds!! I am thinking the Duplo sized ones would be just right for a kid's serving size!
Source: via Kesha on Pinterest

I think these beeswax candles are so pretty, and would smell nice without any allergy-inducing artificial scents! Definitely going on my list of things to make sometime!

What ideas have inspired you lately?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cure for the Mondays Nov 5, 2012

On Mondays I post ideas that made me laugh, smile, and want to create in the past week. I hope they brighten your day too, especially if you've got a "case of the Mondays"!

How amazing is this: apparently you can make your own color catcher sheets! Totally doing this.

I think the idea of making a penny ball for the garden is super cute (and functional as slug repellent!)

Brilliant travel tip: use a shower cap as shoe storage so you don't have to worry what you put your shoes on top of:

And I definitely need to do this-we already have alphabet magnets and a dollar store cookie sheet we use for playing with magents, so all I need to do is print some of the amazing printables from the blog that came up with this idea:

What inspiring ideas have you seen lately?