Have you ever seen something and thought, “That would make an awesome gift”? This happens to me throughout the year, and I would buy these gifts for so-and-so, even if the occasion or the holidays were months away. It was just too darn cute to pass up on. If you’d like to give unique holiday gifts—all under $30—consider these following 10 items for your friends, family and co-workers:
1. Pencil twigs I gave these to my niece, and I love the look and uniqueness of it. These would even make for a pretty desktop decoration.
2. Letterpress stationery I work in graphic design, so of course I love anything with letterpress—the texture, the colors, and the layout. I’m giving these cards to my boss, as they feature the Chicago skyline, a city he loves.
3. Vintage stamps I’m pairing up the stationery with these vintage stamps. They’re absolutely useable and add up to a first-class mail.
4. Barbecue rubs A few months ago, I read the book Cooked by Michael Pollan where the first chapter is all about barbecue. And how barbecue is all about the meat, and the rubs (not the sauce). It inspired me to look for these beautiful kits for the grillers and barbecuers in my life.
5. Whiskey rocks I gave these to my sister, aka hostess with the mostess who loves entertaining in her beautiful home. My coworker first introduced me to this concept—frozen cubes in lieu of ice (which can often water down the drink). Genius!
6. Crayon rocks These crayon rocks make awesome gifts for little ones and even teachers who are always on the lookout for school supplies. The shape of the rocks help improve the child’s grip, plus, they’re crayons… and rocks! They come in small baggies or a huge box of 64 colors.
7. Sixty years of memories It’s these types of gifts that are simply irreplaceable and unforgettable. Okay, they take a ton more work than clicking “buy” online, but wow, imagine your loved one reading through sixty letters (or however many years they’re celebrating), finding one surprise, one old friend, right after another.
8. Soap balls I’m a sucker for soap, and I was drawn to these soap balls for their color and shape. Perfect for coworkers, siblings, anyone who shares the same love for soap (yes it exists!) as I do.
9. Chocolate robots At my son’s school, parents often bring treats for the students in celebration of their child’s birthday. For his, I gave my son’s classmates these adorable chocolate robots. They come in chocolate and white chocolate and are about one-inch high each.
10. Catnip toy We can’t forget about the pet lovers. I love these holiday designs (and I hope the cats do too).
What are some adorable gifts you have given or received? Share them in the comments below!
A common question asked by many new (and exasperated) parents is: When does life with a newborn get easier? That question loomed in my mind when I gave birth to my eldest son. And even though I knew better when I had the twins, I still longed for life to resume its normalcy. Because let’s face it: the newborn months are tough, and sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t seem to be shining any time soon.
What exactly makes the newborn stage so universally difficult?
Babies’ erratic sleeping and eating patterns. Gone (at least temporarily) are your eight-hours of sleep. Newborns have yet to learn to take in their food during the day in order to sleep at night. Their tummies are smaller, calling for frequent feedings. They also don’t know how to put themselves to sleep, relying on us to help ease them into rest.
Healing from childbirth. Let’s not forget that moms are still healing from the physical ailments of having just given birth. There’s all sorts of discomfort going on in the first few weeks post-partum. That, coupled with the lack of sleep, a messy house and the responsibility of caring for a baby doesn’t make this period any easier.
Crying as a means of communication. One of the challenges with babies and even toddlers is deciphering what it is they’re trying to tell us. As kids grow, they’re more adept at communicating, whether through baby signing, different kinds of cries, facial expressions and body languages, until eventually they begin using words. Newborns don’t have that skill just yet and rely only on crying to communicate.
The shock of new parenthood. Whether first-time parent or not, bringing home a newborn disrupts the routine a couple or a family may have had, and so suddenly. Yes, you peed five times a night when you were pregnant, but getting up to pee is vastly different from getting up to tend to a baby.
Caring for an older child and a newborn. Never mind that you just brought home a completely dependent baby; you now have the older child to contend with too. Juggling newborn needs with those of your older child can be one of the most difficult, patience-testing experiences ever.
So yeah… newborn months = not exactly easy. Still, we manage, and as the days tick by, we start to see glimmers of that light telling us that we’re almost out of the tunnel. And while every baby is different, several milestones can mark the times when caring for a newborn becomes easier:
Learning the difference between day and night.
In the womb, babies slept disjointed hours, never knowing night from day. Around the first month after birth, they’ll begin to form the patterns of day and night and will eventually sleep longer stretches during the evenings.
You can encourage this pattern by keeping the room bright during the day so your baby sleep lighter for their naps, and dark and subdued in the evenings so they know night time is reserved for deep sleep.
The first smile.
Typically seen around six to eight weeks, the first real smile emerges. You probably saw signs of “smiling” from the first few days, but those cute smirks are reflexes, similar to sucking or flailing their arms. Several weeks later, you’ll likely witness a genuine, social smile, often in reaction to your own smiling face.
Smiling doesn’t exactly make caring or a newborn any easier, but this simple facial gesture is one of the first signs of reciprocity a baby exhibits. After weeks and weeks of giving without so much as a thank you note, a baby’s smile finally reveals the joy our babies feel. And they’re just so darn cute that they can often erase any frustration or sleep deprivation a tired mom feels.
Holding their heads up.
The day your baby can hold her head up means you now have one free hand. Prior to that, carrying babies meant the use of both arms, with one hand cradling and supporting the head and neck. With at least one free arm, toting baby around becomes much easier.
Every baby develops differently, but my eldest son was fully able to hold his head up around four months, and the twins—born prematurely—even later than that.
Sleeping through the night.
Ahh, the ever-famous, STTN-for-short, sleeping through the night. The definition of “through the night” makes this milestone vague, as some people consider five hours long enough while others deem a full eight (or more) as the real deal. Whichever the case, even five hours of sleep in the evening is a godsend, so the longer your baby is able to stay asleep in the evening, the easier the newborn stage becomes.
All my kids slept five-plus hours on their own around two months, but didn’t actually sleep the full 11 hours until we sleep-trained a few months later.
Ability to put themselves to sleep.
Perhaps more important than sleeping long stretches at a time is the baby’s ability to put himself to sleep. Because while five hours of sleep was great, I dreaded having to rock, swing, bounce or shush my babies each time they had to nap or was woken up mid-sleep.
All kids are different, but some of the most common ways babies learn to put themselves to sleep is through sucking on their thumbs, rocking their heads side to side, or babbling. Mine were able to snooze on their own early on, but once they woke up, they weren’t able to put themselves back to sleep. Again, not until we sleep trained did they consistently resume and stay asleep for the full 11 to 12 hours at night (and during nap times).
Of all these milestones, sleeping through the night and being able to put themselves to sleep were by far the biggest markers of when caring for a newborn became easier for me. Once the babies were able to do both of those, life became normal (and I regained my sanity) once again.
Life becomes normal once again
Ultimately, there is no exact age where newborns magically become easier to care for. Babies reach milestones at different points in their growth, and as always, all babies are different.
The even better news is that it absolutely does get easier. Newborns aren’t newborns forever; they’ll eventually become infants, then toddlers and before you know it, bona fide kids. It’s just a matter of plugging through those first few months and relishing those sweet baby moments before the kiddo grows up right before your eyes.
When did you realize that the newborn stage was getting easier? If you’re caring for a newborn right now, what is your biggest challenge? Let me know in the comments below!
I’m so glad to have stumbled on these following books, whether through word of mouth, through online links or recommended by you. Throughout the year, I listed which books were favorites, not just with my kids but with yours. My criteria? My kids had to love them, of course. I also opted for books that fit within the 0-4 year-old-range, had a great storyline, beautiful illustrations and read aloud comfortably. Take a look: you may just find your kid’s next favorite book.
(A numbered list can be found on the bottom of the page).
Every year for the holidays, my mother-in-law and her sister unearth their enormous cooking pots (the kind that can easily fit a kid) in time to cook the Christmas tamales. With the help of roughly three to four people per shift (because the event is an all-day marathon), masa is made, beef and vegetable filling is cooked, and some custom, not-so-spicy ones are even set aside for me. So that on Christmas day, family members drop by and eat platefuls of tamales, again an all-day event. And this observance happens every December; a Christmas tradition years in the making.
The wonderful thing about family traditions is that they often happen organically and may even occur without us knowing it. For instance, my husband and I often reserve Saturday mornings for more complicated breakfasts, and while we rotated scrambled eggs, hash browns and the occasional Dutch baby, we found ourselves often cooking a family favorite—pancakes. From there, we began what my four-year-old now refers to as Pancake Saturdays.
Or take the daily rituals we often refer to as routines: the reading of four books before bedtime, the communal act of gathering around the dinner table. Often overlooked, even these simple acts add up to a tradition that kids eventually grow up to remember fondly.
And of course the holidays. Chock-full of rich traditions, from decades-old to newly formed, the holidays can often be an opportune time to remember your own festivities or adapt and create your own.
Creating family traditions can be as simple as repeating enjoyable moments on a regular basis, or during designated times and seasons. The key thing to remember is to look towards your family for inspiration. I can suggest dressing up in matching pajamas for Christmas Day, a wonderful idea to many, but not to those who might find it unnecessary. Similarly, going to the beach during summer weekends works fine for the likes of me who live near the ocean, but not so much to those away from the coasts.
A potential trap to fall on parents wanting to create family traditions is piling on too many. Particularly during the holidays, we hear so many amazing ideas that families are doing: watching Christmas movies on the weekends, baking Santa’s cookies (if you happen to celebrate Santa), ice skating, visiting the local senior living homes… yet too many activities—even if in the name of creating traditions—can easily wear a family out.
And it’s perfectly fine to try new traditions only to find that they were instead a one-time deal. For instance, a few years ago, we bought Christmas treats and passed them out to several neighbors in our building. The following year, for some reason on another (probably because I was too exhausted with my twin pregnancy to do much of anything), we balked on the idea the second time around.
Still, if you’re looking to kick-start a few holiday traditions, consider a few here that I’ve celebrated with my own family and extended relatives:
Bake a treat or cook a meal reserved for Christmas. Similar to my mother-in-law’s tamales, my own mom has been known to cook a Filipino dessert guinataan for the holidays. And like the tamales, this also involves an enormous cooking pot, requires a bit of effort, and can feed numerous people. Some other favorites include fudge, eggnog, gingerbread house and apple cider.
Purchase or make an ornament for each child each year. After several years, your Christmas tree will resemble a treasure trove of memories.
Pick out and decorate a Christmas tree. Even when my husband, first born son and I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, we still made plans to buy a small-sized tree to take home and decorate. We had to get creative with our tree and set it atop a side table so that the little guy wouldn’t keep snatching the ornaments!
Attend your city’s tree-lighting ceremony. Our city hosts an annual event gathering residents to light the official city tree. Check your city’s website for any local events, from tree-lighting to holiday-themed shows.
Knock on neighbors’ doors and pass out holiday treats. We stuck to wrapped candy tied in holiday bags, but you can add a personal touch by baking your own treats. Even the most cantankerous of neighbors lit up when we handed them a holiday bag.
Borrow holiday-related books from the library to read at home. We haven’t done this all too often, so this year I plan to borrow several holiday-themed children’s books to read throughout the season.
Christmas music! I’m so amazed that I know probably 95% of the words to Christmas music. Goes to show how far back music can go, and how timeless many of them are.
String popcorn for your own tree trimmings. One fond memory I had was cooking popcorn with my family, threading some string through it and wrapping the long garland around our Christmas tree.
Play “Guess Your Secret Santa.” When passing around your Secret Santa gifts, have each person gives clues or even impersonate the person they have given a gift to. Everyone else can guess who the recipient is.
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Do you still continue some from your own childhood?
The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Flora Ross.
This school year my nearly five year-old daughter is in pre-kindergarten. She has been attending preschool for a few years now, but this is the first time she has gone five days a week. We have worked to slowly transition her to a full schedule so she will be ready—in more ways than one—for elementary school. It was obvious to me from the beginning of this school year that we needed to establish an after school routine.
Here is what ours looks like:
Snack Time I’m not sure what my daughter does during lunchtime at school, but apparently she doesn’t eat. She often comes home with a nearly full lunch box. And, no surprise, she is grumpy (even though she has been offered two snacks each day at school in addition to the lunch I send her with). The first thing I do when we get home is sit her down to eat and refuel.
Down Time Kids need to decompress after the school day. It’s not easy, especially when they’re young and still adjusting to structure and expectations, to remain focused and on their best behavior all school day. I make sure my daughter gets some time to relax and unwind once she is home.
Nina’s note: Elizabeth brings up a good point—our kids have to exert a ton of effort to be on their best behavior at school, so I make sure not to give my kiddo too much trouble when he yells a bit louder or forgets to put his toys away immediately.
Play Time Play is vital to kids. Not only does it enable them to unwind and release energy, it’s also the best way for them to learn. Being in Pre-K, my daughter still has the opportunity to play quite a bit at school, but I make sure she has time at home every day, too.
Learning Time My daughter doesn’t have homework yet, but she will in the very near future. We set aside time every afternoon to engage in activities that reinforce the things she is learning in Pre-K. Fortunately, at this stage she’s eager to practice her emerging skills. Down the road, having established this time as part of our daily routine will hopefully help with the completion of homework.
Nina’s note: I like how Elizabeth has already started implementing the expectation of doing homework in a fun way. In doing so, homework won’t seem so shocking when it’s finally required.
Dinner Time Unfortunately, my husband’s office move means we don’t get to eat dinner as a family during the week, but it’s still a time for my daughter and I to connect. It’s is often my favorite time of the day as well as an important opportunity to gauge how she is doing, in school as well as overall.
Bed Time My daughter’s bedtime routine is simple and has changed very little since she was a baby. I dubbed it “The Three Bs” in the beginning, for Bath, Books and Bed. When she was old enough we added Brushing, as in teeth and hair. Our goal is for her to be in bed with the lights out by 7:30 each night so she can get enough sleep.
As a mom working from home, it has been quite easy for me to establish this routine and it has worked well for us. Were I to work outside the home, I would seek an after school program that both understood and met my child’s needs and offered a similar structure. For more information about prepping your child for preschool you can visit WhatToExpect.com.
My daughter’s childhood is going by so quickly, and school will become a larger presence as she continues to grow. I believe establishing these routines now will set her up for success moving forward.
How do you help your child transition after the school day? Do you have a routine and if so, what is it?
Elizabeth Flora Ross is a freelance writer for WhatToExpect.com, living in Florida with her husband and daughter. You can find her on her personal blog, The Writer Revived. She is also the creator of The Mom Pledge, an anti-cyberbullying campaign aimed at moms.