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Thanks to Hallmark for an ornament to review, and for providing the giveaway ornament. No compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.
Childhood Memories Friday

Christmas — I just love it! As a child, I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, marveling at the lights on houses as we drove around town, just looking at Christmas lights. It was magical. I’ve always loved Christmas music, and it surprises me when I hear people complain about it playing in stores. I could listen to it year-round. On the day after Christmas when I was 5, Mom noted me saying, “Christmas is over — but there’ll be another one!”

 

Christmas 1970

In this photo, 6-year-old me sits in my “car” with my beloved Santa. I’m at the drive-in, in case you can’t tell, and most likely I’m watching one of my favorite Christmas specials on TV: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Did you know that the Rudolph program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year? Yep, and so am I! So perhaps it’s no wonder I’ve always loved that show, with its loveable misfits and catchy songs (“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”). Even the villains turn out nice in the end (I’m looking at you, Abominable Snowman/Bumble!).

Celebrating50Years(1)

I was so excited to review Hallmark’s 50th Anniversary Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ornament.

Hallmark Rudolph ornament
Yes, it’s Rudolph in all his adorableness, with Hermey on his back. There’s a “50 years” tag around Rudolph’s neck, and as expected, Hallmark provides another fun detail: Rudolph’s nose lights up when you press a button on his collar! (requires a battery, and three are included).

I love Hallmark Christmas ornaments, and I have more than a few. They’re always so well made, and cute, and the details provide that extra something that makes them special. They are truly keepsakes that you can enjoy now, and pass along to your kids and grandkids as well. Check out all of the 2014 Hallmark Ornament Collection — which is  your favorite?

Hallmark is generously providing an ornament from the 2014 collection to one of you! I can’t say that it will be Rudolph — the choice is up to Hallmark — but really, as you look through their catalog, you’ll see that any ornament from them would be a treat to receive. You can enter using the rafflecopter form below. Enter by November 29, and I’ll choose a random winner November 30.

Merry Christmas!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hallmark would love to hear your #KeepsakeIt moments involving their ornaments. You can share your moments (and be eligible for great prizes as well) by entering Hallmark’s #KeepsakeIt Sweepstakes through 12/18.

Even before his or her birth, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s second royal baby is world famous. What will Baby Cambridge’s parents name the tot? While naming is a private decision, it’s a safe bet that “North,” “Apple,” or “Suri” won’t be making the cut. British royal family members are  a traditional lot — their first baby, after all, was named George. And while William and Kate are decidedly modern in their approach to royalty, they aren’t rebels. Here’s what you might expect in the way of baby names for the couple this time around:

Diana

While Kate was expecting Prince George, the world breathlessly wondered if the expected baby would be a girl, named in homage to William’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who died tragically in a Paris car accident in 1997. Most likely: no. Diana was a world-class media superstar, and it would be a heavy burden to give a child her name. Diana as a middle name (royals often have several)? Perhaps. Another option for a first or middle name to honor William’s mum is Frances, Diana’s middle name.

Philip

Philip would be a fitting name for a little Prince of Cambridge, and would honor William’s grandfather, current Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip. By all accounts, Philip has done a royally impressive job supporting the Queen through 60 years of royal rule. He’s still going strong, despite some recent health problems, at 93. William and Kate could do worse than name a child in his honor. Philip would be a bit of a novelty as well; there’s never been a British monarch with the name.

source: gg.gov.au

gg.gov.au by Auspic/Commonwealth of Australia [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Alexandra

Alexandra has a bit of a modern feel but historic roots. It’s one of current Queen Elizabeth’s middle names, the name of one of William’s godmothers, and also the name of British King Edward VII’s wife. How does HRH Alex sound?

James

James is the current #1 odds name for a baby boy. It’s a nice, traditional name that would pair well with George — and Kate also has a brother named James.

Charlotte

“Charlotte’s Web” isn’t the inspiration here; no, Charlotte is the middle name of Kate’s sister, Pippa. It’s a popular name among the posh set of young adults that form William and Kate’s world. It’s also got royal roots: Charlotte was the wife of King George III, who reigned when the American colonies broke away from England.

Elizabeth

It’s fun to speculate that the royal baby could be named Elizabeth, same as her great-grandmother.  Elizabeth is Kate’s middle name as well. The latest polls show Elizabeth as the #1 speculated choice for a girl’s name for the couple.

Why more girl names speculated on than boys? Perhaps because there are more likely girl names in the mix. During the past thousand years, only eight different names have been used by predominantly male British monarchs.

The Waiting Game

Once Baby Cambridge arrives, don’t expect the modern custom of gender and name being announced all at once. It’s traditional for royals to wait with naming. William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, waited a week before announcing William’s name. William’s cousin, Princess Beatrice, didn’t have a name for two weeks. And Prince Charles himself wasn’t named for a month!

What name would you like to see chosen for the new baby? Are you predicting a girl or a boy?

You may also enjoy:

A Thank You Note from William and Kate
Fun Facts About William, Kate, and George in New Zealand and Australia Royal Tour

Thanks to Chronicle Books for a review copy of this book. No financial compensation was received. All opinions my own.

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Our gift guide continues today with Chronicle Books — one of my favorite places to shop for books and gift items that are out of the ordinary.

I particularly love the Terrarium Notecards, and anything related to the world’s cutest dog, Boo.

But today, I wanted to show you a little book that is hilarious to me.

It’s both the funniest sad book and the saddest funny book you’ll ever read — All My Friends Are Dead.

Imagine the poor dinosaur on the front — all his friends are dead (yeah, yeah — he is too, but suspend rationality for a bit, m’kay?) Consider trees: all their friends are end tables. Or Big Foot — all his friends are hoaxes.

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Yeah. I think we can all understand this poor guy’s dilemma.

I love the dry humor of this book, and I am giving a copy to a relative whose sense of humor it matches perfectly. I bet you know someone who’d enjoy the chuckle, as well.

If you just can’t get enough of the quirky humor, there’s a sequel: All My Friends Are Still Dead. And don’t forget the matching felt journal — yes, really.

What is your favorite gift to give the hard-to-buy-for person?

 

Menu Plan Monday

menuplanmonday

It’s been another busy week: one daughter’s marching band completed its final competition, finishing 8th in the nation — wow! What a journey this season has been. I was able to travel to one of the state’s universities with another daughter as she competed with her team in the state spell bowl. That was fun as well!

Indiana Spell Bowl

There she is, in the red shirt!

I think that things will quiet down a little now, but not for long, because soon the holidays will arrive.

Here’s the week’s menu plan:

Monday: Make your own pizza — I make dough, and each person makes his/her own pizza with toppings of choice.

Tuesday: Chicken Curry – this is similar to my recipe. We ate at the local Indian restaurant Sunday, which reminded me I haven’t made curry in a while.

Wednesday: Fish and mashed potatoes (just boxed frozen fish, nothing special — sorry. Homemade mashed potatoes, though)

Thursday: Chicken Pot Pie — a favorite

Friday: Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti Casserole — new recipe. I may cut down on the amount of cream cheese, as I’m doubting that it will be too popular around these parts.

What is on your menu plan this week? More menu planning ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Candies

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If you know me, you know that I love chocolate. So, when I saw a deal on a delicious chocolate brand, I was happy to share it with you. First, let me tell you a little about the company, Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Candies.

Time was when Marie Cavanaugh spent hours in her South Dakota farmhouse each Christmas season making pecan rolls and homemade chocolates for holiday gifting.

“It started when my aunt sent her pecan-rolls recipe,” Mrs. Cavanaugh recalled. “I gave the recipe my own touch and started making the yummy specialties. Then I began dipping chocolates. Our friends and neighbors loved these treats, encouraging me to start a candy business. Finally, I decided it might be a good idea.'”

Her husband, George, and children Carla, Lorraine, Calvin, Colene and Genise rallied, helping Mrs. Cavanaugh fill demands for her homemade sweets.

In 1972, the family moved to Utah, leaving behind good friends and their beloved cattle ranch.

“It was a difficult decision, especially for George,” Mrs. Cavanaugh said. “He was excited about making our new venture, which we chose to call Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Candies, a great success. We felt Utah was blessed with good chocolates and that we would enjoy – and could compete with – those who pride themselves on making excellent chocolates.”

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Millions of pounds of chocolates later, Mrs. Cavanaugh’s candies have earned a reputation for unquestionable excellence … just ask chocolate aficionados. They will direct those seeking the best chocolates to the popular Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Candies.

Readers, you can receive Buy 1 lb Get 1 lb FREE of Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Chocolates when you use promo code: usfamily14

Thanks to Family Christian, who provided the gift card for the giveaway and one for me as well. No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Today, I’m featuring Family Christian Stores in my Christmas Gift Guide. I love Family Christian, and am pleased to promote a store that helps further Christian values.

Little People Nativity Scene

One of my favorite items found at Family Christian this year is the adorable, and I do mean adorable, Little People Nativity. If you’re a regular here, you know about my fondness for Fisher Price Little People. I’ve written about them many times. When I saw that they had a nativity, it was all I could do to not run over and immediately purchase one.

Little People encourage creative play, which I love as a mom and as a former teacher. My girls have acted out the nativity countless times with theirs (and as you can see here, sometimes even the Santa train, reindeer, and random neighborhood folks come to adore the newborn King).
kids playing with nativity scene

 Check it out for any children in your life this Christmas. From November 26-28, you can order a set for 50% off — wow!

There are so many other excellent Christmas gifts available at Family Christian. A few of my favorites:

Thanks to Family Christian, one of you can win a $25 gift certificate to use on any of these items (or any other item of your choosing at Family Christian stores or at FamilyChristian.com online). Enter using the Rafflecopter form below by November 23, and I’ll choose a random winner November 24. Giveaway valid for US and Canada.

Wishing each of you a blessed Christmas season!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indiana Winter Birds

Indiana winter birds

Last winter. Oh, last winter. What a winter it was! So much snow. So much cold.

But one bright spot was the birds that would visit my feeder outside the kitchen.

Recently our library held a program about Indiana winter birds, and I took advantage of it (I wish more had; it was free and only 5 others attended).

Here are some things I learned:

  • 2/3 of birds in the US migrate
  • there is a free app where you can track current migration — looks neat, but since I don’t  have an iPhone, I’ll have to pass on it
  • how do birds navigate such large distances? They are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field. Most migration occurs at night, and birds use the stars for navigation
  • small birds fly at 800-1600′ during the night, and at 200′ during the day

Our presenter also discussed various food for birds, and which foods attract which birds, in his experience:

  • Millett – attracts sparrows
  • Peanuts - blue jays (he said he watched a blue jay put 9 peanuts into its mouth at one time)
  • Cracked Corn – mourning doves
  • Black Sunflower Seed – many birds (my note — this is the feed I used last winter, and I ended up with tons of juncos and sparrows; also the occasional cardinal
  • Safflower Seed - cardinals, nuthatches (sparrows don’t like this)
  • Meal Worms – blue birds. Hmmm, I have a large container of dried meal worms that our hedgehog rejected. I may soak them to hydrate them this winter and put them out for the birds.

He mentioned the cold front that arrived the day of the program, and how he’d noticed the birds eating like crazy in anticipation of the change. It’s amazing to me how smart birds are, but maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, God made them that way, and he takes note of every sparrow …

Do you feed birds, either in the winter or year-round? What foods attract which birds in your experience?

You may also enjoy:

Passenger Pigeon Martha

Duck, Duck … Goose

How to Choose a Piano Teacher

child playing pianoPiano lessons are a rite of passage for many children. Your child’s success with piano lessons can depend in large part upon her teacher. What are some features to look for when selecting a piano teacher?

What Is the Piano Teacher’s Philosophy?

Interview the teacher, either in person or by phone. What type of approach does she use? Is she strict about music theory and history, or does she have a more casual, “let’s just have fun” demeanor? Does the teacher emphasize classical music, popular tunes or a mixture?

Either type of teacher can be a good fit depending on your child’s personality and goals. The teacher you would select for a budding child piano prodigy may be different from the teacher you choose for a child who just wants to have some fun playing a Disney tune.

What Do Other Parents Say?

If possible, talk to some other parents whose children study with the teacher you’re considering. Are their children enjoying lessons with this teacher? Does he relate well with children (being an excellent musician doesn’t necessarily equate to being a great teacher)? Is he easy to work with if lessons need to be rescheduled?

What Does This Teacher Require?

When you talk with the teacher, ask about expectations. How much practice time does she recommend daily? Do her students participate in recitals and/or competitions? If so, are these mandatory or elective?

What Will This Cost?

Piano lessons, since they are usually private, are generally more expensive than group lessons in dance, gymnastics, or other interest areas. Make sure you can afford the cost of lessons in your budget, as well as expenses for music your child will need.

If private lessons seem too pricey, check into group lessons, which are often available at local colleges and some music studios. The cost for these is usually much less than individual lessons. For most children, group lessons can be a cheaper way of determining whether your child has a lasting interest in piano.

Where is the Piano Teacher Located?

It may seem insignificant, but consider the location of the piano teacher. A 40-minute commute will quickly become cumbersome, particularly in winter months. Over the weeks and months, you will come to appreciate a nearby piano teacher. Keep the stress on your family low by choosing a teacher who lives reasonably close.

Can You Observe Lessons?

Ask the teacher whether you can listen in on a lesson. This can give you a lot of insight into a teacher’s methods, style and personality. There may be things the teacher is trying to emphasize which you were clueless about, simply because your child didn’t mention them. It can be enlightening to see a teacher at work. It can also help you gauge whether or not this teacher-student relationship is working well.

At the same time, most teachers would not appreciate parents listening in for each lesson. This can be disruptive to the teacher, and many children perform better with their parents out of the room. Don’t insist on being present for lessons on a regular basis.

Music is a wonderful part of life. By taking time to select a teacher who is compatible with your child, you are increasing your child’s chances of having a positive experience in studying piano.

You may also enjoy:

Buying a Piano: Digital or Acoustic?

How to Get the Most Out of Piano Lessons: A Teacher’s Tips

 

Thanks to Curby’s Closet for 2 patterns for review. No financial compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Welcome to the 2014 Girls in White Dresses Blog Christmas Gift Guide!

This month, I’d like to introduce you to some products I enjoy. Since this is a small blog, I don’t have companies coming to me offering me lots of stuff. Instead, I contacted companies whose products I love, and asked if I could review something to share with all of you.

Today I’m so happy to introduce you to the first company I’m featuring: Curby’s Closet.

Chris Anderson is the creator of the patterns that make up Curby’s Closet. She loved dolls and Barbies as a child, and began refurbishing vintage clothes for them. From there, she ventured into designing and making quilted baby shoes, which she sold on Etsy. Next, she began selling patterns for these adorable shoes. Do you want to see them, so you can judge just how cute they are?

Curby's Closet baby shoes

I know! So sweet! And I was happy to find that each of the two patterns Chris generously shared with me was quick and simple to make. I have sewn for years, but I really think these are “doable” even if you have few sewing skills.

I made the Quilted Baby Criss Cross shoes (seen on left above) and the Quilted Baby Mary Janes (right). The patterns use double-sided quilted material and a few other items you can easily find in stores. The kits I received contained everything I needed — so nice for a fun afternoon project!

Curby's Closet baby shoes

Inside the patterns, directions were clearly described, with  illustrations for each step. I can say that I had no questions as I made them. With each step, the shoes became cuter and cuter. You can individualize any of the patterns by choosing your own fabrics, ribbons, and button accessories.

Each pattern contains two sizes — 3-6 months and 6-9 months. Let’s face it — after that point, most babies will be walking and would be too hard on cloth shoes.  In my photo at the top, the left shoes are made in the smaller size, and the right ones are made in the larger size. These are the first baby shoes I have ever made, and I am so happy with the results.

Curby's Closet baby shoes

I recommend Curby’s Closet patterns for yourself, if you enjoy crafting. The baby shoes you create would make a wonderful gift or stocking stuffer for little nieces, grandkids, or even for a new mom or mom-to-be. If you’ve only got boys, don’t worry: Curby’s Closet also sells sweet patterns for Quilted Baby Moccasins and — yep – Quilted Baby Cowboy Boots. Or, if someone one your gift list sews, one or two of these patterns would make a creative and fun gift to give.

Each pattern is cuter than the next. It’s still just early November, so why not order a pattern or two and start creating? Each of the pairs of shoes I made took me only a few hours — time well-spent!

You can find the patterns online at the Curby’s Closet website, or on Ebay or Etsy.

How about you: have you ever made baby shoes? Have you ever made something using a Curby’s Closet pattern?

Menu Plan Monday

menuplanmonday

Welcome to Menu Plan Monday! Such a nice week here; I hope yours was as well. The weekend brought state marching band finals, and my oldest daughter’s band finished 3rd in Class A. Their show, Dance of the Wind Spirits, is lovely if I do say so myself. If you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, you can enjoy it (at least as it appeared a few weeks ago; they added more spark since then):

 

 

This week is another busy one, with meetings, a final band competition, National Honor Society induction, and this coming weekend State Spell Bowl competition for my youngest daughter — not to mention the 17 weekly piano students. It’s great to be busy with fun things. Here’s the menu plan:

Monday: Chipotle Turkey Chili – saw this in a magazine this week and thought it looked good. Soup weather has arrived.

Tuesday: Cheeseburger Pie — one of the kids’ favorites.

 

Wednesday: Busy night; I’m afraid it’s frozen pizzas. The good news? They were on sale :)

Thursday: Gone most of the day; maybe those at home can do pasta/spaghetti sauce?

Friday:

TORTILLA SOUP

16 oz. refried beans

14.5 oz. chicken broth

5 oz. chunk chicken (I usually just cook 1 chicken breast)

15.5 oz. black beans, rinsed

3/4 cup salsa

Combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 min.

Crumble a few tortilla chips in the bottom of each bowl.

Ladle soup over chips and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

Since I’m letting things slide a little this week, I may even pull out all the stops (to use a little organ lingo) and cut up corn tortillas into strips and bake them to serve with it.

More menu planning ideas at OrgJunkie‘s. Have a good week, everyone!