Friday, December 30, 2011

Backyard Glowstick Hunt

Last night we had barrels of fun, and only this lousy picture to show for it.

Time to get a better camera (or a better photographer :-)

It was yet another fun activity from those two dollar packages of glow in the dark bracelets you can get at Target or Michaels.

After dinner I had the girls stay inside while I scattered the bracelets all around the yard.  I equipped them each with a mini flashlight (not because it helps in finding the glow-in-the-dark bracelets but because everything is more exciting with flashlights) and sent them out to find the bracelets.

They found most of them easily, but we played "hot" and "cold" to help them find the last two or three.  Then each girl got to take turns hiding the bracelets for the other one to find.

The only down side to the game was trying to introduce bedtime at the end.

We have really mild weather right now here in Austin, but for other parts of the country I think it could be super fun to play this game in the dark in the snow!

For more glow stick activities, see here and here, and here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

4 Fun Snowman Ideas

1.  Make a ice cream sundae snowman- from Gordon Gossip.
2. I really like this exercise in perspective from Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists
3.  Melted Snowman cookies from Crazy Domestic
4.  These snowman snowflakes from Almost Unschoolers are easy and so appropriate!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In Praise of Mud

There's nothing quite like real mud. I'm convinced that no amount of moon sand, play-doh, water beads, colored rice, cloud-doh and homemade slime or any other sensory tub filler can take it's place in a childhood. What do you think?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Borax Crystal Snowflakes

We've got at least a couple of months of winter left with no Christmas cheeriness to brighten the gray days.  And here in Texas, we don't even have pretty snowflakes to cheer us (we DO have mild enough weather to play outside easily- for which I am very thankful!)'s time to start hunting down winter snow crafts.  There really are a lot of amazing ones out there (maybe because people are indoors, trying to chase away the post-holiday blues??)

This borax crystal snowflake craft is really worth doing if you've never done it before. I had seen it around the internet on several blogs, but pictures don't really do justice to the beautiful, dramatic results.


Mason jar
A pencil
Borax (in the laundry section of the grocery store)
Boiling Water
Blue pipe cleaners

1.  Cut 2 pipe cleaners into small pieces and fashion into a snowflake shape by twisting the pieces around one another.
2.  Fill a mason jar with boiling water and dump in some borax.  (Directions I've read say 3 Tablespoons per one cup of water, but it's really not fussy at all).
3.  Stir until it stops dissolving.  (It's ok if some of the borax just settles to the bottom)
4.  Tie a string on the pipe cleaner snowflake.  On the other end of the string tie a pencil (to keep the snowflake from falling to the bottom of the jar)
5.  Dip snowflake in the mason jar, making sure it does not touch the bottom or sides of the jar.  Wait for two or three hours and pull out your pretty snowflake!

If your children are old enough you can use this craft to illustrate the science of supersaturation.  If they are little tots like mine, they'll just enjoy helping to stir the borax mixture and then admiring the way the sun shines through the crystals at the end.  (They look really nice hung on windows!)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Festive Mini Pretzel Rods

Inspired by my friend Carissa at Carissa's Creativity Spot, the girls and I decided to make some quick Christmas gifts for the mailman and the new neighbors across the street (and of course there were all of those not-quite-perfect little rods that we felt compelled to eat ourselves :-)

1. First we crushed candy canes in a ziploc bag with a heavy rolling pin.  (The girls enjoyed doing this part, but needed quite a bit of help to get the pieces small enough.
2.  Then we melted some white chocolate chips in a makeshift double boiler on the stove.  (Large saucepan filled with hot water with a smaller saucepan nested inside filled with the chips)  I think doing it this way worked better than the microwave because it kept the chocolate smooth and melted for long enough for us to dip a lot of pretzels

3.  Next we dipped small pretzel rods into the white chocolate and sprinkled them with the candy cane pieces.  (This part was very fun for the girls too, but they needed some help making sure they let the excess chocolate drip off before they rolled them.

4.  Set to dry on a piece of wax paper.  (Only takes about 10 minutes)

(Yes, M has a tin bucket on her head.  Not sure why :-)
For our packaging, we tried a cute idea I saw on Pinterest a while back.  We just used small ziploc bags and stapled some holiday scrapbook paper on the top.  They turned out cute and tasty- the girls were proud to stick them in the mailbox.

   (We wanted to give some to the garbage man too as a Christmas thank-you, but couldn't figure out how to do that without getting up at 6:30am when he usually comes- any suggestions?)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We've Become a Family of Five

After relatively easy delivery, little Baby J surprised us by unexpectedly ending up in the NICU for a few days. (We have a new appreciation for the strain on parents who have babies in the NICU for weeks or months!)
 We're happy to report though that he is home now and doing well. We're looking forward to settling down to our life together as a family of five.
Does anyone have any tips for making the transitioning to three children?  I've heard from some people that it can be quite an adjustment!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Blogging Break

I'm going to be taking the next week off from blogging in order to be able to fully enjoy our new little bundle of joy, Baby J (he's coming tomorrow!) I may pop in now and then, but Wednesday of next week is when I plan to resume.

I'd appreciate your prayers for the next few days if you think of us!

Child Made Gift: Tile Coasters

A friend of mine had some moms and daughters over the other day so we could all make homemade Christmas gifts together.  She had everything purchased and laid out so we could make sets of tile coasters- It turned out to be a simple and surprisingly inexpensive gift.


Ceramic tiles (from the kitchen and bath section of the hardware store; they only cost about 14 cents each!)
Mod Podge
Scrapbook paper
Foam brushes
Polyurethane (the most expensive part of the craft.  A quart costs about $16 but can make a TON of tiles)
Hair blow dryers
Adhesive cork
1.  Cut scrapbook paper to the size of the tiles.
2.  Mod podge the paper on to the tile and wait about 15 minutes for it to dry.  It's important to wait because otherwise the paper will bubble.  (I found out the hard way)
3.  Cover the paper with 3 layers of polyurethane.  Make the layers thin and smooth, and allow to dry completely between coats.  You can use a hair blow dryer to speed the drying along.  Air drying usually takes a couple of hours for each coat.  When you use the hair blow dryer it takes about 10 minutes for each coat.
4.  Cut cork for the size of the tiles, and stick onto the backs.

M was able to help with each step of the process, but it got a little tedious for her, and so she only did one or two all the way through.  I thought the coasters turned out quite nice for being something that young children can help so much with!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Family Evening with Pomegranates

Did you know that there are two ways to loosen the seeds from a pomegranate?  I didn't either until my husband came home the other night with two pomegranates and showed us all what to do.  We discovered that both methods are definitely fun for kids.

For both methods, you cut the pomegranate in half.  Then you either

1.  Pull each half apart into large pieces and submerge in water.  Little fingers can easily pull off the seeds this way.


2.  Turn each half upside down and whack with a heavy spoon so that the seeds fall off into a bowl.  Also fun!

Then of course, lay the seeds out on a plate so they can be admired, touched, and eaten.  I love how they glisten like jewels!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Weaving with Pipe Cleaners

The pipe cleaners I received in a free package from are particularly fluffy, and I've been considering for a while what to do with them.  Today, I finally spread them out on the table to help get the creative juices flowing. It didn't take long before I had two curious little girls at my side, eager to partake in whatever fun was to be had.

They seemed to get an inordinate amount of joy out of my shaping some of them into letters at their requests.
After that, we got started on a project I've wanted to try for a while- borax snowflakes (more on that in an post coming soon!)

Finally, though, I decided that the fluffiness of the pipe cleaners was just crying out to be woven into something lush and soft.  It also seemed like a good idea because M had never done any weaving before, and I thought the stiffness of pipe cleaners might make a good beginning project.

For the loom, I found a box that was a little less wide than the length of the pipe cleaners.  Using a knife, I poked holes at equal intervals on both sides.  I strung the pipe cleaners through those holes and curled the ends up over the edge of the box to make them stay put.

Weaving the pipe cleaners over and under going the other direction did turn out to be pretty easy.  M was able to do a line or two without any trouble, but it was pretty tedious work for her four-year-old fingers; so for most of the project, she picked out the colors for me to weave, and she got to push the lines together tightly after each row (I thought the smushing together part was fun too).

When our swatch of "cloth" was large enough, I cut it off of the loom with a pair of scissors, and turned down the edges of the swatch so the ends of the wires wouldn't be exposed.  (It turned out to be impossible to entirely get rid of the sharpness though, unfortunately)

Then we shaped our cloth into a cute, little bowl.  It really is fun to have a soft and bendy piece of cloth to form into a shape.

While it was a little advanced for my girls, I think there might be a lot of possibility for unique projects with this basic craft.  Any ideas?  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Daring but Good Christmas Present for a Child

Every year, thousands of people receive Christmas presents in the form of donations in their name to organizations like  Heiffer International, World Vision, Compassion, etc.   It seems to me though, that most often the kind of person who tends to receive this kind of present is someone who is difficult to buy for- someone who already has everything they could possibly want.

That 's why I thought it was really surprising when, this past summer, my parents chose to buy a goat for a poor family through World Vision as M's fourth birthday present.  M definitely is NOT difficult to buy for- she has lots of things she would have liked!

But how neat that my parents would trust a little girl to be compassionate and mature enough to be able to see this as a good thing.  My mom also gave M a copy of the book Beatrice's Goat which tells the story of a family in Africa who receives a goat and is able to use the benefits from it to make a better life for themselves.  It is told from the perspective of a young girl who would really like to go to school, but whose family cannot afford the cost of a uniform.

My mom read this book with M and talked about it with her to help her understand the present.  In the end, M did seem to understand, and she smiled and talked about it positively.

I think it was really special that my parents would want to give M the gift of helping her to develop compassion and empathy for others.  That's really an investment in her character, and something that could really make a lasting impression.

Certainly, my parents don't always give this kind of present to my kids.  There's a place for giving them fun, traditional gifts too.  (It also seems like you have to know the child and their situation pretty well.  There are definitely some situations in which this kind of gift would be a really poor choice)

But if it does seem like a good idea for a gift for a child on your list this year, here are some ideas for making it a good experience:

1.  Look at the catalogs. Many companies like World Vision put out catalogs of gifts like this that can be given to families all over the world.  It might be neat to pore over one of these books with a child to pick out something together.

2.  Pray for the family who will receive the gift together with your child.  

3.  Research the country or region where the gift will go and locate it on a map.

4.  Buy a stuffed animal to match the kind of donation as a reminder of the real animal.

5.  Encourage imagination.  Let your child imagine what the family might name the animal, how they would feel upon receiving it, and what that animal might be doing, etc.

Have you ever tried this sort of present with your children?  What suggestions do you have? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread Day

The other day my girls and I wandered into the lobby of The Four Seasons Hotel here in Austin to see their annual Gingerbread Village display.  (a little awkwardly, I might add.  It's usually apparent enough that we don't belong at The Four Seasons, but it happened to be pouring rain that day, and we looked particularly bedraggled and dripping down mud.  But- oh well...if they are going to display fancy candy houses, they're going to have to expect a little preschool riff raff :-)

This year they are displaying replicas of Austin landmarks.  We even got to see a gingerbread version of the hospital where I'll be delivering little baby J in a week or two.

It was fun to look, but I realized that the whole experience was a bit of a tease for the girls when M turned to me and said, "NOW, can we eat them?"

Thankfully, I had previously frittered away invested some time on Pinterest looking at holiday ideas, and remembered a pin for a site with instructions for making super easy graham cracker gingerbread houses.  It seemed that the next logical thing to do was to stop off at HEB for some graham crackers and candy.

The bulk candy aisles were particularly fun because we were able to purchase just a few pieces of a big variety of little candies.

While the girls napped, I set to work constructing the graham cracker houses.  The site from Pinterest really has amazingly good and detailed instructions.  I was especially thankful for her suggestion to use melted chocolate instead of the royal icing I would have used as a default.  Royal icing takes a lot longer to dry and so leaves the little house pretty susceptible to collapse for a couple of hours.  The melted chocolate dried quickly and solid.

The only real trouble I had was in making sure I had enough graham crackers.  When I opened the package I found that half of the crackers were broken.  (may have had something to do with the fact that little G was in the basket with them at the grocery store) In the end, I was able to salvage enough for two little houses.

It looks a little messy, but white melted chocolate looks enough like snow and icicles; so in the end I was happy with them.  And, of course,  the girls thought they were amazing!
Decorating the little houses was an absolute dream come true for them.  They spent over an hour intently decorating, and then only stopped because I made them get washed up for dinner.  For the candy decorating we did use royal icing.  It would have been hard for them to decorate fast enough before the chocolate hardened.
It was a great day, and I'm excited to continue the gingerbread tradition next year.  Of course, the massive amounts of candy are a bit troubling, but we've been eating them slowly, one piece at a time (as rewards for potty training)  Still, it would be fun to come up with a healthier version of a gingerbread house...maybe with dried fruit, etc.  Or would that take all the fun out of it?

 I think it might be fun to host a gingerbread house decorating party next year.  Have any of you done that?  Any tips?   Any fun books to go along with the activity?  (I considered Hansel and Gretel, but the part about throwing the witch into the oven always makes it a bit of a disturbing story to me :-)   
It would be great to get other suggestions!

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Easy Stained Glass Craft Technique

I'm really tickled to have found this simple stained glass craft.  I had been looking for a pretty and quick way to make all the symbols for our family's advent devotions, and after poking around on the internet for a while yesterday, I found something I was happy with.

1.  Print a black and white silhouette picture out on regular paper. (you'll notice the picture I found on google was a tattoo pattern.  Ha!)
2.  Heat a cookie sheet in the oven until its nice and hot.
3.  Take the cookie sheet out of the oven and use and towel to cover part of the sheet so little fingers are less likely to get burnt. (I told the girls to be very careful, and we didn't have any problems)
4.  Place the silhouette paper on the cookie sheet upside down and color with crayons.
5.  Frame the picture with strips of black construction paper.

That's it!

If you want it to have less of a "mottled" look then make sure not to melt the crayon on too thickly.

They look surprisingly nice on a brightly lit window or on the outside of a candle holder (we're doing it this way for advent devotions).

It's Playtime!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Journey to Bethlehem Dinner

I'll probably end up reposting this idea every year in December- just because it's been such a meaningful, unique tradition for my family for so many years.  

A lot of people try to imagine what the first Christmas must have been like. Not as often, I imagine, do people think about what the first Christmas Eve was like. One of my family's Christmas traditions centers around that very idea.

Every year since I was little, my family has held a "Journey to Bethlehem" dinner on Christmas Eve when we think about Joseph and Mary's long trip before Jesus was born. We try to only eat foods that would have been available to them at that time and that people might be likely to eat when they are traveling and don't have time for a lot of preparation. For example, figs, dates, olives, goat cheese, nuts, grape juice, dried meat.

We also turn off all of the electric lights and use only candles and lanterns for the rest of the evening. Not only are the lanterns a good reminder of Mary and Joseph, but they also set a certain atmosphere that is very conducive to family-togetherness. Usually, after we are done reading the Christmas story from the Bible and sing some Christmas hymns, we spend the rest of the dinner talking about old family memories. It's always a special time.

A couple of years when all of us kids were little, we actually filled the basement with straw and slept on it overnight. Now THAT was a memory- very messy clean-up afterward though, as I remember!