New Years (for kids)

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It seems like most of the festivities surrounding New Years aren’t particularly kid-friendly. My Mom was always very good at us feel like the center of each holiday and New Years was no exception. On New Year’s Eve, we would lay out our stockings. (We didn’t have a fireplace, so we laid our stockings out on the couch at Christmas too.) While we slept, the New Year’s Fairy would come and fill the stockings with treats and necessities for the new year; like soap, toothbrushes, new underwear, etc. She would also bring a game for our family to share.

We generally didn’t stay up late because we were anxious for the Fairy to come. ;-) However, we usually celebrated with some special foods. Including a savory cheese ball and slush (a simple syrup with orange and pineapple juice and fruit that is frozen then cut up and combined with 7up and (our favorite part) maraschino cherries.) We always had the fun party hats and crackers …and a good time.

Once we got old enough, we also had a family meeting to talk about goals and resolutions on New Years Day. Age definitely makes a difference, but whatever you choose to do, have a fun time with your little ones (or have a fun time and let them have fun with the babysitter) and have a happy new year! -Keersten

Thank you cards

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img_0567jpg.jpgWe had a fabulous Christmas. Megan went crazy over all of the fun things she received and has a had a ball playing with her new kitchen set from Santa. By now, your kids have probably had a chance to get familiar with their own wonderful acquisitions and are settling back into a regular routine. Or if you’re like us, the routine is pretty much shot. I got my own little Christmas wish when Megan slept through img_0564jpg.jpgthe night. (Which she has only done once or twice since Emily was born…sad when the baby sleeps through the night and the 2 year old doesn’t!) Moving on…
I think that gratitude is one of the most important values we can teach our kids. To help reinforce this, thank you cards are a great post-Christmas activity. If your kids are old enough, have them write their own. No matter their age, they can help make them. Take a minute to talk with your child about the gifts that they received: Who do they need to write to? What are they thanking for? What do they like about their gift? This will help them figure out what to write and how to organize their ideas.

Megan is 2 years old (obviously, she won’t be doing much of this herself, but I still feel it is worthwhile.) Basically she creates the cover art for the cards. She draws on a piece dscn2292.jpgof construction paper, which I trim into squares to fit the card. (Tip: I buy a box of blank cards and envelopes at a paper supply store (like Xpedex) which are very cheap, a box of 100 for around $10.) Your little one can draw a picture of herself with their gift, create a holiday scene, or some excellent squiggles. If you have older kids, try making a collage by cutting or tearing construction paper to make the picture. Then let them write a message or you write something like: “Megan has love playing with the magna-doodle! She carefully removes each of the stamps, makes a few designs and then works on getting them back into the right hole.” It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but I can speak from experience when I say that it isdscn2295.jpg always appreciated.

One person you may not have thought of is Santa Claus. We won’t bother with one this year, but once they are old enough to dictate a message; it is a good idea. Just make up an address, the post office knows what to do with them (if you need to mail it). Developing good manners and core values are the little lessons that we teach with our own actions, so maybe take a minute to write a few notes yourself while you guys are working. It is good for yimg_0546jpg.jpgour kids to catch you doing these sorts of things. Writing thank you notes is one of those little things that is easy to overlook, but means a lot to the recipient. I think it also helps us to focus on being grateful ourselves, which is so important. I have been off and on with this one, but it is definitely a New Year’s resolution for me. Hopefully I will master it soon enough that my kids will think it is standard fare. ;-)

Christmas Traditions

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I feel that we are still in the “setting up” phase as far as our family traditions go. It seems that whenever a holiday comes up now, I begin shopping around for traditions to pass down to our girls. Both Michael (my husband) and I have great Christmas traditions that are passed down from our family. One of my favorites is Christmas Eve dinner with my in-laws. My father-in-law,Gary, goes all out cooking steak and giant (fist sized) shrimp. Oh, Grandma Lulu helps a little too…you know, all of the other stuff. ;-) My mouth waters just thinking about this dinner; which is a slightly chaotic affair. There are 7 siblings, all but one married and 19 nieces and nephews under 11 years old. After the dinner, the nieces and nephews exchange gifts and Grandma and Grandpa present each family with a beautiful gold ornament from the Danbury Mint. Then the kids get to open a present from their parents; the traditional Christmas Jammies. (I will admit that I spent about a month trying to find matching ones in 6-9mo. and 2T–I’ll post a picture for you next time.) However the traditions start much earlier than Christmas Eve. As mentioned before, we decorate Gingerbread cookies on the first Sunday of the month. Grandma Lulu also does a candle nativity earlier in the month. She weaves the bible verses together with carols and lights a candle as each new person (or group) enters the story (soft blue and green votives for Mary and Joseph, White tapers for the angels, green for the shepherds and maroon for the Wise men, and a cream votive in a crystal holder for Jesus.) She also gives us a Christmas picture book every year. It is so much fun to have a seasonal collection with her writing in the front.
My family’s traditions start with putting up decorations the day after Thanksgiving as Christmas music blares through the house. I always think about being a little kid and feeling flooded with excitement that Christmas had finally come when I haul out the tree. On Christmas morning we always got an orange and a banana in our stockings. We had to eat one or the other first, but then could feast on all of the treats and our very own box of SUGAR CEREAL! My little sister also always got a bottle of maraschino cherries and I got a bottle of green olives (yeah, the craziness started early with me.) One thing that my husband and I started doing a few years ago, was to forgo presents for each other and “sub for Santa” for a family in need.
In looking around to see what others do, I found some fun things. I loved all of the ideas My Derbe shares in her blog. From nightly devotionals, where they discuss sections of the Christmas story to eating banana splits for breakfast on Christmas day. My sister-in-law makes the infamous Christmas casserole and has a platter with ham and rolls available for sandwiches during the day so that when anyone is hungry, they can just go grab something. We both agree that Christmas day is meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. A Silicone Valley Mom tells about her Filipino rooted Christmas which is celebrated from Nov. 1st to Jan. 6th and features a midnight feast, Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), complete with ham, fettuccine, turkey and a whole roast suckling pig (lechon). You can read a great compilation of how Christmas is celebrated around the world done by grhomeboy! here, including how to say it in over 40 languages. Dgrbino focuses on philanthropy by donating money to buy fruit trees for families in 3rd world countries (there is a link to do it yourself on her site). One last site to check out: Lil Duck Duck is in a similar position and shares an extensive list of possibilities. Please let me know what you love to do with your family and have a wonderful Christmas! -Keersten

Table Trimming

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The week before Christmas is a special time in and of itself. If you are like most of us, you are starting to feel the pressure of just how many “last minute” and and “tying up loose end” activities are still on your list. It seems that there are fewer minutes in each hour of the day. However, your kids are most likely feeling the hours stretch out until Santa finally comes. Their viewpoint is probably not doing much to help you feel less stressed. So, what can you do? Why not put them to work doing fun projects that can keep them busy and help you decorate a little.

Send the kids on a walk to find winter treasures, such as pine cones, sprigs of evergreen and even artistic twigs from deciduous trees. Use ribbons, pipe cleaner, buttons felt, whatever you have around to make napkin rings and place holders. (I recommend keeping a box of general craft type stuff available for just such instances. You can call it your “found art box” and anytime you have leftover scraps of fabric or find an interesting little something, just throw it in the box to use for projects likes this.)

Another idea is to set them to work with construction paper and markers or crayons. (Or scissors and glue) They can create holiday scenes and place them across the table for a runner or placemats. One possibility for a fun placemat is to place a plate, cup, and silverware on a piece of paper and let your little artist design around it. Then they can determine what is seen during the meal and include a message or a picture for after the the dirty dishes are removed.

Crackers are a fun Christmas tradition and are easy to assemble. Fill a toilet paper tube with treats and then wrap in crepe or tissue paper. Tie the ends with string or ribbon. As a final touch cut a strip of paper to fit the tube and decorate and label with the recipient’s name. Place the cracker on their plate, they can pull the ends and enjoy the surprises. A fun twist on this is to make a compliment cracker: instead of treats (or in addition to them) have everyone in the family write one the recipient’s good traits or a fun memory on a slips of paper and stuff into the tube before wrapping.

Don’t forget to simplify where you can and enjoy this wonderful time for being with family. Merry Christmas!

Gingerbread Houses

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Gingerbread Recipe:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup melted margarine
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix in the melted margarine, evaporated milk, molasses, vanilla, and lemon extracts. Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. If necessary, increase flour by up to 1/2 cup to prevent sticking.
  3. When the dough is smooth, roll it out to 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface, and cut into cookies. Place cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. The cookies are done when the top springs back when touched. Remove from cookie sheets by lifting the parchment paper and set on counter to cool.

Royal Icing Recipe:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  1. Beat egg whites in clean, large bowl with mixer at high speed until it forms loose peaks. Add lemon juice. Gradually add sugar then beat at high speed until thickened.
  2. Scoop into decorating bags. Over the years, we have found that everyone seems to love just the plain old round tip. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a star tip too. I like to use the disposable bags, which work well if you just cut the tip off. This way each kid can have their own bag. You can also use ziplock bags.

Sugar-glass Windows Recipe:

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup

  1. Place all ingredients in a medium sauce pan. (It will boil up a little, so a bigger pan is better.) Stir on high heat until it reaches hard ball stage. (Use a candy thermometer or drop a little of mixture into a glass of ice-cold water. When it makes a hard ball and brittle strings in the water it is ready.)
  2. While the sugar mixture is cooking, make a couple of trays out of tinfoil by folding up the edges and pinching the corners together.
  3. Pour the mixture into the trays. Working quickly, drop food coloring around the mixture and use a toothpick to swirl it around. Speed is key as it will harden quickly.
  4. Let sit until completely cooled. Then cut with a knife or drop on the counter lightly to break into pieces.
  5. To apply to your houses, turn the cookie over and trace the window opening with icing. Then place your piece of “glass” over it.
  6. Turn cookie over and decorate with candy.

Gingerbread Houses made easy (er)

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gingerbread4.jpgGingerbread houses are one of my favorite holiday traditions. However, they can be quite a project. Especially when it comes to involving your kids. My husband’s family loves to get together for a night of gorging on candy as we decorate these aromatic treats. As our family has grown (we have 17 nieces and nephews and 2 more on the way,) we have had to scale down a little. Now we decorate giant cookies and the kids like it even more than doing whole houses. I think it is great because they can do as much as they are interested in. The older kids do at least a few and the younger ones might do one…or just sample decorations. Another benefit is that you can choose how elaborate or simple you want to go.gingerbread1.jpg

Check the project outlines for quick directions and recipes.

There are cookie cutters available, but I think it is fun to cut out your own. Roll out the dough and let the kids use butter knives or if they are older, a pairing knife, to cut out house, Christmas tree, girl, or boy…whatever you want! We like to make them big, so that one will barely fit on a plate. The edges will get puffy and distorted a little. When they are still warm from the oven, you can easily cut more defined edges. This is good for the windows and doors.gingerbread2.jpg

One decoration that is easy to make and very impressive is “window glass” My nieces and nephews LOVE it and use it all over. They also think it is magically delicious, which is funny since it is just unflavored hard candy. We also love taffy, which can be molded like clay into people or decorations. Gum drops also do well with this and make pretty leaves. We also like red hots, licorice (especially the pull apart kind), m&ms and sixlets, runts, and nerds. There are always great Christmas themes items such as pretzels in tree and star shapes, gummy Santas, and little cookies. gingerbread3.jpg
Not having to worry about getting walls to stand up or a collapsing roof takes the stress out of this great tradition. Your kids can do whatever they want on their own personal cookies. Which makes this a great family night activity to just relax and enjoy each other and a lot of sweet treats.