Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pine Cone Mice

As I've no doubt mentioned before, Daniel and Mercedes have decided they are mice.  So when my friend Julie posted on her blog about making pine cone fairies with her girls, I immediately decided to try to change the craft a bit to make little mice instead.  You can find the instructions for making pine cone fairies here on the Willodel blog.  Here's how ours turned out:

I don't have wool for the arms and hair, so we dispensed with hair, and I wrapped a bit of fuzzy yarn around each arm to give them 'fur.'  I also gave them tails of the yarn.

I sewed up the caps this morning, made from bits of leftover felt.  Their little ears are also cut from felt and sewn on.  The hats are supposed to look like elf hats, but they got kind of tall... oh well, they're still cute.  I also glued the arms and heads on ahead of time so they could do the more fun parts of drawing faces and gluing on the hats, hands, and tails.  I love how they turned out, and I'm hoping they'll survive until Christmas to decorate our table :-)

Abigail's (which I decorated for her)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"The Little Drummer Boy" illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

You probably know the Christmas song "The Little Drummer Boy" and its story of the Wise Men inviting a little boy to go with them to find and worship baby Jesus.  There are plenty of different children's book versions of the song, but in my opinion, this is the best.

These illustrations by Ezra Jack Keats are splendid.  Each one spreads across two pages, giving lots of room for action and detail.  The artwork has a different feel from most of his other books, such as The Snowy Day -- they remind me a little of Eastern Orthodox religious artwork, in a way.  I also love that he doesn't stick with the tradition of there being three Wise Men -- the Bible doesn't specify a number, and Keats pictures five, all with colorful, rich clothing and headwear.

In contrast to the rich Wise Men, the Little Drummer Boy is dressed very simply, as befits his stated status as "a poor boy."

I love this picture of just baby Jesus' little hand reaching out from his bed.  Another picture of him shows him sitting on Mary's lap, and he's not at all a newborn, which tallies with the Bible's account that the Wise Men arrived when he was a toddler, not a newborn.

My favorite pictures in this book are the three done in silhouette.  I especially love this one of the Wise Men approaching -- it's the first look we get of them, and they're so mysterious and alluring, and the colors are just breathtaking.  They seem to have some assistants along as well, they're not just wandering around unassisted.

This is one of Mercedes' favorite books, and she asks to have it read before bed more than any other, all year 'round.  She calls it "the rum-pum-pum book," and we actually have two copies, the paperback shown here, and also a board book version.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowman Cookie Pops

Inspired by the Reindeer Pop Treats I found on Pinterest a couple weeks ago, I dreamed up my own chocolate-dipped cookie project, which we tried out for the first time today.

I'm really pleased by how they turned out, although thanks to a rainy day, my pictures are not the best.  But these are so cute that I had to share!  They're great for giving as small gifts (we'll be giving several of these to friends at church) -- they fit perfectly in those little see-through snack bags you can find everywhere this time of year.

Here's what you'll need to make six of them:

Round Nutter Butter cookies (optional) (come in package shown -- NOT regular Nutter Butters)
Creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2 oz white baking chocolate -- chopped
6 popsicle sticks
Decorations (I used "writing icing," but you can use sprinkles or whatever)
Waxed paper
A microwaveable measuring cup or bowl
A spoon
A butter knife

And here's how you make them:

Open six Oreos and six Nutter Butter cookies, and scrape the filling out of them (it's not sticky enough).  Spread creamy peanut butter on both halves.

Put one half of each kind of cookie next to each other, and put a popsicle stick on them as shown, so you have a decent handle sticking out, but it also sticks at least halfway into the cookie on the end (your snowman's head).

Put the tops back on the cookies, over the stick, and press them firmly together.  I recommend getting all six cookie pops ready like this before moving on to the next step.

In a glass measuring cup or other microwaveable container, melt 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips and the chopped baking chocolate for 1 minute in the microwave.  Take out (careful, could be hot!) and stir, then microwave for another minute.  Stir again, and microwave another 30 seconds if it's not smooth yet.  Once it's smooth, dip your cookie pops in it and set on waxed paper to cool.  Keep that stirring spoon handy in case any of your cookie halves fall off in the chocolate and need to be rescued.  The dipping is a little tricky, so best suited to adults and older kids.

One the chocolate has hardened, decorate!  Or, if you want to use sprinkles and things, add them before the chocolate is totally hard so they'll stick.  I used decorator icing tubes to make faces and scarves.  Here's what Daniel and Mercedes made:

Daniel's Snowman Cookie Pops

Mercedes' Snowman Cookie Pops
The reason I used round Nutter Butters AND Oreos is because I was under the false impression that the Nutter Butters were smaller than Oreos, so I thought they'd look more like heads.  And I didn't realize that their own filling would be too unsticky (we had several fall off the sticks into the chocolate -- casualties of experimentation, so sad), which is why we used the Oreos with peanut butter filling.  Next time, I think we'll use store-brand "creme-filled chocolate sandwich cookies" to make these, and not bother with the Nutter Butters since they're the same size anyway.

But whatever we use, I know one thing:  these cute little cookie pops will make us smile!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Cranberry Christmas" by Wende and Harry Devlin

I love the Christmas season, and I love books and movies about Christmas.  I'm going to try to share a few of my favorite Christmas children's books here this week, beginning with one we got from the library yesterday.  I remember getting this book (and one of its predecessors, Cranberry Thanksgiving) from the library when I was a little kid, and I'm delighted to say they're as good as I remembered.  I love it when that happens!

In Cranberry Christmas, young Maggie's friend Mr. Whiskers faces two problems:  mean Cyrus Grape, who claims no one can skate on the pond because he owns it, and Mr. Whiskers' sister, who wants to make Mr. Whiskers leave his home in Cranberryport and move in with her in the city.  With Maggie and her Grandmother's help, Mr. Whiskers thwarts them both.

I absolutely love the illustrations in this book.  Here are my favorites:

Maggie and Mr. Whiskers skating

Mr. Whiskers declaring his outrage to Grandmother and Maggie

My favorite illustration of all

Do you and your children have favorite Christmas or winter books?  Please share!  I'm always on the lookout for new books to introduce the kids to.

Friday, December 7, 2012

My Baby Elf

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  (from SouleMama)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mackinac Island Fudge

I used this recipe for the first time this week and took some to the Advent supper at church, where it made me several new friends.  I got it from the latest (Dec/Jan) issue of Taste of Home, and in a couple of months it will likely be available on their website, but for now it's members-only there.  But I'm going to share it here because so many people have asked for it, and so I'll just change the wording to make it my own and not infringe on their copyrights :-)

When I was a kid, we lived in Michigan, and one of our favorite places to go as a family was Mackinac Island.  We only went there a handful of times, as it's waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up north, hours and hours from where we lived, but we loved it a great deal.  Mackinac Island doesn't allow motorized vehicles, and it has a bunch of nifty historical stuff to do -- check out the link above or Google for more info.  One of my mom's favorite movies, Somewhere in Time (1980) was filmed at the Grand Hotel there.  But anyway, one of the best things about Mackinac Island is the wonderful, creamy, ultra-chocolatey fudge they make there.  You can buy that fudge  in a few Kilwin's stores around the country, or online... or you can make some yourself!  This isn't precisely the same, but it's the best approximation I've ever made, for sure.

Mackinac Island Fudge


1 cup plus 2 tsp butter -- divided
4 cups sugar
1 cup 2% milk
25 large marshmallows
1 pkg (11 oz) milk chocolate chips
1 pkg (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
2 oz unsweetened chocolate -- chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract


Line a 13"x9" baking pan with foil; use the 2 tsp of butter to grease the foil -- you may want someone to hold the foil in place around the edges while you do this.

Put marshmallows in a large bowl.

Combine sugar, milk, and 1 cup of butter in a large saucepan.  Bring to a rapid boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Boil gently for 2 minutes without stirring.  Remove from heat.  Pour over marshmallows, and stir until they are melted.  Then stir in all the chocolate until it's melted too.  Stir in the vanilla extract.  Immediately pour into the foil-lined pan and spread to the edges.  Let cool for 1 hour on the counter.

Score the fudge into 1-inch squares.  Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or until firm.  Use the foil to lift the fudge out of the pan and place on a cutting board.  Cut fudge along scored lines.  Store in the fridge in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper.

Note:  This makes a LOT of fudge!  About 100 pieces, to be honest.  So it's great for sharing, taking to a potluck, etc.  Also, my batch was much better after it sat in the fridge overnight, so if it seems a little too sweet when you're cutting it (cuz you know you're gonna taste it), don't despair!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Puzzle Patch" Puzzles

A few weeks ago at Walmart, I found some puzzle sets that I thought would be a great addition to our classroom puzzle time.  They're the kind that have a cardboard back and frame that all the pieces then fit into.  Daniel was especially excited because one of the puzzles had all sorts of trains.  It looked to me like the set with the train was harder puzzles, and the other set would be easier ones for Mercedes -- you could only see two of the puzzles, and then a little piece of paper showed the pictures of all the puzzles.  They were $5 for a set of four, which seemed like a good deal.

Was I ever wrong!

First of all, the "easy" set only had one easy puzzle with shapes.  The others have at least 25 pieces each, and the one of the alphabet has 26 non-interlocking pieces that are just crazy hard for even Daniel to figure out.  So much for that being a good way to teach Mercedes her alphabet!

Second, these puzzles come all stuck together still, and once we'd separated all the pieces and tried putting them back together, the little tangs of cardboard left where they'd been attached made them not fit together within their frames anymore!  You can put them together outside the frame, but then what's the point of having the frame and back?

I've spent at least half an hour per puzzle carefully cutting off all the little tangs so they'll work the way they're intended.  So once again, let the buyer beware -- if $5 for 4 puzzles sounds like it might be a little too good to be true, it probably is.

Minus all the headaches of them not fitting together, though, these are really colorful puzzles that do have some educational benefits -- the United States puzzle has given Daniel some sense of where we live and where our families come from, and we've had fun tracing the routes of various trips we've taken.  The fish and animal puzzles are nice for them to learn to identify different animals and fish, and Mercedes does enjoy putting the shapes puzzle together, though the other ones she needs constant help with.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Teach Beside Me's "Share-It Saturday"

Another homeschooling blog I read, Teach Beside Me, has started a neat series called "Share-It Saturday."  The basic idea is that their readers can share their own posts that have educational ideas, crafts, and teaching tips, and then this one post on Teach Beside Me will be a treasure-trove of ideas.  And whoever shares there can get more traffic to their site as well, of course.  I shared my post about the handprint wreath, and other people have shared everything from recipes to knitting patterns to ideas for teaching Bible stories to  toddlers.  Click on the button below to check it out!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Handprint Wreath

Just happened to be the day Daniel practiced writing "W" for "wreath!"
As I traced around my three children's hands to make this wreath, I suddenly remembered how much I loved having my hand traced when I was little.  And I do mean loved -- I would get so excited in Sunday school or homeschool when we made things that involved tracing around our hands -- something about that sensation just delights me.  I had to trace around my own hand while making these, just to relive the thrill.  So odd, isn't it, the things that trigger memories of our childhood?  And the small actions that bring joy to a little person, as simple as a pencil or crayon running around their hand.

Anyway, for this wreath you will need:

Green construction paper (4 sheets)
Red construction paper (1 sheet)
Tag board or cardboard

You start by tracing around the hands of all the kids you want to include in the wreath.  I just traced once around each of my children's hands, and then used those as templates for the rest of the hands.  You'll need about 24 hands.  I ended up cutting most of them out myself because Daniel got tired of cutting and Mercedes is just learning about scissors.  She did enjoy cutting my scraps into tiny shreds, however.  Once all the hands were done, I used a big dinner plate to cut a ring out of a piece of tag board for the back.  Then we stapled the hands around the back ring, hiding the staples with the next hand I'd put on.  We cut little round berries from red paper and used a glue stick to add those, and then I free-handed a bow shape on the rest of the red paper and cut that out, and we glued it on as well.  And here it is, decorating the door to our coat closet:

This is a better activity for kindergartners and up than for preschoolers, unless you plan another activity for them while you're cutting out all those hands, because little ones will get bored.

I got the idea from Pinterest, where someone pinned this blog post.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Peek-a-Moo" by Marie Torres Cimarusti

I've decided to share some of my kids' favorite books here, since it can be so hard to wade through the millions of children's books and figure out which one are worth reading or buying.  Today, I'm posting about a book that Mercedes received for her birthday a few years ago, and that Abigail now loves as much as Mercedes did at her age.  It's called Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti.

The concept is simple -- different barnyard animals play "peek-a-boo," except they say things like "peek-a-oink" or "peek-a-baa," according to what sound they make.  You get to pull their paws down to reveal their faces, which is great fun, and this is a fun way to learn the different noises animals make too.

The pictures are bright and simple, and this is a great book for babies and toddlers.  We often read it 4 or 5 times in a row because Abigail loves it so much.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trucker Sandwiches

My goodness, has it really been a week since I posted here?  I guess Thanksgiving took more out of me than I realized.  At any rate, I'm back, and today I'm sharing a recipe we made up ourselves.  It was inspired by an article my husband read in an old National Geographic.  I have no idea what the article was about, but in it they described sandwiches that truckers would get at truck stops that have the whole meal between slices of bread, side dishes and all.  We thought that sounded nifty, so we made up our own version.  Here it is:

Trucker Sandwiches


12 slices sourdough or rye bread 
12 slices processed Swiss cheese 
2 oz. sliced corned beef 
1/2 lb. French fries 
1/2 lb. deli coleslaw 


Fry the fries in oil in a skillet. Meanwhile, place corned beef on 6 of the bread slices, layer a slice of cheese on every piece of bread (on top of corned beef on those 6 slices), and broil until the cheese melts. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the fries onto the bread slices that have corned beef on them. Top with a spoonful of coleslaw and remaining bread.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Bulletin Board

Here is our Thanksgiving-themed bulletin board.  Every school day for the past couple of weeks, Daniel and Mercedes have each thought of one thing they are thankful for.  Then they choose a piece of paper shaped like a pumpkin, cross, or turkey, and I write down what they're thankful for on that paper.  As you can see, they're thankful for a pretty wide variety of things.  Mercedes tends to pick whatever she happens to be playing with, looking at, or eating at the moment.  From her, we got things like "chicken nuggets" and "laundry."  Daniel, being twice as old, usually takes his time and thinks of something he's really glad to have.  He's the one who came up with "the coffee table" (they play and color and climb on it all the time) and "being able to buy stuff."  Mercedes came up with being thankful for people -- she said she was thankful for Daniel, which prompted Daniel to say he was thankful for Abigail, hee.  

Anyway, I made all this from a set of scrapbook paper I got at Target from their dollar bins -- very inexpensive and awesome.  It came with 6 big patterned papers and 4 sheets of one color each.  I cut the patterned papers into quarters and stapled them to the board to make a sort of patchwork quilt look, and then used cookie cutters to cut out the shapes from the one-color sheets.  We've been memorizing Bible verses every week, and I used the fourth sheet to write those on so they match somewhat too.  The first couple verses we did were the ones you commonly hear around Thanksgiving, like "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever."  (Psalm 118:29, among others.)  Now we've switched to Daniel's memory verses from Sunday School, but in a week or two, we'll switch to Daniel's piece for the Christmas program.  Exciting times!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Markers and Cars

If, like me, you need some quick, easy, fun activities to keep little hands occupied this week while you're gearing up for Thanksgiving, here's a fun idea I ran across on Pinterest:  tape markers to toy cars and drive them across paper.

My two kids declared this was "crazy fun" and keep asking to do it again.  I recommend using washable markers, as then if they get a little excited and drive off the paper, there's no real harm done.

The original idea can be found here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Barbecue Lasagna

Ohhhhh, how yummy this is on a cold autumn evening!  I love the contrast of the sweet and savory flavors here, and all that scrumptious melted cheese -- so delicious!  This one does take quite a bit of work, but not more than most lasagnas.  Daniel loves chopping up bell peppers, so he was happy there was a whole one to cut up for this.

Barbecue Lasagna


1 lb. ground Beef
1 cup ketchup
1 green pepper – chopped
3/4  cup onion – chopped
1/2  cup brown sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 tsp. cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. mustard
1 clove garlic – minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4  tsp. chili powder
1/4  tsp. lemon pepper seasoning
9 lasagna noodles - cooked
2 cups shredded Mozzarella
2 cups shredded Cheddar
1 cup Cottage cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese


Fry beef, drain fat, and set meat aside.  Combine next 13 ingredients in a large skillet.   Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.   Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a 9 x 13 pan.   Layer 3 noodles, 1/3 of beef, 1/3 of sauce, and 2/3 cup each of Cheddar and Mozzarella.  Repeat layers twice.   Combine Cottage cheese and egg.   Spoon over top.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.  Cover with tinfoil and bake for 30 minutes at 350.  Uncover and bake for 20-30 minutes more, or until top is brown and melted and tasty-looking.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Sorting Game

Every Friday, we play The Sorting Game.  This is something I kind of made up myself, based on something my mom used to do with my little brother (hers involved dried beans), though I'm sure there are lots of people doing things like this.  But since my kids love this, and I made up our version myself, I thought I'd share it here.

First off, before I ever told them about this game, I started collecting different objects that I had in my craft stash or around the house.  I saved an egg carton and numbered each egg hole with a marker, 1 through 12.

Then I found little oddments to go in each of these.  One little peg person, three fuzzy little bears, four pieces of sea glass, ten round beads, and so on.  They had to be small enough to fit all of a particular thing into the designated carton hole.  I did end up buying eight little wooden pots that look like Winnie-the-Pooh's pots of honey (as Daniel and Mercedes are both Pooh fans) and twelve plastic "jewels," but the rest I had on hand.  I put them in a gauzy bag the kids can see through but has a drawstring so stuff won't get lost when it's put up.

I'd originally planned this to be an activity for Mercedes to do while Daniel is working on writing or math, but the first time I brought it out, I quickly discovered it was much too interesting to Daniel for that to work right now, so I've adapted the activities to be challenging for him too.

Like the name suggests, this is all about sorting.  I let them pour the bag out on a cookie sheet so we don't lose things.  This also helps keep them focused and on task.

Usually, we begin by just sorting everything out by what they are, bears with bears and jingle bells with jingle bells, etc.  We take turns counting all of one thing and finding the appropriate place for them in the egg carton.  Daniel's above this part, but I've noticed that in the last few weeks, Mercedes has really gotten a lot better at counting, and she's recognizing more numbers too.

Once we've done this basic sorting, we do more interesting things, and this is the part that challenges Daniel more.  Sometimes we sort by color, which is more for Mercedes too, but Daniel likes deciding if "white" and "silver" and "clear" should be their own thing or not, etc.

Then we mix everything up again and sort by some other method.  We can sort by shape, by size, by what the objects are made of (wood, plastic, metal, etc), what they feel like (soft, smooth, bumpy), and what they're used for (beads, stacking, telling stories).

We've been doing this every Friday for about two months straight, and I've swapped out a few pieces to keep things interesting.  But this past Friday, they seemed quickly bored by the sorting, so I think I will put this away for a few weeks, maybe find some Christmas-y things to mix in after Thanksgiving.  I might also incorporate some story-telling into this activity, like use the bears and peg fairy to act out "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" or something.  I was also thinking of finding some great big wooden beads in different colors, making them work for sorting here, and then also helping the kids string them on yarn to make necklaces or something.  It's a pretty adaptable activity.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cause or Effect?

A couple months ago, an adult asked if Daniel was in school yet.  He said, "No, I'm homeschooled."  This adult looked at me and said, "Oh, really?  Well, I hope you make sure your kids learn how to behave normally.  I know a family who homeschooled their boys, and they are so strange.  Just, not normal.  They're grown up now, but they are still odd."

I replied with my usual patter about how I was homeschooled K-12; my husband was homeschooled for high school; I understand the need for children to learn how to interact with others, including those who are not their family members, etc.  I was as respectful as possible, first because this person was older than my own parents and deserved my respect, second because they obviously didn't know many homeschoolers and I wanted to leave as positive an impression as possible.

I've been thinking about that conversation a lot, lately, and things I could have said that would have worked better.  And this is what I wish I had said:

I might have couched it in somewhat more respectful terms, but that's really what needed to be said.  Don't point at homeschooling as the cause of someone's "weirdness" before you know whether or not they were homeschooled because their parents knew that for whatever reason, they would not fit in with other schoolkids, and they wanted to spare their children that trauma.

My kids don't have any conditions that would make them pointed out as weird.  They're not autistic, mentally challenged, emotionally challenged, or anything else.  However, both Daniel and Mercedes are very bright and very sensitive.  I don't want them to be made fun of because they're smart (like I was in college) or have their sweet, affectionate natures trampled on by kids made of sterner stuff.  And while I'm not just homeschooling them to shelter them, I'm grateful I'll be able to shield them from a lot of emotional drama while I'm at it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Five-Ingredient Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've heard that recipes like this exist.  No butter to remember to set out ahead of time.  No flour, for those with wheat allergies.  Small, so I'm not eating cookies for two weeks (which I don't mind, but my wardrobe can't handle).  When I saw this recipe on Pinterest, pinned from this blog post,I decided to try it.  My hubby said he didn't trust it, and they would be just little globs of stickiness.  I thought those would still be yummy, so why not try it?

Five-Ingredient Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend first four ingredients, then 
mix in the chocolate chips.  Drop 1 1/2 inch balls with a spoon (dough will be very wet and sticky) onto an ungreased, parchment-lined cookie sheet. They spread a little, so don't make them too big.  Bake for 9 minutes. Let the cookies sit on the cookies sheet for 1-2 minutes before letting cool on a wire rack. Makes 12-18 cookies.
They're very crumbly when they're first baked, but the next day, they were very much a cookie texture.  And they were entirely yummy!  I'll definitely be making these again, and soon.