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.