Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Bags for the Whole Family

Making plans for New Year's Eve as a parent is definitely different than it was before kiddos. For us it's all about staying in and having fun at home. The last few years we've created some of our own traditions around celebrating New Year's Eve as a family, but this year I was looking to add to our traditions.

A quick Pinterest search for family themed New Year's Eve ideas came up with different variations of "Countdown Bags." Many of the ideas seemed good for bigger kiddos; I've tried to make this set more approachable to younger kids so the whole family can get involved. As a primary teacher, I love the idea of putting a clock on each bag so kids need to read the time, but I know our younger kids are not going to make it to midnight. I decided to label our bags from 10 to 1. This way we can do the bags as quickly as we need to, and hopefully, we can end our family celebration not too far away from their regular bedtimes.

Bag 10
Over the years I've added some fun hats and necklaces to our New Year's box, so Bag 10 contains some necklaces and a note which encourages to get dressed in our festive wear. 

Bag 9
Several years ago my husband and I started the tradition of only having appetizers for dinner on New Year's Eve, and we've continued that tradition with Big Brother too. Bag 9 contains special napkins and cups for our meal. 

Bag 8
Kids love balloons, even without helium. Bag 8 encourages us to have some fun with balloons. I know Little Brother will particularly love the blown up balloons. (Please note babies must be very closely watched with balloons as they are a choking hazard.)

Bag 7
We love to play games, and we're really enjoying this new card game we got for Christmas, so this set went into Bag 7. 

Bag 6
Another one of our New Year's Eve traditions as a family involves watching a movie. This year we're planning on renting something we haven't watched before on Amazon. To make it fun with the countdown bags, I created a "ticket."

Bag 5
Of course, every movie needs popcorn!

Bag 4
We always love glow sticks, but how neat are these glow stick wands I found at the dollar store?   

Bag 3
Even though we've had a lot of sweet treats lately, every New Year's Eve party needs a special drink. We'll be drinking root beer floats with these fun straws I've been saving from a Target trip this summer. 

Bag 2
We'll be getting close to the end, and therefore need a little confetti and streamers!

Bag 1
And no New Year's Eve celebration is complete without noise, so of course we'll end our night with some noise makers!

I'm really excited to see how these fun bags go over with the kiddos tomorrow. What are some traditions you have for celebrating New Year's Eve? 

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Peppermint Marshmallow Stir Sticks

I've had so much fun making these a couple of times over the past holiday week I just had to share how easy they are to make. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to all our readers! 

Wishing you a joyous season filled with sweet treats, 

memorable moments, fun & games,

favorite traditions, new traditions,

and lots of family time!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sweet Holiday Smells Gift Jar

After years of receiving teacher gifts I love trying to think of things to give the boys' teachers which I know will be different, useful, and appreciated. I also like to have Big Brother involved in making them if possible.

I saw this cute idea for a neighbor gift, and knew it would a great idea for teachers too. The recipe calls for creating a mix of spices, herbs, and dried fruits which when placed in simmering water will create a lovely scent. We decided to make our mixes in wide mouthed half-pint jars.

In each jar we put the following: 

6-8 short cinnamon sticks (I had to score and break our longer sticks to fit)
3-4 dried bay leaves
3 tablespoons whole cloves
1 heaping tablespoon ground allspice
1 heaping tablespoon nutmeg
1 dried lemon slice
1 dried orange slice
1 dried apple slice

I loved how hands-on this could be for Big Brother, especially as he was making them primarily for his preschool teachers. We dried the fruit in our dehydrator, but you can dry it in your oven or find it at craft stores. 

When it came time to assemble the jars, I set up all the ingredients on the floor, where as always, we can get a little messy and it's okay. 

Big Brother did the counting of objects and measuring all on his own. 

We quickly learned it worked better to put the ground ingredients in first, and layer the other ingredients in on top of them. 

After we filled the jars Big Brother selected fabric from our holiday fabric collection to make the jars more festive. He was very particular about which teacher would receive which fabric. We placed the fabric between the lid and the rim, and tightened the rim gently. 

Before giving them, I printed out and tied on a label which read,
"Sweet Holiday Smells For You
Add to a small saucepan with water, simmer gently, and enjoy." 

We wound up making some more for my co-workers and a few neighbors as well. We're hoping they spread our teachers' and friends' homes with the smells which remind people of the warmth and goodness of the holidays. Or, as Big Brother excitedly told one teacher, "It's in case your house stinks." 

** A special note about spices: If you can buy the spices in bulk this project becomes much more affordable to make and assemble. 

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stamped Salt Dough Ornaments

It's amazing to me, but there are only 8 days left until Christmas and we still have lots of projects on our list to complete. But, it really is possible to create quick, handmade projects and treats even with just over a week to go. Our hope is to share some of our ideas with you in the next few days. (And I say hope, because on top of the busy season we seem to be in spell where unexpected events keep taking us away from our projects and posting. But we'll give it our best attempt.)

Last week we worked on these stamped salt dough ornaments. There are lots of different salt dough ornament ideas floating around on Pinterest these days, which inspired us to create up our own idea.

To begin with we used a basic salt dough recipe: 
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup cold water
First I mixed the flour and salt together in a bowl, then added the water and stirred with a wooden spoon. Once it had formed into a ball I placed it onto the counter and kneaded it until is was fully blended and not lumpy. (It still feels kind of grainy to the touch.)

We used two kinds of stamps and presses. The first I made using small wooden snowflake cutouts which I hot glued to corks. I thought this would give some height off the dough so we only got the image and not marks from the sides. 

The second set were more traditional stamps. For the most part we were doing snowflakes, but we couldn't resist trying the poinsettia too.

In order to make our ornaments, I rolled the dough flat until it was about 1/4 inch thick. Big Brother then used one of our round biscuit cutters to cut out circles. 

Next he pressed or stamped images into each circle. He liked experimenting with mixing different sizes on each ornament. 

When he was done cutting and pressing, we baked the ornaments on a cookie sheet in a 250 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for about 2 hours. When they were done we had these creamy white snowflake ornaments. 

The next day we decided to paint some of the baked ornaments. We used acrylic craft paints, including glitter acrylic paints which come from a Martha Stewart line sold at JoAnn Fabric Stores. 

In the end we liked the glitter paints best as they were not too dense in color because they had more of a clear base. We also decided not to paint all of them, as we liked many of the ornaments plain. 

We like giving each grandparent a handmade ornament every year, and we're considering using these this year. They also make nice add-ons to wrapped gifts. But, we still have some more fun, handmade projects to try out this week. 

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Holiday Veggie Platters

We posted a quick picture of this the other day on our Facebook page, but wanted to extend it into a full post.

Over Thanksgiving week we were inspired by Pinterest to create this "turkey" themed veggie platter for one of our three family Thanksgivings. We love fresh veggies, and love to bring them as a dish to share at different holiday meals. I'm still hopeful that it I eat enough veggie sticks it magically negates the sweet treats we fill up on after the meals. Just kidding, but this is definitely a way to make veggies fun for kids. 

This past weekend we went to our first family Christmas party. Big Brother (who is a veggie lover already) particularly had enjoyed sharing the veggie platter, so it got me thinking about creating a Christmas themed one. Using peppers, cucumbers, and celery I created the tree. Orange and yellow peppers were used to create decorations, and grape tomatoes made the lights. Served with a side of creamy dip, it was a huge hit! 

Big Brother is already planning we'll make another one for his school party this week! 

Have you liked us on Facebook yet? It's a great way to follow our posts. 
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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Peppermint Sparkle Playdough

As we start to get into the winter holiday spirit we decided to make some festive playdough. We settled on making "Peppermint Sparkle Playdough."

I started with a basic cooked playdough, but added in a couple of ingredients to make it sparkly and scented: glitter and peppermint extract. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Alphabet Adventures: Q is for Quarry and R is for Rocks

So despite the fact it's been a busy fall, we were still able to fit in another Alphabet Adventure almost a month ago. Unfortunately that same evening I forgot the camera at a family members' home, and needed to wait a while to get it, so it's taken a while to post it.

The Adventure

We had originally planned to travel north and group Q and R together with a trip to the Rock of Ages in Barre, VT. Our thinking was we would see a currently operating quarry and explore how they use the rocks pulled from the quarry. But then we were given a great tip to try out a trail along the sides of the old quarry in the Barre Town Forest. The trail can be accessed by stopping at the Millstone Hill Touring and Recreation Center and was free for hikers. The trail allowed us to see the old quarries, the piles of unused rocks, edges of stones which had been cut or blasted, and even some old equipment. There were some historical markers, which provided information about the significance of the trail and the site (this was a little more relevant to the grown-ups than the kids.)

Although a chilly November day, we enjoyed the hike and loved the view at the top. We were even surprised with some more recent carvings along one discarded wall. 

We came back down as the sun started and all of us felt like it had been a successful adventure.  

The Projects: Q is for Quarter and R is for Red
We followed up the adventure a week later with two alphabet projects. For the first project we used real quarters and taped them to cardboard. Big Brother than used crayons to create rubbings of the taped quarters. 

For the second project we created a "red" collage. I set out a collection of different materials which were all red. Big Brother used the materials, scissors, and glue to create a collage. 

So although we continue to take longer than expected, we're still moving onward. Next up, letter S!

Another Q adventure idea could be going to a quilt show.

Other R adventure ideas include a rodeo, a race track, and a rose garden. 

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

25 Days of Christmas Reading

I love childrens' Christmas books. I've been collecting them since long before I was both a teacher and a mama. Last year I was eager to take our collection and start a new family tradition, and we're even more excited to continue with it this year.

25 Days of Christmas Reading

Similar to an advent calendar we try to start on December 1st. Each night, as part of our family countdown to Christmas, we choose one book from the basket we haven't read yet this year and include it in our nightly bedtime reading routine. Our collection ranges from the classics like T'was the Night Before Christmas, The Polar Express, and The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet to new age finds like Gingerbread Mouse and Tractor Mac Saves Christmas. Some are funny, like It's Christmas David while others more serious, like Welcome Comfort. And of course we don't leave out some of our personal favorites, like How The Grinch Stole Christmas and The Wild Christmas Reindeer

On Christmas Eve each child gets one more book to add to the collection (along with new pajamas for the whole family) and we all cuddle down to read together. By Christmas morning we've read at least (often more than) 25 holiday tales to help us celebrate the season. During the day itself we usually take some time to reread a few favorites. 

We enjoyed our first selections this evening. What are some of the holiday books you like best? Is there one you must read every year? Share a title you enjoy in the comments below and hopefully we'll get some new book ideas! 

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