Saturday, December 25, 2010

On the twelfth day of Christmas...

Merry Christmas to all of you from all of us!
May your holiday be joyful.
Thank you for reading and sharing in our fun this year.

All of us at Liam's baptism earlier this month.

The best gifts I've ever been blessed to receive.

Friday, December 24, 2010

On the eleventh day of Christmas...

One of my personal favorite Christmastime traditions, a trip to Krohn Conservatory to look at the Christmas flowers and visit the live nativity animals outside.
I love this because it's not usually overly crowded, requires little time outdoors, and does not require a large amount of walking. So many other (admittedly fun) holiday events are pretty tricky to pull off with small children who need strollers and easy access to bathrooms and snacks. And also, my husband doesn't really like dealing with people he's not related to unless he's getting paid for it. So that can be limiting.*
I'm missing photos of the kids outside at the live nativity this year, because there was this group of people hogging up all the space by the sheep and taking forever taking photos with every possible combination of people in the group posing with a cardboard cutout of someone's face on a stick. Probably something touching and meaningful, but annoying to me anyhow. Luckily we got inside ahead of them.

N. and L. continued to let me take the posed photos in the Christmas flowers room.

O. was so over me, though, and decided to do his best impression of a teenager.
Too cool to even acknowledge he was with us.

Oh, and if anyone hears that Santa is missing a reindeer, let him know this one has been taking a little vacation down south in Loveland. He can pick her up when he stops by tonight!

* He likes to play the "Bah Humbug" card, but actually loves making the season special for our kiddos as much as I do. Witness glue gun wielding and gingerbread house cheesy photos for evidence. Love you, dear!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the tenth day of Christmas...

When it's getting this close to Christmas, it doesn't really matter if Santa is watching or not. The holiday shenanigans are inescapable.

Hey guys, let's get our pajamas on and go out in the car to look at Christmas lights.
Sure, Mom. Just let us get our special glasses on.*

And then we have to look at the Christmas tree one more time. And then we have to hang all the ornaments back on the tree that we knocked off. And then we want some cookies. And then we need to go potty. And then we need a drink. And then we have to find our shoes. And then we have to knock five things off of the Advent calendar. And then we need to put a different pair of pajamas on. And then we need to fall down in the snow and get all wet and put a different pair of pajamas on. What do you mean, it's time to go to bed already?

Hey N.! Did Santa stop by early and leave his sack full of toys behind??

Oh. No, it's just your big brother hiding inside his Daddy's dry cleaning
bag. (Not plastic, I promise.)
Did another package come for me? Oh, no, it's just the same Amazon box you've been playing in for weeks now.What? You found it in the garage, next to the trash can? No, I have no idea how it got there.
Get back down in the box, you two.

The only kid for sure not getting coal in his stocking this year. (He doesn't sleep all the time, I promise. Just when I'm trying to take pictures for blog posts.)

*Okay, these are really cool, and I would totally want to take the time to make sure we had these on a light-seeing tour also. They're called Holiday Specs and my aunt sent them to the kids. Obviously they look like 3-D glasses, and when you look at Christmas lights through them, you see a holographic rainbow effect with whatever design is printed on them. Hard to describe, but they are really cute. Ours have a gingerbread boy, candy cane and stocking. Great stocking stuffer idea for next year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the ninth day of Christmas...

This post is part of a joint recipe share with some of my dear bloggy buddies. We decided we would all be making Christmas cookies at some point, and were interested in hearing about new experiments or family favorites from others. Can't wait to see what everyone else cooked up. Go over and visit Heather at This is the Day, mep at Not to Brag and Carabee at Land of Bean to see for yourself!

Our cookie making day took place at Grandma and Grandpa's house! We always go there at some point during the holiday season to make the rolled out sugar cookies I've been making since I was a little girl.

Here's some photos of the process:

We always do colored sugar and sprinkles rather than frosting, but my mom and I agree that we actually like the way frosting ones taste better.

O. bailed out early on, in favor of helping Grandpa construct the bird feeder kit we bought him for his birthday. Here they are in Grandpa's basement workshop.

And with the finished project!!
O. came back for the last couple of pans, and mostly enjoyed painting the egg whites on.
And look who else woke up!!
We had also planned to make some cookie press cookies -- J's favorites. We already made a batch a week ago, but they go quickly, and we wanted some more. I mixed up the dough while my mom held L., and loaded up the cookie press. I'm still not exactly sure what happened, but the whole mechanism got jammed up, and I ended up breaking my cookie press. This is not the first one I have broken. I'm pretty sure I'm on my third cookie press. I have no idea why I am incapable of making these cookies. Like I said, I made them with no problem a week ago. The dough seemed a little dry this time.
Possible culprits -- egg yolks that sat out too long, a portion of the butter replaced by margarine, or suspect cheap flour bought by my mom in a rush trip to the closest supermarket. (she also had two different recipes not work out as intended the next day, so who knows).
Whatever the case, I abandoned the cookie press and decided to make my other favorite instead. The dough is identical -- you just roll it into balls, flatten slightly and fill the dent with currant jelly before baking. These are called Banberry Tarts, and the recipe is my Great-great Aunt Margaret's. She was a renowned baker -- she worked as a cook for a wealthy family, and was the sweetest sweetest lady I've ever known. I cherish the items I have that were hers, including a spatula that works perfectly for removing cookies from a cookie sheet.
My sweet dad spent a good half hour trying to reassemble my blown out cookie press. He got it all back together and seemingly functioning. We'll see if it actually can shoot dough.
In all the mayhem, I didn't get any photos of completed product. The banberry tarts were not quite right -- far too crumbly. But they all taste good.
The sugar cookie recipe we use comes straight from our standby, the Betty Crocker cookbook, but here's the recipe for the Banberry Tarts.

Banberry Tarts
3/4 lb. butter (this works out to 3 sticks)
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
3 1/2 cups flour
vanilla (I use quite a bit -- almost a tablespoon)
Red currant jelly
Walnut or Pecan pieces (optional)

Mix together, make small rolls the size of a marble (a big one); dent with thumb. Put tart jelly in dent. Top with walnut or pecan (I omit these and they are good either way). Bake 20 min. at 350 degrees. Makes 8 dozen.

Do not chill this dough before baking! (that's the little note written in sharpie by my grandma on the original recipe card)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the eighth day of Christmas...

Thought I'd share with you some of the craftiness that we've been getting into in order to survive all these long days before Christmas. My kids are about to jump out of their skin in anticipation of the big day. Poor O. is still going to school this week -- tomorrow is finally his last day, and most of it is taken up by holiday party.

Mostly, we've been making ornaments to hang on our sad-ass tree. They keep falling off, but it gives N. something to do keeping track of them all. Some of them we're using as tags on teacher gifts, and we'll decorate the packages of family gifts with some of our handiwork as well.

Project #1 was taken from a suggestion for 'ordaments' we read about over at Not to Brag. Thanks, mep! I too, am always on the lookout for a project that the kids can actually complete without me having to commandeer the glue gun or police the paints.

Here are some of our completed masterpieces, made from scanned copies of pictures from some of our favorite books. For some reason, N. didn't want her Dora ornaments to look Christmas-y, so she cut all the packages off the pictures.
A couple more on N.'s teacher gifts which did not get to be delivered, due to a snow day on her last scheduled day of school. Guess they'll be nice for New Year's as well.
We've also been working with Shrinky Dinks. These are some of my faves, due to fond memories of making them myself back in the day. I distinctly remember them as an activity at my 8th birthday party -- coloring in Smurfs and then watching them curl up and shrink in the oven. These days, it's hard to find pre-printed Shrinky-Dinks, so you just buy the paper and trace your own from either a coloring book or a coloring page you print out from the computer.
Here they are post-tracing, pre-coloring:
And a different set, already finished. This is not a hands-off parent crafting project. The only thing kids kindergarten and younger can do themselves is the coloring. O. tried to cut his bison tracing out himself, and cut the two animals apart, which he hadn't meant to do. He was devastated, even though it meant he got two ornaments out of the deal. They are at times frustrating in the oven portion too, because they roll up and stick to themselves, and are hard to get apart. We managed to save most of ours, but the lion pair above didn't make it.
And finally, courtesy of Family Fun magazine, stars made out of "handmade paper". It's actually construction paper that you tear up and reshape, but the end result is cute in a rustic-y, made by a preschooler sort of way.

You start with a star shaped cookie cutter on a plate covered with a kitchen towel and a paper towel. Don't use a towel you won't mind getting stained, as ours did
with the red paper.
Next, you tear three sheets of construction paper into pieces about the size of dominos, and place them into your blender. Add a cup and a half of hot water, then let sit for five minutes.
Then, blend for about 20 seconds, until the contents are pulpy.
Spoon the mixture into your star until it is almost full. Press into the points, then press down with another towel to remove most of the moisture.
Pick up the cookie cutter, and push the star out onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees until it is dry. (the magazine said 2 hours -- ours took almost overnight to get all the way dry, but I think our cookie cutter was too big.) Glue a ribbon to the back to hang. Pretty cute!!
That's all the Martha I have in me for tonight, and I'm all out of craftiness for the rest of the week. Any successful projects going on at your house??

Oh, and I almost forgot -- the biggest ongoing project around here is N. and her scissoring. She leaves little piles of cut up colored paper all over the downstairs. She always insists there is a purpose -- pictures to put in an envelope to deliver to her friend at school, something to hang in her room, or simply items she covets in the Toys R Us catalog that she doesn't want us to forget. Whichever, she always promises to clean up, but then gets distracted by something like a fruit cup. I'm really glad she's working on her fine motor skills, but sheesh. Enough with the confetti.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On the seventh day of Christmas...

You would think, after the the candy made in a facility that also processes peanuts incident of 2009 and the broken roof out of the box/no premade icing debacle of 2008 as well as the hot-glue needed for construction project of 2007 (that I did not blog about), I'd have learned.

But no, we saw the gingerbread house kit in Sam's shortly before Thanksgiving, and after checking the ingredients and seeing no mention of nuts at all, I caved and put it in the cart. Oh well, it's blog fodder, I thought. And so, one snowy snow day last week, we set to constructing a little house with a lot of candy once again.

O. and N. were really excited when this was the "advent activity" they pulled out of our calendar that morning. (One of our advent calendars is a felt Christmas tree banner with pockets for each day of the month. Each pocket holds an ornament to hang on the tree, so I also include a slip of paper with holiday-themed activity to do.) As opposed to "bake cookies" and "write a letter to Santa" -- advent-ures that went over exactly the opposite of gangbusters. "But that is so boooooring."

Here they are holding the kit. It's made by Orbit Cookies, a Canadian company.

*Read below for an aside about the frustration of food allergy labeling*

All the candy and frosting pouches waiting to be opened up:

O. squeezing the bag of -- HALLELUJAH! -- pre-made icing. No fancy tips or add-ons, just a bag to snip the corner off of and squeeze out!!!
O. took this one of L.'s vantage point of the proceedings. We had to halt production at one point so I could take him out and feed him, which set the other two off on a crying spell. So I still ended up piping icing one handed, the whole thing I was trying to avoid with the front pack.
This kit also came with fondant, to be rolled out and shaped. Intimidating, but my kiddos proved we could totally hang with Duff and Geoff and the rest of the Charm City crew.
Fondant rolled into snakes for roof decoration:
This kit had the very best 'well duh E...' tip ever. Decorate the sides of the house before assembly. Seriously. Why was this not obvious to me before??
Also genius about this kit? The slots on the base for filling with icing and sticking the walls into. Why don't ALL the kits have this "Tab A" goes into "Slot A" construction???
J. is really getting into the projects this year. Here he is constructing the candy chimney on the roof.
I am really proud of my icicles on the roof-line.
Almost finished!

Final step was letting O. and N. use the extra icing and sprinkles to put as big a pile as they wanted on one of the snickerdoodles we made the day before and eat it all. That did not stop N. from saying "Just one more piece of candy, Mommy? Pleeeeeeaaaaase???? Just one more?" about ten thousand times that day. That girl loves candy.

J. and I prefer other types of holiday sweetness.
Oh yes, it was a lot of fun for EVERYONE.

* I looked the company up on Google, hoping to link up to them and plug how happy I was that they made a kit that was nut free. (Though it was not actually labeled "nut free" just had no mention of nuts -- two very different situations.) That led me down a rabbit hole of food allergy forums that discussed email contact with the company confirming that their cookies ARE nut free, as is their baking facility, but that they can't confirm that the gingerbread house kits are really nut free, because the candy comes from a different plant. Of course this is not indicated on the package, because all of that "processed with nuts" language is completely voluntary. So it's really nice when the companies include it, but it doesn't mean the companies that DON'T include this information is safe, which makes for a very confusing and frustrating situation for someone trying to buy for a child with said allergy, and trying to advise others what my child can and cannot eat when she's not with me. For example, I always buy Kroger brand chocolate chips because they do not have the "made in a facility that also processes" advisory, whereas Nestle does. This does not really mean that Kroger is safer. It may even be that I'm buying the less-safe option, because chances are Nestle, who includes the label, is more aware of possible cross-contamination issues and probably includes more safe-guards so it doesn't happen. But I don't really know. Neither ACTUALLY contains nuts, so I find myself making guesses about what's safe and what's not, and of course my kid has never actually had a life-threatening reaction (at least not yet), so I find myself getting lax with what I let her eat, telling myself I have the epi-pen if I need it, and she's not actually eating nuts, for God's sakes. Maybe I just shouldn't make the gingerbread house. But if that's the case I also shouldn't buy ANYTHING that I didn't grow in my very own yard. I've already seen her have to be restricted from so much, even in the brief time she's been in preschool, and mostly that's okay. She won't be harmed from a little deprivation of treats. But still. There is so, so much more to say on this topic, including my own confusion with my son's school's allergen/food policy. They are trying to do the right thing, but even as someone used to dealing with all of this, I'm still not sure what to send in for his holiday party. I'll save the rest for a post a different day. To sum up, we assembled our house a week ago, and we've seen no adverse reactions yet.

I don't know why this text is underlined. I'm tired of messing with it. Darn you, Blogger.