Handmade Christmas Part II

Success! Now that I've finally learned to knit on double pointed needles (which involved me staying up till 2am several nites this week watching online tutorials and pouring thru several children's knit books...and consuming lots of gluehwein) I can make fingerless gloves like all the other cool mamas (AKA arm warmers AKA hand warmers AKA glove thingy's). The girls are each getting a pair (they picked out the yarn they wanted). And I'm so excited about them I've decided to make myself a pair (or two) and will bookmark this project for next year's gift giving (considering its taken me 3 days to get 2 pairs made and included me constantly yelling at the kids to stop talking to me, I'm trying to CONCENTRATE! -  I don't think I'll get too many done this year). But next year - it's on.

The yarn pile beckons.

I also made a few wine bottle covers made from recycled shirts for a few of my wine lovin' friends.

And the girls got a quick sewing lesson on how to make catnip toys for the feline critters. For this, we stuff catnip and batting (or old socks or plastic bags or cut up tshirts) into little pillows sewn out of the leftover fabric from the shirts. Easy-peasy. And the cats love them...almost too much. They roll around on these pillows for days and days, drooling uncontrollably. It's almost embarrassing. Some apple-cinnamon dog biscuits for the pup, which we'll bag up and hand out to our fellow dog lovin' friends, and I think that about wraps it up for our home-made Christmas for this year. Yay! Now if I can just survive having family in the house for 4 days. Time for more gluehwein!

Homemade Christmas Part I

To me, the words Homemade + Christmas just seem to naturally go together. I can't imagine one without the other. So many of my favorite traditions (since having children) involve the things we make together, either for the tree, the house, each other, or for our friends and family, this time of year.

As we head into The Last Week Before Christmas, I decided the entire week (well, OK, at least most of the week) will be devoted to homemade gift making.

Last year our little children's store was located across the hall from a pottery studio, so we had the opportunity to throw clay and make bowls and cups for everyone on our list. It was great fun, and we thought about doing the same this year, but alas, not only is our store closed now, but the pottery shop, after 20 years, closed it's location as well.

The owner is now in a town that's 30 minutes away and we thought about scheduling a day of clay spinning (he still offers occasional classes) so we could make more pottery gifts, but the month got away from us. That's a project that needs to be started months ahead so there's plenty of time for the baking and firing.

Sigh...we sure miss our pottery neighbor.

So I had this crazy idea to make paper mache bowls instead. And we may still get to that project, but I'm not sure it will be in time for Christmas. Instead, this last week will involve some shrinking, some baking, and alot of knitting! Here's some of what the elves are working on this week:

More cinnamon ornaments! We make these every year and still have some from nearly 10 years ago hanging on the tree - they don't smell as strong but are some of our favorite ornaments. They make great gifts, as well. Here's a link to a tutorial with printer friendly recipe. The recipe I've used for years and years goes something like this:

Cinnamon Ornaments
3/4 cup cinnamon, 1 cup applesauce, 1 T ground nutmeg, 1 T allspice, 1 T ground cloves. Mix and form dough. Dust work area with cinnamon. Roll to 1/4 thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes. Let them dry in the sun on wax paper or cookie sheets (don't forget to poke a hole with a straw before they dry). Takes about 2 days to dry fully (if you're in a hurry you can bake them for several hours at 250 degrees). Turn to prevent curling. We sometimes put a little glue on them and dust them with glitter and add buttons after they're dry.

Here's one towards the top of the tree the girls made a few years ago...and below it is another easy ornament project made from recycled juice can tops. I save these tops during the year (from frozen juice cans) so I can make a big batch all at once. All you need is a nail and a small hammer. Position the nail where you want your holes to be, put the nail in place and hammer it in till it makes a dent. This creates the pattern. For the ribbon hole, you have to hammer the nail in all the way thru (we used old wire bent into a hook shape to hang ours).

Peppermint Bark - to put in decorated jars. Found this picture over at One Crafty Mumma (my new favorite craft blog) and was inspired...and drooling. I can't wait to try it out! The recipe can be found here.

Decorated gingerbread cookies. These will go in holiday tins and make great hostess gifts.

And of course, Shrinky Dinks. We make zipper pulls, necklaces, ornaments, gift tags, etc out of these. The kids never get bored watching them shrink up. Last year we had a tabletop shrinky dink tree. Very cute. More ideas here.

Now get to work little elves!

Yam Fries

I really don't know what the difference is between yams and sweet potatoes. And truth be told, I really have no interest in googling it to find out. Suffice it to say we grew some of them in our garden this year. And if I had to guess, I'd say they were yams, because they tasted sweeter and were softer than the normal sweet potatoes we cook with. Maybe that's because they were home grown. Who knows. Point is, we chopped the little buggers up and made fries out of them. And they were most delicious. Even the monkeys gave them a thumbs up and now request these with their lunches. We throw them on a pan with a little EVOO and season salt and bake...it doesn't get easier than that!

I should also add we grew these in pots, rather than in the garden. I had bought some yams/sweet potatoes from the store and a good friend suggested I plant one of the eyes (the little knobby parts of the potato) and watch it grow into a beautiful vine. So I did just that. I stuck one of the ends into one of my potted plants and forgot about it watered it, and by golly it grew into a beautiful vine, just like she said. It grew up and over and around. I had to make a trellis for it. It just kept getting longer and longer. Finally, on Thanksgiving day, the leaves looked like they weren't loving life anymore so we decided to pull it up and see what all the fuss was about. That one little eye of potato had turned into 3 large sweet potatoes! And to think, I was content with just the pretty vine.

Library Day

So here's what's going back to the library this week (minus a few arts n crafts books we haven't finished working thru, and a few fox books the older gal hasn't finished reporting on). The middle grayish area is a stack of magazines I'm returning. We have a magazine exchange at our local library, which I've recently become addicted to. Some days magazines are about all I have time to flip thru and I love that I can borrow them for a few days (and many of them are current!) and return them. Or keep some and exchange out some of mine I no longer want. I'll miss our little library when we move. Hoping our new city (wherever that may be) will have a library with a magazine exchange. If not, I guess I'll just have to start my own.

As you can see, we're finishing up our history lessons on Mummies, Pyramids, and Ancient Egypt. The girls are excited because returning the books means it's project/activity time! Which means this week we're wrapping mummies and making model pyramids...I'm telling ya, nothing says holidays like mummification.

More on that later...

And BTW, The Vegan Table (towards the top of the stack) is awesome! I'm returning it because I have to (sob) but it's now on my Amazon Wish List. I've poured thru a mess of veggie cookbooks this past year...some I loved and some not so much...this one is definitely a keeper.

So, off to the library we go...icebergs, the Old Testament, and a few books to read at Christmas (Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin', A Christmas Carol, and Christmas in Camelot) await us.

A Christmas Fort

It's always nice when a fort pops up in the middle of the living room. I never seem to know when this fort-building mood is going to strike them. It seems to just appear at random, but I'm sure in their mind it makes sense somehow. I'm guessing this particular fort invasion was related to the Christmas tree going up, since, ya know, the fort was connected to it and all. In fact, a request was made for the old guy to just go ahead and leave the presents in the fort this year, instead of under the tree. Ahem, no? Thankfully the fort was dismantled after about a week in service, and I have my living room back in one piece...and Santa doesn't need to worry about adding fort-crawling to his resume.

I remember making lots of forts when I was a kid. Some with my brothers, but many times I would make them by myself in my room...that's where I liked to hide out and read my Nancy Drew books. As much as I complain about the fort taking up what little floor space we have (and my having to crawl over chairs to get to my desk), it is kinda fun to know my little monkeys are enjoying it as much as I did back in the day. Long live The Fort!

One Day Last Week

Last week was a big week for us in the world of homeschooling. We had worked our way up to a point where we were ready for some experimenting in several subjects, namely: art, science and history.

For our first art lesson we worked on blending primary colors. I must admit, I actually kinda enjoyed this one myself. The girls want formal art instructions and since art classes are expensive, and their Pappa is an artist by trade, I thought maybe I'd get them to a point where he could take over. So, we're working on blending colors, creating backgrounds, and drawing from still life. But first, we blend.

For science, we did 10 different experiments about weather: air pressure, frost, cloud formation, rain, wind, etc. This was our super duper fancy cloud...in a jar.
And this is rain in a jar. Hey, whatever works.

For history, and since we're studying ancient history, I buried items in a certain part of the yard and the girls had to create an archeology site out of it and tag and bag the items they found. Gee, what does this say about our culture? I should have had them bury a cell phone and TV remote control.
Their favorite activity was building a pre-historic shelter for their Webkinz. Don't worry little bunny, I'm certain this will keep out woolly mammoths and freezing rain.

Well, Looky There

So, as you probably already know, if you put your green onions in water (after using what you need and leaving a little bit on the bottom for the roots to grow from), they'll start growing roots and more green onions will grow.

But did you know the same will happen with leeks?

I bought some leeks the other day and after using up what I needed I decided to throw the bottom part in some water. And, viola! whaddya know...more leeks are growing!

Now the question is, what in the heck will I make with them?

Week Three

So we're now about three weeks into this homeschooling thing, and for the most part, I think it's going pretty well. It's taken me about this long to secure workbooks, study guides, and other various forms of curriculum. And we have alot of library books strewn about the house. A.Lot. We go to the library so much I find myself mindlessly driving there some days without even realizing it. Where was I headed, again?

But we're finally organizing some sort of routine.


Most days.

I find myself overwhelmed some days. Some days they work so slowly thru the material (and spend quite a bit of time giggling and playing with the dog and cats) I wonder if we'll ever finish even one subject. And the little one wastes spends an inordinate amount of time sharpening her pencils. But, then some days they surprise me; after hours of studying and working thru different subjects, I'm exhausted and telling them the bell rang and it's time to stop, play and be merry (read: drink wine play on facebook cook dinner)...and they want to keep working: "Can we do Spanish now?"

...ummmm, Mama just poured herself a glass of wine, we'll do Spanish tomorrow...

Some days I wonder how we'll ever fit in Spanish, or piano...or learn algebra. But I've found lessons just seem to work themselves in or out as needed. And sometimes it's because they initiate them on their own. For example, I found them working on piano lessons today long after I told them they were off the clock. As we adapt to new routines, our time management seems to increase. As does their interest in learning independently.

Yes, they miss their school friends, but we have Girl Scout activities that keep them connected and we joined a local homeschool group who have weekly bowling, park days, and monthly skating parties, as well as lots of field trips to join in on. In fact, this week we're joining a small group of them at our local children's theater to see a Christmas play. So, socially we're still transitioning, but heading in the right direction. I think.

One thing I do notice the girls constantly asking is, what are the public school kids doing now? They are still very aware of when PE is and when Math is and when recess is...not in a sentimental kind of way, just in a 'wow, it's so weird we aren't there doing those things anymore' kind of way. They tell me often they are happy being homeschooled, and I've noticed a significant difference in the pace and mood around the house, especially in the mornings. We sleep in (sorta - it's more like we stay in PJs longer but still get up around the same time). We take our time. And yet the days still go by fast. But in a different way. They go by fast with us together now. They used to go by fast with the kids away for a good part of the day. Always rushing to something or through something. And that's one of the (many) reasons I wanted to homeschool: time was going by so fast, I felt like I was missing out on so much of their day...and rushing them thru the rest of it. As the years tick by, it's amazing to me how you can one day wake up and barely recognize the little babes.

It's really not so bad. It does take some adjusting and some organizing, but with a little planning the night before, the lessons are broken down into time chunks so I'm still able to get my workouts in, make dinners, run errands, finish projects (what a concept that is!) and chase the bunnies around the yard as needed. Which, as it stands now, seems to be some sort of PE class we've created. Seriously folks, if you've not chased a bunny recently, you're not living. Forget hot yoga. Try catching a bunny in your backyard. It takes about 20 minutes of running in circles, sprinting back and forth, round and round, up and down the fence line, darting in and out, shouting "holy hell, stop hopping you dern bunny!" Even the pup and at least one cat participates in this bunny chasing ritual. The other fatter older cat just watches in utter amusement.

Like I said, we are, if nothing else, at least focused.

I have a friend who's homeschooling two girls about the same age as mine; he's been at it about 8 months. He's (following the same curriculum) and is at the point where they may do math at 8am, cursive at bedtime, just whenever the mood hits them. His third grader can make chocolate chip cookies from scratch all by herself, has learned to sew pillows, and does her own laundry. She's also no longer afraid of math and has confidence where once stress and pressure used to be. He says some days you pour yourself a cup of coffee, look at them and think, "that's how it's supposed to be, no stress about grades or tests, just the joy of learning" - and not just learning the 3 R's, but learning how to be independent little people.

Ahhhh, sounds lovely....

Some days it's hard to know which yardstick to measure progress by. But I agree, it all matters. It's all filed away and will someday perhaps be measured by nothing more than how much wine it required for survival.

Or how many minutes it takes to make a hopping bunny stop hopping!

We're getting there!

What the Heck is Advent, Anyway?

Growing up I don't think I ever knew what an advent calendar was. We never had one in the house and I don't recall any friends who had one. Not sure why, really. Advents are German Lutheran by origin and while we were more on the German Methodist side, we certainly had some German Lutheran roots in our family. For years I associated them with Catholic for some reason, but that's because I was fairly clueless about most religious connections. Arguably, still am.

It seems Advent calendars lean more towards the secular side these days. So we decided to try to make our own version this year. After scouring the interwebs for ideas (and finding lots of really great ones), I decided with my two little monkeys we should do something fairly easy (my youngest monkey likes being able to say I did it all by myself), with the option of extra embellishments for the older gal; and something that focuses on recycling, rather than the purchasing of more stuff. Lord knows we do not need more stuff. We just need to find ways to repurpose the stuff we have. At least that's the theory.

So, we decided to try the envelope style advent calendar. Sorta like this, but way messier, with a lot more glitter; ya know, something that looks more like elementary kids made it, instead of Miss Martha. Something that would make a perfectionist feel kinda queasy. Ya know, the kind of project that screams homemade. I wish I could say I have lots of pretty scrapbooking paper lying around so I could make envelopes as pretty as these, but alas, I don't scrapbook and I see no point in buying pretty paper when we have magazines we can tear up...the act of which I'm hoping will double as some sort of passive-aggressive therapy. It is the holidays, after all.

So, here's what we did. We found a stack of paper in the 'to shred/recycle' pile in the craft room so we made envelopes out of those. The girls cut tore holiday themed pictures out of magazines and glued those pictures onto the fronts of the envelopes. Only the fronts will really be seen so we didn't bother with the back. Maybe next year. We then added numbers, which were cut out of recycled white paper (or handwritten) and added glitter to the edges. The girls then added glitter to other various images on the envelopes they wanted to highlight as well. In a rather random way, I might add. It started off focused, but the Lure of the Glitter overcame them and before an intervention could be organized, the glitter took over. I took deep breaths...and accepted defeat. Glitter is magical stuff. My girls will add glitter to anything. They sometimes just pour it on their heads.

I'm pretty sure that gives them special powers.

But do not leave girls (of any age) unattended with jars of glitter in front of them.

I once left my Girl Scouts alone with jars of glitter on the table. I turned my back on them for a few minutes, and they took that opportunity to start a glitter fight. Think pillow fight, but with glitter. It took 6 months to get all the glitter out of their hair.

Deep. Breaths.

So, after the glitter dried on our Advent project, I wrote notes to put in some of the envelopes, ya know, stuff like: go ice skating, go see a movie, make hot chocolate, work a puzzle together, play a game, make mulled wine (wait, what?), make gingerbread cookies, donate toys to charity, etc. In the other envelopes I put little chocolates and/or little sun-catchers for them to paint and hang on the tree. We hung our envelopes on the mantle with some string and clothespins. And viola! our first homemade recycled Advent Calendar. Or, as we like to call it, The Christmas Countdown Thingy.