MAKE “PINE TREE” VOTIVE CANDLEHOLDERS

Creative time also can be vocabulary-building time when your kids learn how to say and spell “arborvitae.” Check it out online or, depending on where you live, take a walk together and discover the common hardy shrub with flat spraylike green branches that grows in most zones of the country. Here’s the fun part. Take a closer look, and see how the tips on branches resemble the shape of a pine tree.

“Why not glue the flat tree-like tip portions of the branches onto clear glass votive candleholders?” thought my friend Lisa MacMartin, who is always on the hunt for natural materials for sharing projects with children at her welcoming store and family craft studio, Heartfelt, in Minneapolis (heartfeltonline.com).

I gave her idea a try. After clipping a few sprigs in my backyard, I flattened them between pages of a thick book for a week. When pressed, the mini branch tips were ready for adhering to clear glass votive candleholders. For the holidays, a dash of white glitter on the sticky glue was the perfect wintry touch.
Press a few branch tips, and you’ll be set for a family craft night making these festive votives for a cozy candle lit evening in your home. Or, wrap extras up for hostess gifts when you share the season with others.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–pressed stems of arborvitae
–scissors
–standard-size clear-glass votive candleholders available at craft stores, or upcycle clear glass jars with labels removed
–Mod Podge water base sealer, or household white glue
–paper plate
–small paintbrush
–fine white or sparkly white glitter

Here’s the fun:
1. Trim four “tree-shaped” ends of the arborvitae to fit a bit less than the height of the votive holder.
2. Pour Mod Podge or glue onto plate. (If using glue, dilute with a few drops of water). Brush Mod Podge or glue mixture on a section the size of one of the “trees” on the outside of the glass. Press greenery with your fingers until it adheres. Lightly brush on another layer or two of the adhesive. Sprinkle with glitter. Repeat as you go around the candleholder.
3. Once dry, your votive holder will be set for service. Place a lit candle inside, and watch it shimmer.

Extra idea: If you don’t have access to arborvitae, instead, print and cut out images of pine trees or other natural images online or from magazines.
Safety note: An adult should always be present when burning candles.

MAKE A SIMPLE FRENCH “CHOCOLATE MOUSSE” IN A BLENDER


French-born Nicole Winters enjoys telling the story of serving her favorite chocolate dessert from her childhood at a Christmas party gathering of over 20 friends and family. When her 3-year-old grandson, Jacob, stepped up to the dessert table after the meal, a woman offered him a small bowl and asked, “Would you like some chocolate pudding?” “It’s not pudding, it’s mousse au chocolat!” he confidently exclaimed with a perfect French accent.

“I was so surprised,” said Nicole. “He had just been in the kitchen cooking with me the day before when I taught him how to say those French words. Cooking together is an enjoyable way for me to pass on family food traditions from my background and culture to my children and grandchildren, which I believe is so important,” she added.

Since her easy blender version of rich “mousse au chocolat” (chocolate mousse) doesn’t use raw eggs like the traditional French recipe, and it comes together effortlessly in just 10 minutes, it captured my attention for our family holiday menus.

I gave it a whirl in our blender, poured it into small dessert bowls, and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. Topped with fresh raspberries or a dollop of whipped cream, it’s a keeper.
EASY BLENDER CHOCOLATE MOUSSE DESSERT
Makes 6 servings
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
Cream cheese (3 ounces), cut into several pieces
Fresh raspberries or whipped cream for topping
1. Place chocolate chips, sugar and vanilla in your blender.
2. Heat milk in a saucepan to almost scalding. It should be steaming. Immediately pour it into the blender over the chocolate chips, sugar and vanilla, cover and blend for 30 seconds.
3. Add cream cheese pieces and blend until smooth.
4. Pour into six small dessert dishes or a dessert bowl. Refrigerate at least two hours, until set.
5. To serve, top each dish or serving dish with a few raspberries or a dollop of whipped cream. A little sprig of fresh mint is a nice added touch for a special occasion.

POTATO LATKES (POTATO PANCAKES) FOR HANUKKAH AND YEAR-ROUND


“When the calendar turns to December, we’re a blended family as far as holiday traditions go,” said professional caterer and mom, Carole Blumenberg Garrigos. Her husband was born in Seville, Spain, of Catholic heritage, and she was raised in the Jewish faith in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Their high-school-age daughter Carmen practices Judaism, but appreciates both family religious traditions, including the approaching celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas.

On a recent visit to their home, I asked 17-year-old Carmen what the eight days of Hanukkah, beginning Dec. 12, mean to her.
“The most memorable night is when my extended family gathers at our home at sunset, and we light candles on the menorah, sing a blessing, and eat a meal with tender, juicy brisket, a green salad, Jell-O and — fresh out of sizzling pans on the stove — potato latkes!” she said.

So we grated, stirred and fried up a big and beautiful batch of 12 golden latkes (potato pancakes) together. Topped with dollops of applesauce and sour cream (if you opt for ketchup on top, that’s OK too, according to Carole), I was convinced that latkes are delicious not only during Hanukkah, but anytime of the year.

FAMILY-STYLE POTATO LATKES
Serves 4-6
4 large potatoes (Carole prefers Yukon gold, scrubbed and unpeeled)
1/2 onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil for frying
sour cream for topping
applesauce for topping
1. Cut potatoes and peeled onion in chunks and coarsely shred in a food processor, or use a box grater. Place in a mixing bowl.
2. Add eggs, flour, salt and pepper, and baking powder. Toss to combine.
3. Heat 1/4 inch oil in a heavy frying pan over medium high heat. Drop mixture in heaping spoonfuls into the hot oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Turn with a spatula and cook to light brown and crisp on both sides.
4. Serve immediately with toppings of sour cream and/or applesauce.

EXTRA IDEA: For a twist, heat up your waffle iron, oil lightly, and cook the potato mixture by the spoonful until crisp. Enjoy as a brunch item topped with a poached egg, smoked salmon and chopped chives as a garnish, if you wish.

DRUM AND SHAKE WITH HOMEMADE INSTRUMENTS


When I heard the beat of the drums, I knew I was really back in Africa. It had been years since I taught in a secondary school in the remote Ubangi region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Accessible only by boat or plane, I was fortunate to return last month to this tropical land of mangoes, butterflies and poinsettias as large as trees to see former students, and participate with Congolese women’s groups devoted to hygiene, finance, agriculture and clean-water projects.

It was the rhythmic welcomes in villages, each drum with its own sound blended with the tones and beats of rattles and voices, that got my feet stamping and hands clapping. The sounds are pervasive. All ages still beat drums to transmit messages, even while others simultaneously dial up their cellphones to do the same.

Percussion instruments are universal, really, and at their most basic level play an important part in a child’s development. A simple rattle sparks an array of sensory experiences for a baby. No wonder a growing toddler enjoys finding anything that clangs to bang together like cymbals. Later, their fascination may lead them to musical training, which has been proven to increase math scores and self-expression.
Here is how to assemble a mini drum set and shaker to further your child’s musical journey:

Drum Set
–Paint various sizes of clean, soup and vegetable tin cans in bright colors. Decorate with pompons and other favorite crafty charms.

–Wrap strong paper cut in circles over the open end of some of the cans. Hold paper in place with rubber bands. Turn remaining cans open-side down on a table.

–Use wooden and metal spoons to tap out a rhythm. The eraser ends of unsharpened pencils make good drumsticks.

For fun, play a game of “echo.” Hit the cans and challenge others to repeat what you have done.

–For mini cymbals, thread a bead 3-inches down on a wooden skewer. Glue in place, then thread a flat canning-jar lid with a hole poked through its center, onto the skewer. Add another bead and a second lid. Top with a bead and glue in place. Tape to the side of a can. Hit with “drumsticks” as you play on the mini drum set.

Bottle Shakers
–Pour dry beans in a plastic bottle and glue the cap shut. Paint and decorate with colorful tape and stickers.

CREATE MINI SUCCULENT PUMPKINS


Just in time for Thanksgiving and December holiday gatherings, stylish mini pumpkins can star in stripes, white and various shades of orange for eye-catching place settings and centerpieces when you glue moss and embed living succulents on top.

Give your kids the job of keeping succulents misted every few days as the plants root into the moss, and enjoy the creations in your home now and into the new year. When the mini pumpkins soften and age, toss them in the compost bin and pot the succulents indoors in soil in a flowerpot to grow in bright sunlight or outdoors in a frost-free garden bed.

Get older kids involved in creating the mini succulent pumpkins by swirling the nontoxic sticky glue or a glue gun, handling the wiry moss and arranging different varieties of succulents and add-ins make for artful fun.

Here’s what you’ll need for one succulent mini pumpkin:
–One clean pumpkin with a flat-top surface.
–Water-soluble white glue that dries clear, such as Mod Podge Matte finish or a low-temp glue gun.
–Sphagnum moss available in garden centers or craft stores
–Several succulents. Use cuttings from your garden or purchase at garden centers.
–Natural add-ons such as seedpods, acorns, tiny pine cones, eucalyptus

Here’s the fun
1. Set mini pumpkin on a newspaper-covered work surface. Remove stem with clippers, being careful not to cut into the pumpkin.
2. Drizzle glue around the top area of the pumpkin in swirls. Cover with the moss, about 1/2-inch thick, pressing firmly in place. Let dry.
3. Remove roots and soil from the succulents. Dip short stems into glue and poke into the moss. For balance, place a tall succulent for a focal point near the center and add remaining succulents and add-ons around it over the moss. An adult or older child may use a glue gun to affix the add-ons, if you prefer.

Care: Set the pumpkin on a saucer, trivet or tray. Mist succulents and moss regularly, making sure the pumpkin remains fresh and dry. The succulents will begin to root through the glue into the moss. Keep away from excessive heat, freezing temperatures and rain.

Extra idea: Use at each guest’s place at the Thanksgiving table. Tuck a name card in each one and set at each plate. Spray paint pumpkins in gold or silver for December holiday dinners. Guests may take one home to enjoy into the new year.

 

Watch the video below to see Donna create mini succulent pumpkins on Twin Cities Live.

CREATE A SOLAR COOKER AND COOK A SNACK


When you put news on your mealtime menu, it opens up all kinds of opportunities for together-time conversations, whether it’s the stats of your home team or the biggie event  over North America on Monday, Aug. 21 — the solar eclipse of the sun. While not a total eclipse in all states, it IS a novel, out-of-this-world experience where you live.

OK, so your kids might associate the sun more with your constant nagging to slather their skin with sunscreen or wear a brimmed hat on a bright afternoon at the park. But when they tune into learning about this rare astronomical event, they’ll be engaged in new ways in our solar system — and the sun, in particular. (Learn more: eclipse2017.nasa.gov.)

Make the topic of “sun” practical, too, by constructing a simple solar cooker in minutes to show that the sun is powerful and provides energy for many things, including cooking a yummy fruit snack.

SIMPLE SOLAR COOKER
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–a hot, sunny day
–22-by-28-inch black poster board
–aluminum foil
–stapler
–tape
–small, clear glass bowl
–fruit and add-ins, such as an apple, honey and raisins (peaches and pears also are good)

Here’s the fun:
Make oven:
Lay the poster board on a table and cover one side completely with the foil. Staple the sheets of foil in place.

Gently roll the poster board in a diagonal direction to form a large cone shape with the foil on the inside.

Loosen the shape a bit so that one end is wide open and the other is small. It will resemble a megaphone.

Tape the seam closed, and staple the small end flat and shut. Now it’s time to crank up the heat.
Cook the snack:

Thinly slice an apple and place a few pieces in the clear glass dish. Top with raisins and a drizzle of honey, if you wish.

During the hottest and sunniest time of day, place the cone cooker on its side on a flat surface. Position it so that the sun’s rays are aimed directly inside. Tuck the bowl way back in the cone, and leave it to heat up for about 30 minutes. Cover with an oven bag or plastic wrap if you wish.

When time is up, slip the treat out carefully using a potholder.

Eat it up! Add ice cream or frozen yogurt for solar apples a la mode, if you wish.

Extra-sunny idea for nighttime: Make my space lampshade. The light bulb can represent the sun, then add your own ideas to a recycled shade to create a simple model of the solar system. See instructions at my web site……Donnaerickson.com

 

TRY SOMETHING NEW WITH KIDS THIS SUMMER

Have you tried something new with your kids lately? There’s still time this summer to plan an activity or adventure.

Karl Nelson, 40-year-old dad of two sons and executive of an educational nonprofit in Seattle, says introducing his boys to new experiences is vital for growth and learning about themselves and their world. He recently took his 5-year-old son Oskar, a curious boy who is always game for new adventures, sailing. “My task was to make sure he had a good enough time, so he’d want to do it again. Fortunately, his only complaint was the lack of snacks,” says Karl. Next time there will be plenty!

“Exposure to new ideas and concepts through experiential learning isn’t just something that happens at school,” says Karl. “Parents modeling lifelong learning at home is essential, like the day I picked up a violin 10 years ago in a quest to learn more about music. I started lessons and continue to this day. I like that my sons see (and hear!) their father practicing and improving over time. My efforts are also a reminder that we don’t just start out being good at something; it takes discipline and hard work.”

Gather your family to talk about activities that seem interesting, fun and perhaps a little out of the ordinary. Routines are important, but sometimes they become protective bubbles that need to be broken, or maybe just bent, for new perspective and growth.

Here are two ideas to get you inspired.

1. Join a family exercise program, such as outdoor yoga and/or stretch class at a community center or park in your area. Some are free. If there are non-swimmers in the family, check out your local YMCA or community center for swimming lessons to learn this important life skill.

2. Partner with an experienced camping family and spend a few days together in the wild hiking, fishing, cooking and enjoying the outdoors together. It’s a practical way to learn the ropes of camping and to get to know friends better. You might even start an annual tradition.
If sleeping in a tent is not your idea of fun, pack up a picnic and drive to a local park or nature preserve. Take a hike, play, build a campfire, roast some marshmallows and have all the fun of camping, then head home to your own beds at the end of the day.

WEEKLY PICTURE EVENT CALENDAR FOR PRESCHOOLERS

“When do we go to the zoo?” “When is Nate’s birthday party?” “When, when, when” is the repetitive question of kids of all ages, but as a parent of preschoolers, it’s especially challenging to answer the “when” questions if eager kids don’t yet read, write or comprehend the days of the week.

That was a parenting challenge for 35-year-old neonatologist and mom of two, Dr. Anna Hedstrom. So, she recruited her mother-in-law, retired fourth-grade teacher Judy Hedstrom, to help her and her husband Karl develop a hands-on strategy for their 3-year-old son Parker to understand what’s up on their weekly schedule.

To create an event calendar, Judy organized family photos of familiar faces in Parker’s life, and found images of day-to-day routines and outings from free online photos. She used them to make easy-to-handle, Velcro-backed activity cards Parker could attach to color-coded days of the week.

It works! “The Parker’s Week calendar gets him involved in a playful way to understand when activities will take place,” say the parents. On Sundays, they talk about the coming week as he attaches cards representing routine events like school, as well as special activities such as going to the zoo. Now, six months later, he has figured out how to do the “regulars” himself.

Enjoy making one adapted to your family lifestyle with your preschooler.

Here’s the stuff you need:
–1 22-by-28-inch poster board cut in half widthwise
–cardstock sheets in different colors
–copied photos and images of people and activities in child’s life
–household glue
–self-stick Velcro
–magnets or art hooks for hanging

Here’s the fun:
1. For the header section of the activity calendar, print a title such as “EMILY’S WEEK” on a 12-by-4-inch strip of cardstock. Add a photo of the child next to it, and glue in place on the poster board.

2. On the short end of seven 3-by-11-inch tall colored strips of cardstock, print the days of the week. Line up strips vertically in a row, and glue under the title strip.

3. Cut 3-by-3-inch cards for representing routine activities and special events. Print photos and images of outings and glue to cards. Label each activity. For example: School, Library, Soccer, Haircut, Doctor visit, Birthday party, Dad off work, Surprise!

4. Laminate cards and entire calendar at a copy store (optional, but recommended).

5. Attach one half of Velcro pieces in a vertical line under days of the week, and attach the matching pieces on the backs of cards. Hang the calendar with magnets or art hooks at child’s height.
Store cards not in use in a box or file near the calendar.

SUMMER OUTDOOR FUN

Summertime invites all ages to experience a big dose of creativity, because you can enjoy so many artful, and sometimes messy, activities outdoors.

If you have a block party coming up in your neighborhood, a family reunion or a birthday party, here are classic ideas with clever twists to engage kids’ imaginations and show off their creative side.

The basics? A long portable table covered with newspaper and the supplies to draw everyone in.

FACE PAINTING

Set out hand mirrors for “selfie” face painting using watercolor pencils dipped in water, or use this face paint recipe. Hold a mirror in one hand while drawing with the other. Kids and adults also will have fun painting one another’s faces.

Face Paint Recipe:
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon cold cream
Liquid food coloring in a variety of colors
Small paintbrush
Small recycled yogurt-style container for each color
Stir together cornstarch and cold cream in a container until blended. Add water and stir. Add coloring, one drop at a time, until you get desired color.
Paint on faces with a small paintbrush or use a cotton swab.

MAKE A GOOEY GOOP CONCOCTION

Kids enjoy just about anything that’s gooey, slithery and slimy. Here’s a crowd-pleaser.
8-ounce bottle of white household glue such as Elmer’s
8 ounces water
Liquid poster paint (optional)
Small and large mixing bowls
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons borax powder
Stir together glue, 8 ounces water and a few drops of paint (optional) in large bowl. In small bowl, mix warm water and borax. Slowly pour the borax mixture into the glue mixture. Swirl mixture with your hands, and in seconds goop will form into gooey glops as it oozes from your grasp. Pick it up, squeeze it, and play.
Note: If it gets on clothing, wash out quickly with soap and water.

SALAD SPINNER ART

Remove the lid of an old salad spinner that you use for crafts, and set a round paper plate in the middle.

Fix it to the nodule at the center of the bottom of the spinner with a piece of clay.

Pick three liquid poster paints and drop puddles near the center of the plate.

Pop the top of the spinner back on and give the crank a whirl for 5-8 seconds. Let it wind down, and remove the top. See the explosion of color spread in all directions. If you wish, add more paint and a pinch of glitter, and spin again. Remove plate, let it dry and display when you get back home.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS ARE A TASTE OF SUMMER

Tell your kids that they can be the “King and Queen of Tarts” when they make this gem of a summer dessert. The fresh fruit ingredients from your local market or fruit stand are luscious and good by themselves, but when they’re combined with a cookie base, you’ll have a “WOW” can’t-miss finale to a barbecue or outdoor get-together with friends.

These cookie fruit tarts are super simple to assemble and look “tres francais,” but there’s no from-scratch pastry with mini fluted rims that you have to fuss over. Instead, the easy recipe starts with good, large sugar cookies you purchase at your bakery or grocery store.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS
Makes 8
–8 large sugar cookies or your favorite plain round cookie
–8-ounce package of cream cheese
–1/3 cup white or vanilla chips (find them in the baking section of your store)
–assorted fresh fruit and berries for toppings, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and sliced peaches and plums, washed and dried
–1/4 cup currant jelly or powdered sugar (optional)

Set cookies on a work surface such as a cutting board.

Place cream cheese in a medium-size mixing bowl.

In a microwave-safe dish, melt chips, spoon into cream cheese and stir until smooth.

Spread the mixture evenly over the cookies. Let kids arrange the fresh fruit and berries in pretty designs on the top.

Meanwhile, if you would like a glaze, an adult should melt the jelly in a saucepan. Cool. Let kids drizzle or lightly brush with a pastry brush over the fruit to glaze the tarts.

Or, dust over each tart with powdered sugar.

Arrange on a serving platter.

Variations:
–Get creative with the presentation and decorate the serving platter or top the tarts with coconut flakes, sprigs of mint leaves, tiny blooms of edible flowers or fresh lavender.

–Make a larger quantity of bite-size tarts using packaged cookies such as gingersnaps.

–Instead of using cookies, make a larger single tart. Press prepared piecrust from the refrigerated section of your market on the base and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Prick sides and bottom. Bake according to package directions. Cool. Spread cream cheese mixture on the base, arrange fruit attractively, and brush on the glaze.