FALL FAMILY LIVING A-Z

  It’s officially fall. Kids storm through the front door after school and toss their backpacks in the hallway; you’re just home from work, and there’s dinner to be made and maybe soccer practice or piano lessons to get to after the last bite. 

  Sounds like a busy routine. How do you choose which extra family fun stuff to fit in on your calendar along with a few must-dos? 

  I’ve discovered with my kids and friends that the basic ABC’s can provide a simple, creative framework for visually highlighting the essentials: family outings, household repairs, discoveries and activities.

  This year, my list includes not only must-do chores, but also fall excursions, new foods to try, service opportunities and family adventures. The only caveat is that you need to find an open alphabet letter to describe the event. That helps keep all the ideas and inspiration under control.

  Here’s how it works:

  I listed all 26 alphabet letters on a medium-size white board hanging in our kitchen. Engage your child to make the A-Z list. Events and activities are described by their corresponding letter. Friends who drop by add ideas they would like to do with us, too. For example, our 8-year-old neighbor was eager for me to teach him how to make applesauce with the new crop of Honeycrisp apples that had arrived at our farmer’s market last weekend. I brought out our peeler gadget for him to crank out slices for the kid friendly recipe. Check off “A.” 

  The “B” is noted with “build a berm around our foundation,” to prevent a wet basement during the continuing rainy season. “C” reminds us to gather clothes to take to Goodwill, and “D” to deliver “Meals on Wheels.” Scanning down the alphabet to “M,” I’ve already released the monarch butterfly my 16-month-old granddaughter and I observed pop out of its chrysalis. 

  Soon, I’ll be shifting attention to “Z,” a reminder to compose a colorful zinnia bouquet from our garden before the snow falls.

  No need to end a first round of A-Z activities when seasons change. Check off what has been accomplished and enjoyed, then erase or simply add a new event. Spelling out in detail from A-Z what has been done, and what is left to do, will continue to serve as a visual reminder to family of your active, giving and community-involved lifestyle.

  By the way, good luck finding ideas for  Q’s and U’s!

MAKE A “STAINED GLASS WINDOW’ WITH CRAYON BITS

 

  When life feels overscheduled, I try to remind myself to stop and take a breath. When I do, it’s the trips I’ve taken and recollections of places I’ve been to that often come to mind. The pause gives me another perspective.

  One such memory was a trip to Gothic Chartres cathedral. Situated on the outskirts of Paris, the stony cathedral, perhaps one of the most beautiful in France, is celebrated for its stained glass windows. When the sun streams through, colors seem suspended, glistening in the air. 

  You can create a striking “stained glass window” for your home, but you don’t need fancy bits of glass. Instead, devise a stunning look with a little creativity and simple supplies, like crayon bits. 

  Here’s the stuff you need:

  — crayons in assorted colors, peeled and sorted

  — cheese grater

  — newspaper 

  — waxed paper

  — old cloth napkin or hanky

  — iron

  — large dinner-size round plate for pattern

  — scissors

  — black construction paper

  — glue

  — ribbon or fishing line

  Here’s the fun:

  Use the grater to make crayon shavings from the peeled crayons. Sort them into piles by color and shade.

  Lay a large sheet of waxed paper, waxed side up, on a small stack of newspaper on an ironing board. Sprinkle the shavings evenly over the waxed paper, mixing or separating colors. The colors will seem to fall into their own delicate pattern. 

  Set a second sheet of waxed paper, waxed side down, on top. Cover with the lightweight cloth. With an iron set at warm, an adult should press very slowly along the cloth, stopping and starting. The crayon bits will melt almost instantly. Remove the cloth to see the beautiful “stained glass.” Let the crayons harden.

  Use the plate as a pattern and cut out a round shape from your “stained glass” sheet. To create an outer frame, (the “lead” of the “stained-glass window”) use the plate as a pattern again, and cut a 3/4-inch wide ring out of black construction paper. Set on the round shape crayon design and glue in place. 

  Cut two narrower (about 1/4 inch) rings of black paper (one larger in diameter than the other) and evenly place on the inside of the “window.” Arrange strips of black paper coming from the circles like spokes on a wheel. Glue and let dry

  Punch a hole at the top of the stained glass window, and string ribbon or fishing line though the “lead” frame. Then hang in front of a window and watch the sun stream through to brighten your home. 

KEEP FAMILY RESOLUTIONS IN 2019

Last month’s holiday celebrations have passed, but perhaps one tradition hangs on. How many of us have put into practice the resolutions we shared with others before the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve? Hmmm, not as easy to accomplish as hoped?

With the flurry of family life, the days slip by, don’t they? But it’s still January, a fresh time to think about those resolutions, maybe reset them and talk with your kids about the possibilities that 2019 holds. Set realistic goals with action plans you can put in motion. Write them down, or encourage your kids to express them creatively in drawings.

I recently was inspired by my cousin’s 6-year-old grandson Gavin’s artwork hanging on her kitchen wall. He didn’t just say what his resolutions for 2019 were, he drew them. The “selfie” sketch depicted him guarding the goal for his youth hockey team with a background crowd cheering him on. He told me his “goalie goals” were to “be on time, skate well and do my best.”

This positive athletic boy motivated me to look at possibilities big and small for 2019. How about you, especially when it comes to family time?

EAT DINNER TOGETHER
Designate evenings for your family to sit down at the table and share a meal. Get the kids involved with age-appropriate tasks, and get cooking. Did you get a gadget or appliance for a holiday gift? Don’t stash it away for another day. Use it together. For example, if you got a spiralizer, look for recipes using fresh vegetables you can transform into fun pasta-like noodles for a healthy start to the year.

EXERCISE TOGETHER
Get ready to hop, skip and jump! Find common interests and commit time to movement — even spontaneously. Did it snow last night? Or is it raining today? Put on your boots and walk or snowshoe to your local store instead of driving when you need a few groceries.

PLAY TOGETHER                                                                                                     Make play a part of every day. Sounds easy and natural, and it is — especially when kids lead the way in finding playful moments. When you return from work and your child has a fun game for you to try, toss your to-do list aside for a bit, turn off your phone and take the opportunity to find silly or lighthearted ways to connect with your child.

 

 

CREATIVE WAYS TO USE AND DISPLAY HOLIDAY PHOTO CARDS

If you sent holiday photo cards, you probably know from experience that the final image may be stunning, but the production process wasn’t easy.
First comes the search for that photo that tells a story of your year’s highlight. If there wasn’t a wedding, graduation or significant birthday that brought everyone together, the challenge begins, at least for me.

Last fall, when my family was on an outdoor trek, a hiker on our trail took a photo of us poised in front of a breathtaking backdrop. Perfect photo, but … whoops, my eldest son had taken off on a kayak that day. A no-show for the photo.

Combine the group photo challenge with writing that accompanying paragraph that’s funny and informative (not bragging), finding recipients’ current addresses, buying stamps and doing it all in the busiest time of the year! I appreciate how my friends overcame the challenges and their cards arrived in time in my mailbox from all over the world. Tangible gifts of correspondence in an email world. I can’t toss them!

Here are two ways to use and enjoy the cards in the new year:

SNAP A PIC FOR YOUR SMARTPHONE CONTACT LIST
Maybe my circle of contacts and their kids is expanding, or maybe my brain isn’t, but I can always use a little help remembering names and faces. Here’s a trick to help remember, using your smartphone and holiday card photos.
Go to your contact list on your smartphone. Tap the name of the key person in the holiday photo on your contact list and tap “edit.” Tap the photo space and take a smartphone photo of the person/family. Let your school-age child help you out with this fun project. Talk with him about the people in the photos as you go through and photograph them.
Next, go down the contact page to information fields of names of family members. You can even add birthdays. Make the project an exercise in geography, too. Set a country or world map/globe nearby to locate where the individuals live as you type in their addresses.
Click done when complete.

MAKE A “BOOK” OF CARDS
Punch two holes evenly on the left side of each card. “Bind” them together with office style metal clasping rings. Set out on the coffee table and flip them over one by one to enjoy throughout the year.

BEESWAX CANDLES


Rolling sheets of beeswax into beautiful candles is a safe and easy way to make unique, attractive and appreciated holiday gifts with your children.
The steps for making these candles are simple: Cut, press with fingers and roll! Even 4- and 5-year-olds will be thrilled when they touch the honeycomb texture and discover that they can make their own candle in a snap, once the beeswax is cut to size. The steps require no melting other than that provided by your warm breath!

Here’s what you need to make four 4-inch-tall candles:
— One sheet of beeswax (available in natural shades and colors at candle and craft stores or online, typically in 8-inch-by-16-inch sheets)
— Ruler
— Scissors or a pizza cutter
— Candlewicks (available at craft stores)
— Ribbon, gift tags for gift-giving

Here’s the fun:
To make four 4-inch-tall candles, use scissors or a pizza cutter to cut the sheet of beeswax into four rectangles measuring 4 inches by 8 inches. (Assist young children.)
Place one beeswax rectangle on the working table. Lay a 5-inch wick on the short edge of the beeswax with 1 inch hanging over one edge. Using the tips of your fingers, gently but firmly roll the beeswax forward over the wick. Be sure it is tight. Here’s where you might add a little warm breath on the wax. It will soften so that the first roll is snug.
Now, roll the wax over and over down to the end until it forms a candle. Done!
Hold the candle upright, and push the end opposite the wick lightly down on the table to flatten the base. Trim wick. Make several candles for gift-giving. Simply tie them together with ribbon and tuck in a gift bag with a personalized tag.
You may wish to save one or two for your own family, and light at your holiday dinner to make the occasion extra festive. Don’t forget to let your children blow them out when the meal is over; it’s one of those little things they will always remember.
Extra decorative tip: Cut out small shapes from beeswax sheets in contrasting colors and press them onto the outside of the candles.
NOTE: When burning candles, an adult should always be present to supervise.

MAKE BROWNIE MIX IN A JAR



It’s a handmade and homemade kind of holiday season this year.
If there are still some people on your gift list you wish to remember with a little something, or you need some grab-and-go hostess gifts on hand for parties and get-togethers, create this “from your kitchen” gift idea in an afternoon this week.
Be sure to get your kids involved in making this creative go-to stash of gift jars filled with the dried ingredients for making super chocolaty, chewy and moist brownies. A throwback kitchen craft, this updated version is fun to assemble with even your preschooler. What 4-year-old doesn’t like to scoop and pour? That’s what building the layers of brownie ingredients in a jar is all about as they work to create an artful gift of yummy ingredients.


Here’s how to make a “Brownie Mix in a Jar”:
1. Assembly-line fashion, set out the ingredients, including clean, wide-mouth quart-size jars and lids, on the kitchen counter or a large table. Place a measuring spoon or measuring cup by each ingredient, along with a card stating the name of the ingredient and the correct quantity to scoop into each jar.
2. Layer the following ingredients, in the following order, for one recipe. Pack firmly before adding the next layer. (Use a narrow drinking glass to tamp down ingredients.)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup baking cocoa powder
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup small, unwrapped candy, such as M&M’s (optional)
3. Secure lid, add a gift tag and a card with these baking instructions:

CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Makes 6 large brownies
Heat oven to 350 F.
Grease or line the bottom of an 8-inch pan with parchment paper.
Pour contents of the jar into a large mixing bowl, and add:
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Stir lightly until blended, then pour into pan and bake for 25 minutes.
Cool in pan, cut into squares and serve.

CRAFT-FELTED AUTUMN ACORNS


Felting “acorns” using fluffy natural wool is a relaxing and enjoyable fall activity for all ages. It’s especially suited for young children who like to get their hands in soapy water to shape and change the structure of the soft wool into dense felted wool balls.

The material used for making the soft balls is called wool roving, available at some craft stores, yarn shops or online (resources below). It is wool that has been cleaned, combed and sometimes dyed. You’ll discover that the lovely colors are so inspiring; it’s hard to choose favorites.

Use real caps from fallen acorns you’ve foraged from your yard or on nature walks for these stunning, artful creations. You’ll be gluing the felted acorn balls to the caps. For a variation, drill two tiny holes through the acorn cap and thread a string for a felted acorn necklace, make an ornament to hang on a tree branch, or hang several in a windowsill. So many possibilities!

Here’s the stuff you need for a 1-inch felted acorn:
— a piece of 2-inch-by-6-inch slightly stretched out wool roving
— small bowl of hot water with a drop or two of liquid soap
— hot glue gun or glue suitable for fabrics
— a large acorn cap

Here’s the fun, using a hands-on “wet felting” technique:
1. Roll up the first inch or so of the wool, then twist slightly and continue rolling it into a tight ball. Smooth the loose end over the ball. It will be about the size of a large cotton ball, but will become half the size as fibers eventually mesh.

2. Wet the ball with the soapy water. Toss it back and forth from hand to hand over the bowl while occasionally dipping it in the soapy water. (The soap changes the pH of the wool, and helps the fibers to open. The hotter the water, the faster it felts.) Be gentle, and continue rolling it around in your hand. You might want to elongate the ball shape to match the original acorn size as you move it around.

3. Rinse the ball in cold clear water. Gently squeeze out water. Let dry overnight.

4. Glue acorn cap to the felted ball.

Note: If you wish to paint the acorn cap, do so before attaching to the felt ball.
Online resources: livingfelt.com and joann.com.

TASTE TEST APPLES AND MAKE A REFRESHING WALDORF SALAD

Minnesotans think of themselves as not being particularly boastful. But fall is in the air, and one exception is when it comes to the humorous question, “How do you like them apples?”

We love them, and we take pride in the fact that the popular Honeycrisp was developed in our state years ago. Now, the latest addition to this romance with new apple varieties is First Kiss. A child of the Honeycrisp family, and developed by the University of Minnesota, it was promoted as the “first kiss of autumn” at the Minnesota State Fair this summer. Eager to grab a taste, I stood in a long line at the apple booth to buy one. It was worth the wait. I took a bite and thought, “Whoa … this IS an exceptional apple!”
Would friends and family agree? A First Kiss taste test with other favorite varieties would answer that question. So I put together this entertaining apple-tasting game.

First, I purchased six varieties of apples, both to compare with First Kiss and to match apple names with tastes. Cut into bite-size chunks, I set the apples on separate plates numbered 1-7. (I kept track on my hidden “answer key.”) For reference, I listed the names of the seven apples in alphabetical order on a sheet for all to see.

To play, the “testers” wrote numbers 1-7 on an index card. They tasted samples on each plate and wrote what they thought was its correct name next to the corresponding number on the card.
For extra fun, I asked them to star their favorite.

This was a tough assignment! Even though the participants have been chomping on apples for years, comparing apples to apples revealed subtle differences — a challenge indeed! Not surprisingly, First Kiss was a hit.
You might want to do a similar “apple taste test” game using your family favorites and regional varieties to discover the apple of your eye. Then, get inspired and cut up additional apples for this refreshing Waldorf salad, a tasty side to a fall meal. Mix crisp apple chunks with crunchy, healthy ingredients, and toss with a homemade dressing featuring a sweet hint of honey.

WALDORF SALAD
Serves 4-6
2 cups crisp apples in chunks, unpeeled
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup halved red grapes
1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces
1/4 cup raisins

Dressing:
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1. Lightly toss apples, celery, grapes, walnuts and raisins in a bowl.
2. Whisk together dressing ingredients until smooth. Toss with salad ingredients. Serve chilled.

GIVING IS REWARDING FOR PEOPLE AND PETS


It was midafternoon and time to grab a quick, brisk walk with granddog Cali around our city lake. Approaching the concession stand by the boat dock, I was about to make an abrupt move to avoid the area knowing Cali would go bananas and pull me by her leash in a tug of war in her pursuit of popcorn that people had dropped on the ground from overfilled bags.
Just as I was making a move to veer from the crowd, a young boy came up to us and said in a kind voice, “Would your dog like a treat?”
“Perfect timing — she would love a treat!” I said.
He introduced himself as Anders, then continued, “They are made with peanut butter, and so far, the dogs around here have loved them!” He explained that his sister, Hanna, and their friends Lucy, Charlotte, Rosie and Holiday baked and brought them to the lakeside park to share.
“Hey, Cali, forget the popcorn and hot dog bun crumbs!” I said as Anders gently offered her the homemade biscuit. “You’re in for something special!”
Curious, I talked to Holiday’s mom, 45-year-old Anne-Marie Fischer, an early-childhood family educator, who was on the sidelines as the kids offered their treats. “Providing school-age kids opportunities to share and help others in a selfie-obsessed world is worth the time and effort as a parent and teacher,” she said.
“They also made homemade dog toys for the Humane Society using recycled T-shirts,” she added. “We gathered the simple supplies, had fun crafting the toys and delivering them together. It was such a meaningful group activity. There were benefits for the kids in the creating and socializing, as well as the giving.”
Are you inspired to make playful toys for your own dog, or for the Humane Society in your community? Get started on a fall weekend day with your kids and friends. It’s easy, fun and rewarding for both people and pets.
MAKE A ROPE TOY
1. Cut nine lengths of 1-inch-by-25-inch-long strips from an old large T-shirt. Tie the ends together at one end, leaving about 1 1/2 inches free.
2. Separate lengths into three sections (3 strips per section) and braid the sections tightly together. Tie at the end in a secure knot, leaving about 1 1/2 inches free.

MAKE COLORFUL CRAYON LEAF RUBBINGS

Fall outdoor rituals are many during these lush months of color and cooler temps. Maybe your family already has established an annual tradition of taking a mini day vacation, like heading to a favorite orchard for a Saturday of apple picking and cider tasting, touring pumpkin farms, walking through a corn maze or hiking in the woods to get exercise, explore and observe wildlife and brilliant foliage.

You can celebrate the season well and create new traditions right at your closest park or in your neighborhood, too. If the fall air beckons your family to get outside for a bike ride or a weekend walk, go for it. Observe the changing images around you, including the colorful leaves drifting and swirling in the breeze. Like the neighborhood boy I overheard saying to his dad as they collected different specimens on their walking route home from the library: “It’s a leaf-y time of year!”

I agree. I can’t resist collecting, preserving, pressing, decorating and crafting with leaves from day trips away from home and walks in my neighborhood. There are so many possibilities — including one of the simplest of crafts for any age: making crayon leaf rubbings on paper.
Once you collect leaves, grab your supplies, get to rubbing and uncover “X-ray” type designs you’ve never noticed before, both graceful and playful.

LEAF RUBBINGS
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
— fresh leaves collected from the ground
— sturdy paper
— a variety of crayons in different colors
— colored pencils (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. Lay a leaf on a smooth, clean work surface. Place paper over it and hold it down firmly so that it won’t move.
2. Take a crayon and rub it over the paper until the shape of the entire leaf is revealed. Discover the outline and skeleton of the leaf as the veins of the leaf protrude.
3. If you use a colored pencil, hold it at a slight angle, being careful not to press too hard so that it doesn’t go through the paper.
4. Make several different rubbings on one sheet. Vary with contrasting colors, if you wish. You might want to identify leaves by writing the name of their tree by each one.
5. Frame the rubbings, or use for book covers, gift wrap, gift tags and notecards.
Extra idea: Rub leaves from your flower and vegetable garden, too. When the design of a small begonia leaf is revealed, your young child might say in amazement: “It looks like a seashell!” Parsley can look dainty and romantic, but what about arugula and kale?