MAKE A BEDTIME NIGHTLIGHT

 

Just when it seems your young child has drifted off to sleep for the night, a plaintive voice echoes through the hallway. “Mom! I can’t sleep. I think there’s a monster in my closet!” So you check the closet carefully.“Nope, honey. No monsters.” But it doesn’t help much. More drama kicks in.“I want a glass of water … I can’t find my teddy bear … Will you leave the light on, Mom, pleeeze?”

Whether it’s anxiety about school, monsters in the closet or navigating the change to daylight saving time, sometimes children need extra comfort to put closure on the day. Well, here’s instructions for a very special nightlight that your child can make and use. He can even switch it on and off without leaving his bed.

Before your child begins making the bedtime friend, have him think about what he wants it to be. An angel? Ladybug? Goofy alien? Leprechaun? Or, maybe a puppy or bunny with felt ears that stick out in funny angles.

Here’s what you’ll need:
— Standard-size brown or plain colored lunch bag

— Craft supplies to create your character’s face, such as construction or tissue paper, yarn, pipe cleaners, charms, ribbon, glitter,beads, etc.
— Scissors

— Household glue
— Hole punch (optional)
— An inexpensive standard-size, plastic, lightweight flashlight with batteries — Rubber band

First, cut out craft foam sheets or poster board in eye, nose and mouth shapes. Cut holes in the middle of the eyes and mouth pieces to eventually allow light to shine through. Glue the features to the front of the bag. When dry, an adult may use small, sharp scissors to cut out the center of the eyes and mouth on the bag.

Then add details for personality. Glue on rickrack eyebrows, attach lightweight junk jewelry earrings or pipe-cleaner antennae, depending on what you are creating. Outline lips with shiny beads or glitter. And don’t forget the hair — add braided yarn and fashion a style. It’s also fun to use a hole punch to make additional features or patterns on the bag that will be revealed when the flashlight is turned on.

When complete, carefully slip it over the top of the flashlight and secure with a rubber band, just above the switch. The nightlight will be on and off bedtime duty when you say so!

For older kids, it can be a simple whimsical glow to have on their bedstand in the evening. Or how about using it to light up a tent when camping this summer?

POPOVERS MAKE SPRING MEALS SPECIAL

  

 

  The first signs of spring include yard and garage sales sprouting up in our communities. Maybe you and your kids are tempted, like me, to scout these out for our neighbors’ castoffs and enticing bargains. 

  I’m not advocating for accumulating more stuff to add to already full cupboards and storage closets, but I’m aware that the decluttering craze has opened up opportunities for bargain shoppers like me. I’m always on the hunt for an unexpected surprise. 

  This season is a good time to snag a buy on a gently used product you can enjoy together with your kids and grandkids. Be on the lookout for an item you might not purchase in a store, like an electric Panini pan for yummy lunch-making this summer, a waffle iron for extended Saturday morning breakfasts, or my latest find, a never-been-used nonstick popover pan. 

  Popovers are easy to prepare, and they’ll make any springtime brunch or supper extra special. When it’s time for popovers at our house, my granddaughter helps me push the button on the blender, and then I “pop” the batter filled cups in the oven. When baking (no peeking), they puff up so high that when they are done there is always a collective “wow” or “whoa” when we open the oven door and see the spectacle. 

  POPOVERS

  Makes 6.

  Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

  1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus softened butter for greasing the popover or muffin pan

  3 eggs at room temperature

  1 cup milk at room temperature

  1 cup all-purpose flour

  1/2 teaspoon salt

  Grease aluminum popover pan (or 6 compartments of a muffin pan) with butter. Place the pan in the preheated oven while you prepare the batter. 

  Whisk or whirl butter, eggs, milk, flour and salt in a blender for a minute on medium speed until smooth. 

  An adult should fill the hot popover cups with batter until half full. If using a muffin pan, fill cups 2/3 full. 

  Place in oven for 20 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees and bake 20 minutes longer (no peeking while they bake).

  Remove from oven and immediately poke the side of each popover with the tip of a knife or wooden skewer to release steam trapped inside. This keeps them from collapsing. Remove from pan and arrange in a serving basket. Serve hot. 

  Extra tasty ideas:

  — Add 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest to the batter to add a refreshing spring taste. 

  — Popovers make tasty edible containers for crab, shrimp or tuna salad for a main course. Cut the top 1/3 off of the popover. Scoop out a space in lower portion. Fill with salad and top with popover piece. Serve.

BAKING FUN WITH KIDS

 

 

Jeannie Klint bakes traditional family yeast bread with her granddaughters when they visit.

  “Rules for Little Cooks

  Wash your hands.

  Put on your apron.

  Read your recipe carefully.

  Place everything you need on the kitchen table.

  Have Mother teach you how to heat the oven.

  Measure everything very carefully.

  Wash your baking dishes.

  Sweep the kitchen and leave it in order.”

  So begins the inside cover page of “KITCHEN FUN: A Cook Book for Children” (copyright 1932), a 28-page collection my mom used as a child. From Bran Muffins and Fairy Gingerbread to Cinderella Cake, the baking section caught my eye. Both the “rules” and recipes haven’t changed significantly over the past 88 years and are easy to replicate in any kitchen. 

  The book got me thinking about how baking something delicious is a wonderful way to entice kids to learn cooking basics as they assist and learn from you. The benefits go beyond the mixing bowl. The memories of being shoulder to shoulder, talking, laughing and preparing something amazing out of basic and sometimes exotic ingredients is what it’s really all about. 

  I recall the magic of dough rising in a large bowl in front of my eyes in my grandma Ruth’s kitchen as she intuitively made traditional Swedish cardamom bread. The connection between just the two of us lives on in my memory, and the effort we put into the making was justly rewarded when we opened the oven and took it out.

  Baking with kids this month is a great way to spend time together when weather keeps you indoors. Thumb through family recipe cards and cookbooks. Or go online for a how-to video that captures your and your child’s imagination, then bake it your own way. Here are more ideas:

  Cookies

  Make sugar cookies in heart shapes for Valentine’s Day. Purchasing heart cookie cutters can be the start of a collection of holiday designs you pull from throughout the year.

  If you have preschoolers, make a “Jam Thumbprint” recipe, another ideal “first.” Toddlers can stick their thumbs in the dough balls, then fill the indentation with a bit of jam. 

  Quick breads 

  Baking powder and baking soda don’t require kneading or the time to let dough rise. Let seasons of the year inspire you and the recipes you choose. Start with lemon bread with poppy seeds this spring, and by fall you’ll be a pro at making pumpkin and cranberry breads. 

  Yeast breads

  Watch it rise, punch it down and enjoy the bonus of the taste of aromatic homemade breads. Once your kids get their hands on the “living” dough, they’ll be motivated to bake again and again. 

PLAY, LEARN AND EXPLORE IN THE OUTDOORS

Volunteer angler Don Blasy of Waterdogs Fishing Club teaches and encourages 8-year-old Rusty as he enjoys ice fishing for the first time.

  

 

Whatever it takes to get kids outside and engage with nature, I’m all for it. 

  Sure, gloomy, shorter days can be a challenge this time of year, but it’s worth it to nudge the family out the door for lots of fresh air, new experiences and exercise. 

  That’s what 8-year-old Rusty and his dad, Chris, decided to do recently when they heard about the opportunity to try ice fishing with other families on a frozen metro lake in Minneapolis. Once volunteer angler Don Blasy of Waterdogs Fishing Club helped Rusty sink his line 30 feet down, the boy sat attentively in front of the 10-inch hole in the 18-inch thick ice. Patiently holding his pole with an eye on the bobber, he hoped a little bluegill (sunfish) swimming in the weeds on the lake floor below might take a nibble off the waxworm bait. 

  “It’s good to get kids outdoors, and any kind of fishing, wherever you live, is something kids can enjoy for the rest of their lives,” said Don, a lifelong fisherman who learned fishing as a kid from his dad. “Ice fishing is something kids can do during long winters in cold climates. The sport also teaches them perseverance and patience, especially when the fish aren’t biting.” 

  If sitting on a bucket on a frozen lake in subfreezing temps doesn’t inspire you, there are many other things to do and places to explore outside the four walls of your home. Hibernation isn’t an option. 

  In the wild

  Check in this paper or online for free or reasonably priced events at your local park, regional nature center or arboretum. It’s important for kids to experience the changes of seasons in different venues, and wintertime provides fun new discoveries of plant and wildlife.

  Take a walk 

  Enjoy walking any time of day. Increase your pace to a jog with older kids for an extra challenge. Or take a long hike. Inhale the aromas of the natural world around you and tell stories of your adventure when you get home.

  Share what you love

  Teach your child something that you enjoyed doing as a kid, and rediscover that joy when you are together. Build a snow fort, snowshoe, ice skate, hike or check out a beach and the sea life in tide pools when the tide is low. Take photos of outdoor scenes and people, or build a campfire and toast marshmallows. Yum, s’mores in winter!

EASY ENTERTAINING WITH OVEN-BAKED GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES

   

 

  Is there such a thing as easy entertaining? When reviewing our busy December days, I admit that in spite of my intentions, parties became a bit of a production with my long to-do lists and shoutouts to kids to run last-minute trips to the store to pick up mushrooms for the gravy or to our Scandinavian market for lingonberries and herring. By the time I lit ice candles on our porch to welcome guests, I had to ask myself, “Could I have simplified this?”

  In this new year, I want to keep our welcome candles burning for all, but skip a bit of the fancy and go for the easy-prep practical. After all, it’s the get-together that matters, right? Spending time around the table eating, laughing and connecting with family and friends matters most. 

  That’s where making and serving oven-baked grilled cheese sandwiches for a crowd the easy way saves the day. Bake them in the oven all at once instead of the traditional way of grilling in batches on your stovetop in a frying pan. They’ll be evenly browned and done at the same time, ready to be paired with a bowl of piping hot soup, such as fragrant basil tomato. 

  Slice the sandwiches in half diagonally and watch your guests enjoy dipping the pointed ends into the soup. Crispy, gooey and tasty, you’ll be creating fond food memories in 2020.

  Here is my basic oven-baked grilled cheese sandwich recipe. Feel free to embellish with spicy mustard or mayo sauce spread inside, and add additional varieties of cheese. Sometimes I include a pinch of kale or other fresh greens I have on hand. 

  EASY-PREP OVEN-BAKED GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES 

  Makes 6 sandwiches.

  — 12 slices white bread a half-inch thick, such as pre-sliced Texas toast 

  — butter, softened for spreading

  — 6 thick slices cheddar cheese

  Preheat oven to 450 F. Set parchment paper on a large baking sheet.

  Ask your child to count and place six slices of bread on the parchment lined sheet. Butter each piece and flip over.

  Lay a slice of cheese on the unbuttered side. Top with another slice of bread. Butter top side.

  Bake in the oven for 5-6 minutes until bread is toasted on exposed side. 

  Flip with a spatula and bake an additional 5 minutes until golden brown and cheese is just melted. 

  Cool for two minutes. Slice in half diagonally and arrange on a platter. Serve with hot bowls of your favorite tomato soup. 

“SEW EASY” FLEECE NECK WARMERS

   

  Feeling a little chilly around the neck this time of year? An odd question, maybe, but not quite so out of the ordinary — especially in Minnesota, where I live, and where we have to be conquerors of bitter winds and snow.

  Even in moderate climates, a little added warmth on a damp, cold day can feel cozy and comfy, and that’s when wearing a simple fleece neck warmer can make a difference. Save money and enjoy making easy-to-sew neck warmers for yourself, family and friends in patterns and lovely colors for a warm-up solution when heading outdoors — whether, skiing, skating or taking your dog for a walk. 

  You might include your teens in the making. If they have never used a sewing machine, it’s a good first sewing project because of the simple straight seams. Once you see how quickly these neck warmers come together, you’ll be inspired to make more for birthday presents and for guests if you host an outdoor winter party.

  Kids of all ages might enjoy helping you choose colors and patterns of fleece online and at your local fabric store. For best results, use the heaviest type of fleece. (Stores such as JoAnn offer coupons regularly for significant discounts on your purchase. My neck warmers came to less than $2 each using the heaviest “Luxe” variety.)

  I homed in on patterns and plaids, but solids are also a good choice and a great look with sweaters and winter jackets. Plus, the straight lines of plaids and checks provide a visual guide when measuring and cutting, a timesaver when cutting out several neck warmers.

 

Here’s what you’ll need for four teen- and adult-size neck warmers:

  — tissue paper or plain large sheet of paper for making pattern

  — straight pins 

  — 2/3 yard of 56- to 60-inch-wide heavyweight fleece fabric

  — good sewing scissors

  Here’s the fun:

  1. Make a pattern. Measure and cut the paper 10 1/2 inches x 21 inches.

  2. Pin pattern to single layer of fabric making sure the short side of the pattern is placed parallel to, but not on, the selvage. This way, fabric should stretch along its longer side. Setting the pattern this direction ensures that the neck warmers give correctly. Cut the fabric. 

  3. Fold the rectangle in half width-wise with right sides facing. Pin and stitch, allowing for a 1/2-inch seam. 

  4. Hem both open sides. First fold over edges 1/2 inch and insert pins to hold place. Stitch with sewing machine. Remove pins.

  5. Turn neck warmer right side out. It is ready to wear. 

RECYCLE AND SHAPE UP USED CRAYON

  When it comes to the annual back-to-school supply list for young students, crayons are still at the top. It’s no secret that kids love new boxes full of colorful crayons with sharp points, but what about last year’s stash? There’s no reason to throw out those worn-down stubs from school and a summer of coloring and art projects. 

  Instead of tossing them in the trash, collect them in a box and get going with this repurposing activity that turns old crayons into new shapes. You and your kids can make creative “designer” crayons — perfect for fall art activities or favors at your child’s next birthday party. 

  There are numerous techniques I’ve used over the years, including melting crayons in jars and pouring the liquid into plastic molds. But this year, I’ve landed on a simple, messless approach: melt crayon pieces in a silicone mold in the oven. There are different sizes and shapes of molds available to inspire you, such as fall leaves, animals and silly characters. Or, go basic like I did with a standard silicone ice-cube tray, which formed easy-to-handle chunky crayon squares.

  Here’s the stuff you need:

  — crayon stubs in your favorite colors

  — silicone muffin, candy or ice mold available at craft and discount stores and online in seasonal and geometric shapes 

  — baking sheet

  Here’s the fun:

  Remove the paper wrapper from crayons. Let kids break them into pieces and sort into stacks according to colors.

  Heat oven to 275 F. Pile the pieces according to color in the sections of the silicon mold. Toss in a piece in a contrasting color for a marbleized effect, if you wish. Place mold on a baking pan for easy handling. An adult should set it in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until crayons are completely melted. Check occasionally. 

  Remove and cool melted crayons until completely solid, about an hour. To hasten the process, put the tray in the freezer for 10 minutes. Pop newly shaped crayons out of the mold. 

  Try out a new crayon on a piece of paper and you’ll discover that it really works. If you still have extra crayons in the sorted piles, make another batch and enjoy sharing the remade crayons with family and friends.

  Note: Once you melt crayons in the silicone mold, plan on using it for nonedible crafts only.

“SEND” IN-HOUSE VALENTINES

Who doesn’t like receiving a little compliment now and then? Positive, sincere words are an affirmation of actions and intent, and they give the recipient a boost, sometimes just when least expected. Blush! Face it — validation from others just makes us feel good and creates that internal glow.
Provide the good medicine of encouragement and positive vibes in a large dose with this decorative in-house family valentine box. All ages, even your preschoolers, can put pen to paper and compose simple heartfelt messages of love and appreciation to one another, day to day until Valentine’s Day, adding a hand-drawn emoji for that special touch.

Here’s how to make the box and share kind Valentine’s Day sentiments:

Cut a 3-inch slot down the middle of a shoebox lid. Cover the lid and the box separately with colorful paper, leaving the slot open. Decorate the lid and the box with valentine-themed materials, such as heart-shaped doilies, stickers and hearts cut from construction paper.
For extra writing fun, cut out letters or words from the newspaper to create simple Valentine’s Day sayings, and glue them on the box, too. Place the lid on the box and tape the sides together. Next, tape a small notepad and pencil or pen on a string to the top of the box.

Between now and Valentine’s Day, keep the box on your kitchen table. Encourage all family members, and even friends who stop by, to pull a piece of paper off the notepad and jot down a special Valentine’s note to each member of the family. Keep the comments coming, and encourage one another to be positive! Adults or older siblings might help the younger ones with the writing, or encourage them to draw a picture that expresses their feelings. Notes might include comments such as the following: “Katie, you bake great cookies! Love, Dad” or “Mom, Thanks for picking me up from volleyball practice every day. Jessie.”

On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, gather together for a special meal. Open the box and take turns reading the big stack of “love” notes that have accumulated. Enthusiasm will have been building throughout the days preceding Valentine’s Day, so expect your kids to be quite excited!

LIGHT WINTER NIGHTS WITH ICE LANTERNS MADE WITH BUNDT PANS


Ice is nice! Especially when you create a warm welcome to your home with a creative, icy greeting on a dark winter’s night. From popular snowball-size ice candles to large blocks, they all sparkle and glow to line a pathway to your front door.

Easy for me to say, I know, since I live in snow-covered Minnesota, where it’s usually below freezing all winter long. But I proved that I could light the night and create an ice luminary in a moderate climate when I invited friends to our California cabin a few weeks ago. Two days before the party, I rooted through cupboards in search of a Bundt pan. I then filled the mold with water and let it freeze in our freezer. Before friends arrived the next evening, I popped the beautifully shaped “ice lantern” out of the mold, set it on a rimmed tray (to catch melting ice) and placed it on the front porch step with a votive lit in the inside cavity. Once guests arrived, oohing and ahhing with “How did you make that?” queries, I brought it inside for a magical buffet centerpiece. Although it was partially melted by evening’s end, another luminary was prepping in the freezer for another night.

If you have a Bundt pan hiding in your cupboards, bring it out and make ice lanterns with your kids. The price is right with this enjoyable craft — your only cost is water and candles!

Here’s how:
BUNDT PAN ICE LANTERN
Here’s the stuff you need:
— one metal Bundt pan (plastic pans may crack)
— water
— votive or small pillar candle
— citrus slices, floral greens and sticks, etc. (optional)
— food coloring (optional)

1. Fill the pan with water to within an inch of the rim. Wedge in floral objects between the sides of the pan, if you wish. Small objects, such as plastic fish, add whimsy. Or, add a drop of food coloring.
2. Place pan in the freezer or outside if it is below freezing.
3. When frozen, turn upside-down in a sink. Let it thaw a bit, and slowly lift pan. Or, run water over pan to release.
4. Set a candle inside. At sunset, an adult can light the candle.
Note: An adult should always be present when burning candles.

Extra playtime “Happy Brrrrr-thday” idea:
If you live in snow country, make two Bundt pan ice lanterns to create an ice cake. Go outside and stack them on top of one another, with snow spread like icing in-between layers. Top with pretend candles nestled in snow. “A slice of ice, anyone?”

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.