CREATE A HOUSE OF HEARTS

     

The last of the December holiday decor has finally been tucked away in bins in the attic. Well, almost. In frigid snow-covered Minnesota, I’ll keep the white twinkle lights up that frame our outdoor windows and wind around the pine treetops in flowerboxes. The lights seem to brighten our spirits, and add warmth with their sparkle in the evening snow during sub-zero temps and blistery snowstorms — at least through February … OK, March.

This time of year I think about the happy color pink, the taste of chocolate and lovely heart shapes everywhere. Even outside. That’s why I’m inspired to freeze water with a sprinkling of birdseed in heart-shaped cake pans to unmold and hang with twine from tree branches in the front yard. It’s a suncatcher attraction for feathered friends and passersby (search Heart-Shaped Ice Sculptures at www.donnaerickson.com).

What’s next? More heartfelt ideas to create a house of hearts. Enjoy them with your kids no matter where you live:

  1. Heart-shaped cookies

Use your favorite rolled-out sugar cookie recipe and cookie cutters in heart shapes to fill your cookie jar with cookies made by you and the kids.

For a creative twist, when making medium or large cookies, use a knife to cut out a 1 inch deep and 1/4 inch wide wedge off the side of the heart-shaped dough before baking. Once cool and decorated, hang the cookie on a glass of milk or a mug of hot chocolate.

Or, poke a hole through the top of several cookies before baking. When cool, string them with twine individually, and hang from a table centerpiece of bare branches. When friends visit, they can take home a cookie heart.

Make mini cookies with your smallest heart cookie cutter. Pack in a cardboard jewelry gift box lined with waxed paper. Give to someone special with a Valentine message attached.

                             

  1. Say “I Love You” on Valentine’s Day

Put a love twist on breakfast. Use strawberry jam from a squeeze container to draw a heart on your child’s toast. When you prepare pancakes, spoon the batter onto the pan in various sizes of heart shapes. Top them with fresh strawberries cut lengthwise to make hearts.

  1. Family love

Share your wedding photos with your children. Tell them how you and your spouse met, and include any funny or romantic stories they would enjoy. Look for formal wedding pictures of grandparents and great-grandparents, too. Learn their names and share family love stories and lore.

 

CRAFT HEART CANDY POCKET VALENTINES

  

               

Grab your school-age kids and make these eye-catching see-through “sewing card”-style hearts filled with sweet treats to share the love on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for several heart pockets:

–Clear acetate (find by the sheet at art-supply stores or by the foot at hardware stores)

–4 1/2-inch-wide heart-shaped cookie cutter for a pattern, or draw and cut out same-size heart on poster board or heavy paper for a template

–hole punch

–yarn in reds and pinks, or red and white baker’s twine

–darning needle (or use a plastic lacing needle made for kids)

–small pieces of candy, such as conversation hearts or red hots

–red or pink construction paper for small heart tags

–glue or double-sided tape

Here’s the fun:

  1. Set the heart-shaped cookie cutter or template over two layers of the acetate. Draw the shape with a pen or marker. Cut out both layers, making sure they are identical pieces.
  2. Punch holes around the cut out acetate pieces 1/4 inch in from the edge and about 1/2 inch between each hole. Be sure that holes match up when pieces are together.
  3. Match the acetate pieces, and sew yarn or twine in and out of the holes beginning at the top left side of the heart. As you complete the stitching, leave an opening to fill the heart with candy, then finish the stitching through the final holes on the top right side. Use a whipstitch to make a very colorful heart pocket. A running stitch works, too.
  4. Tie the two loose ends of the yarn in a bow at the top of the heart.
  5. For a tag to hang from one end of the yarn, cut out two 1 1/2 inch construction paper hearts. Glue or tape them together sandwiched with the yarn. Write a little Valentine message to someone special.

Extra home-decorating idea:

Decorate your home for Valentine’s Day with the heart shapes by stuffing one or more with brightly colored thin tissue paper strips instead of candy. First, staple around the outside edge, spacing staples every 1/4 inch and leaving a 2 inch opening for stuffing. Stuff with strips in Valentine colors until the pocket is filled. Staple the opening shut, then staple a ribbon or string to the top of the heart shape for hanging.

When St. Patrick’s Day comes in March, and Easter in April, make and fill more shapes like shamrocks, eggs, etc., for charming home decor.

DECORATIVE PAPER STRIP HEARTS

 

 

 

The heart shape is a traditional and enduring symbol of love when celebrating Valentine’s Day. Why not display a beautiful heart with creativity in your home starting this week with this easy to make eye-catching version using easy to cut paper strips and a stapler? That’s all you need to make memories, while you craft lots of fun with your family.

Grab some pink, red and white construction paper or other colorful paper with or without designs that fits your vision for hearts, and enjoy this messless paper craft activity with your school-age kids. Your preschooler can also lend a hand, when you make it together.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:

–3 sheets of construction paper in three different colors (I chose white, dark pink and a light shade of pink for these directions.)

–ruler

–pencil

–scissors

–paper cutter (optional)

–stapler

–glue (optional)

–thread or fishing line for hanging (optional)

 

Here’s the fun:

  1. For each heart with the colors I used, measure, mark with a pencil and cut with scissors or a paper cutter:

2 strips of white construction paper, 1 inch by 3 inches

2 strips of dark pink construction paper, 1 inch by 5 inches

2 strips of light pink construction paper, 1 inch by 7 inches

 

  1. Pile the 6 strips, starting with one white short strip, one dark-pink strip, two light pink strips, the second dark pink strip and end with the one short white strip on top. They should be evenly stacked up at one end. Carefully staple this 1-inch-wide stack about 1/4 inch from the even end.

  1. Bring the loose ends of the white strips away from the pile (and over the staple) to form a heart shape. Hold with one hand as you pull back the light pink strips and then the dark pink strips in the same manner.

Staple the six strips together near the pointed end of the heart.

Bend paper near the staple to spread out the sides.

If you make more, string several in different sizes vertically with fishing line and hang from a hook attached to the ceiling or by a window and watch it move freely with the air.

HEART-SHAPED ICE SCULPTURES

Make beautiful heart-shaped suncatchers out of ice to hang from a tree branch on a cold day. If you live in a warm climate, place an edible version in a punch bowl for a Valentine’s Day party with friends.
Here’s what you’ll need:
–A heart-shaped cake or small cupcake pan with a rim, or the base of a heart-shaped candy box lined with aluminum foil so water can’t seep through
–Dried flowers, leaves and rose petals for suncatcher
–Decorative edible items such as thinly sliced oranges, limes and strawberries
–Strong string or wire for a hanger
–Water
Here’s the fun:
Set some decorative items into the pan or lined box. (For punch-bowl ice, add edible items only.)
Set a portion of a 20-inch length of twine or wire in the water, making sure it is submerged near the top center of the heart. Fill with water and set in the freezer.
When the temperature outside is freezing, remove the heart from the pan and hang from a branch where a glimmer of sunlight will shine through.

ENCOURAGE KIDS TO SAY “THANKS” FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS

This is a great picture for a thank you card. My newspaper column editor, Amy Jaworsky, took it of her daughter Veda and family friend Jennifer Earl with presents Veda received from her at a recent birthday party.

Gifts, meals, activities, memories. It’s that time of the new year to share a big “thanks” to those who made the 2016 December holidays special for our families and kids. By doing so, we model to the youngest generation the habit of expressing appreciation to others. Hopefully they’ll grow into the “saying thanks” habit without our prodding.

According to Amy Jaworsky, editor for the Hearst Corporation and mom of two school-age girls, 13 and 8: “Acknowledging someone’s generosity is a reminder to ourselves of all that we have to be grateful for. The more we realize how lucky we are, the more apt we are to want to deserve it by being better people.” Good words for all, not just for kids.

Teaching her daughters to express thanks to others started on a practical level when her oldest, Presley, turned 4. “I was standing in the background at gift-opening time at her birthday party when the eager guests circled the birthday girl. It felt like a feeding frenzy,” she says. “They closed in, and it moved fast. With all the excitement, Presley tore through the wrappings, so it was hard to get a complete list of who gave what.”

That’s when she came up with an idea the following year to ask gift-givers to stand with her daughter while she opened their present, so she could snap a photo of them as they posed with the gift. Through the years, she has seen how both the giver and receiver feel special when they capture the moment together.

When it comes time to say “thanks,” she has no worries making sure the right card is with the right gift. “I have the evidence in my camera,” she says. “I print out the photos and we mount them to simple cards with envelopes. As my daughters grow older, they can express a more detailed ‘thanks,’” she adds.

Here are more saying “thank you” ideas:
–If your child received a holiday gift from someone who wasn’t present, take a photo of your child enjoying building with the new blocks, dressing a new doll or shooting a puck with the new hockey stick. Print it, and mount it on a card with a personally written thank you.
–Email or text a short video of your child saying “thanks” and using the gift.
–Encourage your children to draw a picture of the gift. If they aren’t writing yet, let them dictate as you write their “thanks.”

COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS WITH RECYCLED HOLIDAY CARDS

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It’s fun to figure out what the next few festive weeks of family life will look like with this countdown-to-Christmas activity. Get started right now to give meaning, structure and surprise to the busy month.

First, find your bundle of stashed-away holiday cards or other cards you have saved through the years. Choose enough for each day counting down to Christmas. Aim for cards that are fairly similar in size, and that are blank on the reverse side of the front of the card. You also can use printed photos from years past, depicting special times like cutting down or decorating a Christmas tree or going caroling or sledding.

Let school-age kids cut off the front of each card and set them aside for the project. If there is writing on the back, they can measure and cut out plain paper the size of the card, and affix it to the backside with glue. Stack the fronts of the cards and photos, face-side up, in a pile. Measure and punch one hole at the top center of each card/photo. Punch two holes, 2 inches apart, at the bottom of each card/photo.
Loop a stationery ring through each of the bottom holes, creating a mini-book. Flip the stack over and, with the rings at the top, number the backs of the cards with the dates counting to the 25th.

Using your calendar as a reference, write a family activity or reminder by the number for each day. Include favorite family traditions and have fun making up new ones. For example, “Bake cookies,” “Craft ornaments,” “Pick up Aunt Jane at the airport.” Include a birthday if there is one, or add an inspirational thought or conversation starter, like “Share with the family the best Christmas gift you ever gave.” Decorate with stickers or cutouts, if you wish.

Once you have done the first activity, lift up that card and hang the countdown cards on the wall or a bulletin board in your kitchen or family room from the single hole at the top. The next activity in December will be revealed with a colorful card or photo above.
Your kids will look forward to flipping a card each day until Christmas. No peeking ahead!

SNOWBALL CANDLES

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Bring extra holiday light into your home during the December holidays with candles. Instant mood creators, the flickering light not only brightens a dark winter evening, but also quiets us down after a busy day and becomes a subtle conversation pacer.
Here’s a fun way to create festive wintry candles by whipping up melted paraffin wax and frosting it over and around a round candle or votive, so that it resembles a pretty white snowball Or, add some whipped wax to pillar candles to look as if covered with freshly fallen snow. Make extras for gifts, too.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for snowball candles:
–ball-shaped candles or 2-inch or larger votive candles
–coffee can, or other sturdy tin can such as a clean 28-ounce stewed tomato can
–paraffin wax (available in the canning section of most grocery stores)
–saucepan
–medium-size heat-resistant bowl used for crafts.
–small metal whisk or fork used for crafts
–dull craft knife or brush (optional)

Here’s the fun:
1. Bend one side of the rim of the can to create a spout, then place a brick or two of paraffin wax in the can. An adult should set the can in 2 inches of water in a saucepan to create a water bath. Heat the water until the paraffin melts, keeping an eye on it at all times. Never place the can on the burner or over an open flame, because the wax is flammable.
2. Carefully pour the melted wax in the bowl and let cool, about 20-25 minutes. It will develop a firm crust, but it should not be hard. Gently beat the wax and thick liquid with the whisk or fork until it becomes a fluffy white consistency. It’s amazing to watch the transformation!
3. Kids can spread the warm whipped wax around a candle, keeping wick exposed. If your candle isn’t round, add more wax as it hardens and mold a ball shape with hands. Let wax harden before use. If you have extra wax, re-melt in tin can and add to pillar candles. (See below.)
To create snow on pillar candles, “frost” the wax onto the sides and top of a candle, keeping wick exposed with the knife or a craft paintbrush. Sprinkle with glitter for extra sparkle.

Safety note: Before burning candles, always set them on a plate or tray intended for candles. An adult should always be present when candles are burning.

MAKE A SUCCULENT PUMPKIN CENTERPIECE

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Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween. Available in green, white, blue-gray and various shades of orange, like the deeply ribbed Cinderella pumpkin, they make an eye-catching Thanksgiving Day center- piece when you glue moss and living succulents on top.

Keep the succulents misted as they root into the moss, and enjoy an attrac- tive creation in your home into the December holidays and beyond. When the pumpkin eventually begins to soften and age, toss it in the compost bin and pot the succulents indoors in soil in a flowerpot or outdoors in a frost-free gar- den bed.

Kids will enjoy making the centerpiece with you this week. Swirling the non- toxic sticky glue, handling the wiry moss and arranging the succulents and add-ins make for artful fun.

Here’s what you’ll need for one succulent pumpkin centerpiece:

—One clean pumpkin with a flat top surface and center indentation works best.

—Water-soluble white glue that dries clear, such as Mod Podge Matte finish

—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 pinecones, eucalyptus

Here’s the fun:

  1. Set 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.
  1. Remove roots and soil from the succulents from containers. Dip 1/4-inch 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 may use a glue gun to affix the add-ons, if you prefer)

Care: Set the centerpiece on a trivet or tray. Mist succulents and moss weekly, 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: Make succulent pumpkin place cards for each place setting at the Thanksgiving table using single minis, such as the Munchkin pumpkin. Tuck a name card in each one and set at each plate. Guests may take it home to enjoy.

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8 TIPS FOR READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH KIDS

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My friend David LaRochelle is an accomplished, award-winning creator of books for young people as well as an illustrator, and in my book, he’s also an inspiring educator who knows kids and knows what kids like.

When he took center stage at a “meet the author” event at our neighborhood bookstore, he not only read his newly published “Monster & Son” — illustrated by Joey Choll and published by Chronicle books (2016) — but he paused after these monster’s words to his son, “Your fearsome yawns won’t frighten me, I’ll hug you strong and tight, then gently tuck you into bed while whispering … good night,” and invited the eager children to participate in creating a big drawing of a monster. Hands went up, ideas bounced off the walls; giggles, “oohs” and “aahs” resounded as David quickly sketched their ideas. The book’s theme expanded into a playful time as vocabulary was enriched and children grew in their love of storytime — and maybe even a monster.

Judge a picture book by its potential for reading enjoyment, and for social and mental growth. Evidence is clear that reading to kids is one of the best ways to ensure success in school. It also strengthens the bond between you and kids!

Here are eight spinoff ideas David shares to enrich picture-book reading time at bedtime or anytime:
1. Look at the book’s cover and predict what it might be about. Funny? Scary? Make-believe? Factual?
2. Use lots of expression. Practice making different silly voices for the characters.
3. After reading it once, let your child retell it in his or her own words. Or, take turns using the illustrations to make up your own stories.
4. Ask what your child thinks will happen after the last page. Maybe the two of you will be inspired to write a sequel together.
5. Turn to a page at random and play “I Spy.” Choose a detail from the illustration and give clues to see if your child can spot the item. (“I spy something small and furry with a long tail”). Then let your child be the clue giver.
6. With older children, explore the copyright and dedication pages, as well as the author and illustrator bios. Ask if the book is older or younger than your child based on the copyright year. Who might your child like to dedicate a book to?
7. Many books list the medium the artist used to create the illustrations, such as collage, watercolors or digital art. Perhaps you and your child will want to try creating your own pictures using the same medium.
8. Have fun!
Resource: www.davidlarochelle.com

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“I MADE IT” GIFT FOR MOM ON MOTHERS DAY

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For Mother’s Day on May 8, nothing is more original or more cherished than a child-made gift. These two crafts are easy for a child to assemble with the help of dad, a caregiver or a teacher.
The paper basket is a stylish container a preschooler will have fun crafting and filling with a mini-bouquet of flowers, chocolate or a small present. School-age kids can show off their artistic talents when they paint a windowsill flowerpot and plant a hardy succulent or Mom’s favorite herbs. Here’s how:
Mother’s Day Gift Basket
(Preschooler craft)
What you’ll need:
–Round plate with even edges, approximately 7 inches in diameter (for a pattern)
–Two sheets of 8.5-by-11-inch heavy construction paper in contrasting colors
–Pencil
–Scissors
–Stapler
–Stickers or lightweight decorations
–Small bouquet of fresh or silk flowers or small gifts
1. An adult should help the child put the plate on a piece of construction paper and draw a circle around it. Cut out the circle. Repeat with the second sheet.
2. Fold both circles in half. Slide rounded edges together. Without folding, slide the bottom creases together to form the shape of a heart. Staple circles together to make a heart-shaped basket.
3. To make a handle, cut an 11-inch long strip of paper that’s 1 inch wide, and staple to basket.
4. Decorate with stickers or objects such as a paper butterfly, and arrange flowers or gifts inside.
Paint a Flowerpot
(Schoolage craft)
–One 4-inch clay pot and saucer
–Newspaper
–Acrylic paints
–Paper plates
–Paintbrush
–Potting soil and a succulent or herb plant
1. Place the pot and the saucer on a newspaper-covered work surface. Squeeze paint onto the plates.
2. Paint over the entire outside surface of the pot and saucer. Let dry. (For a natural look for the background, skip this step.)
3. Use a variety of contrasting colors to make designs around the plain or painted pot. Experiment with a splashy design of swirls, zigzags, stripes, dots and spots. (Dip an eraser of an old pencil in the paint to dab on spots). Let dry.
4. Fill with potting soil and plant a succulent or herb.
5. Add a card for Mom.