Think green, think spring, think Saint Patrick’s Day coming up on March 17.
Kids enjoy learning about interesting people and places. As parents, we can be instrumental in helping our children discover the diverse cultures that make up our world and our national heritage. That discovery is an important step in appreciating and respecting ethnic differences.
To get started, enjoy some family fun this month as many Irish Americans celebrate the “luck of the Irish.”
Here are some ideas and a craft to help keep you thinking “green.”
1. Go online or check out library books on Ireland. Learn the difference between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland, and other interesting facts and curiosities about the Emerald Isle. Talk to Irish-American neighbors and discover what their families do to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
2. List names and surnames that are typically Irish, such as Liam, Megan, Shannon and O’Brien. Do any of your kids’ friends have Irish names? Any Irish ancestors in your family tree?
3. Make easy-to-create brilliant green shamrock suncatchers to hang in your window to welcome friends for a visit. Here’s how:
Ask your young kids to sort through crayon boxes, and look for “almost used up” shades of green crayons. Peel off the paper.
Make crayon shavings in piles, by shade, from the peeled crayons using a grater or a crayon sharpener.
Lay a sheet of wax paper, waxed side up, on a small stack of newspapers on an ironing board. Sprinkle the shavings evenly over the wax paper. Set a second sheet of wax paper on top, this time waxed side down. Cover with a lightweight cloth. Using an iron set at Warm, an adult may iron over the cloth until the shavings melt. Remove the cloth.
Make cutout shamrock shapes from your “stained glass” sheets. Glue string or fishing line to the top of each shamrock and hang them by a window.
Tip: It’s easy to make a shamrock pattern by arranging three paper heart shapes with the points touching.
“I’ve never seen snow fall,” said 37-year-old Megan Anduri-Flynn, biology instructor and mom of 5-year-old Nicola, until a rare snowstorm surprise hit in Beaverton, Oregon. “We got a foot of snow, and it stuck.”
The unexpected wintry blast opened up new opportunities for family play, including for Nicola’s California-raised 69-year-old grandmother, who made her first snow angel in the backyard.
An avid nature lover, Megan and her husband’s move from Southern California was motivated by her love for Oregon’s rustic outdoor living. But when she packed up Nicola’s beach toys, she didn’t expect that her buckets and shovels would be used for building castles of snow instead of sand.
Taking advantage of the fabulous snow day, Nicola scooped the fluffy stuff and packed it into the buckets, then flipped them upside-down, like she had done with damp sand on the sunny beaches of L.A., to create snow castles for a charming kingdom to play in.
She dabbed watercolor paints with a brush here and there on the snow-packed structures. Plastic Disney characters Jasmine, Cinderella, Ariel and Belle were placed on roofs and turrets to bring the scene to life in her imagination.
Inspired by the freeze, she also made beautiful icy suncatchers to hang from branches using baking pans and her great-grandmother’s metal gelatin molds.
This easy craft is fun to make during wintertime, anywhere. If you are in a warmer climate, make the indoor version in your freezer for a punchbowl when friends come by for a special occasion.
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–metal cake pan or cupcake pan
–dried flowers, leaves, potpourri for suncatcher
–decorative edible items such as thinly sliced oranges, limes, strawberries and mint for edible version
–strong string or wire for a hanger
–food coloring (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. Set natural decorative items into the pan. For punch-bowl ice, add edible items. When frozen, remove and add to punch.
2. For outdoor version, add a 20-inch length of twine or wire in the water, making sure it is submerged near the top of the mold. Fill with water and set in the freezer.
When the temperature outside is freezing, remove the ice shape from the pan and hang from a branch where a glimmer of light will shine through.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
–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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tie the two loose ends of the yarn in a bow at the top of the heart.
- 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.
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.)
–paper cutter (optional)
–thread or fishing line for hanging (optional)
Here’s the fun:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
When it comes to demystifying Chinese cooking, my friend Katie Chin, daughter of restaurateur Leeann Chin, knows what it takes to bring tasty recipes into American homes. As a chef, cookbook author and television personality, Katie believes in spreading the word about how truly delicious Chinese cuisine can be, starting with sharing culinary traditions with her 8-year-old twins.
“Chinese New Year is coming up on January 28,” she reminds me. “Firecracker shrimp is a tasty and whimsical appetizer to kick off the celebration in our home in Southern California. My sous-chef kids mix the dipping sauce and roll up the ‘firecrackers,’ revealing shrimp tails and carrot strips for ‘fuses.’ As we prep, I’ll tell them about their grandmother’s memories of growing up in China, and how firecrackers (believed to ward off evil spirits) lit up the sky on New Year’s Day.”
Roll up her firecracker shrimp for an appetizer that explodes with flavor in every bite. Adapted from her new cookbook “Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen.”
I enjoyed an afternoon in the kitchen of Katie’s sister Laura with Katie’s fabulous twins, 8 year old Becca and Dylan. Here are some in-step photos of our cooking adventure along with the complete recipe.
The first step in preparation was taking the thin spring roll wrappers out of the package and separating them—a fun job for kids to do.
Cut the wrappers into thirds with kitchen scissors to make 12 long strips, then lightly brush the ends with beaten egg.
Becca and Dylan showed me how to lay the carrot sticks and shrimp tails just so on the spring roll wrappers to resemble firecrackers when they are fried.
Be sure the ingredients are dry to prevent spattering while frying. She places 4 or 5 at a time in the wok and turns them frequently. It only takes 2-3 minutes per batch.
The kids were in charge of stirring up the tasty dipping sauce while Katie fried the shrimp.
And I got to enjoy eating the tasty, hot appetizer! I’m crazy about them, and so is my family! They’re fabulous for a special occasion like Chinese New Year, birthdays, and definitely 4th of July!
FIRECRACKER SHRIMP and DIPPING SAUCE
Serves 6 as an appetizer.
1 large carrot, cut into 3-inch-by-1/4-inch matchsticks
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, divided
12 shelled and deveined large, raw shrimp (tails left intact)
4 spring roll wrappers
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Place carrot slices in a small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt. Sprinkle shrimp with remaining garlic salt. Set aside.
Cut each spring roll wrapper into thirds to make 12 long strips.
Brush the top third of each strip with egg. Lay one shrimp at the bottom of the strip. Set a carrot slice on top of the shrimp. Tightly roll, letting the egg seal it together at the end. (The tail of the shrimp and the carrot should protrude from one end to resemble a firecracker) Repeat with remaining wrappers.
In a large wok or deep skillet, heat 2-3 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Fry the shrimp rolls 5 or 6 at a time until golden brown, about 2 minutes, turning 2 to 3 times. Transfer to a cooling rack lined with paper towels.
Serve hot, with dipping sauce.
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and Sriracha together.
Cook’s note: Find spring roll wrappers in the freezer section of Asian markets. You may substitute with egg roll wrappers from the produce section of grocery stores.
RESOURCES: “Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen” (Tuttle Publishing) and www.chefkatiechin.com.
AND, THERE IS MORE…
Katie has boundless, creative energy. Within minutes of preparing the firecracker shrimp, she was stirring up her Pineapple Fried Rice recipe from her new cookbook for a demo she was off to at KSTP-ABC’s Twin Cities Live studio. (see her segment: http://twincitieslive.com/article/stories/s4229844.shtml) It’s a heart healthy, easy meal to prepare. Serve it in pineapple halves to make it look refreshing…and impressive!
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
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.
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.”
Long holiday weekends call for special family breakfasts. It’s a time to relax, read the paper and stir up a new family recipe together. If pancakes have been your Saturday standby, keep up the tradition with a new twist. This Oven Pancake is simple to prepare and dramatic to serve piping hot, right out of the oven. It’s more dense than the common “Dutch Baby,” puff pancake recipe, so it serves more people.
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1. Let one of your kids count and crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Inspect it to be sure there are no remaining shells. Beat eggs with a whisk. Stir in salt.
2. Add milk and flour gradually. Mix well with spoon.
3. Meanwhile, place utter in a 9 x 13 pan. Place the pan in the oven until butter is melted, not brown.
4. Add egg batter and bake for 45 minutes until puffy and golden-brown on the edges.
Serve with good maple syrup, fresh fruit or jam.
I cooked up this recipe in my kitchen for Fox News with host Todd Walker-click below
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!