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Holiday Recipe: No Bake Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies

This is a terrific recipe for children to help with!  It requires no baking, yet it is yummy-sweet and delicious all the same!  We love to make these each December and hand them out to our neighbors.

2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup milk
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan, mix sugar, cocoa, margarine, milk and salt.  Heat and bring to a boil; boil for one minute.  Add teh remaining ingredients.  Mix well.  Working quickly, drop by teaspoonful onto waxed paper.  Allow to cool before removing from waxed paper.  Makes about four dozen cookies.  Can be stored at room temperature in a sealed container.

Note: the peanut butter is optional.  It will, though alter the consistency of the cookies and makes them stiffen quicker, so be ready to quickly drop onto waxed paper! Enjoy!

Holiday Craft For Kids: Cinnamon Ornament

Here’s a great idea for cute, inexpensive yet personal gifts for relatives, friends, teachers and even yourself.  Your kids will have a BLAST making them and giving them away.  They make beautiful tie-ons for gifts, ornaments for trees, or even a hanging air freshener for your car.

For Cinnamon Ornaments, you just need two ingredients: a cup of applesauce and 1 (4.12 oz) bottle of ground cinnamon.  Combine these two ingredients in a mixing bowl.  It will become quite doughy, so be prepared to mix by hand.  It is a lot like making bread!  Once the two ingredients are well-mixed, roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Don’t make it too thin or the ornaments will break.  Use cookie cutters to cut the dough in whatever shapes you would like.  Use a straw to punch a hole in the top of each ornament.  Set aside on a cookie sheet or other smooth, solid surface to dry.  It takes about 2-3 days for the ornaments to fully dry out.  I like to turn mine over after a day or so to make sure they dry evenly.

Once the ornaments are completely dry, tie them up with a pretty ribbon for hanging.  This recipe makes quite a few ornaments, depending on the size of the cookie cutters you are using, so get ready to give plenty away!

Holiday Traditions That Never Grow Old

This time of year always makes me nostalgic for my childhood; building snowmen (okay, one year we got to build snowmen around Christmas – I live in Texas…it is a rarity), getting together with family, doing little things with my mom and dad, making lists, shopping, wrapping gifts, and on and on.  Holidays of any kind tend to do that to us – they bring us back in touch with our past, and we should use that nudge as more than simply a nudge.  Consider it a shove.

If you have children – of any age – there is no better time than the present to create memories and traditions of your own.  Years from now, your children will reflect upon the corniness, the hilarity and most likely the sentimentality of it all and realize that moments such as these are what bind us together.

So, in light of this, here are my family’s traditions.  Not my family that includes my parents and my brother, but my family NOW – the kids and my husband.  Here’s what we do to create that feeling of togetherness and routine every December.

  1. You Can’t Count Down Without A Countdown Chain!  This is, quite possibly, my son’s favorite activity.  We take red and green construction paper and cut it into 1.5 inch strips.  We then staple each strip into an interlocking ring with another, creating a paper chain.  We put enough links on it to count down until December 25th (but you could do this with other holidays and events in December as well), then each day we pull off a link from the chain.  He loves to create patterns with the colors in the chain, and this year, we’re adding a phrase or activity to each link, which will help us focus on our family a little more each day.
  2. Let There Be Light(s) – And More Lights!  Our neighborhood is exceptionally well-decorated this time of year with lights, deer, scenes and designs.  We usually choose a couple of nights to walk around the neighborhood, taking in everyone’s decorations.  It is great exercise, the kids get a chance to burn off some energy, and our pace is such that we can truly appreciate each display.  On chilly nights, though, we pack into the car and make our way around.  Bring hot cocoa and a few cookies along for the ride to really set the mood!
  3. Fa La La La La…along with our light-looking, we enjoy stopping at neighbor’s homes and treating them to a few songs.  Sometimes, we get our next-door neighbor’s kids to join us and make it a little choir.  The older residents of our street LOVE to see our kids come around, and it is a wonderful way to reach out and contact those who live near you.  We also like to pair this activity up with the next one…
  4. Cookies And Candy And Cake – Oh My!  The kids help me choose about five or six of our favorite holiday recipes, and we spend a few days putting them together.  Then, we bundle them in colorful bags, pretty plates or holiday boxes and deliver them to the neighbors.  It is a gift from the heart and our kitchen, and each year is a bit different, depending on the choices the kids make!  Stay tuned for holiday recipes to be posted in the near future!
  5. Tis The Season To Be Giving.  The main lesson we drive home in our children during this time of year is to share with those less fortunate than us.  We do this in several ways.  We typically give food to our local food bank via our church, but during December, the boys and I make a special purchase of food for the food bank, and then they help make the delivery with me to see where the food goes.  It is an eye-opening experience for them and is a lesson that they carry for a good long while.  We also participate in Toys For Tots, Salvation Army Angel Tree or Blue Santa.  We allow each child to choose an angel or Santa from the tree that is about the same age as they are.  Then the children shop for the child.  It means a lot to our boys to give back, especially when it is someone like them.  Another activity we do is to sit down as a family and create cards for nursing home residents.  Then, on a Sunday afternoon, we make a trip to the local nursing home and deliver our cards.  To watch the faces of the residents light up is enough to put me in the spirit any time of year!
  6. And Speaking Of Cards…another favorite tradition of ours is to take our old Christmas cards from the prior year and turn them into placemats!  I cut posterboard down to placemat size, then the boys have a ball digging through old cards to make a collage of holiday cheer on their placemat.  When the pictures are all glued down, I cover the mat in contact paper to protect it, and our table is ready for the holidays.

What are your favorite holiday traditions?  Leave a comment and let us know!

Make Your Home Into An Art Gallery

If you spend any significant amount of time around children, you are most likely going to be the proud recipient of a handmade gift: a picture of a house, some stick people or another treasure.  And, if you keep these creations, you are probably going to end up with enough artwork to wallpaper the living room within a matter of weeks.  Children love to create, and they love to create when you love to display it.  So, make their artwork into something fabulous with these simple steps.

Find a variety of open frames.  Look at craft stores and discount stores, as well as yard sales and resale shops.  You do not need glass; just a nice sized frame that can be hung on a nail on the wall.  Wooden ones are best; you can spray paint them a uniform color such as gold or black.  Also, look for a variation in sizes and shapes, but make sure they are a good size for a child’s work of art to fit inside.

Next, hang your frames (empty) on a wall.  This can be a hallway, a room, or wherever you want to display works of art.  It is best to keep the frames grouped together, although you can spread them throughout your home as well.  If you want to take it a step further, you may back the area inside the frame with felt or another material, or you can even paint the wall inside the frame a nice contrasting color.

Now you are ready to display!  Place your child’s artwork in the frames, and display as long as you or they would like.  When new artwork comes home, change them out.  Rotate them among the seasons.  And be sure to show the pieces off to any visitors you have.  You will be giving your child a sense of pride and accomplishment, and you will have created an amazing conversation piece for your home, all on a shoestring budget!

Extreme Makeover – Kiddo Edition!

When I first started planning my older son’s decor, the themes available were quite limited.  I wanted something for his room that could carry him through his infant years and into elementary age (and possibly further).  Yet, it was difficult to find themes for him that weren’t too babyish and not too mature.

We decided on a transportation theme.  It was very “boy” and was something I could see staying with him for quite a number of years.  We had sheets with trains, planes and trucks on them.  His comforter was a solid color, but he had a traffic light bedside lamp, a tractor fan pull, a fire truck rocking chair, and a cute school bus rug. 

Then, my husband was transferred, and I was faced with redecorating yet another room.  This time, though, my son was older.  And, he had a few opinions of his own.  While the transportation theme had been cute, age-appropriate and fun, it wasn’t HIS.  He wanted to choose his own style, and my husband and I agreed.

His new room is a space theme.  He (and now his little brother) have handmade quilted comforters with planets, stars and rockets on them.  We painted his room a light navy and adhered glow-in-the-dark stars to the vaulted ceiling.  My son wanted the planets painted on a wall in his room, and while I was happy to oblige, I also wanted him to take ownership in his room.  So, I took artists’ canvas board and painted them to match the wall color.  Then, my son had a ball, painting his own planets on the canvas boards.  We hung them on the wall, and his room is now alive with rockets, stars and space toys.  He creates his own decorations from time to time, and he designed a space mobile that hangs in front of his window.

By allowing my son to take part in the transformation of his space, I have given him ownership and responsibility for it.  He takes great pride in showing everyone his own abilities, and he tends to be more careful with his belongings and furniture, especially since he helped pick it out.  Involving your child in a process such as this is a wonderful way to teach planning, budgeting, organization and ownership.  After all, your child has to live there, too – why not make it someplace they truly enjoy?

Wonderbrains has an amazing assortment of decorating themes for children.  Be sure to check out their products and suggestions.

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