Category: holidays/celebrations

Density Ornaments – Science Plus Holiday Art!

By , December 12, 2016 7:33 pm

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We decorated our Christmas tree this evening.  During the process, someone found a long lost box of empty glass ball Christmas ornaments that they sell at craft stores. They are the kind that you can fill with whatever fun things you want.

One of the kids had the idea of filling them with colored water.  This evolved into water plus other stuff. Finally, the project transformed into a density column idea where liquids of different densities are added and then separate out into colorful layers.

Colored water was pretty (especially with a little soap):

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Then one of the kids thought of the layers of differing densities in a density column and wanted to try that!  They put all the ingredients we had on hand in different little bowls (honey, light corn syrup, water, canola oil, and green dish soap).  NOTE: Steve Spangler has a great density column project that lists ingredients you can use.

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We did not have a funnel, so we used a large kid’s medicine dropper and a cool syringe-type device that my oldest daughter was given when she had her wisdom teeth out (a baby medicine syringe would work too). They both worked really well.

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Honey, corn syrup, and oil with a few drops of food coloring in the oil produced some cool, elevated, lava lamp-style blobs:

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The ornaments are too heavy to hang on a Christmas tree, however they make a pretty and very unusual centerpiece!

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Top Secret Turkey Placemat

By , November 22, 2016 5:59 pm

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We all know about “Secret Santa,” but how about “Top Secret Turkey?”

With Thanksgiving in the United States a mere three days away (what happened to the year, can someone tell me please??), we wanted to come up with a fun idea to celebrate being thankful. The children were talking about their fond memories of weaving construction paper placemats each year at their Montessori school to use at the school Thanksgiving feast, so we came up with a variation of the simple woven placemat that also incorporates thankfulness.

This is pretty easy and works for all ages.  Totally doable with younger children (if they can’t cut well yet, you can precut the strips) or with teenagers if they’ll agree to it.  Mine did because they wanted to make the placemat of their memories and honestly, we had a lot of silly fun along the way.

The basics you will need are construction paper, scissors, and something to write with.  We used colored Sharpies.

1) Choose your paper colors. We used red, yellow, orange, and brown to represent fall.  Orient the sheets of paper vertically and use a ruler to mark off one inch increments.

dsc_00922) Using the guide dots, cut the papers into one inch strips.  They don’t have to be perfect.  I actually think it looks better if they aren’t.

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3) Arrange the strips in rows in a pattern if you like patterns (I am a pattern kind of person) or random if that suits you better!  Experiment with the number of strips you will need of each color to achieve the size that you want.  We used four strips each of our four colors (so we had some left over).

4) Tape the very top of the papers to the table using a long strip of tape to hold them in place (LESSON LEARNED: We used Scotch Tape and it was quite difficult to remove from the table afterwards, masking tape would be much easier).

5) Now you can begin weaving.  Very little ones will need help with this.  Follow the same pattern you used with the vertical strips or make a new one.

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6) Now get a glue stick or some white glue and glue underneath each top flap at the edge all the way around the mat.

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Unstick the tape from the table and flip the mat over.  Fold over the taped flap to easily stick down that edge.   Then repeat same gluing process as first side along the remaining edges of the mat.

7) Cut off the extra bits that are hanging off.

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Now for the Top Secret part!  

Put all the placemats in a pile. Before your meal, have everyone at the Thanksgiving table draw a name out of a hat to determine who’s Top Secret Turkey they will be.  Next have each person take a random placemat and write on the back of the placemat something they are thankful for about the person who’s name they drew.  On the front of the placemat, they should write that person’s name.  If you are concerned with handwriting being a giveaway, prepare stickers with all the names ahead of time (either computer printed or all written by the same person).  Set the table with the placemats. An added bonus is that the names will serve as place markers so everyone knows where to sit.

At some point before, during or after the meal, have everyone turn over their mat and read the nice comment. Each person can then try to guess who is his or her Top Secret Turkey!  It’s a fun game that leaves everyone feeling happy and appreciated!

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Here are two other thankful-related projects that you might enjoy:

(NOTE: I apologize for the lack of photos in these posts.  They suffered from my great photo disaster but I am working on finding and replacing them, or recreating them!)

 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Help! I am Drowning in Candy!!!

By , November 3, 2009 6:20 pm

A few more Halloween candy ideas:

  • Send it to troops overseas for them to pass out to local children.  For more info, go to the Operation Gratitude website, but basically just send your candy (plus an optional but very welcome $11 to cover the cost of shipping overseas) before December 8th to:

Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, California 91406
ATTN: Charlie Othold

You can also send it anytime to Operation Shoebox at this address:

Operation Shoebox
8360 E Highway 25
Belleview, FL 34420

(Keep in mind that soft or chocolate candy might not travel so well, especially to a hot climate.)

  • Find a local dentist who is participating in a Halloween Candy Buyback program.  Participating dentists give your kids $1/pound of candy and then they send it to troops overseas!  Go to the Halloween Candy Buyback website to do a zipcode search for participating dentists in your area. Consider encouraging your children to donate their dollars to a charity that interests them.
  • Some food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters accept candy.  Be sure to call first to find out if yours wants it.
  • Buy inexpensive cellophane party favor bags and make pretty little candy packages.  Tie the top with a scrap of ribbon or yarn and donate them to your local charitable thrift store for them to sell.  Great stocking stuffers for someone!
  • Of course you can always do a Candy Bank too, and then use one of these ideas as the final destination for your traded candy!

Redefining Christmas

By , December 22, 2008 8:51 pm

As a child, I remember Christmas being so exciting that I could hardly sleep the night before. We’d have a tree, Christmas stockings and yummy turkey.  My Dad would always design a “trail” for me –  a treasure hunt with clues – to lead me to my biggest present.  Dessert was always my mother’s homemade Christmas pudding with lots of thick cream, almond paste cloaked Christmas cake, and tiny, flaky mince pies (my parents were from England).

As an adult, I managed to spend most of my Christmases at home with my mother and sister (my parents were divorced by then) where it would always be the same as I remembered (minus the trail).

This will be the fourth Christmas since the death of my mother.  Each year, my sister and I have struggled with how to make Christmas like we remembered.  For a variety of reasons, the first two years were fairly miserable.  Last year, I just ran away from it all and ignored Christmas as much as I could.

This year, I feel brave enough to try it again.  It will be different.  My sister and I have decided that we can’t recreate the same thing without my mother.  Those days are gone.  I need to do something new (but with a few old elements?).

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time (at least a year) may remember last year’s  Christmas/Holidays Unplugged series, so perhaps you know of my internal struggles.  I want to create lovely memories and traditions for my children, but hate the commercialism and lack of any meaning.

I think that writing that series of posts really helped me prioritize and come up with a plan.  A “year off” from Christmas helped a lot too.

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The plan this year is as follows:

– Tree: Thin tree that needed to be cut from our property anyway – read more: An Ugly Christmas Tree.

– Child Presents: Christmas stockings plus one gift each for the kids from Santa, and a few from us.

NOTE:  Without TV, my kids don’t really have specifics on what they want…which is wonderful and difficult at the same time.  They sat on Santa’s lap at our town Christmas tree lighting and both asked for “a surprise.”  I wonder how many kids do that?

– Adult Presents: Christmas stockings all around.  I do the children, my sister and my husband.  My sister does her significant other and me.  I love the challenge of finding cool little things that they might like that would fit in the tiny space of a stocking.  It seems fun and not commercially excessive.

Otherwise, we are not doing adult gifts this year.  We are all in the very fortunate position (especially fortunate in light of this year’s economy) of being able to buy whatever we need, and I hate shopping out of a “need to buy something” mentality.

In lieu of gifts, each adult will do a donation to charity for each other adult (to that other adult’s favorite charity).  I have even gotten a few other relatives on board with this (even for the kids) which certainly lightens the gift receiving (and giving) burden, is much more in the spirit of the season, and makes me feel that we are actually doing good for the world rather than doing good for Walmart.

– Food: I think I’ll get a small, fresh turkey from our local market (but I’d better get on that right away, especially since the weather is forecast to be lousy).  I’ll try to keep it somewhat simple because I want to enjoy the day and not spend it mostly in the kitchen as I remember my mother doing.

Of course, if I can’t get to the store for food, we’ll be having leftovers for Christmas.  But snowed-in with leftover pasta might actually make for a completely fun and memorable Christmas!

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This is my overall plan.  It may need refining next year…or maybe I’ll just want to run away again.  I don’t know.  I’ll tell you all how it goes.

Good luck defining (or redefining) your celebration.  Happy holidays to all!

An Ugly Christmas Tree

By , December 18, 2008 9:47 pm

I have been feeling very un-bloggy lately, hence my silence.  Do I really have anything interesting to say?  Does anyone care?  Is it worth my precious time writing?  Hmmm….  Big questions.

So please excuse my absence, but let me talk now about our Christmas tree.  It is ugly, yet beautiful.  Humble, yet profound.

First a bit of background on my eternal Christmas tree angst.  I have always hated the thought of cutting down a living tree to decorate my house for a few weeks and then toss out (even if recycled into mulch).  If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have a tree at all.  But the tree, and all the ornaments that are rediscovered year after year, are so much a fun and memorable part of a child’s Christmas, that I hate to deny them that.

Yes, we could decorate a ficus, but the idea of singing carols and sipping cocoa around the Christmas Ficus just doesn’t have the same cozy appeal to it.  And since I am the kiss of death for houseplants, I’d simply be substituting a fir tree death sentence for that of a ficus.

I have done living trees before and then planted them in the yard (when I had a yard that was not packed full of pine trees already).  That was lovely, but they can only be inside for a few days, are heavy, and here – pine trees grow like weeds.  No room for more!

For the last 6 years I have had an artificial tree.  It was easy, three pieces to put together and lights already on it, but Christmas seems artificial enough to me in so many ways, without a fake tree too.  Plus, it always felt kind of nasty to touch and probably oozed all kinds of chemicals.  Not very Christmassy.

This year I came up with what I think is the perfect solution, for us anyway.  We have so many trees on our property and, as I said above, Ponderosa pines literally grow like weeds here.  After a good rain, hundreds of seedlings miraculously appear as you can see in this picture:

Despite my aversion to tree cutting, we are in desperate need of thinning a bit.  Fire safety is a HUGE issue here, especially after our close call in 2002.  Plus, the smaller trees sap the meager nutrients and scarce water from the more mature trees leaving them tall, but thin and sickly looking.

I don’t want to get into a forest management lecture or debate here, but the truth is that we really need to take out some of the smaller trees that are growing close to the larger ones before a fire does it for us.

So, with that in mind, I had the idea to cut a small one down and make it our Christmas tree.  It would eventually be cut anyhow, but at least this way it would go in a blaze of richly adorned glory and be much enjoyed and remembered.

We picked a thin one growing near a mature one and all went out to “help” my husband with the cutting. Despite a bad back and even worse weather that day, he got it done.

Then, “we,” as in my husband – under my direction – cut it in half.  The original tree was only about three inches in diameter but probably 16 feet tall with all the branches at the top.  We ended up with an 8 foot tall tree that fits nicely in our tall living room.

It was so thin and light that the kids were able to carry it into the house themselves.

The cats thought it was wonderful having their very own tree lying in the middle of the front entryway.

Here is the final result:

It is rather a spindly, thin, pathetic tree, but Ponderosas don’t have a very thick array of branches, especially when young.

However, as my daughter said:  “This is my favorite tree ever because you can see the ornaments!”  Yes, you can.

This is my favorite tree ever because, although it may not be perfect, we chose it and cut it ourselves, gave it a “new life,” and it cost no money!

I don’t want a perfect Christmas, I just want one the the children will remember fondly, and I hope that they might remember this.

(You can read more about Christmas tree options here: The Great Christmas Tree Dilemma)

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