Posts tagged: Christmas

Density Ornaments – Science Plus Holiday Art!

By , December 12, 2016 7:33 pm


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):





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.


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.








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



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


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.


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!


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)

Santa Lists and Sponge Bob (Christmas/Holidays Unplugged)

By , December 3, 2007 7:52 pm

I have already written my “making a list” post, but that was not about a “kid kind of list.” I have not discussed what to do about kids’ lists because I always take the lame way out and DON’T ASK my kids what they want for Christmas, and have never told them that they could even write to Santa and ask for things. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” right? If it works for the military, it works for me.

Without TV, kids don’t necessarily know about these lists and “cool toys,” but they do pick up an amazing amount of information on the playground, so I think the Christmas list issue might come up soon.

I honestly had not thought about the whole Christmas list dilemma until I read this post at Outside the (Toy) Box. What do you do when your kids want Sponge Bob Cyber-Slime 3D-Goggles and a Disney Jasmine Nail Glitter and Flavored Lip Gloss Set for Christmas? How do you give a child that magic “…moment where the clouds part and the angels sing when she looks under the tree…” and still be true to your (and hopefully ultimately their) values?

I think “Mom” is BRILLIANT!!! She has come up with the ideal solution in my mind. She suspects that rather than “Genius,” she might be a “Mistress of Manipulation” or a “Spineless Sell-Out,” but I vote for “Genius.”

For her four year-old she created a poster with cutouts of different toys that her daughter could request from Santa. Please read her very funny post.

To expand on her idea, I suppose you could choose catalogs that contain 100% toys that you approve of and let kids pick from those. Of course perhaps you still ought to edit a bit. Like those $200 wooden play stands? Just cut them out with scissors if you want! Any queries from the small fry regarding the holes in the pages? Well…maybe Santa has some things that are “out of stock” too. After all, magic only goes so far.

There are some great stores out there that do offer print catalogs. I would suggest:

Back to Basics Toys

Rosie Hippos
Nova Natural
Chinaberry (WONDERFUL catalog, but mostly books, so good to give to readers for picking gifts, but there are a few toys and games too)
Callie’s Corner
Culture for Kids (lots of books but videos, music and other items too)
For Small Hands
Montessori N’Such
The Wooden Wagon

Good luck!

Photo thanks to and photographer Mike Rash.

“Help! Holiday Prep Makes Me Miserable!!” – Holiday Prep, Part 2 of 3 (Christmas/Holidays Unplugged)

By , November 20, 2007 8:17 pm

If this photo depicts the extent of your holiday decorating ambitions, then please read on…


The votes are in!

Am I, Mom Unplugged, a Type 1 “Holiday Slacker” or Type 2 “Holiday Overachiever?” Three of you think I am a Type 2 and two of you voted Type 1.

I am really extremely flattered that the majority of you think I am Type 2…but the real answer? I am so NOT a Type 2!!

I am the biggest Type 1 Holiday Slacker around. That old wreath and dusty artificial tree example? That is me. Except I actually put up TWO wreaths every year thank you very much! (Actually it is only because I have to since I have a double front door.)

So today’s post is for any other slacker-types out there.

If you are a Holiday Slacker and you are comfortable with your level of activity (or lack thereof), then that is great and perhaps you should be writing this post instead of me!

However, most of us who really do dislike all the Holiday fuss and preparation feel somewhat compelled to put on a brave face and make an effort anyhow, sometimes making ourselves miserable in the process.

So how can we change our lot and either manage to happily do more than we would like to, or come to terms with the fact that we are not going to do much? I don’t really know the answer to that, but I can put forth some suggestions. If you have any others, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

My best advice is to think about why you feel compelled to bake, decorate, and generally overachieve despite not really wanting to:

1) Is it because you think your family expects it?

Why not talk to your family and/or spouse about what they want out of Christmas. You may think they want the Perfect Holiday House, but perhaps all they really want is a Perfectly Happy Holiday You. If you are silently hating every minute that you spend accomplishing your required holiday tasks (or tasks that YOU perceive to be required), how positive and joyful can you really be with your family?

If your family does indeed want more than just an artificial tree and dusty old wreath, then have them help too. Why should you be the one to do it all? Christmas is a family time and even if your spouse would rather watch football and your teens would rather hang out with their friends, make them the deal that decorating and baking will occur only with their help.

If it is really that important to them, then they’ll probably be willing to join in. Once they do, they will probably even enjoy it (although those teens might be too cool to admit that to you). You will almost certainly enjoy it more too if you no longer feel that you are shouldering the holiday burden alone. You might even have fun!

2) You want to create a “magical Christmas” for your children?

There is a good chapter in Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season entitled “The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas” (read my post about this great book here). I’ll let you read the book for all the details, but basically kids want family time for Christmas. If you are rushing about madly trying to “do it all,” then you probably aren’t going to have time / energy or be much in the mood for family time with the kids.

It is the simple memories that stick with kids. Think back to your own childhood holidays. Hopefully you can dig up at least a few happy memories. What are they? Do you remember exactly what presents you got or how well the house was decorated? Probably not.

You might remember going with your Dad to cut a tree, or baking cookies with your Mom, or sitting in your pajamas on a parent’s lap and reading The Night Before Christmas. Or maybe one year you all got snowed in and played board games while eating peanut butter sandwiches. Or perhaps one year you had a “camp out ” in the living room under the Christmas tree.

Don’t get sucked into Hallmark’s vision of a “magical Christmas.” In reality, a “magical Christmas” for children doesn’t require much apart from some time and attention from Mom and Dad.

3) You read women’s magazines or watch Martha Stewart and feel that commercial and social pressure to do it all?

Think realistically. Do you know how many months of work of full-time artists and professional designers it must take to create those magazine “perfect Holiday” decors? Neither do I, but I suspect that it is a ton. If you LIKE to do that stuff then please, by all means do it and have fun. But if you have read this far in my post, you are probably like me and do not enjoy it. So don’t bother. You’ll never be able to achieve that result and you’ll only make yourself (and your family) miserable trying. Enough said.

(And next year, please simply take those December issues out of the mailbox and put them straight into the recycle bin!)

4) Was / is your mother a Holiday overachiever or underachiever?

My mother didn’t much care for Christmas prep either and I guess I am following happily in her footsteps. So for those of you who have Holiday overachieving mothers, I can see that you might feel compelled (either consciously or not) to live up to her seemingly impossible standard.

If your mother was a Holiday underachiever and you desperately wish to be different from your mother, then perhaps that is the source of your drive to “do it all” even though deep down inside, it is not really what you want to do.

My guest blogger for tomorrow’s post, a Type 2 writing about Type 2 organizational issues, begins her post by attributing her stellar organizational abilities to her mother’s lack of organization! Whether we like it or not, mothers influence us in many unforeseen and complicated ways.

I will not attempt any deep psychoanalysis here, but by acknowledging that our urge to unwillingly overdo it as stemming from a feeling of “needing” to be like or not like our mothers, perhaps that is the first step towards accepting that we should just be who we are and do what we really want or don’t want and get off the Holiday Hamster Wheel!


Next post: for the Type 2 Holiday Achievers out there who actually LIKE doing this stuff – tips on how to sequence and organize all that wonderful Holiday prep so you can really “do it all” and still enjoy yourself. The post will be written by a Master Holiday Organizer (hint…it is not me).

Read all the Christmas/Holidays Unplugged posts by clicking here.

Thank you to and photographer messa for this sweet photo of Diego.

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