Striving to create a home strong in the foundations of love, respect, and God's truths ...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Little Boy Gifts

This year, a lot of our grandparent and great-grandparent gifts will be homemade.  It's always a struggle to find things to buy for them anyway, and this year the funds just aren't there for extravagant gifts for everyone on our list.  I decided to have the kids tackle these gifts, but it was hard to find a good project for Luke to make.

There's always pictures OF him, and they're cute - but he doesn't do much but pose, and he hates that.  He could MAKE a picture, but so far he only likes to draw storms and snakes, and they're still kind of hard to tell apart.  You can't rush fine motor skills!  I could use HIM to make a picture, like a handprint something or other, and they are always cute, but Luke would have very little involvement or creative input - I would do all the work.

I finally decided to let him make pine cone bird feeders.  This is an oldie where I come from, but I was surprised to learn when I started working at a local preschool that the director there had never seen this, so maybe it will be new to you, too.

You'll need a pine cone or large plastic disposable cup, some string, a few tablespoons of peanut butter per feeder, a craft stick or plastic knife, a small sandwich baggie, and a few handfuls of birdseed.

First, cut a length of string and make a loop about an inch in diameter.  "Lasso" the smaller end of the pine cone with the loop.  If you're using a cup, poke a small hole in the bottom of the cup, knot the end of the string, and feed it through.  When finished, this will be the hanger for the feeder.  (Luke thought that he was the best string cutter ever and laughed and laughed while doing this.  It's the little things, you know.)

Using the craft stick, smear peanut butter on the pine cone, covering the whole thing.  Luke's started out like this ...

and ended up looking like this when he finished:

After you've thoroughly smeared your pine cone and gotten very sticky, put it in a dish with your birdseed.  Roll it around or scoop the birdseed up and sprinkle it on top of the pine cone.  It will stick nicely.

 Luke couldn't resist licking off some stray peanut butter.  It's clean - and an extra seed is healthy, right??  ;-)

After liberally covering the peanut butter in birdseed, your pine cone should look like this:

To keep it neat (and prevent me from vacuuming up birdseed for weeks) we then wrapped the cone itself in a sandwich baggie.  I let the string hang outside so it wouldn't get sticky.  We found that our smallish pine cones fit well inside rectangular butter boxes and we wrapped them right away.  When the grandpas open them, they'll be ready to tie onto a low branch or beam and watch the birds enjoy!

A Gift in Return

Monday we took the homemade Christmas cards that we made at our last playdate to a local assisted living center.  I was happy to be traveling in a group, because while I'm not afraid of being around older people, I'm not that great at conversation with people I don't know, and that was the whole point of the visit!  One woman really put the whole trip into perspective, though.

We knocked in open doors and asked if the residents wanted company for a few minutes.  Everyone said 'yes' immediately except one woman.  Although her door was open, she wasn't dressed yet and said she didn't feel well.  After talking to the mom who knocked for a moment, however, she changed her mind and invited the whole group in.

After the children showered her with cards and goody bags and began to look around her room, she talked to the adults and told little stories about her belongings.  It was obvious that this woman was active and sentimental from her room - it was covered with paper flowers, cards, makeup, and funny pictures of animals.  Soon it was time for us to move on, and  noticing a stuffed Rudolph, we volunteered to sing the song to her.  Her eyes lit up and she grabbed the toy and pushed its tummy, which soon began to play along with us.  Rudolph's nose matched her cheeks as she waved her arms and the stuffed animals, tapping and wiggling her bare toes right along with the children's voices.

As we gathered our things and said our goodbyes, she exclaimed, "I feel better now!" and wished us a 'Merry Christmas.'

All of the residents we visited seemed to appreciate the visit and enjoyed the children.  Each one seemed to like seeing the little ones and the cards they had made.  But for this one woman, our visit didn't just seem to be a random moment within her day, but a moment that changed her day.

I don't even know the woman's name.  I never heard anyone mention it - it was hard to hear over all the excited kids.  But instead of stressing about those visits, the next time I'll look forward to it - and I might even try to plan another soon.

Our kids got to go be love in action, and that's a great lesson for them.  Seeing this woman face - that's a gift for us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas is Comin'

Christmas is a-comin'
And the goose is gettin' fat!
Please to put a penny in an old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny then a ha'penny would do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!

We used to play the 'Bonanza' Christmas album that features that song over and over at Christmastime when I was a kid.  I don't hear it often anymore, but it does hint around at the real spirit of Christmas.

Last week for playgroup we tried to focus on the real reason for the season.  We met at a local church, where the pastor read the children a story by Ruth Graham that talked about the very first Christmas.

After that, he assigned each child a part in the Christmas story, and they dressed up using simple costumes that the church had on hand.  (I think it would be really fun to make some costumes like this sometime ....)  The pastor then read the Christmas story from the book of Luke and directed each 'actor' when his part was read.  The angel was very excited about his wings!

After that, it was time to break loose for a bit.  Everyone brought craft supplies, and the kids made cards for our next field trip, when we'll visit with the residents at an assisted living center.  Some were especially excited about fancy scissors, while others were more interested in decorating shapes and gluing them onto their cards..

Soon we'll visit the center and sing to the residents and pass out the cards we've made.  What better way for little ones to spread some Christmas cheer than with crayons and song?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Do a Little, Do a Lot

Every year one day during the Christmas season is designated as 'Cookie Day' on the family calendar so that I can make all the cookies, candies, and other treats that we eat, share, and gift during this holiday season.  When the kids were babies, my wonderful husband would plan a date day for them so that they could do something special and I could work uninterrupted by bottles, diapers, and Cheerio snacks.

Now that the kids are bigger, however, (5 and 3 - the time REALLY flies!) the kids stay here and help out.  They both love to help in the kitchen, and there are lots of jobs that even little kids can do to learn how it works and to lend a helping hand.

My little princess decided that she needed to dress the part.

She started out by rolling the peanut butter cookies into balls and getting them ready to bake.

After that she got the Hershey's kisses ready to turn the cookies into blossoms.  My little worker man decided that he needed to be involved in any candy being handled.

Later today, we'll paint the sugar cookies and package them for delivery.  Obviously I don't have pictures of that since we haven't done it yet this year, but we like to make these cookies and do so often, so here's what it looked like last year ... painting away with Grandma ....

The kitchen can be a dangerous place for little ones with the many sharp utensils and hot areas, but it can also be a place of great exploration and experimentation.  Cooking is as much an art as a science, right? Kids CAN be in the kitchen as long as they are well supervised.  Some great beginning jobs for kids in the kitchen are : 
  • watching though the oven door for baking progress
  • washing fruits and veggies
  • crushing crackers and candy
  • decorating cookies and cakes
  • using a spoon to combine dry ingredients
  • rolling out or shaping doughs 
  • topping pizzas
If you haven't had your little one in the kitchen with you yet, try it!  It's great fun!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Say 'Cheese!'

It's that time of year again - our mailbox is filling up with Christmas cards!  Something about a stuffed mailbox just says 'somebody loves me.'  :-)  I love opening all the pretty envelopes to see what's waiting inside, and since many of our friends have small children - like us! - lots of cards are made with pictures of these adorable people.  Several of my friends use Shutterfly, an online photo company that allows you to upload your own personal pictures to share and print them.  I've always enjoyed this site for viewing their photos, but after checking into it a bit more carefully, I've found some really great products.

As much as I love photo cards, I do sometimes miss the beautiful Christian 'reason for the season' that can be a bit more prevalent on regular storebought cards.  I love how there are photo card options that combine both a true holiday message with a photo!

For the past several years, I've made photo calendars for my parents with both old and new family pictures, birthdays, anniversaries, and all sorts of funny pictures included.  Each calendar ended up being a very personalized gift with a ton of photos, and they seemed to enjoy them a lot.  The process could really be simplified with Shutterfly.  Shutterfly prints calendars in a variety of sizes, styles, and backgrounds - just upload your photos and choose your preferences. You can even add photos and text to the boxes on individual days!

Sometimes, you've met all of your stationery needs but still have gifts to buy.  Grandparents seem particularly difficult to shop for - but what do they like more than tiny smiling faces?  From jigsaw puzzles to jewelry, Shutterfly has a wide variety of photo gifts.

There are some great Shutterfly deals happening right now ... I might have to go place an order!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Fire Station

The fire station has been, in my opinion, one of our most informative visits so far. Maybe that's because one of their main goals is to educate so that they aren't needed - but at any rate, the firefighters who visited with us were wonderful.

The fire fighters took us back to their training room first and we watched a short cartoon about how quickly a fire can engulf a house and how make an emergency plan - planning an escape route, meeting place, and knowing the exits from each room of the house.

Then they modeled their gear and let us hear how the air tanks sound. They gave each child a backpack full of coloring books, stickers, informational pamphlets, keychains, cups, etc. My little firefighter wears his backpack - ahem, his air tank - around the house now when he's fighting a fire!

After that we went out to the bay and got to climb on some trucks. The firefighters answered questions about various parts and purposes and let the kids really check it all out.

Some even posed for pictures.

We decided that the giant bumpers made great places to pose for pictures. What cute firefighters!

This small vehicle is ridden by the fire chief in parades. This was by far the kids' favorite - it was more their size!

My little firefighter became so into fire safety during our study of it this week that we ended up having a whole family discussion about it after visiting the fire station. We designated a neighbor's porch as our emergency meeting place and even practiced climbing out of a window (to alleviate our daughter's fears of how it would work). Our smoke detectors have new batteries and we still pray that God will guard us from a fire, but should it happen, my short fire crew of fire fighters knows what to do.

If you've never visited your local fire station, give them a call. Who knows - you might learn something, too!

Visiting DOT

Visiting a construction site was high on my list of things-to-do, but how could our little ones get up-close-and-personal to a working dump truck? I was stumped for a bit, and finally called the local government office in charge of road repairs. I was referred several times, but finally sent to our local DOT headquarters (I didn't even know we had one!) where the man in charge generously agreed to all an unknown number of preschoolers visit.

When I arrived at headquarters on DOT day, I was amazed to find 12 little ones. How wonderful! Two great tour guides greeted us and escorted us out to the yard, where they had lined up about five trucks of different types. They began to tell us about each one and then, to my surprise, they helped each eager child to climb on. Imagine our surprise when they actually started up each truck and allowed the children to raise and lower booms, honk horns, and push all sorts of buttons! Several of the little ones were afraid of the noise (who knew a dump truck had such a LOUD horn??) but most were fascinated.

My son - so shy! - loves wheels. We had to take a picture of him with one. Look at how large they are!

These boys were just fascinated with the asphalt lying near one of the vehicles. They had never seen it in loose form before - and because the day was so hot, it was even a bit sticky!

As we prepared to leave, our wonderful tour guides handed each child a real construction vest. Have you ever seen such a great-looking group of construction workers??

All in all, we had a FANTASTIC visit to the DOT headquarters. I definitely recommend this as a place to check out!

Starting a Play Group

Last year our local MOPS group unexpectedly closed, taking with it our plans for regular social interaction for this school year. My little princess was starting kindergarten, but my construction foreman is three and was really beginning to enjoy playing with other little boys. Over the course of the summer he developed enough imaginary friends to form a baseball team, and I really began to brainstorm ways to get him around other children on a regular basis.

Out of that need grew an informal playgroup. My little foreman is all male - totally into trucks, wheels, and anything mechanical. I decided to set up visits to local community helpers so that we could learn about their jobs and see their vehicles up close and personal. I sent out an invitation via Facebook and found out who might be interested and then set a day and time that seemed to work for most people. My goal was to keep each visit as close to free as possible and include some kind of educational opportunity.

After that I developed a small list of places that we could visit. It looked something like this:

Construction site
Post Office
Fire Station
Police Station
Doctor's Office

Now, a few months later, other moms are sending in ideas for visits - and they've got great ones! It looked at first as if we could only meet when the weather permitted since we lack a meeting place or host sponsor, but so far, by being creative, we've been able to continue meeting even as the temperatures have dropped by visiting places that are indoors and by using a local church who has agreed to share their facilities sometimes.

Read on for more information about some of our field trips!