Category Archives: Crafts

Miniature and Whimsical Food for Leprechauns, Fairies and Elves

If you wish to entice a leprechaun this St. Patrick’s Day, you’re going to need some leprechaun-scaled food. The same applies for fairies, elves, gnomes and other small, whimsical creatures. Here are some tantalizing ways to satisfy hungry leprechauns and fairies who have come to tea.

Mini Burgers

You’ll need:

A box of Nilla wafers
A bag of small peppermint patties such as York
Shredded coconut
Green food coloring
Red or yellow “Fruit by the Foot” (frosting can be substituted)
Sesame seeds, optional
Corn syrup, optional
Toothpicks, optional

1. Dissolve a drop of green food coloring into a cup of water.

2. Place about 1/4 cup of shredded coconut into a mixing bowl and pour the food coloring over it. Mix the coconut to coat it with color and then let it sit a few minutes to make sure the color is absorbed. Pat dry with a paper towel. That is the lettuce for your burger.

3. Roll out the “Fruit by the Foot” and cut small squares of red or yellow to represent tomato slices and cheese.

4. If you wish your Nilla wafer “buns” to have sesame seeds on it, place the desired number of wafers on a flat surface, covered with wax paper. Dip a toothpick into the corn syrup and dot the wafers with drops of the syrup. Carefully place a sesame seed on each syrup drop. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to dry.

5. Assemble the “burger” by starting with a wafer for the bottom bun and then adding a peppermint patty, the fruit square(s), the coconut, and, finally, the top bun.

6. Nibble with tiny bites, just like the leprechauns do.

Jell-O Rainbow

You’ll need:

One small package each of gelatins in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple
Hot water for each package, per package directions
Approx. 2 c. Cool Whip, if you want a white layer between colors
Many small containers or one large flat one (like an 8×8 pan)
Non-stick spray

1. Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water (Do not add cold water). Spray large flat pan or separate bowls (as flat as possible) with non-stick spray.

2. Place each color in a separate bowl or place 2/3 of your first color in the flat pan as a layer. Chill, trying to keep the Jell-O flat.

3. If making one large pan, wait until gelatin is set to add a next layer of color, in rainbow-color order, listed above. Repeat with all colors. If you want white between your color layers, then mix 1/3 c. cool whip into your remaining 1/3 c. Jell-O and add that layer to the previous layer, letting it set before moving on.

4. If making many small pans, once gelatin is set, cut each color into uniform squares or rectangles. Place shapes on platters or plates in rainbow-color order, listed above.

5. If making one large mold, wait until the final layer has set and carefully cut the Jell-O so that it reveals the rainbow through each layer.

This is a great blog post about Jell-O Rainbows.

Other miniature and whimsical food ideas include:

Cucumber-round sandwiches with cream cheese inside

Sandwiches cut in flower or other shapes with cookie cutters

Chicken tahini salad on mini pita rounds

Mini bagels spread with cream cheese and covered with sprinkles

Mini mushroom cupcakes with red frosting tops covered with round white sprinkles

Shamrock mini cupcakes

No-bake mini heart cakes

Animal-cracker “sandwiches” with jam inside

Jell-O butterflies or other shapes using cookie cutters

Juice served in miniature tea cups or plastic mugs, available at craft and hobby stores

You may want to do more than put out food for your leprechaun. If you wish to capture one, here are three leprechaun catchers you can make.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Equinox (surely a magical time).

Photos: Saucy Dragonfly, Mark Flickett

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How to Make: Fun and Easy Homemade Valentines

Since Roman times, people have celebrated a mid-February festival — once called Lupercalia and celebrating fertility, the holiday was changed by Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. into a Christian feast day in honor of the Roman martyr Saint Valentine. Today, 25% of all cards sent in the U.S. per year are valentines.

And why not? In addition to proclaiming love, valentines can be lovely, bright, traditional, and endless in variety. As such, they make a wonderful craft for children, who can easily decorate large paper hearts with simple things found in grocery and craft stores and around your house.

You’ll need:

Construction paper in classic Valentine colors (red, pink, purple) — or not!

At least one good heart-shaped template, made of cardboard, that you can trace around to make valentine hearts. (Sometimes these can be found in craft stores.)

Scissors, regular and/or pinking edged

Glue, traditional and stick

Paper doilies that are slightly larger than the heart-shape

To decorate your valentine hearts, choose from:

Smaller doilies, either whole or cut
Commercial valentines, either whole or cut
Stickers (old-fashioned valentine or floral themes, or any of your choosing)
Small pom poms
Ribbon pieces
Small paper cups for candies or baked goods (available at specialty or grocery stores)
Small paper hearts
Feathers
Buttons
Beads
Tissue paper shreds
Crinkle cut paper
Pipe cleaners
Party napkins, whole or cut up
Felt hearts
Foam hearts and other shapes
Fabric scraps
Crepe paper pieces
Glitter
Markers, to write messages
Paint

The list is endless! We collect valentine items from year to year and store them away when not in use. Most of these things are available in craft and similar stores. Younger children, especially, seem to like the really tactile items like pom poms, feathers and candy cups.

It’s easy to host a small or large group to make valentines. Try putting each item in its own small bowl. Or have guests dress up or wear hats for a Valentines Tea that includes mini sandwiches and juice or tea in teacups. (Second-hand stores are a good source of old teacups.)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like Mixed Reviews for New Necco Sweetheart Flavors.

Downplay Gift-Giving and Bring up Ritual, Meaning and Fun

I am thrilled to have Amy at Frugal Mama here today with a guest post. I always get tons of practical and inspirational tips from her lovely blog and am honored that she wanted to write something for Slow Family:

“I think the best way to de-commercialize Christmas and other holidays with kids is to have lots of non-gifting traditions,” says Nancy Shohet West, Boston-area essayist, friend and author of the newly-released The Mother-Son Running Streak Club, a memoir about bonding with her son by running a mile with him every day for a year.

I like the way Nancy thinks about giving presents:  as just one of many holiday traditions.  (Clearly dedicated to routine, given she is now on day 1,215 of her daily running streak, I consulted Nancy when I took on writing this article for Suz and Slow Family Online.)

It’s Not that Gifts are Bad…

I’m not saying we should completely give up presents.  But too many can empty our savings, clutter our homes, and pile landfills with more junk. I knew things had gotten excessive in our family when we had to take a lunch break from Christmas present-unwrapping.  Now we have a one-gift-per-person rule.

This year we plan to revive the stockings, but instead of tiny wrapped do-dads, we’ll fill them with exchanged notes for everyone that begin with phrases like “I love how you…” and “I remember when you…”

But I still sometimes worry that fewer presents will be disappointing.

Make Those Traditions Constant and Pleasing

Holiday rituals — as keepers of our values and pleasures — have the power to replace the joy of giving and receiving gifts. As Nancy describes in her blog post A Month of Holiday Festivities, special activities fill all of December:

  • the town tree-lighting
  • a school holiday concert
  • a cookie exchange
  • buying a Christmas tree
  • decorating the house
  • throwing a party
  • making candy (truffles, peanut brittle, white-chocolate candy cane bark, toffee, and peanut-butter buckeyes)
  • a church pageant, evergreens sale, and children’s service
  • an annual holiday photo shoot and
  • composing the family’s customary 12-stanza poem

Breaking with Tradition:  Does This Happen to You Too?

Not everyone is as naturally inclined toward ritual as Nancy, however, and some of us face significant obstacles.

Since having our first daughter who is now eight, we have lived in five different places. (My husband’s medical training keeps us moving.)

Plus, we celebrate Christmas in different places each year:  at my parents’ Ohio farm, in my husband’s native Milan, or wherever we are living at the time. I’m sure people with blended families have an even more complicated geographical itinerary.

Traditions change even at my parents’ country house, which has been in the family since 1868.  Some of my favorite memories used to be singing carols around the fire on Christmas Eve while my uncle played guitar, eating tins of caramel clusters that family friends would send us every year, and taking a tractor ride up to the woods where we’d cut down a Christmas tree, roast hot dogs and make s’mores.

But my parents don’t own that little piece of woods anymore, my uncle doesn’t come these days (he has grandchildren of his own), and those family friends sold their popcorn company.

Then there’s the issue that I’m sure many mothers of young children face:  even if it’s possible to continue the same childhood traditions, do you want to?  Or do you adopt new ones?  If so, which ones?

Finally, piling on more have-to’s onto our loaded holiday plates can risk overwhelming us, instead of delighting us.  (If you have the feeling you need to pare down, Nancy recommends asking your children which traditions mean the most to them.)

So, creating a spectrum of rituals that your family looks forward to every year is not simple, but I think it’s worth working towards.  Especially for the power of tradition to take the pressure off material things.

Holiday Rituals that Captivate

Here are some activity ideas, besides the ones already mentioned, that could populate your holidays.  Presents or no presents, your family will remember this time as one of warmth and magic.

  • Make a gingerbread house (Suz has great suggestions for both hand-made houses and kits, as well as workshops and classes)
  • Attend religious events, such as midnight mass or creche scenes
  • Drive around festive neighborhoods at night or go to a festival of lights (zoos often put these on)
  • Light candles or make a cupcake Menorah
  • Give away toys to the hospital, deliver meals to shut-ins, volunteer at at shelter, or drop off cans at a food bank
  • Read aloud together Twas the Night Before Christmas in holiday pajamas
  • Or read books about the history of Santa Claus and how Christmas Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice is celebrated around the world
  • Make hand-crafted gifts and cards
  • Go sledding, skiiing, tubing, or ice-skating
  • Eat food you only make at this time of year, such as eggnog, roasted chestnuts, rugelach, mulled cider, cut-out sugar cookies, mincemeat, kugel, gingersnaps, peppermint bark, or potato latkes
  • See the Nutcracker, or stay home and play board games
  • Go to the botanical garden for a toy train exhibit, or downtown for a horse and buggy ride
  • Set cookies out for Santa, or deliver plates of goodies to neighbors
  • Every Friday night, watch a classic holiday movie like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or How The Grinch Stole Christmas
  • Invite an international student over for a holiday meal
  • Take a train ride to a festive old-fashioned town
  • Send care packages to friends or family who need a boost
  • Make snowflakes (create your own or try these beautiful snowflake patterns) and use them as decorations, gifts or ornaments
  • Don’t celebrate Christmas?  Make a tradition of going out for Chinese food and the movies on Christmas day.

Boost Your Chances of Success

Don’t worry if you miss one year of a time-honored ritual (or one you wanted to become time-honored).  Nancy was torn about missing her favorite holiday concert last year, but it made her more appreciative when she was able to go again this time.

I think the rituals we are most likely to stick with are the ones that we have strong beliefs about (like fostering a love of nature) or that we get great pleasure from (cookies we think are delicious, not just “what grandma made”).

If some traditions involve more values than pleasure (like visiting Uncle Eggbert for a piece of fruitcake); or the pleasure involves pain (like stringing lights over that stickery bush), follow them with something that’s pure enjoyment:  staying up late watching The Sound of Music, or eating fondue by a blazing fire.
Remember the procrastination-prone thank you notes?  Nancy creates a ritual out of that too, making it fun by taking her kids to a local coffee house, where they get to drink hot chocolate with whipped cream while writing to grandma.


What holiday rituals does your family look forward to year after year?

Amy Suardi loves finding the silver lining to living on less.  Subscribe to her blog Frugal Mama to get free bi-weekly ideas on saving money and making life better.

Stories and photos by Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part Two

Creating and designing gingerbread houses is a fun and classic holiday activity. It can also — let’s face it — be messy and time-consuming, what with baking the pieces for and constructing the house, gathering all the needed supplies, and having an area in your home that you don’t mind getting a little frosting-spackled.

The clever solution for would-be gingerbread architects who are a little short on time and materials? Find a spot that supplies all the needed ingredients and merely requires you to show up, be creative and pay for what you use.

One such spot is Mill Valley, CA’s Gingerbread Builders, which offers standard and custom houses and everything you need to create stunning ones, including catalogs for inspiration, staff assistance, plenty of time and all manner of frosting and candy decorations. And best? It’s open every day on a drop-in basis.

Other Bay Area spots offer gingerbread house workshops at specific times. These include the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Cake Art in San Rafael, Autumn Express in San Francisco, and Spun Sugar in Berkeley.

Across the country, in Lexington, MA, Wilson Farm offers a gingerbread house workshop on a historic farm that features lots of other fun activities. In Newton, MA, Create a Cook has a two-part gingerbread house workshop, in addition to other kids’ cooking classes.

New York City’s Taste Buds offers lots of gingerbread house and holiday cookie workshops.

Chicago’s Emerald City Theater features gingerbread house making in conjunction with other theater activities.

The Creative Discovery Museum in Chatanooga, TN, has lots of gingerbread house workshops.

In Camano Island, WA, you can decorate a gingerbread house outdoors at the Cama Beach Nature Preserve with Gingerbread Lady Alice Blandin. (Register by Dec. 6.)

In Toronto, the very special-sounding Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream offers drop-in gingerbread house creating, along with owner/ baker/cake decorator Kyla Eaglesham.

Seeking a larger project? This person in my town transforms their house into a lifesize gingerbread house each year!

So, whatever your taste, time allotment, budget and desire, there’s a gingerbread house project for you, and a place to create it!

For more ideas and how-tos, see my earlier post about Constructing and Decorating a Gingerbread House. Have fun!

Photos: Top Three – Gingerbread Builders, Kyla Eaglesham, Susan Sachs Lipman

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part One

It’s the rare person whose imagination isn’t captured by the delight in creating a gingerbread house. There’s the architecture aspect, as the house’s pieces are baked and fitted — and icing-caulked — together in a variety of ways. There’s the decorating, which can be done with all manner of bright candies and objects and patterns that can recall familiar items — or not! And there’s the very satisfying, whimsical, one-of-a-kind structure that results.

Here are some tips and ideas from around the web for creating gingerbread and other candied houses.

From Wilton, comes this extremely informative and creative guide to decorating with icing and candies that covers everything from creating icicles to fireplaces to shutters to stained-glass windows.

Celebrating Christmas offers recipes, ideas, and enough blueprints for homes and landscaping (from ponds to flower-lined paths) to satisfy your inner general contractor.

Gingerbread House Heaven is another site with lots of ideas and beautiful pictures for inspiration. Think you can’t light a gingerbread house with real lights, for instance? Think again. This site shares how, in addition to offering instructions for melted-candy windows that will make the light glow realistically through. Roofing textures and various recipes for edible clay are among the many other things covered.

If you’re still seeking good gingerbread recipes and building how-tos, Simply Recipes has plenty.

Rather skip the headaches of building and just move in? Here are lots of turn-key house ideas, like using milk cartons or other bases, as a way of getting right to the decorating fun.

With small children, especially, the easiest and most pleasing thing to do is cover a short milk carton with frosting and let them stick on candies and other foods to decorate. The milk carton (or a village of them) can sit atop a piece of foil-covered cardboard that can also be frosted. And, of course, you can buy a pre-assembled gingerbread house and get right to the decorating.

Some decorating ideas include:

Gumdrops, cut in half – edging or decorations
Jelly beans – edging or decorations
M&Ms – ornaments or decorations
Fruit loops – decorations
Nilla wafers, crushed or whole – walkways
Ritz crackers – walkways, shingles or siding
Gummi bears – decorations
Chocolate soldiers – decorations
Chocolate kisses – bells or decorations
Chocolate nonpareils – shingles or decorations
Candy canes – gates or decorations
Licorice, small pieces – edging or bricks
Necco wafers, whole or broken – shingles, walkways, decorations
Pretzel sticks – fences and logs
Shredded wheat cereal – thatched roofs
Graham crackers, halved, and candy canes – sleds
Graham crackers – shingles
Upside down ice-cream cones, frosted and dipped in green sprinkles – trees
Brown sugar – dirt
Confectioners sugar – snow

And, for the modern home, orange-half barbecues and ice-cream cone satellite dishes!

Here’s hoping you enjoy a fun and creative holiday!

Photos: Public Domain, Wilton, Susan Sachs Lipman

Stay tuned for Part Two: Gingerbread Workshops

Giving Thanks: Express Gratitude with Crafts, Foods, Fun and Contemplation

Thanksgiving is upon us in the U.S. Even those who routinely feel and express gratitude have a sanctioned reason to pause and do so more profoundly than usual. Gratitude can transform one’s entire experience or outlook. It imbues relationships, observations and activities with awe and fullness and the realization that “this moment” — and our own unique collection of moments — is the best there is.

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The Thanksgiving holiday makes space for us to allow gratitude into our (often busy) lives in new ways and to pass that feeling on to our children. I’m very grateful for many things, including my wonderful and creative blogger friends who have taken the time to contribute their own ideas for gratitude and celebration.

While I love the smells of turkey cooking — in addition to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V. — I also enjoy getting out in nature on Thanksgiving Day.  Frugal Mama shares four make-ahead traditional Thanksgiving recipes that allow you to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, with all the trimmings, as well as some time away from the kitchen.

Pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving and Fall food and, while you can make it from scratch, this recipe using canned pumpkin, is extremely easy and makes a very tasty pie.

You can bake your own crust or use one of the pre-made ones, some of which are getting better and better tasting. Epicurious taste-tested pre-made pie crusts. Among their favorites is one of  mine, Whole Foods 365 Organic Pie Shells. Good Housekeeping also weighs in with their pre-made pie crust taste test.

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From Rhythm of the Home and Vintage Chica comes a beautiful Thankfulness Journal project.  Of course, this well-made felt-covered book would be a wonderful project to make, use and enjoy any time of year.

The same could be said of this equally inspiring and beautiful gratitude banner from Future Craft Collective. It’s fun and lovely in itself and wonderful in the way it allows family members to contemplate and formalize their gratitude.

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Easy and fun thankfulness ornaments come from Unplug Your Kids. Do you remember making salt-dough ornaments and objects? I sure do. This old-school project never goes out of style and the gratitude aspect adds a nice touch.

Shoveling snow? Why not turn it into a fun and magical outdoor activity for you and your kids? That’s what Mel at Your Wild Child did. Her photos are delightful and inspiring, as always.

Bethe, the Grass Stain Guru, shares her own wonderful list of 10 things to be thankful for in nature.

I just had the good fortune to learn about the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA, which explores the science behind happiness and the ways that we can nurture those brain pathways that promote it. According the the folks at Greater Good, happiness can be a learned and practiced trait.

Greater Good also offers a community gratitude journal that allows you to go in and add your own comments about the things that you’re grateful for.

Want more information about cultivating an attitude of gratitude? Arvind Devalia gives us some ideas about embracing what we already have. Thank you to Alison Kerr at Loving Nature’s Garden for her own post about gratitude and for letting me know about this blog.

My own gratitude list includes:
A family that laughs a lot
Good friends
The smell of clean laundry
The air after it rains
Strawberries
Tulips
Clouds
Vintage anything
Old cities
Trains
Tomatoes
Beaches
Hats and gloves
Hopeful new immigrants
Energy
Creativity
Good health
A warm house
Meaningful work
Books and book stores
Holidays
Amusement Parks
County Fairs
Swing music
Colors
Babies
Curlicues
Road trips
A smile from a stranger
Daffodils
Snow-capped mountains
Starry nights
Wonder

..to name a few things

What’s yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Photos: Farm Security Administration, Rick Audet, Bernadette Noll, Susan Sachs Lipman

A Roundup of Halloween and Fall Fun

Everyone seems to be inspired by Fall and by Halloween, which comes at the exact height of the season. There is no shortage of wonderful blog posts and ideas about play, creativity, and celebration of this pivotal and lovely time of the year. I’ve gathered a few:

Fall’s bounty and beauty are explored by Mom in Madison

A roundup of Fall outdoor activities comes from Your Wild Child

Backyard Mama brings us ten ways to enjoy Fall

Make shrunken apple heads with Active Kids Club

Create a Sugar Sprite tradition for Halloween candy with Stephinie on Rhythm of the Home

A wonderful compendium of Halloween herb and food history and lore comes from The Herb Companion

From The Squirrelbasket: Halloween traditions, superstitions, and pumpkin carving

DIYLife weighs in on composting Fall leaves

Shivaya Mama describes experiencing peace and joy through watching children’s delight at jumping in Fall leaves

Have a glorious Halloween and Fall!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman