Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Gingerbread boxes - great homemade gift idea

Today I made some gingerbread gift-boxes with Mr Sociable & my friend, Sandra. I am planning for Mr Sociable to give these to his grandparents for Christmas, filled with nuts or lollies (grandparents, if you are reading this, please look enthusiastic on Christmas day...).

One of the finished gift-boxes
I got the idea from the Coles Christmas magazine (free at the registers at the moment). In the magazine, they were serving them as a dessert, filled with lindt balls. Our designs are quite different to theirs:
from the Coles Christmas magazine, 2011
I've made quite a few gingerbread houses from kits, but I've never baked gingerbread before. As a gingerbread novice, I learned a couple of things along the way:

1. It's easier to roll out the dough if you put baking paper on top of the dough, as well as underneath.
Rolling out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper
2. It's easier to peel the scraps away from the tree/box, rather than trying to move the shape onto the baking tray. So roll out the dough on a piece of baking paper that will fit on your tray.
Peeling away the scraps
Trees ready to go in the oven
Trees baked (as you can see, they don't spread a lot,
so you don't need to leave a lot of gap between them).
Boxes cooling, ready to decorate
Mr Sociable decorated a few trees for his preschool teachers and the roofs of all the grandparents' boxes. After that, he lost interest and left Sandra and I to it!

One of Mr Sociable's trees
Lots of trees
I think this recipe was actually a bit too soft to make boxes. It worked really well for the trees and tastes delicious, but the boxes are not as well-formed as I had hoped. I have held them together with pins and lots of icing. I'm hoping they will harden up a bit over the next few weeks.

If you have a recipe for firm gingerbread, you may enjoy making these as a little hand-made gift for someone this Christmas :)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Going to the Christmas Tree Farm

Today we made our annual trip to the Christmas Tree Farm to choose ourselves a Christmas tree. We started going when Mr Sociable was 1 (although he was asleep in the car that year!). Last year, we let Mr Sociable "help" Daddy to saw the tree. He really looks forward to this special day - and actually asks about it during the year. We weren't planning to go until next weekend (first weekend of December), but it was a beautiful day & the weather has been so changeable lately that we thought we would take the opportunity to go!

Daddy and Mr Sociable sawing the tree
Wheeling the tree up to the car on a trolley (the ground was apparently too boggy to drive the car down).
The boys played in the backyard with Gran while Franky and I put the lights on the tree. Once the lights were on, we invited them inside to help decorate. They were both excited by the lights and all the shiny decorations!

Mr Sociable was not particularly interested in putting decorations on the tree (although pulling them off the tree was a fun game!). He did try to put the thai takeaway menu on the tree though...

We finished decorating the tree while Franky went to get takeaway for dinner. We were all worn out ;)

Finished tree, by daylight (and before I put the playpen around it).
Lights on (and the playpen in place).
I love getting a "real" tree at Christmas. I love that we have started this tradition with our kids. I love sitting in front of the tree at night and looking at the lights. I love that our house smells like Christmas - brings back so many memories of childhood Christmases.

What Christmas traditions do you have in your family?

Quick tip - satisfying the soap enthusiast

When Mr Sociable started washing his own hands, we started to use a lot of soap. He likes his hands to be full of soap, then spends a lot of time washing the bubbles away.

I don't mind his hands getting a good wash - but I prefer not to use a bottle of soap every week! So, I started to use the self-foaming soap. He still feels like he is getting a handful of soap - but really, it is mostly bubbles.

The trick is, that the foaming action actually comes from the bottle. So once you buy the bottle, you can just water down regular liquid hand soap. I use about 1 part soap:4 parts water. You may need to adjust the amounts of soap and water, depending on the brand of soap you buy. Once you've mixed it up, the consistency of the soap should be like water.

This is a self-foaming shampoo that I bought just for the bottle (and it does smell nice too!).
We've almost finished it, so it will soon be filled with hand-wash.

This bottle is pretty old - I'm not sure if you can even get this anymore!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Christmas Presents for Teachers

Mr Sociable started preschool last year. In mid-December, I suddenly realised that I had four extra presents to buy (the culture at his preschool is to buy a gift for each of the teachers). I like the idea of giving a present at Christmas, to thank the teachers for their hard work during the year and to wish them a happy holiday.

I asked my teacher-friends on FB for some suggestions and received lots of great ideas. I've included a list of their ideas below. I decided to buy the teachers each a glass ornament (found some pretty ones at Freedom). Mr Sociable and I also made them rocky-road Christmas trees (which, in addition to tasting great, make a pretty table decoration). 

This year, I have put together a Christmas table decoration for each of the teachers.

I found some Christmas bowls at Bunnings, bought some plain white candles and lined the base of the bowls with shiny black rocks. Finally, I wrapped them up with cellophane & ribbon.

For those who are still thinking about what to buy your kids' teachers, here are some suggestions from my teacher-friends:
* flowers/plant/poinsettia
* a fancy glass Christmas ornament (quite a few people recommended ornaments - something to remember the child by each year as you hang it on the tree)
* quality bath products
* movie tickets
* nice Christmas plate/bowl
* a good book to relax with
* a good hand cream (teachers of young kids wash their hands a lot!)
* baked goods
* lollies in a nice tea towel
* "the best pressies have not been the tangible ones... it was sincere thanks from the students for a great year...not much help I know!"
* scratch and sniff stickers

You can find some more suggestions here.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Away and a Manger at Grandpa's

I've been thinking about Jesus-oriented traditions and activities for Christmas (have a look at Life on a Hill or The Useful Box for some ideas). This year, I want to put a "baby Jesus" under our tree - so we can talk about him being the best present at Christmas, etc. I've been thinking about making a "manger" from a painted cardboard box, lined with some straw/shredded paper. But, this week, I had another idea...

Mr Sociable went to stay at Grandpa & Grandma's place (my Dad & step-Mum). His favourite thing about going there is spending time "making things out of wood with Grandpa". My Dad has a workroom, where he keeps tools and scraps of wood. It occurred to me that maybe they could make a manger from wood - something that we could pack away after Christmas and use year after year. I put forward my idea, which was well-received by both Grandpa & Mr Sociable. They were very excited to show me the finished result today. I had a picture in my head of what it was going to look like - but they far surpassed my expectations! I'm very excited about putting this under our tree!

In addition to looking really cool, I love that Grandpa and Mr Sociable made this together. I have fond memories of spending time lots of time with my own grandparents when I was a child. My Papa loved to look at books with me and talk about life. My Nana sparked my interest in sewing and patiently helped me with sewing projects. I want my kids to have these kind of memories of their grandparents.

Nana & I, 1985
Papa & I, 1985

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The things you can learn from building a lego house!!

Mr Sociable loves to be a "builder". The other day, he walked downstairs wearing his builder hat & carrying a toolbox. He suggested we should draw some plans for building. I got out our new whiteboard crayons (which, incidentally, are really good!) and we decided to draw plans for a house.

He loves this builder's hat! It's a "real" one that belonged to Franky's Dad.
Logical Thinking & Discussion
Mr Sociable drew the house in the order that we would build it. So we talked about each stage of building as he did the drawing. He suggested we should put the windows in first - so we talked about the importance of foundations. We talked about how the parts would fit together and I listened to his creative stories about how people could get to the door in the middle of the wall (I eventually convinced him that stairs might be a good option).

The finished plans
Labeling/Diagrams & Phonics
As Mr Sociable drew each part of the house, I wrote a label. This was a great opportunity to show him how labels work in diagrams. We were also able to talk about the words and sounds (eg. 'window' starts with a 'w'). To extend this activity, you could talk about the other sounds in the word, or ask kids to "find the label that says..."

Super-happy with his house! He still has this
in his room - he can't bear to pull it apart!
Following Instructions
We built the house (mostly) according to the plan. I encouraged Mr Sociable to check the plan to see what we were missing. I reminded him about the order that we developed when we drew the plans and we followed that order to build the house.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Easy Christmas T-shirts

I like making Christmas t-shirts for my kids to wear on Christmas day. T-shirts are a great reminder about the true centre of Christmas (Jesus!). A couple of years ago, I used iron-on t-shirt transfers that I bought at Officeworks. They looked great on Christmas Day, but they did start to crack after a few washes.

This year, I decided to paint shirts instead. I bought some cheap, plain t-shirts at Kmart. I used some old fabric paint that we had in the cupboard and some embossing stencils that I used to use to make cards (about 15 years ago...). I just taped the stencils onto the fabric & used a paintbrush to brush the paint onto the fabric.

The nativity scene design
I made these "girl" shirts my my friend's little girls.
Mr Fun's shirt
I made Mr Sociable's t-shirt by painting the design onto some red fabric, then cutting out the red rectangle and overlocking it. I haven't actually attached it yet (as I haven't yet prewashed the black t-shirt), but I'm planning to use some iron-on adhesive and stitching.

Mr Sociable is very into black at the moment.
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