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Kids In The Kitchen: Gingerbread Houses

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Gingerbread is a big thing in our house at Christmas.  We usually make gingerbread men and women, or gingerbread trains, or gingerbread trees and snowflakes to decorate.  When we have made “gingerbread houses” in the past, we’ve always just used graham crackers.  This is the way I made my houses when I was a kid.  It’s easy, and no baking and waiting are required.  The kids can just start decorating…which is the best part anyway!  This year, we decided to make our gingerbread houses from scratch.  It took a lot more time, but the gingerbread tasted wonderful and the houses looked great!  I hope you enjoy making these gingerbread houses with your family as much as I enjoyed making them with mine!

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Gingerbread Houses:  (This recipe makes one house)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup shortening

3/4 cup molasses

1/3 cup cold water

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 Recipe of Gingerbread Frosting (recipe to follow)

Assorted candy, nuts, cookies, etc. to decorate with

Directions:

Heat oven to 350F.  Grease bottoms and sides of a jelly roll pan with shortening.

In a large bowl, mix the brown sugar…

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the shortening…

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and the molasses.

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Stir in cold water.

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Add the flour and the baking soda…

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and the ginger, salt, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon.

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Mix everything together…go ahead, get your hands in there…until a nice dough ball forms.

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Press the dough into the greased jelly roll pan.  My kids got really enthusiastic on this step!

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Bake for about 15 minutes or until no indentations remain when center is touched.  Cool 5 minutes.

Now comes the fun part!  Cut shapes:  two rectangles, two trapezoids, two squares, and two triangles.  Place these shapes on top of your gingerbread, and cut around them.

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When you are finished cutting, remove the shapes to a cooling rack.

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While your gingerbread is cooling, make your gingerbread frosting…

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Gingerbread Frosting

Ingredients:

2 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup shortening

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup

5-6 tsp. milk

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth and spreadable.  This stuff is thick and works just like glue for your house.

Now, back to the gingerbread houses…

Assemble your houses using your gingerbread shapes and your gingerbread frosting.

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Let the houses stand for about 30 minutes, or until the frosting is completely set.

 

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Then, you can decorate your house with candy, nuts, cookies, crackers…whatever your little heart desires!

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Last, but not least, stand back and admire your artistic abilities.  I love my creative little kid’s gingerbread houses!

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Artsy Kids: Paper Snowflakes

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For our Christmas activity last night, we decided to make paper snowflakes to hang on the tree.  We have made these before, but we’ve never had patterns to go by, just free-styled it, and ended up with some rather “unique” looking snowflakes.  Since I have become friendlier with Pinterest, I have found tutorials for several activities I enjoy doing with the kids.  I was able to find a great tutorial for paper snowflakes with 24 different patterns to use!  You can find the tutorial here.  This tutorial is very easy to follow and really helped us with our snowflakes this year.  Although, we had to do the free-style thing, too…old habits die hard!  I hope you enjoy this little craft and maybe get some ideas for your snowflake projects.

Here’s our step-by-step:

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Paper Snowflakes

Materials:

White printer paper

Scissors

Directions:

1.  Fold paper to make a triangle.

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2.  Cut off excess paper.  When you open the triangle, your paper should now look like a square.  Refold the triangle.

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3.  Fold the triangle again.

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4.  Fold left point down toward the middle.

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5.  Fold right point over this fold.

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6.  Cut off excess to make another triangle.

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7.  Stick the triangle on your stuffed animal’s head.

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8.  Draw the design of the snowflake on your triangle.  The dark parts will be cut out.

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9.  Cut out the shape and open it up to find a beautiful snowflake!  My son was so proud of his work.

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Here is my daughter’s beautiful snowflake.

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My husband joined in the fun, too.

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This was a tricky pattern, but I thought it made a lovely snowflake.

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And, of course, we made some free-style snowflakes.

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Not too shabby for free-style, kids!  My son thought his small one looked like a frog, and my daughter designed and cut that pattern by herself…artist in the making right there!  Love those kiddos!!!

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Then, we hung our snowflakes on the tree in the playroom.

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And cleaned up the giant mess we made in the living room.

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It was worth it!  Now, have fun making your own snowflakes…and have a very merry Christmas!

Oh, Christmas Tree(s), Oh, Christmas Tree(s)

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I love Christmas!  Did I say that already?  I really, really do!

In my house, we don’t just put up one Christmas tree.  We put up one in almost every room!  Add those to the other decorations, and our house is just filled to the brim with Christmas.  No matter what room you are in, you’ll be sure to feel the Christmas spirit!

Here are my trees…this doesn’t include my outside trees!

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I have a teeny little tree in my kitchen.  My cousin made the cute little snow blocks.

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I have a big tree in the playroom trimmed with ornaments older than I am.  It’s been so nice to hand these down to my children.

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Our “Big Tree” in the Living Room is always, always, a live tree.  This tree is trimmed with ornaments from my childhood and my husband’s childhood, including our very first Christmas ornaments.  When we had children of our own, we were able to start buying them ornaments every year to place on the tree.  And, I always hang candy canes on my tree…a tradition I stole from my Uncle Randall.

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And you must have presents under the tree!

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There’s a tree in my son’s room with some ornaments from my childhood and new ones for each year of his life.  Gotta love the blue tree!

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And one in my daughter’s room with ornaments from my childhood and new ones for each year of her life.  And, of course, a pink tree for my little girl!

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There is even a tree in our Master Bedroom!

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Usually, I’m not a red light person, but I was given these red lantern lights that are really old and cool looking.  I have a thing for antiques!

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The book I use to sing carols with my kids is even older than the lights!  Circa 1940.

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I even put a tree in my laundry room.  Hey, you really need Christmas spirit when you are doing laundry!  Maybe I’ll just leave that one up all year!

And, since it is getting late in the day, and everyone will be turning in for a long winter’s nap soon, I’ll leave you with one last picture of my very favorite Christmas wreath…

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Artsy Kids: Paper Chains for Christmas

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Since Christmas is right around the corner, I thought I would share some of our family Christmas fun with you.  I always try to let my children do plenty of crafts and baking around the holidays.  I’ve tried to pass down Christmas traditions and create new ones with my family.  We make ornaments, cookies, and gingerbread houses.  We watch Christmas movies, read Christmas stories, and sing Christmas carols.  We enjoy playing with our Lego City Advent Calender.  And we even adopted an Elf on the Shelf last year to add to the fun.  We have trees in just about every room in our house.  We always decorate the “big” tree together.  We put on a cute little Christmas play at our church every year.  We spend time with family, drink hot chocolate, cuddle by the fire, and eat lots of popcorn.  We always dress in our Christmas pjs and read Twas The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.  And, we always have a pancake breakfast on Christmas morning.  This list could go on and on…we really love Christmas in this house!

So, I will be posting different crafts, goodies, books, trees, traditions, and so on that I enjoy with my family every day this week.  I just love spreading that Christmas cheer.

A few days ago, my kids made paper chains to hang in their rooms.  These are so easy and fun to make.  People have been making these for years and hanging them around the house and on trees.  My mom used to make them with her siblings when she was a little girl.  I made them when I was a little girl.  And now, my children are making them.  Traditions!  Here are the steps to make your own paper chains.

Paper Chains for Christmas

Materials:

construction paper

scissors

glue

Directions:

1.  Using scissors, cut construction paper into strips that are somewhat even in length and width.

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2.  Glue the ends of the first strip together to form a loop.  Hold together until glue dries.

3.  Place the second strip of paper through the first loop.  Glue this one together to form a loop.

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4.  Keep connecting loops until your chain is the length you want it.

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5.  Hang your paper chain from the walls, ceiling, tree, chandelier…wherever you want it!

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I hope you enjoy this Christmas craft of ours!  What crafts do you do with your family at Christmas?

Dinosaurs at The Clay Center

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Have I mentioned that I love The Clay Center?  Well, I do!  And my kids do, too!  We love Earth City, Health Royale, and the Gizmo Factory.  We love visiting the art gallery, the planetarium, and watching a film on the giant screen.  And, we love the ever-changing Mylan Explore-atory.

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Currently in the Mylan Explore-atory is a wonderful exhibit called “Be The Dinosaur”.  The Clay Center pulled out all the stops on this one!

Be the Dinosaur fuses state-of-the-art video game technology with traditional paleontology exhibits that feature full-size dinosaur bones, a paleontology field station, a Safari Jeep and much more. Thanks to highly interactive simulator pods, guests can “become” an actual living, breathing dinosaur within a virtual Cretaceous Era ecosystem. Younger guests can take part in our Dino Dig, where everyone leaves with a dino-mite prize! The exhibit will also feature dinosaur artifacts and activities exploring dino defenses, size, colors and lifestyles.”- The Clay Center Website.

I enjoy all the exhibits that come to the Explore-atory, but I must say this has been my favorite.

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My kids especially loved the Safari Jeep.

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Who doesn’t love digging for dinosaur fossils?

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In this little box, you can dig up toy dinosaurs…and you even get to keep one!  My kids are big fans of plastic animals, especially dinosaurs.

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Build your own dino scene at this station.

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My, would you look at that footprint!

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We had a blast at the Dino-Morphs station where you can build a dinosaur using the pieces provided.

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We had a little too much fun putting the dinos together the wrong way.  Have you ever seen a dinosaur with a head on the front and backside?

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No dinosaur exhibit would be complete without a giant dinosaur head.

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By visiting all the stations in this exhibit, you learn about dinosaurs, paleontologists, fossils, extinction, and many other interesting facts.  You also get tips for how to play the Be The Dinosaur video game situated in the center of the room.

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This was my favorite part of the exhibit.  What can I say?  I’m a video game fan!

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My kids and hubby enjoyed it, too.  And they learned enough about dinosaur survival that they were able to keep their dinos alive for the whole game…Congratulations!  You Survived The Cretateous Era!

We really enjoyed playing at this exhibit, and can’t wait for the next exhibit “Brain Teasers 2” coming in January.  After becoming dinosaurs, we took time to play at the rest of the exhibits, and no trip to The Clay Center would be complete without a visit to our favorite…Earth City!

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Look!  It’s all decked out for Christmas!

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Oh, the hours we’ve spent in this room!  My kids could stay here forever.

I love days spent at The Clay Center…we’ll be back very soon!

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Here’s a little Christmas cheer for you.  May all my lovely bloggers out there have a very merry Christmas!

Yellow (Summer) Squash Casserole

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Yes, I realize that summer squash is easier to find and of better quality in the summer, but this recipe is a family favorite for the holidays.  I acquired this recipe several years ago from a very sweet lady who I admired very much.  It was a favorite in her family, too.  When I first made this for my husband’s family, they were a bit skeptical, most of them are not squash lovers, but they were willing to try it, and now they ask me to make it for almost every holiday dinner!  It is so super good!  And who doesn’t love a casserole?  I hope you will enjoy this as much as my family and I do!

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Yellow (Summer) Squash Casserole

Ingredients:

6 cups very thinly sliced squash

1 small onion, very thinly sliced

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 cup sour cream

1 cup grated carrots

1 stick salted butter, melted

1 box chicken flavored Stove Top Stuffing Mix

Directions:

1.  Cook the squash and onion in salted boiling water for 5 minutes and drain.

2.  In a large bowl, mix the soup, sour cream, and grated carrots together.  Add the squash and onion to the mix.

3.  Mix the butter with the stuffing in a separate bowl.  I usually add a couple of tablespoons of water to make the stuffing a little more moist, but if you want yours crispier, leave it as is…the choice is yours!

4.  Pour the squash mix into a 9×13 casserole dish.  Top with the stuffing mix.  Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes.

5.  Enjoy!  Make sure to share it with your friends and family…they will thank you for it!

Chocolate Pretzel Fudge

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I recently made this fudge for Thanksgiving, and it was wonderful!  I love to bake and make desserts, but I have never made fudge before.  This recipe was so easy that a kid could do it…seriously, I think I’m going to let my kids in on the fun next time.  All you have to do is melt a few ingredients, toss in some pretzels, chill and cut, and you have some really yummy fudge.  If you like chocolate covered pretzels, which I really do, you will love this fudge!  It would be perfect to make for the holidays.  Who doesn’t want something easy to make and totally delicious to serve up at Christmas dinner?  Hope you enjoy this fudge as much as I did!

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Chocolate Pretzel Fudge

Ingredients:

12 oz. bag milk chocolate chips (I’m a Nestle Toll House girl)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 Tablespoons milk

1 cup broken pretzel pieces

extra pretzels for top

Directions:

Melt all the ingredients, except the pretzels in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir frequently.  Remove from heat when chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir in the pretzel pieces.  Pour into a foil lines 8×8 baking pan (you’ll thank me for this when you are cutting the fudge later).  Press whole pretzels on top of the fudge and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  Lick the pan while you wait for the fudge to harden (you’ll also thank me for this when you’re making yum, yum noises).  Remove from foil and cut into squares.  Serve at your party and be a hero.

It’s as simple as that…hope you enjoy!

And if you’re feeling really frisky, you could dip some pretzels in white chocolate to serve with the fudge.  Double the fun!

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