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Grandma’s favorite…

One of the lovely things about the holidays, for me, is remembering traditions from childhood and passing them on.  A favorite Christmas treat around my house are my Grandma’s favorite, Chow Mein Chocolates.  Growing up, my Grandma lived just up the road from us on a dairy farm.  I remember her and I making these before the holidays most years. Then, whenever I would go visit her she would say, “go get the Chocolates!”.  I always knew right where they were, in the cold stairway leading upstairs.  I would open the door and feel the blast of freezing air come into the room.  I would fumble for the right freezing cold, tin can (there were many) and close the door fast!  Then Gramma  and I would sit playing Chinese checkers, chatting, eating and laughing.

My children, like all children I think, love to hear stories about my childhood.  Today, I told my son Michael the above story while we made Grandma’s chocolates.  Another story I love to tell  is how she would always ask me, “What is the first rule of baking?”  I would come up with all sorts of silly answers for her and she would say, “No, the first rule is to wash your hands”.  And so I would.  Now, I ask my children the same question and if they come to me with unwashed hands I say in a lilting tone, “Grandma would be mad…”  My son Michael knows just what I mean and runs to wash.

 

 

My beautiful Grandmother on the left, long before I knew her.

***

Chow Mein Candy

12 oz Chocolate Chips

12 oz butterscotch chips

4 T peanut butter

Large Can Chow Mein Noodles (or half or so of a bag)

Spanish Peanuts

Melt in a double boiler.  Add large can of Chow Mein Noodles and 2 cups of Spanish Peanuts.  Stir.  Drop on wax paper & cool in the fridge or freezer.

 

 

They make a beautiful & tasty gift as well.  This year I’ll be sending my Gramma a tin can full.  I hope they will bring back the same fond memories for her.

 

 

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Dyeing Wool with Kids

In our family we love rainbows, and once in a while we wish for rainbow colored wool.  While pure wool yarn is not difficult to obtain here in Kenya, the colored part is the challenge, unless you are into some DIY and crafting with kids. . .

A few years back I learned that it is rather easy to dye your own wool with food color of all things.  Food color easily dies protein fibers (e.g. wool and silk), but not others like cotton and man-made fibers.  This makes it a great craft project to undertake with your kids as most spills in clothes will easily wash out again.

What you need for this project:

  • Wool yarn
  • Food coloring
  • Vinegar
  • Plastic gloves (food dye can stain your hands for a day or two)
  • Cling wrap and/or old towel
  • A microwave (alternatively use a steaming pot or the sun)

First, in the event that your wool is in a ball, unwind it and create a skein.  It’s easy to use the back of a chair to do this.  Tie the skein loosely in a couple of places with some left over wool, or another string.

Soak the skein for an hour or longer in a solution of half vinegar and half water.  This vinegar bath is the mordant for the dyeing process and it is important to ensure the bath is completed before starting this craft with your kids.

Select the colors in which you want to dye your wool and mix them with some water to the desired shade.  The amount of ‘dye’ depends on the number of colors and amount of wool you want to dye.  I used five colors and each color was less than half a glass of fluid.

Cover your work surface with cling wrap, or if you are eliminating the use of plastic an old towel will also work well.  Take the skein out of the mordant and squeeze excess fluid gently out of the wool.  Place the skein on the work surface and carefully spoon the dye onto the wool.  Gently squeeze the dye into the wool, ensuring that it gets absorbed well.  Work color for color and be aware that the colors might blend.

Then carefully transfer the wool to a microwave safe dish or plate and cover it loosely with cling wrap.  Microwave the wool for 5 minutes, check on the progress and then microwave it on high for another 3 minutes.  This cooking of the wool will help set the color.

If you do not have a microwave you can also steam the wool in steamer pot, or have the wool covered with the cling wrap steam in the sun.  Do an internet search for the timing and instructions for these steaming methods.

Place the wool in an area where it can dry, but make sure it is not in the direct sunlight.

Once the wool has dried, you can wind it into a ball and it is ready to use.

A fun project to undertake with kids, and there is more fun to be had in deciding together on a new project in which to use the yarn!

Happy dyeing!

Andrea

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Bees in the Yard

BEES! They hum from flower to flower once spring arrives… and honeybees also make the honey we eat. There is a resurgence in beekeeping and many families are now keeping bees again, or thinking about it. Here is a little overview with photos by Ulla of German Dolls (except the pic above by me):

One look at honeycomb and the desire to start beekeeping goes up exponentially!Honey, honeycomb, wax, and propolis are the wonderful benefits of keeping honeybees. There are other ways to tend bees, but I will just stick to the classic honeybee for now.

To keep honeybees shortlist: 1. A place to keep bees, like your yard (unless someone close by has an allergy to bee stings!). 2. A hive and frames. 3. Safety equipment (gloves & mask good idea, especially for beginners). 4. Bees (you can order in the mail, find online) 5. Other equipment for checking bees (smoker), cleaning frames, maintenance; like removing honey! 6. Time; you will need to have time to learn about your bees as well as spending 1-on-1 with them.
This is just a shortlist!

After learning about bees and if they are a good fit for you, you will need to have a hive clean and ready for your bees arrival. Above is a homemade hive; you can make or buy hives in shapes and sizes. The most common is a box frame with frames that can be easily removed on the inside, as they can also be stacked like you often see if farmer’s fields. Beekeeping season is essentially spring to autumn.

The worker bees fly off from the platform to go find nectar. They return and show other bees where to find it.

The bees are moving into their new home. The box you see in the picture, is the cage that the bee folk arrive in. You simply pour the bees into the hive. The queen comes in a separate little cage.

The queen and her workers will spend a few days chewing through a piece of marshmallow trying to unite! The presence of the queen will make the new bee hive stick around and start building.The queen is usually marked with a dot so you know if she is still around. Get to know your bees, especially the Queen. Hives need a Queen to survive.

And, check them again… but not too often, they don’t like being disturbed constantly.

The fruits of keeping honeybees!
FAQ: Is it safe to keep bees around kids, like in your back yard? Absolutely! If someone has an allergy in your family or in the neighbourhood then possibly not (do check in with the neighbours!). When I learned beekeeping living in Holland my mentor had a teensy backyard with a bunch of hives, and 6 kids running around, and felt totally safe with that.
Speaking of running around… if you’re worried about being stung then MOVE SLOW! Bees are are agitated by fast, flapping arms, and the like.
Thank you Ulla for sharing your photos!!
This article was brought to you by Natalie of Woolhalla

Find “BEE” treasures on Etsy from the NaturalKids Team (top left to bottom right): Boston Beanies, Driaa, Fairyfolk, GermanDolls, Harvest Moon By Hand, Prettydreamer, The Enchanted Cupboard.

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Wild, Wonderful Worms!

The last 5 years have seen a lot of change in our household. We do everything we can to reduce, reuse and recycle. As a result, we are avid composters. We have a lawn compost bin, two actually, for our leaves and grass clippings, and a compost bin for our kitchen. The compost bin for our kitchen gets the most interesting comments from friends and family. It sits right outside the kitchen door in the garage, and houses about 4,000 worms.

My 4 year old son holding a red wiggler.

No, the worms don’t get out and make a break for freedom, and no, it doesn’t smell, well not badly. If you open the bin and stick your head in it, it smells just like a walk in the woods after a rain. If you walk by it, you can’t smell a thing at all. No one knows that’s what the bin is even for until I tell them. The lack of smell is the biggest surprise to those not familiar with vermiculture. The next big surprise to those new to this kind of composting is how easy and well it works. We throw everything in there except protein (worms are vegetarian!) and our 4,000 worms handles all the scraps this family of 5 makes with ease.

So, if you want to turn all your kitchen scraps into the most perfect garden fertilizer you’ve ever used, fall in love with love wild, wonderful worms!

 
Our garden with rich, dark soil thanks to our worms.

The first thing you need is a big bin. I used a Rubbermaid plastic tote, because they are cheap, readily available and durable. Drill 1/4″ holes all around the top for air and 1/16″ holes all over the bottom for drainage. You will need 2 lids for the bin, one to use as an actual lid and one to use underneath to catch any liquid that drains from the bin. It’s important to have adequate drainage for two reasons: one, you don’t want your worms to drown, and two, the liquid that you catch is called worm tea and it’s gold for plants. Use it as a fertilizer for your indoor potted plants and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Once your bin is done, next fill it with bedding. You can use newspaper or cardboard. We use newspaper, it’s a great way to recycle it. Just tear it into strips before you put it in the bin and moisten it. White paper and coated cardboard is no good, so don’t start thinking you can recycle all your paper goods here, stick with good ole newspaper or plain cardboard. The worms need it for air circulation, so once you moisten it, fluff it up for them. Don’t let it get too wet, just damp like a wrung out sponge. Feel free to throw a handful of dirt or sand in there too, the worms need the grit in their diet too, although egg shells do a great job of giving them the grit they need.

The bin is all ready for worms!

Now your bin is ready for your worms! You want to get red wigglers. They are small, multiply easily and are fairly hardy. They are not the best for your actual garden since they do multiply fast and can take a garden over quickly, but they make the perfect vermiculture worm. They will multiply to meet the demand of the food you give them, but won’t multiply so much that they outgrow their bin, so it’s perfect. Try to get them locally as that’s the most earth friendly option, but if you can’t find a worm farmer close by, there are lots of worm farms online as well and they will ship them to you.

You need 1,000 worms for every 1 lb. of kitchen scraps generated daily. When you collect your scraps and are ready to feed your worms, just throw on some rubber gloves (I keep mine right on top of the worm bin with the extra newspaper and a spray bottle of water), clear a corner, throw in the scraps and cover the scraps with bedding. The worms will do the rest. Rotate which corner you add to each time. If you get any fruit flies or other bugs, stop feeding them for about a week, as that’s a sign there is too much food for them to handle. Either let them multiply a bit and catch up, or get more worms.

Worms and castings in their bin.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of the bin itself, you’ll want to reap the rewards and harvest the amazing castings for use in your garden. Castings are worm droppings and are the best compost material around. Harvesting them is surprisingly easy. Just dump the whole bin out onto a tarp or large piece of cardboard and spread it out into a nice, thin layer, about 3 inches deep. Let it sit in the sun for a bit, and the worms will go straight to the bottom since they are not fans of the light. Scoop off the top layer of castings and add them to the garden. When you are left with little but worms, just start the bin again with fresh bedding, food and put the little guys back in their home.

Worm castings ready for harvest, notice there are still some eggshells and a bit of bedding in this bins castings. 
That’s ok, just add them right into your soil too.

Mix the castings in with vermiculite, peat moss and some manure and you have the perfect soil mix for growing just about anything. Add more castings each spring to your garden and you’ll never have to feed your plants and vegetables anything else.

It sounds a bit complicated, but in practice could not be easier. We keep a compost crock inside on the kitchen counter that we put our chopped scraps in. Once a week I dump them into the worm bin and about once a month I mix the whole bin up with a garden trowel. I harvest the castings twice a year, once in the spring before I plant the vegetable seeds and once in the fall when I am putting the garden to bed for the winter. So, for about 5 minutes a week and about 1 hour twice a year I have reduced our household waste considerably and I get free, incredible fertilizer. Like I said, these are wild, wonderful worms!

The perfect soil mixture–peat moss, vermiculite, manure and worm castings!
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A Crafty Nature Table Storage Idea

I am always looking for ways to store things that is not only functional but is also beautiful! I came up with a great idea to store my seasonal Nature Table toys and playsilks.

Here is what you will need:
4 wooden photo boxes – $10 each at your local craft store
An assortment of non-toxic paints
Stamps in a variety of seasonal themes

I decided to only paint the lids to keep the colors from not over whelming the whole Nature Table space.

I painted only one coat so as to let the wood grain show. I picked Green for Spring, Yellow for Summer, Brown for Autumn, and Blue for Winter.

Next use the stamps to decorate. Once the lids dry give then a coat of non-toxic finish or simple use a beeswax finish.

Come back tomorrow to see how we organize and store our lovely Nature Table treasures using these great boxes.

…Just a little side note from the farm, we had to take a brake from our crafting cause the kids found their first salamander! I often told them about my days growing up on the farm and looking for salamanders! They were as happy as can be!

Article by Beccijo, The Enchanted Cupboard

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Nature Table, The Sounds of Spring

On Sunday morning you would think it was Christmas here in our house as the sounds of 4 excited children ring out of our rafters. The night before, the Nature Table will be cleared of all signs of Winter and we will clean and pack our items away. Once the children are asleep the Spring decorations will be brought out and a few new items will be left by the Spring Fairies to add to our table this year.

This year, my mother and niece will be joining us for our celebration. Since this has not happened yet, I will share with you today our Spring Ad from the NaturalKids Team. As with the Nature Table, our ad changes with the seasons. This lovely collection of handmade items can be found in out team members shops. There are so many delightful items in our shops you may need 2 tables.

Rocks and Pond by http://www.etsy.com/shop/MuddyFeet
Mushroom House by http://www.etsy.com/shop/cutelittlething
Bendy Princess by http://www.etsy.com/shop/dannielle
Green Play Silk by http://www.etsy.com/shop/birchleafdesigns
Bunny by http://www.etsy.com/shop/fairiesnest
Pink Felt Doll by http://www.etsy.com/shop/alkelda
Hedgehog by http://www.etsy.com/shop/dayanra
Trees, Wooden Fairy Doll, and Shy Playsilk by http://www.etsy.com/shop/theenchantedcupboard

There are other great items from our team members on the NaturalKids Team website:
http://www.naturalkidsstore.com/cat_tables.html

Please leave a comment and share with us some ways you celebrate spring!

Article by Beccijo, The Enchanted Cupboard

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Nature Table, Adding Nature

I like to change our Nature Table each week. It is so important during the long winter days that the children have something to look forward to at the beginning of the week. Sometimes it may be to bring out a few new items to add to the table or it could be a complete change of scenery. This week I did a more natural look to the table with our little bears coming out of their stacker den.

Another thing that we love to do is add bits of nature to our scenes. The boys have been gathering items from our yard to add to the table. Before we moved to the country we use to go to a large park that had nature trails to collect our items. We added to our basket sticks, rocks, pine cones, and pine branches.

The kids love to get on the floor and just play with these or add them to the table. Many times I find them just sorting the natural items into piles, sometimes by item, sometimes by size. Kids just really love to touch and feel thing from nature, it “grounds” their spirit!

Here is our final table this week the kids have added a few of each of the items even using the pine branch as a tree. I hope you have enjoyed our table this week and will share with us a link to your blog showing your winter table or a favorite memory.

Article by Beccijo, The Enchanted Cupboard

Need some new items to add to your winter Nature Table check out these items:

JustHatched
DadsWoodenToys
chimera
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Nature Table, Let’s Begin

Landscape Playsilks & Sky Playsilks by The Enchanted Cupboard

Nature Tables are used to celebrate the seasons and the rhythms of the year. As nature goes through its cycle of birth, growth, harvest, and sleep, so do we on our Nature Tables. Using a nature table is a wonderful way to decorate your home and include your children in the seasons. Spring is on our doorsteps and just around the bend but it is still winter on our Nature Table.

Before we leap into Spring, let’s look at some fun ways to celebrate these last few moments of winter. Any table will do as your Nature Table, either beside a wall or in a corner of a room. The size of your table will be determined by the amount of room you have to spare. The table you see here I got for $10 at a Junk Shop. I picked it for its size and that it had a nice shelf underneath to hold extra toys. This table is low for the kids and fits nicely on the second floor landing. Nature tables are a great way to keep a little play place for the kids without having toys cluttering up the grown-up places.

Winter Playset by Muddyfeet

Playsilks are great from ground cover or backdrops. Some soft wool also make a nice snow covering. Adding some winter landscape toys will add to the scene. A lovely collection of winter theme toy like woodland animal, felted toys,and bendy dolls add just the right touch. Having a lovely decorated table will make you get excited for the season.

Bendy Dolls by Princess Nimble Thimble, Snowman by Chimera

If you don’t have a Natural Table but would like to start this wonderful tradition in your home, then follow along with me every other week. We will be exploring some traditional and modern ways of sharing the seasons with your family.

Here are a few great items for a Winter Nature Table from The NaturalKids Team:

Snowflake – Winter Fairy
Felted Kitty
Wooden Winter Trees
Winter King
Blue Heart Queen Doll

Article by Beccijo, The Enchanted Cupboard

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Make Pretty Play Food.

Hi, I’m Donni from The Magic Onions. I am a member of this wonderful Etsy team and so appreciate all the love and support I get from these great artisans. My shop is called Fairyfolk.

My daughter, Kitty, who is 6, loves to have tea parties with her fury friends. Lately, my 3 year-old son, Mr T has joined in the fun and it is so sweet to see them working together, setting out a fantastic feast for their bears and other beloved Lovies. Recently, Kitty explained that her tea guests sometimes complain that they get tired of eating leaves and sticks and often long for real cakes and cookies. So, today’s family craft was making ‘real’ treats for their tea parties.

We made our tea treats with playdough, baked it to make it hard and then painted it.

Here is our fantastic, hardly-ever-fail playdough recipe.


We filled our mini cupcake tin with playdough to get the cupcake form and then put the dough in mini cupcake liners.


With a candle, we made holes in our ‘cupcakes’ so that so that ‘candles’ would fit in them when they were baked (of course, don’t bake them with the candles in still , lol).


We also made a few ‘cookies’ and a slice of cake. We put our playdough treats on a baking sheet and baked them for about an hour at 300F. Feel them to gauge when they are ready… they should be hard and no longer squishy.


We had such fun painting them all sorts of yummy colors. Hmmmmmm, chocolate!


Kitty collected a small stick from the garden to make rainbow sprinkles.

And, Voila!!! Our yummy cupcakes were ready for a tea party.


Mrs Bear was invited and wore her wonderful hat.


The table was set with a rainbow playsilk and all the yummy goodies set out on Kitty’s finest china.


Candles were collected for the cupcakes.


Mr T had to try the chocolate cake and decided to leave it for the stuffed animals.


Kitty served them all acorn tea.


A magical tea party was had by all and the cakes and cookies have been stored away for the next grand occasion.

For more super crafting ideas to do with your kids, take a peek at my blog The Magic Onions.
Blessings and magic,
Donni
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masterpiece painting

this project is one of my son’s favorites. i honestly cannot recall how many times over the years he painted this way on totes & shirts for people. definitely long after he learned to paint within the lines 😉

what you’ll need:

* fabric paint
* paint brushes (1 for each child)
* cotton tote bag (1 for each child)
* used newspaper, or grocery bags (i used a grocery bag, cut into 5 sections)
* masking tape1) insert a folded section of newspaper, or piece of a grocery bag into your tote. this is to keep the paint from seeping through to the other side.


2) create a square, or rectangle, on the front of your tote. this will be where you’ll paint your masterpiece. to do this lay 4 pieces of newspaper, or grocery bags, into the shape & size you want your painting to be. once you’re happy with that, tape each section down with masking tape on the insideof your shape.


3) make sure there are no gaps in the tape by running your finger firmly along all four sides.


4) start painting like the wild thing you are! actually this is really for your kids. so, hand over the brush, & let them know they can paint with abandon, not worrying in the least about paint getting onto the paper. i’d even encourage them to fill the space to the edges.

5) keep an eye on the masking tape as they paint, to make sure it hasn’t lifted. i didn’t pay attention here, & a bit lifted, allowing paint to get beneath. it still turned out beautifully, but some kids aim for perfection. you know yours best.

6) you can gently lift away the tape now. if your artist decided a thicker layer of paint was best, you should wait a little while before lifting the tape.
that’s all there is to it! the more colors the kids chose, the more it looks like a bag you’d purchase at some swanky museum. you can see the bit at the top where my paint seeped under the tape. it’s not too bad; at least the gnome doesn’t seem to mind.
if you have a very thin permanent marker, you can write your child’s name in the bottom, right corner, along with the year. this makes it look even more like it came from a museum’s shop.
happy painting!
~peace, kat