Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Snow Candy

We're into our second day of snow here in Maryland. A lot of it had melted by the end of yesterday; sadly our sledding tracks were mostly grass. But, today's snow storm has more than made up for it and we have plans in the works for an ultimate snow fort for bombarding people with snowballs who are sledding on the hill below. Mwahahahaha!

Our 2 year old daughter has been obsessed with eating snow. Any chance (and any place) she can get it, she will. I had to sit down with her and try to explain which snow not to eat (snow from the car, the house, shoes and the good ol' yellow or brown snow) and the snow that was good to eat. Then we had the idea of collecting some clean snow in a bowl as it fell and putting a bowl out on our porch railing, we soon had some good, clean snow to eat! We got out some spoons and she sat happily eating her bowl of snow. Our 5 year old son suggested we pour maple syrup on it, so we did that and he was happy eating his sherbet-tasting snow.

Then, I remembered as a girl trying to make Snow Candy using maple syrup like in Little House on in the Big Woods, but I was disappointed because it didn't work. The thing that I think was left out in our Snow Candy making was that we didn't boil it. And that's the key to making candy! So, I thought I'd give it a whirl today and it was a great success!

So here's how we made our candy:

I boiled about a 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup in a small pot over medium heat. I didn't really measure time-wise, but I stood there, occasionally stirring with a spoon. The syrup got all frothy and bubbly after awhile, so I added a tiny lump of butter which helped a little. That's optional though. I had a small bowl of cold water that I occasionally dropped a drip of the syrup into to test its hardness. Gradually it went from making soft lumps, to harder lumps, then to being hard and brittle - we had made it to the hard-ball stage! Then I removed it from the heat, got my bowl of snow and poured it out in a steady stream all over the snow. Surprisingly, it didn't melt the snow as much as I thought, but sunk slightly into the soft, white powder. When I removed it, it was a fun, hard spindly shape - delicious for eating!

I think it would be fun to try putting large drops on some parchment paper and letting them harden there. That way we'd have little syrup mounds to suck on. I'm thinking I could make some good throat lozenges this way with honey candy and some essential oils as well! Hmm!

This is the second pouring, so the snow is more melted.
Also, the candy cooked a little longer by that point, so it's darker.

Yummy, golden maple snow candy!

Happy Winter!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Say Goodbye to Wrapping Paper

Merry Christmas! We just got our first snow last night - just in time for a beautiful White Christmas!

We're in the late morning Christmas lull after opening presents. Our daughter is down for her nap and our son is playing happily with a toy. I feel very blessed this Christmas! We tried to keep things simple this year. We only got our kids two good quality toys and one book each. I think it was just the right amount, especially with how young they are. It's so easy to get caught up in the materialistic side of gift giving, but if you make the effort, things can be as simple as you want to make them.

Also, we don't really do Santa, so that, for us, makes it easier and simpler to focus on Christ for the holiday. We used a simple scripture advent calendar which was short and perfect for our young kids.

One of my goals for this year in simplifying was to do away with wrapping paper and to wrap gifts just with fabric bags. They were very simple and fast to make, but I did learn a few things to do and not to do and so thought I'd share. Remember - this is not an exact science! No measuring was done.

1. To start with, over the last few months I slowly collected pieces of the least expensive Christmas cotton fabric at JoAnn's. Searching the remnant bin is key, because you find all sorts of good cotton Christmas remnants of various sizes, and sometimes it's the more expensive fabric for a good bargain. I got various sizes cut: 1/4 yard, 1/2 yard, and 1 yard. It's really whatever sizes you want, but I wouldn't do less than a 1/4 yard because they get harder to sew.

2. When it was time to sew, I just left the fabric folded like it comes off the bolt, cut the widths I wanted or just left the 1/4 yard or 1/2 yard like it was. (For the smaller bags I cut the 1/4 yard in half width-wise and then I just had to add a bottom seam to one of the bags.) Then I flipped the fabric so the right sides were together and sewed up the sides, the salvage edges at the top and left open. Then I folded the salvage edge down about an inch and sewed all the way around to create a channel for the ribbon drawstring to go through. I left a 2" gap near one of the side seams for the ribbon to go into.

3. Then I flipped the bag right side out, threaded a ribbon through using a safety pin pinned into the end to get it through, tied a knot in the ribbon, and then I was done!

4. About the ribbon: I learned the hard way that only two types of ribbon work for this bag - the satin kind and the grosgrain kind. (it's the kind that has a bumpy weave)


Do not use cording! It doesn't not draw the bag closed very well. And don't use ribbon with any sparkly metalic-looking ribbon. Mine just fell apart! Wired ribbon also probably won't work that well either. These types of ribbon just don't slip smoothly through the channel for drawing the bag closed.

Bad ribbon. Bad! Too much metalic.

Good ribbon! Nice and satiny.
Don't you just love the gingerbread boys? The peppermint candy look so yummy too.

Lots of bags!
5. I also learned that more small and medium sized bags were the way to go. I think we had too many big ones. I did make one large bag made from a whole yard of fabric, but we didn't have any presents that big, so we didn't use it. Most presents tend to be on the smaller side, but it was hard to know that at the time I was making them.

The pros & cons:
The downside to these bags is that there is no hiding what's in there. It's very simple to feel through the fabric unless you disguise the present in something else like a box. Also, the security isn't the greatest. There is no tape keeping curious fingers from slipping the bag open, unless you wrap the ribbon around the top a few times and tuck it in. We put our presents out Christmas morning, so we didn't have that problem.
You also have to store the bags, but they lie flat, so it's not that big a deal.

On the other hand... The great thing is- no clean up! No mounds of crinkly annoying paper to fill up your garbage can or the landfill. You can reuse these year after year and they make adorable bags to give away too. The fabric and ribbon aren't too expensive, especially if you get them on sale or clearance. Also, you can get the cutest fabrics! Just take a look at those adorable snow penguins in the picture above.

Something else we did new this year were homemade gift tags. (You can see them in the first three photos.) There are four of us, so I found four cute Christmas/wintery symbols of the same theme through Microsoft Clip Art and copied and pasted a lot of them into a Word document. (You can search for snowflake, snowman, candy cane, Christmas tree, Christmas ornament, Christmas lights, Christmas mittens, Christmas bell, holly, Christmas candle, Christmas star, Christmas gift, Christmas stocking, and Christmas poinsetta to find ones similar to mine above.) Then I printed them in color onto white card stock, cut them out and punched a hole in each one.

The cool thing, was that the kids didn't know which symbol was theirs. I think this helped with not encouraging the "look at all of my presents" mentality. All we did was put who the present was from on the back of the tag. The kids had lots of fun hunting down their symbol once they knew which one to look for. I just looped the tag through the ribbon using the hole I punched out.

Well, I'm going to go and enjoy my Christmas candy and maybe go out for another round of sledding later. Have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Whew, it's been awhile! I don't even know if anyone reads this blog anymore... but anyway! I have been busy with homeschooling and taking care of the house, etc.

Right now we're learning about birds in science, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to read together a childhood favorite book of mine The Trumpet of the Swan. I had forgotten how much information about swans was in there, so it's been the perfect choice! And I also forgot how funny it is. My 5-year-old son has loved it so far. It helps that he's always loved birds and found them fascinating and fun. My kids have owl curtains hanging in their room that I made for them, and every now and then we go over to JoAnns and get a couple little wooden birdhouses for both our kids to paint which sit on their dresser. It's just one of those funny things that has evolved through their growing up.

And it just so happens that we have some woods at the back of our property with a terrific selection of birds that come to visit - and we don't even have a bird feeder!

Vulture - I thought it was so funny to just see him perched in our tree.
Blue Jay - Yesterday was the first time I've seen one around

Barred Owl - we hear them hooting pretty often. Really cool!

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