Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cut Paper Christmas

I'm not sure why, but I always have urges to do cut paper crafts at Christmas (which is why the floors are always covered in tiny scraps at the holidays).

The two paper cuts above were leftovers from a flurry I cut one year to decorate packages. They're basically just the snowflake idea. I precut thin paper (these were origami paper) into a circle, folded it in half (right sides together), in half again, and then into thirds and then cut patterns out freehand. There are a few simple tips that may help you make especially intricate ones: first, do the folding carefully and press the creases well (you can even iron them). Second, have a mixture of large cut away areas and others that are narrow and repeating. Be sure to use very sharp scissors; I use embroidery scissors. (Though check out these amazing Polish paper cuts that were traditionally made with sheep shears!) Finally, take care not to tear delicate areas when you unfold them. (Small tears can be repaired by gluing narrow support pieces to the back of the paper cut.) I always iron my finished piece flat.

The paper cut above was done by my oldest son when he was almost 10, and the similar one below was cut when he was not quite 5. You can see he gained a lot of skill in the years between. In both cases, I folded a piece of paper for him (right sides together) and drew one image onto the wrong side, making sure I had an area of join along the fold. By 10 he was able to cut the design out pretty accurately by himself. I showed him how to trim the excess paper close to the drawn lines and then to cut into tight areas, removing sections at a time, rather than trying to cut along the whole perimeter. When he was younger, I held the paper and rotated it for him as he snipped (mouth open - why do kids do that when they cut with scissors?). Even so, he accidentally snipped off the antlers, but they're cute fawns or does anyway.

Other tips to help young cutters: First, work moderately large and minimize the number of curves or delicate stand-alone areas. Also, use a moderately heavy paper, like old paper bags (below) or coated silhouette paper (above). Cardstock is usually too heavy for folded designs - takes a lot of hand strength - and thin papers flop too much, becoming frustrating.
The teddy bear below was by my daughter when she was going on 6. She had better fine motor skills than my son did around that age, and she was able to cut the bear on her own, though I recall cutting out and gluing in place the eyeballs and nose/mouth pieces.
Can't recall which kid did the penguins below, but they were accordian-folded, like the strings of paper dolls.
The tree below was our Christmas card one year. Last year I made up a page of smaller images to use as gift tags, and meant to post them as a printable pdf - but apparently I never did. I'll see if I can hunt it down and put it up tonight. I made the ornaments with handheld punches while the design was still folded in half.

Hm. I just thought of one thing that has probably prompted my Christmas paper cut connection: these Danish paper cuts. I bought these at a little shop at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware many years ago. (Sorry the photo is blurry.)
The top red one I hung the Christmas after I got it. Then I decided I could leave it up until Valentine's Day, because of the heart theme. Then I decided I could leave it up all year because of the kitchen/cooking theme. Then it faded to almost white...
I was about to throw it away when I realized I could just paint it red again, so I did! I think it's even brighter now than when it was new.
If all those paper cuts sound too complicated for you or your kid, you could make something like these trees instead, which are crafted entirely from recycled materials (from left: newspaper, greenish magazine and catalog pages, and someone's old physic's homework. The stars are from a Triscuits box and the papers are just taped to cones I made by twisting - and sometimes stacking - and taping together subscription cards from magazines. I stuffed extra recycled paper inside the cones to weight them and make them stand better).

To make these, cut long strips of paper, fold them in half, right sides together. Mark a line to cut to, and use your scissors to cut fringye-y "bites" up to the line. For younger kids, cut the strips over-wide, so there's less chance they'll cut all the way through, and stretch the paper taut by taping it between two chairs; you can trim the paper near the fringe afterward. Start attaching the strips of fringe near the bottom of your cone in a spiral, anchoring it frequently with small pieces of masking tape. You can make a little extra piece taped into a cone for a nice pointy top, and tape a star on to hide any lopsided parts.

I used these for a centerpiece at a party last year, and several people asked me where I bought them - they really come out looking nice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas All Dolled Up I

Dolls and Christmas have been entwined in my heart since I found Tiny Tears, above, under the tree the year I was three (I think). She had some great features - she drank from a bottle with real water in it, cried and wet, and her eyes only closed if you lay her down and rocked her. She also came with pleasing accessories - clothes, a doll bottle, diapers, and in my vivid memory, a pacifier that was the only way to make her tears stop. I clearly recall losing the pacifier on Christmas night when we ventured out to my cousins' house for dinner and weeping along with her as she cried out her lifetime supply of tears. But I recently learned from Kaylee's Corner that I have a faulty memory: Tiny Tears didn't come with a pacifier, much less need one to stop crying. It must have been her bubble pipe that I lost as I have no recollection of it in ensuing years.
As you can see, Tiny was subject to some vigorous playing (and grooming) over my childhood. I practiced my mothering skills on her, cuddled her for comfort (hard body and all), pretended like mad with her, and even used her as an accepting, nonjudgmental confidante. Though I had many much loved dolls over the years, Tiny was and is my favorite of all and still sits by my work area to inspire me.
Did you have a favorite doll?

If you'll be giving someone a doll for Christmas this year, and I hope you will be, you might want to consider a last minute dash to the bookstore (or click on an online seller) for a doll-themed book to go with it. Here are few of my vintage recommendations, one holiday-related, some not (and more to come in a later post I hope):

The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill with illustrations by Elliot Gilbert
This old-fashioned, sweet story is back in print - hooray! - but the vintage copies are more appealing to me. It tells the story of a little girl invited to a party where prizes will be given for dolls in various categories. The girl owns dolls that would likely win prizes, but there's no prize that would be right for Jennifer, the doll she loves best. Which doll will she choose?
The small rag doll above, perched on a page from the book, was also well-loved (though Tiny still claims my heart). My mother made her for me when I was in third grade and having a rough time with a teacher who was a poor fit for me. The doll wore a dress that matched one my mom made for me - and she fit right in the pocket of my dress, so I could carry her along for comfort without anyone being particularly aware. Her dress (and mine) have gone astray in the years since, but I did sew her a new outfit this year. I'm grateful to her and my mother for making that tough year a little easier.

A Gift from the Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
This holiday book was part of a series of books about a Lenci doll named Edith and her adoptive family that included Mr. Bear and Little Bear. As a child, I loved these books because the characters seemed so utterly real (apparently to their creator as well, whom you can learn more about at her official website here.)
In this book, Edith and the Bears are off to visit relatives for the holidays, while Edith, determined to make something special for Mr. Bear, suffers some handmade gift misfortunes (with which I can readily identify). One thing I always loved about these books was the way the dolls inhabited basically a people-sized world - it underscored my fantasy that dolls were living, sentient beings.

William's Doll by Charlotte Zolotow
If you have boys on your gift list, please consider a doll for them too! The dolls (and softie) below are ones that belonged to the males in my household. From left: Ted-Ted, a new baby gift to my middle son, he traveled far and wide with his owner having adventures like falling in the toilet in a Toronto hotel; Scotty, who was a Christmas gift to my oldest the year he got a new brother (I'm going to monitor that child's parenting skills closely when the time comes - he spent a lot of time poking Scotty's eyes, dragging him around by the hair caveman-style, and submerging him for long periods of time while bathing him, also, Scotty was always naked); and last but not least, Pearl, who was beloved by my husband when he was small and later by all of my kids, but especially by the oldest.
William's Doll was revolutionary when it was released. You can read about it on the author's website here. William is a little boy who likes lots of playthings, but wants a doll - which his father refuses to buy for him. Fortunately, a wise grandma intervenes, explaining that William needs a doll
"so that
when he's a father
like you,
he'll know how to
take care of his baby
and feed him
and love him
and bring him
the things he wants,
like a doll
so that he can
practice being
a father. "
Lest you think this book is outdated and no longer needed, pay a visit to the doll section in any big box or toy store - everything is still pink and girly. And I still know plenty of dads who'd prefer their sons not have baby dolls. Sigh.

An CPSIA Update
As we near the end of the year, vintage children's books remain banned for sale or lending to children under CPSIA (though most libraries are leaving them on the shelves until ordered not to). There have been some recent developments that give me hope that change may be coming. See this recent article in Publisher's Weekly about how the law currently affects the children's book market, including vintage books. I was only able to find this cryptic dispatch about ALA executive director Emily Sheketoff's meeting with the head of the CPSC. Keep pressuring Congress if you care about these old books.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah! Nearly belatedly! In honor of the Jewish Festival of Lights, I have another Mimi paper doll available to print and color; you can get it here. There's a brief story-ette about Mimi going to a Hanukkah feast, and it includes a menorah that can stand up when assembled, as shown above. The top part of the menorah is a "pocket" in which you can insert the correct number of candles for the current night of Hanukkah (today is the 6th day of Hanukkah for 2009, so you'd insert six candles, plus the center one or shammes candle, which is used to light the others). I was too lazy/rushed to color Mimi and her menorah, but she looks great "colorized" with colored pencils or crayons.
Not sure why this image came out vertically; thought I'd saved it rotated...

Quick question: I've been posting various paper dolls as sort of doodly coloring pages - just pencil sketches, and no color. What do you think - should I keep doing them that way, or would you greatly prefer something more final-artish that you'd have to print in color? (Keep in mind that would likely mean I'd make even fewer of them...)

One of my favorite things about December is the variety of special days (Christmas, Hanukkah, St. Lucia Day, St. Nicholas Day, the winter solstice, etc.), and the opportunities they provide to learn about different cultures (or even just people who have different traditions). My husband and I both grew up celebrating Christmas, so that's the December holiday we celebrate with our kids, but our extended families include people from diverse backgrounds, including the Jewish faith. We live some distance from them, so our kids have only occasionally celebrated Hanukkah with those relatives. Fortunately, though, we long had a tradition of sharing holidays with neighbors and good friends who are Jewish. Their kids came over each year to help decorate our Christmas tree, sing a few Christmas songs, and have a holiday dinner, and our kids went to their house each year for a Hanukkah feast, complete with dreidel games and songs and decorations. (They always sent extra latkes home for me, the latke-fiend. Yum!)

Here's my favorite low-fat latke recipe. I don't have a photo to show you because I haven't managed to make them yet this year, but I'll try to add a picture later. These are quite tasty, though perhaps not as scrumptious as the crispy fried ones. I cut the recipe out of some newspaper many years ago; more than that I can't tell you about its origin. Sorry.

Low Fat Potato Latkes
3 lbs. potatoes (I've used both Idaho and Yukon gold)
1 onion
1/3 cup matzo meal or flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 T chopped parsley
2 eggs plus 4 additional whites
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2-3 T canola oil (I've used olive oil on occasion and that was good too)
Low fat sour cream and/or applesauce for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 F, with a nonstick baking sheet inside. Peel potatoes (if desired) and grate them and the onion coarsely. Squeeze handfuls to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer potatoes and onion to a bowl, and stir in meal/flour, baking powder, parsley, eggs and salt and pepper. Pour the oil onto the hot baking sheet and spread it around with the back of a wooden spoon. Spoon 2 1/2 inch mounds onto the sheet, leaving at least 1 inch between. Bake until golden, 6-8 minutes (or a little more), turning at the half way point. While they're baking, sing "The Dreidel Song" ("Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,/ I made it out of clay./ And when it's dry and ready,/ Oh dreidel I will play!") and challenge the kiddies to a game for gelt (the chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil that you may have given out on St. Nicholas Day). You are not allowed to cheat, although you may save a little "grown-ups only" chocolate aside for later. Serve latkes promptly with sour cream and applesauce.

Two excellent vintage Hanukkah-related books to enjoy (both fortunately are still available new and both squeak past the CPSIA axe):

The Trees of the Dancing Goats written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco tells the true story of an incident from her childhood when her Christian neighbors came down with scarlet fever right at Christmas. Her family used their Hanukkah feast and decorations to assemble holiday food and lovely trees to rescue Christmas for the sick families. The illustrations are fabulous and the story could not be any more heartwarming or more beautifully told. We read this book every year. Here's a link to her website, with assorted printable and freebies related to this book (and others too)

Next: Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
I love this book. It's perfect for kids who like a bit of a scare (though I remember one of my kids made me read the goblins' dialogue in my "regular voice" because my goblin one made the experience a bit too terrifying). It's a longer picture book, which is another reason to save it for slightly older kids. But what a great tale, of the triumph of good over evil, and cleverness over brute strength. Lots of fun. And as for the illustrations, well, sadly the world will never again see the likes of Trina Schart Hyman. She was really something.

Happy Hanukkah! Or however you choose to spell it!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Creative Space - The Holidays Are Coming!

Not too surprisingly, I continue to fall farther behind with my attempts at daily blogging this month, even though the weather has been keeping me home and mostly inside - though also computer and sewing machine-free, as I seem to be taking my electrical interference tendencies to the wider community and causing neighborhood electrical outages. (Really we got some of that huge storm that hit much of the U.S. through here - really wild winds and plummeting temps for the last couple days. Brrr.)

On my drawing table this week are the little angels above. I made the prototypes last year (based on the characters in my Merry Christmas, Cheeps and Mimi books) intending them to be gift tags that could be made into ornaments, but never finished them. The dog found the paper prototypes the other day and got completely freaked out by them (they move when she breathes heavily on them), which inspired me to finish them, if for no other reason than the opportunity to freak the dog out in living color.

On my sewing table were also this old doll, in bad need of a new dress...

...and this new one in need of, well, everything.

Lots of sewing and ironing!

Head on over to kootoyoo's to see the rest of the creative spaces bursting with projects. And take your time checking them out, because Kirsty's taking a well-earned break until after the holidays. (Phew - gives me more time to make some progress on my studio. And maybe finish up some of these projects.) While you're there, be sure to check out the pix of Kirsty's own beautiful creative space. I'm so jealous!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hot+Not: Computers and Piggies and Lanterns, Oh My!

Hot. Not. Loobylu. Need I say more?

This week, I'm starting with the NOTS.

Not. Any Computer in Our House. Or, for that matter, any electrical appliance, like say my car. My refrigerator. Half the lightbulbs.
Lordy, it's been a week of technology-related woes, and I still feel a bit shaky. I know I was complaining about this last week, but things just kept getting worse every time I turned around, and of course my husband was out of town for much of the week, leaving me, the person who still struggles even just to turn on the TV (which is really not my fault, since we seem to have like a thousand remotes and way too many buttons and I never have the right ones), to be the family Geek Squad. Mostly that means we were computer-light (hence the week of no posts - but I have lots of stuff half written I'll try to post in catch-up fashion). And the car wouldn't go, so I was stuck at home. And the refrigerator was WAY too cold, freezing all the veggies and making the butter extra-rock hard. Maybe even diamond-hard. And I don't know what the heck was going on with the light bulbs, but they were burning out left and right and I still haven't caught up replacing them.

Making Little Dresses for Little Piggies.
This little dress was way too small. This little dress was way too big. And this little dress was really too big too, but I fudged and made it kind of fit because I couldn't bear to try again.

Not getting the recipe for this St. Nicholas Day treat up until today. Two days after St. Nicholas Day.
These are actually buckeyes, which aren't officially a St. Nick treat, but they are very similar to a traditional St. Nick candy I found online. More importantly, they are super easy, no cook, use only ingredients I already have in the house, and contain chocolate.

Here's what you do: Combine 3/4 cup of peanut butter, 2 T honey, 1/4 cup crushed graham crackers OR crushed breakfast cereal, and a handful of mini chocolate chips in a bowl. Stir and mush around with your hands, adding a little more of this or a little more of that until the texture seems right - sticks together adequately to shape into small super ball-sized balls and doesn't "melt" into a blob if you walk away for five minutes. You can roll the balls in grated chocolate or dip them in melted chocolate for fanciness, but the plain ones taste perfectly wonderful.

I used natural peanut butter because I think it tastes better, but it does have the disadvantage of having the oil leach out if you don't eat them all in the first hour. Fortunately that is not a big problem.

That's it! Now the HOT.

Little Piggies
Specifically the hot babes above. I finally finished making prototypes and working up tutorials and patterns for making two different styles of Mimi dolls to go with my book of the same title. It was hard for me because I have not really sewn much with an actual pattern since high school. And I've definitely never made up my own pattern first (as opposed to just winging it as I go). I'm hoping to have the patterns and tuts finished and posted here in the next day or two.

Mimi 1 is posable and intended for kids past the age of putting things in their mouths because she does have small parts (like her eyes, nose, and buttons - oh, and her belly button. And her bunny slippers). (Secretly she's my favorite. Also secretly, I'm giving her to my daughter for Christmas because Sara's kind of gaga for her, even though I messed up Mimi's ear, her legs, and half her other body parts.) I'm working on some other outfits too, like her tutu, jammies, tiara, and cape. And of course Bunny and Frank-the-Roly-Poly-Bug.

Mimi 2, below, is a softie appropriate for babies and toddlers. Her features are embroidered or sewn (her nose and belly button), and she's a little larger and softer and easier for a little one to grasp and tote to bed. She's very sweet and cute, especially for my first effort with this sort of thing, but she doesn't seem quite as...spirited, I guess, as posable Mimi.

Technically cold, but light and magical like this, and in the run-up to Christmas, just right hot for me. Of course, we're getting freezing rain at the moment, but I did enjoy the white stuff while it lasted.

And Ice!
As in ice lanterns. I blogged about making these last year here. Jennifer Hedberg, the ice lantern lady I interviewed for the Nick Jr. article that featured them, has added a nice blog to her website here with lots of cool (get it?) new tips, supplies you can order, and pretty pictures.

My daughter made several of these over the weekend, and fortunately we lit them yesterday (before the temps warmed up and the rain came), even though that was one day early for celebrating La Fete des Lumieres (which is December 8th) in honor of Mary. I'd never heard of the holiday until last week - but as it turns out to be celebrated only in Lyons, France, I think I can be forgiven. Still I'd love to go check it out some day. Here are some links where you can read about it and look at pretty pictures.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Hot+Not: Hearts and Chili and More

I'm joining in again with what's hot and what ain't at Loobylu (and you should definitely head over there to wish her a happy 10th blogging birthday at a minimum), but I'm starting to squeak in just under the deadline every week - but it's one of the "nots" fault. At least it's not yet midnight on Wednesday (here in Pittsburgh anyway), so here's my list:


A Template for the Scandinavian Heart Tutorial Which I posted, um, last December here. Well, now that I've remembered again how to turn jpegs into pdf files and post them so you can actually get them (I think Blogger still doesn't allow them - somebody please correct me if I'm wrong), I decided to make a new printable (can't find the old one anymore) and quick get it up. You can get it here. It's not exactly pro-quality or anything, but it does get the job done - as shown in the examples above.
This (above, not the chili below) is what the finished templates should look like when you make them out of your cereal box.

Turkey Chili - and Using Up the Last of the Thanksgiving Turkey
This is such an easy meal and satisfying on a cold night (and again for lunch the next day) and it makes a nice change from yet another turkey sandwich. I make my chili dinners a little differently each time (my usual cooking approach), but here's more or less the way I did it this time - and it was very good.

Turkey Chili
Olive oil for sauteing (1-2 T)
2-3 ribs celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Other veggies (optional) like shredded carrots, peppers, or finely chopped broccoli, or whatever you have about to go bad
All the leftover turkey, cut into cubes - or 1 lb ground
2 cans chili beans, 1 mild, 1 medium (you can substitute whatever canned beans you like - I often use one can of black beans - but you may need to increase the other seasonings if they're plain)
2 small cans diced tomatoes (these had more onions and garlic and peppers in with them)
1 medium can tomato sauce
2 T, more or less to taste, chili powder (although I think that was a tad too much here)
1-2 tsp cumin
Dollop of sour cream and/or shredded cheddar cheese and/or rice or something like that (all optional)

Saute the chopped veggies in the olive oil until soft and add the cubed or ground meat. Add the beans, canned tomatoes and sauce and bring to a gentle boil. Add the seasonings gradually, tasting frequently (it's easy to go overboard). Stir in well, reduce heat and allow to simmer until heated through or the kitchen smells incredible. Serve as is or over rice (or noodles, or potatoes, or even toast). Garnish with sour cream and/or cheese, especially if you've accidentally made it too spicy. Great served with cold beer, hot corn muffins and a tossed salad.

Now I'm hungry again.

This Book It's called The Worst Kids in the World in Australia. Here's a link to the author's website.
This year I've decided to review mostly vintage holiday books (see my nots for why), which is easy for me to do since there are so many I love. This chapter book has been a favorite of my family's for many years. I'm reading it aloud to my daughter yet again (I absolutely cannot shake the daily holiday book readings no matter how old my kids get - I'm worried that next December I'll have to read them to the dog after Sara's off at college too). Anyhow, how can you resist a holiday book that opens, "The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker's old broken-down toolhouse." Fortunately, the book is still in print and easy to find (plus there's a movie version and a play script, though I've not seen either).

Having My Mini Pie Tutorial Mentioned on joepastry Great website for foodies. You can find it here and read his short post about my little apple pies here. I'm drooling with pleasure. Thanks to Lisa Holewa, author of the fabulous parenting book What Kindergarten Teachers Know for mentioning the post to Joe.

College Applications. Getting Done! 4 down and bunch still to go but we are all less grouchy already. And as a bonus the girl already got an acceptance letter (probably the only one she'll get until April, but it sure does take the pressure off). I would be completely content not to ever edit/proofread another application essay as long as I live.


Bad Electrical Karma I seem to be breaking (or at least causing to work badly) every electrical item I get near. First one computer, then my email stopped working on the other (and I've lost apparently forever, all my old saved ones in my folders), my car's been acting up, and now my beloved Mac is being as....slow...as...a...turtle...eating....molasses. I've restarted everything and nothing is better. It is driving me insane.

The *&#%# CPSIA Law Which is not going away, not getting tweaked to resolve its flaws, and is scheduled to move forward with testing requirements come February. Vintage books, despite being so low a risk that NO ONE has ever gotten lead poisoning from one, remain on the chopping block, and I worry what will happen come February. I can still find old kids' books for sale online, but almost none at my local used bookstores or the library bookshop. I worry they're being pulped. I know, your eyes are glazing over. Everyone who knows me is tired of hearing about this - BUT IT IS STILL A REAL PROBLEM! And it's going to get worse. Call your congress people again and give them a good ranting for the holiday. I know I'm going to. Again.

There, not too bad. Other little grumblies, but mostly life is good. Though my house isn't decorated, I haven't bought gifts much less wrapped them, and the only lights up are the ones I had up in the backyard over the summer (but they still look festive out there, so I think that can count). But I feel merry anyway.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Get Ready for St. Nicholas Day - by Making Paper Shoes with My Handy-Dandy Tutorial!

How goofy are paper shoes? But when I checked the stat thing for my blog the other day, I noticed that lots of people have been coming here looking for directions and a template for making them for St. Nicholas Day, which is coming up fast on December 6th. I felt kind of bad because I don't have anything like that on here. And then, probably because I've been busy making little bunny slippers for my Mimi doll, I realized I could figure out how to make some, so I did. These ones are just the right size to hold the bag of chocolate coins St. Nick is likely bringing my kids in a few days. (You can buy the same ones at Aldi's. Yum.) These paper shoes turn out to be very easy to make, and practically free (except for a small quantity of glue) because I used all materials from the recycling bin.

My husband says blogging is making me completely lose my marbles. He may be right. Only now am I wondering why people would want to make paper shoes for St. Nick Day - for party favors? For a class project? Because they're not sufficiently addicted to chocolate to overlook the fact that their bag of chocolate coins smells a bit like old sneaker if they put out their regular shoes to receive treats, like we do?

Whyever. Here's the tutorial:

STEP ONE: Gather your materials You'll need:
  • a printed copy of the template, which is available as a pdf here,
  • some lightweight cardboard (I used some from an empty cereal box),
  • some scrap paper (I used the insides of security envelopes, which I am absolutely addicted to these days - I have fits if anyone rips the envelopes when opening bills),
  • some kind of a quick grabbing glue, like Alene's Fast Grab Tacky Glue, pictured above (and no, Aleene's does not give me any kind of a kickback for how frequently I mention their glues, but I wouldn't say no if they offered one...),
  • a pair of scissors, and
  • a pencil for tracing the patterns
STEP TWO: Transfer your patterns and cut out all the pieces I just cut out the templates and traced around them on the back side of my paper, but there are many other ways to transfer patterns, and I will guess you are smarter about the whole thing than I am. Remember that the heel upper piece needs to be cut along a fold.
I did cut 2 of the sole templates, so I could give the slippers a nice, finished looking bottom. I cut them with the cardboard right sides together (whatever that is for you) because I wanted the plain brown to show both inside the shoe and on the bottom of the sole. This is because I am insane.

STEP THREE: Fold the tabs on the uppers toward the wrong side of the paper For you origami people, if you're looking at the right side of the paper, it should be a mountain fold.

STEP FOUR: Ignore the picture above and glue the heel/upper piece on first Or carefully peel the rear part of the toe piece off so you can get the other piece glued in place...
Start by spreading a thin line of the tacky glue along the outer edge of the bottom of sole A (the top of this piece will be what shows inside the shoe). Glue the upper to the sole starting by attaching the tab along the fold to the middle of the heel. Work toward the front, bending the upper so that the fold along each tab is snug against the sole - should be pretty easy.
Then attach the toe upper the same way, starting with the middle tab. This is a bit trickier to glue because you have to allow the top of the upper to bow up over the sole, but it's still not terribly difficult once you get the hang of it. Position the tabs at whatever angle gives you a snug fit to the sole.

After I finished this tutorial, I had the bright idea to do a google search of my own for paper shoes. Naturally there are a number of others out there. I like the shoes here (meant as a shower favor thing, but that hardly matters) - they're so cute and the template looks so professional - but I do think they're probably a lot more trouble than mine. They're from Lovebug Scrapbook who says they're adapted from a tutorial in an old issue of Somerset magazine.

Now for my suggested twists on a new tradition for celebrating St. Nicholas Day. Take your kid shopping for some new shoes -- for someone needy. "Encourage" him chip in some of his own money if he has any (and if he's 3 and up, he ought to have small amounts to spend, save, and give). Then help him write a note to St. Nick saying he'd like St. Nick to take the shoes instead of leaving him presents in them, and give the new shoes to a child who really needs some. St. Nick will likely leave behind some of these paper ones with some treats anyhow, and a nice note about how he appreciates your child's kindness so much that Black Peter definitely won't be leaving him any coal this year!

You can help St. Nick donate the shoes to a local homeless shelter, women's shelter, or other organization that collects shoes for needy kids. Or you can make a donation to Soles 4 Souls here, which does a lot of good things.

While you're awaiting St. Nicholas's visit, you might want to read about him. If you'd enjoy a book that focuses on the religious aspects of the man and his holiday rather than the folktale and celebration angle, I highly recommend my friend Julie Stiegemeyer's book, pictured above. Julie has such a clear, warm writing style that I can't help feeling a bit teary every time I read her books. This one is clearly a standout among St. Nick books too - it continues to be a mega-seller year after year. I have amazon ranking envy... Here's a link to read more about it on Julie's blog, and also one for buying the book on amazon, thereby making me feel even more jealous (in a nice way).

Still hungry for more about St. Nicholas and the celebration on December 6th? Check out my last year's post here or check out this amazing website completely devoted to the holiday. It has stories, recipes, crafts (including yet another paper shoe one, sigh), songs, e-cards and more.

Update Note I've added a tutorial and template for expanding the paper shoe into this paper boot. You can find the tutorial and a link to the printable template here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Traditions: Encouraging Affection, Kindness, and Gratitude with Tiny Food and Little Notes

Happy Advent, which I guess technically started yesterday, but in my household it begins officially on December 1st (making me early! At least in the U.S.!) Last year, I wrote about my family's advent traditions which are focused around a little Elf dropping by to leave the kids little gifts and chocolates in a pocket calendar to minimize the "I can't wait for Christmas" whining. I also linked to a zillion ways to make your own creative calendar. (You can see my 2008 post here - I checked and all the links still work. Amazing.)

Anyhow, over the last year while working on my Preschooler Problem Solver book, I talked to a lot of parents about their families' holiday traditions and ended up feeling regretful that I'd failed to take our calendar tradition to the next level and use it to help instill some better character traits in my kids. Some families, for example, instead of doling out more goodies every day to their already privileged kiddos, set up a little empty creche with a container of straw next to it. The idea is that the kids (and I guess the adults too) add a straw to the creche each time they do a good deed. The family tries to amass enough kind works to create a nice cozy soft bed for the baby Jesus by December 24th. They didn't mention anything about having to remove straws for evil deeds done to your little brother, but that corollary might be useful in certain unnamed households.

Other families have traditions like decorating a tree via good deeds (you add an ornament each time you do something kind), having secret Santas within the family, secretly delivering goodies or thank you notes to deserving people around the community, or putting notes with compliments or promises of a family activity in their calendars instead of sugary things or cute erasers shaped like animals.

The closest my family came to some advent altruism was leaving an occasional little something for the advent elf and writing him teeny thank you notes at the end of the advent season. I'm reasonably proud I did that (not every night or anything! I was way too tired, plus struggling to remember to, um, remind the elf to visit in a timely fashion). You can read about sending elf thank yous in a post from last year here and find my pdf template for making a cute cardstock elf mailbox and mini card and envelope here. Anyhow, today's craft is making elf-sized food and arranging a welcoming rest stop for the present-deliverer who visits your house. This stuff is actually edible, as both I and the dog can attest.

Naked Mimi, above (I will finish her dress one of these days, very soon), is standing, or more precisely, sitting in for our elf, who just happens to be 9 inches tall like her, in front of a tempting wee feast, featuring a properly crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut on the diagonal as it should be, potato chips, apple slices, and bits of a blackberry artfully arranged to look like grapes (until they shriveled up while they sat on the counter for a couple hours waiting for me to get around to taking a picture of them).
We have prepared almost this same menu with great success for our ant picnics/science experiments on many occasions, and I can testify that the recipes are easy enough for a four year old to manage most of the steps, (leaving only a little peanut butter globbed on the underside of the kitchen table to be discovered at a later date by an unwary visitor's knees).

Take a slice of bread (white is best, given the suggested use for the leftovers for "cinnamon rolls" - but you can use whole grain white if your elf is into healthy eating). Cut off the crusts and hand your kid a rolling pin. A full-size one works fine, but it's much, much more satisfying to use one of those little ones that comes with play kitchen sets. (If the bread is too wide for the little roller, you can cut it in half.) Roll the bread out as thin as possible (which is amazingly thin). Cut two small squares to the scale of your choice, and then thinly spread jelly on one side and pb (or vegemite or whatever it's called in Australia) on the other. (Fingers or a table knife work fine for spreading, but again, a toy knife will seem just right.) Pre-slice an apple into smallish bits and give your child a plastic or toy knife to make them smaller yet. One potato chip broken into tiny bits will yield enough elf chips to last him several days. The blackberry thing is probably best reserved for someone with a delicate touch, like not your average 4-year-old boy.
Then it's onto dessert! The cookie plate above features a pseudo cinnamon roll made by spreading a wide strip of the remaining smushed bread with a smear of Nutella (possibly the most heavenly substance known to man), which is then rolled up jelly-roll style and carefully sliced into spirals. If you were being very fancy, you could squeeze a little white frosting on it. I am too lazy. The cookies are made from a small ball of toll house cookie dough snagged from the batch of cookies I was making for the college student about to head back to school after break. For the chocolate chip cookie on the right, I just mixed in a few mini-morsels and shaped the whole thing into a ball slightly larger than a petite pea. The pseudo peanut butter kiss on the left was made from a ball of plain dough, baked along side the chocolate chip cookie (and lots of their little companions) at 375 F for 3 minutes (cooking times may vary by oven - start checking at the 2 minute mark). A mini morsel was pressed into the center of the cookie while it was still hot.
If it were the elf's birthday or he'd been especially thoughtful and generous lately, you could bake him a cake like the one above. It was made by baking two slightly larger balls of plain cookie dough (about the size of a smallish grape I'd say) for 3 and 1/2 minutes. After cooling, the top of one cookie was spread with Nutella and the other cookie carefully stacked on top of it. The whole thing was then covered with more Nutella, which proved to be a fairly messy venture. I think you could use melted chocolate chips for the frosting, which might work better as the chocolate would firm up while it cooled (the Nutella stayed deliciously and messily moist, even until the next day). The top was decorated with little holiday cake decoration thingies made of some kind of hard inedible sugar stuff and sold in a little jar at the supermarket. Tiny sprinkles would look nice too and be equally inedible.

We arranged a couple birthday candles in button candle holders on the table we set up for the elf, just to make the whole thing look appropriately festive, but I definitely don't recommend lighting these before bed in anticipation of the elf's visit. I believe he carries his own matches and will light them himself when he comes.

It would be awfully sweet for your child to make a miniature thank you drawing for the elf and dictate a note for him to read while he eats his snack. A really nice elf might write a note back from time to time, thereby reinforcing good manners and encouraging literacy skills.

Next up: preparations for St. Nicholas Day (December 6th).