For the past couple of years the girls' 4-H club has collected donations to send Christmas stockings to soldiers serving in Iraq. My girls' contribution to the project has been to put their sewing skills to work. They make Christmas fabric bags that can be filled with items from the A Soldier's Wish List website.
The bags are 10" x 12" and the straight lines make them much easier to sew than a traditional stocking shape. They hold more too.
The kids sewed a ribbon into the seam that ties around the top to close the bag once it's filled.
The kids got a chance to see my friend Meg's serger in action with this project, which made the couple of bags sewn on it look professionally done.
The girls and their friends made a dozen gift bags in about an hour. It's an easy sewing project that everyone enjoys.
Of course, there's lots of chatter when you get a bunch of girls together to sew and you can see from the video that G. was quite impressed with the serger.
For several years during the Christmas season (before children) I made cut-out cookies and really enjoyed it. When the girls came along, life became too crazy to keep that tradition going.
But then I had a brainstorm when the girls were toddlers -- make cut-out cookies for Halloween and Valentine's Day when life was a little less chaotic and the social calendar wasn't so crazy. Now these two holidays rarely pass without the girls and I making a few batches of cut-outs to decorate. It's been a great family tradition for us.
And since I'm still not up to climbing mountains yet and haven't done a whole lot outdoors lately (I'm still working on getting back in shape after my surgery) I thought I'd share my 'learnings' about making cut-out cookies for those parents who want to make them for the holiday season.
Make the dough ahead of time. It can take an hour or more just to make so I prefer to do this with the girls a day or two ahead of time. Plus, rolling out *cold* dough really is easier and makes a better cookie.
Frozen cookies are easier to decorate for little hands, especially if you decide decorating (not rolling and cutting) is the way to go with your toddler/preschooler. Plus, unfrosted cookies last a month or more in the freezer if packaged well (in a freezer ziplock baggie and carefully stacked so they don't break). Just be sure cookies are completely cooled before packaging up for the freezer.
I've never been very good at decorating cookies but the girls enjoy mixing and matching various sprinkle and frosting options.
"Look mom, I'm a pumpkin head!" She's 11 and I'm amused she still thinks that's funny.
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
Mix butter and shortening together then add sugar and baking powder. Blend until well-combined. Then add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add one cup of flour at a time. Make dough into oval shape, cover in plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for at least 3 hours (I usually keep in overnight).
Roll out dough on a floured surface (kids tend to put too much flour, a tablespoon is usually enough) and be careful the rolled-out dough is not too thin (1/4" works well for us).
Bake cookies on an un-greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees (cooler than most recipes but I've found this temp works better) for about 5-6 minutes (depending on cookie thickness).
Cookies are done when the edges start to lightly brown (which doesn't always look done but it likely is so experiment with one pan at a time at first).
Let the cookies sit in the pan for about 2 minutes after removing from the oven. This will help ensure the cookies don't break before moving them to the cooling racks. I have 6 cookie sheets to keep the cookie cutting and baking moving along for the kids.
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (we like orange too) extract
1 Tablespoon milk
Mix everything together until well combined. Separate into small bowls and then add food coloring.
It's been a slow week for the Almeida kids. And although I'm feeling better than I have been since my surgery, I'm still not up to climbing any mountains this week.
The girls, who are used to being busy and physically active, have been a little off-kilter with our quieter schedule these past couple of weeks and driving me a little crazy.
If they bathe the cats or give them any more attention, those cats are going to start biting and scratching their eyes out (a couple of times this past week I've had similar thoughts). Their latest antics for 'training' the cats was to teach them to sit still while being pushed around the house in the doll carriage.
I realized after this 'activity' it was time to give them a more structured project to work on so the cats could have a break from their loving attention.
G. wanted to make 'kitty beds' out of fleece and quilt batting so they were "soft and fluffy." L. wanted to make some mats like she'd seen at the pet store.
We opted to make all the mats 24" x 18" to get as many as we could from the fabric we already had at home.
G. sewed the batting for her mats right into to the fleece so that it wouldn't bunch up during repeated washings.
The fleece options readily available were diverse patterns but G. was sure there was a football fan cat owner who would like her Patriots' themed kitty bed.
Making the mats L. wanted required my help to cut and iron the border material into a long strip (like homemade bias tape) for her to pin and sew to the fleece.
And as she explained to the librarians when she brought her mats to them yesterday, she used the brown fleece for her cat mats instead of the original monkey costume she had planned to make for Halloween (another year, another crisis on deciding what to wear).
The cats were happy to walk around the house undeterred for a few hours and Dulce helped to confirm that making the mats out of fleece was a good idea.
Next week we have plans to go hiking and I hope until then this sewing project keeps them happy and gives the cats -- and mom -- a little more down-time.
It doesn't matter how old the kids are, there's something about playing with a parachute that makes everyone laugh.
At the girls' 4-H meeting yesterday there were a lot of newbies and the age range was a little tricky to plan for, which was from 5 to 15 years old.
An icebreaker activity seemed important to get the kids acquainted and comfortable with one another before the business portion of the meeting - which was the first of the new 4-H year - so we broke out the parachute.
Everyone - including the teens - enjoyed the games.
If you're interested in buying a parachute, the prices aren't too bad. We've had ours since the girls were preschoolers and it's been well-used and has stood up well over time. And I really like the fact that the girls still remember playing games with it when they were younger.
It's one of those timeless toys that I'm glad I still have around the house.
I had some minor surgery last week and I've been slow moving since then, much to the chagrin of the children. I guess when your mom goes from overdrive to barely standing, it takes some getting used to.
But this past week was still more eventful than I would have liked it to have been.
L. couldn't miss her beloved field hockey so we made sure she got to her game on Sunday.
And we were scheduled to pick up the first of two installments of the pig raffle meat in Gardiner. The smoked parts (bacon and ham) aren't due for another couple of weeks. That's good news as these boxes filled both of our freezers.
The roast I made in the crock pot last night was very tasty so everyone is getting used to the idea of having met the pig at the fair and appreciating his sacrifice...
Then Fino and the girls decided to foster a kitten who was abandoned with a broken leg and he showed up at our house this week. I've been assured by the girls that they understand we are just helping him heal and taking care of his leg before he's adopted -- that we aren't keeping him.
I have a feeling that they agreed so they could work out a strategy to keep the little guy they are calling Lupus.
For what was supposed to be an uneventful few days, there was certainly plenty of action going on at our house. I guess down time is overrated? I wouldn't know.
We have a note on our refrigerator today that I can't say I ever expected to see there.
Now if you read it quickly you might have thought we are picking up a live pig.
We were the winners of the 4-H Pig Raffle at the Cumberland County fair last week.
The pig was alive at the fairgrounds but he is not alive anymore.
That's the raffle -- a pig raised by a local 4-Her billed as "freezer-ready."
Meaning, the pig is sent to a butcher at the end of the fair and cut to order and frozen for pick up for the lucky winners.
We're still in shock we won this. It is a source of entertainment with our urban friends and family that the girls sell raffle tickets for this every year (it's a 4-H fund-raiser). This year we bought the remaining six tickets the girls didn't sell to support the program.
Never did we EVER think we'd win the pig!
So when we did, the first thing I asked was how the whole thing worked. Wendy Gallagher - the 4-H volunteer who coordinated the raffle this year - told me not to worry, just call West Gardiner Beef and they'll guide me through it.
How I wanted the pig cut.
I started to say holy cow but just laughed instead. I didn't know what to say.
So I called West Gardiner Beef this week and told the friendly woman on the other end I had absolutely no idea what to do.
She walked me through the various parts of the pig (a view of the parts discussed) and what type of cut I wanted and what I wanted smoked versus fresh.
All those market pig farmers can call me names but boy, that was a strange and disturbing conversation for me. Yes I eat meat -- and appreciate the fact that this animal was grain-fed -- but no, I don't want to have met the animal prior to eating him/her. I'm a hypocrite who needs some distance from her meat supply.
The part of the conversation that really got to me was the head (offered whole), heart, feet and tongue parts. Did I want them?
Ahh, no thank you.
On Monday we pick up the fresh cuts, which I'm told will completely fill 2 small, empty freezers (the refrigerator/freezer combo type) so we have some phone calls to make to family and friends for help storing the meat.
And that doesn't count the smoked cuts (bacon and ham), which won't be ready for a few more weeks, that we need to also find freezer space for.
Of course the news of our win got around quickly in the 4-H circle. My favorite email about our winning from a 4-H friend was this one:
"I helped move the pig last night from his midway home to the trailer. I checked out those nice hams!"
One of our urban family members said:
"Congratulations!!! Winning a pig may be a once in a lifetime event."
Of course you can likely guess the girls' reaction to the raffle.
Can we save him?
That wasn't an option so they're pretending like they never met the pig at the fairgrounds. Nothing wrong with denial since I'm doing the same thing.
And we're making plans to share our bounty with the girls' 4-H club end of the fair season party.
I've received a few emails recently asking for suggestions on hikes I thought were good for younger kids. During the summer L. decided to make a map of the trails she's hiked in Maine for a 4-H project and I'm not sure if some people saw L.'s project at the Cumberland Fair this past week that prompted the emails or if it's just that time of year when people want to be outside with their kids to enjoy the fall.
Either way, I decided to ask the kids about trails they liked when they were little. I combined their suggestions with mine to come up with this list (which is in no particular order).
Fore River Trail in Portland (off Hobart Street)
It's only a mile with plenty of boardwalks to keep little ones laughing about all the noise they can make running on them.
The girls picked tons of dandelions on this trail and found a treasured seagull feather I believe is still hanging around our house somewhere.
Josephine Newman Sanctuary in Georgetown
There are short loop trails that are flat and easy to navigate with plenty of birds around to listen to and spot.
The Arboretum in Augusta
A little longer hike than some of our other recommendations but the flowers and plants along the way keep the trail interesting. The hosta garden is one of L.'s all-time favorite places.
This is a short, easy hike with plenty of 'treasures' to collect on the rocky shore.
These were the days when seaweed was really interesting and snuck in to the backpack to bring home without realizing how bad it would smell later.
Douglas Mountain in Sebago
This 1/4 mile trail is a good "1st mountain climb" experience for little ones. It's a steep climb but it's short and the tower at the top offers an extra incentive for kids to climb to the top.
During our first trip up the mountain, L. insisted on eating her snack with Bunny on the top of the tower.