Archives for December 2017

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect

Long, long ago, in a land far away, lived a perfect little tree named Small Pine. Small Pine hoped to maintain its perfect form and be selected by the Queen as her Christmas tree. But as the warm-hearted little tree gave shelter to birds, rabbits, and deer in the forest, its branches became damaged. Fortunately, the Queen had a different idea of perfection..

From Mary

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard H. Schneider is the perfect story for anyone who has ever striven towards a goal, only to find it unattainable due to unforeseen circumstances.  As I shared this story with my first graders, we discussed Small Pine’s selflessness in providing shelter for the forest animals – even at the expense of the damage it caused its branches. Knowing the perfection of its shape was diminishing did not cause it to quit giving aid when the animals were in danger.  To make the story more meaningful, we actually bent and broke branches on our classroom Christmas tree while reading the book.  As gaping holes began to appear the class could understand as we read, “Small Pine wilted in sorrow. It could hear what the larger, still-perfect trees were saying about how bad it looked. A tear of pine gum oozed from the tip of a branch.  Small Pine knew it could never hope for the honor of being the Queen’s Christmas tree.”  But oh!! The joy and excitement by the class when Small Pine was chosen by the Queen! For she had indeed looked past the drooping, nibbled branches and understood the sacrifice that had been made.

As we drew and colored our own personal Christmas trees, perfection didn’t seem to matter. Each child created their own “perfect” tree and we celebrated the beauty of them all! After all, Small Pine had taught us that “living for the sake of others makes us most beautiful in the eyes of God.”

Mary Kline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red & Lulu

Author:  Matt Tavares

Whenever I’m fortunate enough to be able to attend the International Reading Association Convention, one of the first booths I head for is the Candlewick Press booth.   I’m always eager to read any and all of their new children’s books such as: Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares.

  • I adore New York City – especially at Christmas time – especially the Rockefeller tree.  (Chestnuts roasting…the whole bit!)  It’s magical.
  • My favorite bird is the cardinal because my mom loved cardinals and whenever I see one, I think of the most important and loved woman in my life.
  • I deeply appreciate sweet stories about friendship and families; loyalty and never giving up.
  • Gorgeous illustrations (especially with different perspectives) are like art treasures to me.   They are two for one…   I get a wonderful children’s book and a book full of art work that I enjoy as well.   In fact, I will put down a perfectly fine book (story) if the illustrations are off to me.  I’m not particularly proud of this fact – it’s just truth.  The illustrations hold as much, if not more, weight as the story itself.

Add them all together and you have Tavares’ Red & Lulu and the reason this book is a new favorite of mine.  I also love traditions, and can’t wait to make reading Red & Lulu to my little ones at Christmas at new one in our home.

Deni Corbett

From Candlewick Press

Separation and miles cannot keep a determined cardinal from his loved one in an ode to serendipity and belief that is destined to be a new Christmas classic.

Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each other again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . . . From Matt Tavares comes a heart-tugging story combining the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and the real meaning of the holiday season: how important it is to be surrounded by love..

Check this out!  Red & Lulu giveaway by Candlewick Press.
How’s that for great timing?  Merry Christmas (I hope a FirefliesBlog reader wins!)

Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Author:  Gloria Houston
Illustrator:  Barbara Cooney

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1918: the Christmas Ruthie has longed for all her life and the Christmas she will never forget.

This is the year Ruthie’s family has the honor of giving Pine Grove its tree. Last spring before he left for the war, Papa chose the prefect balsam tree from high on a rocky crag. But now, as Christmas draws near, Ruthie and Mama wait impatiently for the Appalachian mountain train to bring Papa home. Even with news of the Armistice there’s no word from Papa. Soon it’s Christmas Eve, and Ruthie and Mama can think only of seeing Papa again. But despite that, Papa promised the townsfolk a tree, and now–with Papa or without him–Mama will see that his word is kept.

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Gloria McLendon Houston’s story of the courage and power of a family is as joyful and timeless as Christmas itself. And exquisite, jewel-like paintings by two-time Caldecott Medal recipient Barbara Cooney capture all the story’s warmth and mountain flavor.

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This is a lovely old-fashioned Christmas story with exquisite illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney.   It’s a must if you are collecting Christmas books for your home library.

Ruthie, a young Appalachian girl,  has the honor of playing the angel in the Christmas Eve play at the village church but has no dress worthy of the occasion.  Ruthie’s mother stays up all night sewing a beautiful angel dress out of her own wedding dress and making a small angel doll to match with the scraps and the silk stocking Ruthie’s father sent as a Christmas gift from the war.

This is a lovely story with beautiful illustrations and both can be used to encourage conversations with your child(ren).  If you are not comfortable using conversations to extend critical thinking skills, below are some questions to get you started.   Choose one or two and see where the discussion takes you.  Listen carefully and simply give responses that encourage continued discussion.  Don’t answer the question for your child and don’t look for what you consider to be a correct answer.  You are helping your child(ren) develop deeper thinking skills and that takes time, maturity, and practice.  Keep reading great books aloud, asking open-ended questions, and listening for thoughtful responses.

Oh, and if you have something nearby and can record your discussion without it hindering the flow – do it!  It is sure to be a treasure in the future.  I promise!

Deni Corbett

Some conversation starters:

  1. How was the season different when Ruthie and Papa first went in search of the perfect Christmas tree? Look for clues in the pictures. What kinds of things were going on during this season? (Beehives, etc.) Talk about how what you do differs from Ruthie’s experience.
  2. When Mama and Ruthie reach the train station, how do you think they feel? How do you think they feel when they see all the men getting off the train?
  3. What did Ruthie’s family do for a living? What was Papa’s job? What kind of hardships did Ruthie’s family endure because of the war? What was Mama and Ruthie’s dilemma on Christmas Eve? How did Mama and Ruthie solve the problems they faced on Christmas Eve?
  4. How did Ruthie and Papa find the perfect tree? Where did they go to find it? How did they mark it so they would know which one to get when they came back? Why couldn’t they just cut the tree down right then and there?
  5. When Mama and Ruthie went up the mountain to get their tree, Ruthie became frightened. How did Mama help her get over her fears?
  6. Where do you think Mama found the cloth to make Ruthie’s dress and her doll’s clothes? What do you think Mama used to make Ruthie’s doll?
  7. If you were to describe Mama, what words would you use? How about Ruthie? Or Papa?
  8. Why do you think the people in church laughed when St. Nicholas gave all the deacons a lump of coal and a willow switch?
  9. What did Ruthie get from St. Nicholas? What surprise was waiting outside the church? Which gift do you think was the best one? Why?
  10. Can you tell who was telling the story by the end of the book? Is it someone different than you predicted at the beginning? How do you know who is telling the story?
  11. Besides being a gift to Ruthie, what part does her doll play in the story? (i.e., could it be a symbol for hope, love, tradition, faith, triumph, etc.) What does the family do with Ruthie’s doll every Christmas from that time on?

 

 

Christmas No-Bake Dessert Table

Christmas Dessert Table

This post is for all of you who keep telling me you don’t know how to bake.  So here it is!  Your chance for you and your kids to put together an amazing Christmas display with absolutely ZERO baking skills necessary.  If you can work a microwave, then you do indeed have the necessary skills to recreate this little dessert display.
Dessert tables are increasingly popular right now and they can seem a bit overwhelming to create and I can understand how you would just rather stop at the grocery store and pick up a pack of cookies.  While this will entail slightly more work than prying open that plastic container, these food projects will provide you an your little ones lasting memories and something that they (and YOU) can be proud of.
So lets start!

MARSHMALLOW SNOWMAN ON A STICK

If you’ve ever been to a fair of any sort, then you KNOW that any snack on a stick just automatically tastes better.  Kids are drawn to them and parents love them since they dramatically decrease the mess for those sweet, pudgy little hands. The sticks for this project are just regular shish kabob sticks that you find pretty much anywhere.
Here are the other ingredients you will need:

 

  • Marshmallows (if you can find the jumbo marshmallows, those would be ideal for this project)
  • White chocolate flavored candy coating (Ghiradelli’s is sooo yummy)
  • Orange jelly beans (or DOTS)
  • Fruit roll-up
  • A bit of cornstarch
  • An edible marker (or mini chocolate chips)
  • Scissors
  • And those kebab sticks.

And now you’re set!

The first step is to cut your marshmallows in half.  A tip I got from The Marshmallow Studio is to always dip your scissors in water and shake off the excess drips before you cut your marshmallows to prevent any sticking.

Take your kebab stick and dip that into water as well and slide on three marshmallows (the stick should go inside about half way through the top marshmallow).

Take your jelly bean (or DOT) and cut a small triangle piece for the snowman’s nose.  If it doesn’t quite look pointy enough just shape it gently with your fingertips.

Melt the white candy according to the directions on the package.  Generally, its 1 minute at full power, stir and continue melting at 30-second intervals at half power until smooth.  Using the end of a kebab stick, add a dot of white chocolate for the nose to stick to.  If you are using mini chocolate chips instead of an edible marker, you’ll want to add white chocolate drops for his eyes, nose and mouth. If you have an edible marker, simply add dots for his eyes and mouth.  Using a little more melted candy, add chocolate chips for the snowman’s buttons.

Take a piece of fruit roll up and cut a strip approximately 3″ long.  I cut a tiny bit of fringe on each end of his scarf but that’s optional. Wrap it around the neck between the two marshmallows.  If you have any issues with the marshmallows keeping in place, secure them with a bit of candy coating between the marshmallows.

And there you go!  Feel free to make as many as you want.  We stopped at two; one for each little boy.

This one little guy was incredibly impressed with this project.

Make that two little guys completely enamored by skewered marshmallows.

 

WHITE CHOCOLATE COVERED OREO SNOWMAN FACE

Since we had melted the white candy coating and had extra, we decided to make this one little chocolate covered Oreo snowman.  I didn’t want to waste that Tablespoon of white chocolate so instead I used more wax paper, cookies, and a jelly bean.  Somehow I’m still proud of the fact that I didn’t waste that small amount of white melted candy!

Here are your ingredients for this piece:

 

  • White candy coating
  • Oreo Cookies
  • Orange jelly beans
  • Mini chocolate chips
  • Lollipop sticks
Cover the Oreo with the white candy coating.  I’m sure that there’s a tool for this but I found that having your 2-year old accidentally dropping it in the candy and me fishing it out with a fondu fork worked just brilliantly.

Quick!  Before it dries, add his little chocolate chip eyes and mouth and give him his nose (we had previously stolen all the orange jelly beans off the gingerbread house for these projects but of course I couldn’t find the little dish that had them all in it.  I resorted to using a spiced gumdrop).

Next dip the end of a lollipop stick into the candy and gently insert the stick.  Oh and there’s that little bowl of orange jelly beans…right below the bag of lollipops.  *sigh* Oh well!  At least it can be in the photo below!

 

CANDY COVERED CHRISTMAS TREES

I absolutely love these trees.  I first saw them on a blog from Half Baked last year and couldn’t wait to try my own out.

Ingredients list:

  • Green candy coating
  • Sugar cones
  • Christmas colored sprinkles, sugar pearls, silver dragees, whatever you want!

Again, melt down the green candy coating according to their instructions until its all nice, smooth and shiny.  If it doesn’t seem quite fluid enough, you can add some paramount crystals or even a bit of shortening to get the right consistency.

Next, coat each cone with the green candy and set upright on wax paper.

Again, to avoid any form of disputes between the boys, we did two trees.

Decorate!  Had the boys not both been in time out at the time this project was being completed, they would have created some masterpieces to be sure.  Unfortunately, this Momma likes to be consistent with her discipline so they both watched me decorate the trees until their behavior improved.  We’ll have to try this again later with them and share a follow up photo of their artwork.

 

CHRISTMAS CANDY POPCORN

Yes, you guessed it…I had leftover green candy coating and not wanting to waste it, I decided on this element for the dessert table.  I use this idea quite a bit for dessert tables since its a great filler and can be done in any color.

Pop a batch of popcorn.  I used my air popper but I’m sure that the microwave kind would work just as well.  Spread the popcorn out in a single layer on wax paper.

Using a spatula, transfer your candy coating into a Ziplock bag and trim a small hole in the corner (Voila!  Your very own handmade piping bag!).

Drizzle candy coating all over the popcorn.  Stir to evenly coat.

Spread it out again and add a second drizzling of candy.  Stir well but try not to smoosh or break the popcorn pieces.

Spread it out again into a single layer do another of drizzling of candy coating but this time don’t stir.  Add sprinkles to your heart’s content.

Let dry.

CANDY COVERED MARSHMALLOW CHRISTMAS TREE

For whatever reason, I STILL had green candy coating!  So back to the pantry again to hunt down some other dessert table materials.  I found these guys.

 

Dip the ends of the marshmallows into the green candy coating and let them dry (green side up) on some parchment.  As they are setting up, sprinkle some sugar pearls for “ornaments”.  Place them into a tree shape and add a little pretzel stump.

 

And there you have it!   Your very own Christmas dessert table!

 

 

 

 

 

I just can’t wait to see your photos of these food projects!  Post them to the Fireflies Facebook page so we can all enjoy them.

Praying that you and your family have an incredibly Merry Christmas while celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ!