Monday, November 30, 2015

25 Christmas Brain Teasers

Puzzle from

I'm hoping to have a daily Christmas themed logic problem/ math riddle/brain teaser up on our chalkboard from now until Christmas, with candy treats waiting in one of our fill-yourself advent calendars for anyone who solves the problem.

I searched out 25, or so, quick to write out puzzles (and mostly easy enough for the younger children to join in), and linked them below.  I'll be mixing them up, to keep a good variety going, but now it's just a matter of click and copy out - barring any broken links, of course. 

1 - 4. Triangle Tree Totals
5.  "C" "H" "R" "I" "S" "T" "M" "A" "S" Brain Basher
6.  Best Friends Gift Exchange - A short logic problem.
7. Christmas Chess - Spelling and Logic
8. Reindeer Order - Logic Problem
9 - 20. Christmas Anagrams
21. Decipher Christmas Carols
22. Christmas Carol Fill in the Blank - Missing Words
23. Christmas Carol Cryptogram.
24 - 25 Christmas Word Sudoku

Hopefully, the kids will take me up on the challenge, and we'll be keeping our minds active and challenged all the way to Christmas day.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Crochet Christmas Gnomes

I decided yesterday, it was time to pack away the owls that have been perched on our end table since early October, and replace them with something a little more wintry.

Actually, first I considered just crocheting each owl a little Christmas cap, and leaving them be.  But, then I decided it would be just about as easy to modify their pattern slightly to make Christmas gnomes instead.

You can find the original owl pattern back a few posts by clicking here.  To make gnomes instead of owls:

  • Change colors and crochet the first row of the decrease in the outside of the stitches of the previous row.
  • Leave the point up, instead of folding it over.
  • Add a nose (make a loop,  and crochet three or four stitches into it, leaving a long tail on both ends for sewing it on) just below the hat line.
  • Tie individual pieces of yarn below the hat and nose, fray and trim into a beard.
  • Thread a darning needle with a long length of the hat color, and whip stitch around the brim of the hat to give it a little more definition.

Traditionally, Christmas gnomes should be dressed in red, or possibly gray.  I used green for the bodies - choosing similar colors to our owls.  I like the green, but it does give the gnomes a little bit of an unintentional Pa Grape vibe.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pumpkin Dinner Rolls - Make Them A Day Ahead

I made a test batch of rolls, earlier this week, following a recipe by Karen Rummer from and shaping according to a tutorial from Beyond Kimchee (lots of fun for kids to help with) except that I skipped the egg wash she called for before baking, because according to Paul Hollywood (of the Great British Baking Show) an egg was can make the rolls appear done too early, and lead to rolls that are golden brown on the outside but doughy on the inside.

With the pumpkin already adding moisture to the rolls, you really don't want doughy.  So, instead of an egg wash, I rubbed the rolls with butter as soon as they came out of the oven, to make them shiny and soft.

They smelled fantastic, and weren't doughy at all - though hot out of the oven, they were a little too moist for my taste.  However, allowed to cool overnight (cooled first, then stored in plastic baggies) they were pretty perfect.  These are really good as day old rolls.

They are on the sweet side of savory rolls - think Hawaiian sweet rolls, but with a pumpkin flavor.  We liked them quite a bit though.

The only down side is the recipe (which make 32 rolls) is too large to mix and knead in a bread machine.  I know because I tried, and ended up having to glop the whole mess out on the counter to knead by hand.  The rolls still, amazingly, turned out.  I like a dough that can handle some missteps.

They are on my bake list again today, for Thanksgiving.  But this time, I'll be mixing up a half batch in the bread maker, and turning them over to the teens with the kitchen scissors for shaping.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite, go-to roll recipe?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Snowflake Turkey Ornaments or Five Turkeys and a Peacock

Normally, we decorate our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, and each child has a series of "keepsake" ornaments to put up from the previous years, hopefully marking something special or unique to them from each Christmas past.  Over the years, the keepsakes have morphed from store bought, to mother crafted, to child-made.

This year, we're excited to have good friends joining us for Thanksgiving and staying through the weekend.  We decided, that rather than take time away from visiting with them,  we'd rather decorate the tree early (late would just seem sad).

As we've never decorated our tree before Thanksgiving before, I thought this year's ornaments should commemorate the event.  The local craft store obliged me, by throwing a bang up sale, and putting both the felt turkey crafts (which just happened to include blue heads - a perfect match for the snowflakes), and the snowflake ornament craft sets on fantastic sales.  I snatched a couple of each off the rack...

...and ran home to see what could be made by combining the two.  The girls saw me working away, and were soon making snowflake turkeys of their own.  Admittedly, it might have been a past curfew stall tactic on the part of the younger girls, and A(age 14) decided to go her own way, and make a peacock instead of a turkey (the one at the top without a gobble), but all in all it was a pretty pleasant time of crafting.

The boys were a little less enthusiastic.  D (age 12) who was busy watching "Top Gear" with his father, sprinted into the room, glanced around the table, and declared the sample turkey I had pieced together was exactly what he would have made.

"You don't mind gluing that together for me, do you Mom?  The show's on."

T (age 18) who has a strong dislike for "baby crafts" but a deep appreciation for tradition, came to the table late, after all the best snowflakes were taken, and had to settle for what was left.  He made a turkey, but he was not happy with the results, until Mommy jumped in (helicopter Mom to the rescue) and saved the day Christmas (not to brag or anything), by snipping out a quick bow tie, bringing a mother melting smile to the 18 year old's face, and restoring peace and order to our corner of the universe, with a now cool, kitchy, and not at all babyish, Dr. Who inspired, turkey snowflake ornament.

If only the rest of the world's problems were so easy to solve.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Last Minute Minecraft Birthday

***The pictures in this post are not out of focus.  Our life just happens to be a little fuzzy at the moment.***

We paused from our Thanksgiving preparations to celebrate E's birthday, this weekend.  I have to admit, between just getting back from a trip, a late-running youth group event on Friday night, a Sunday school lesson to study, and a community Thanksgiving dinner which the Man of the House had volunteered to help set-up, I had pictures E's birthday as a very simple, cake-and-presents-after-a-light-Sunday-lunch affair.

Then, I overheard E (now age 11) discussing with her sister how she was hoping for a Minecraft birthday.  And, I'm not sure if it was the guilt over being away from the children so much at the beginning of the month, or the assurance that Pinterest contains an unfathomable number of ideas and printables for a Minecraft themed party, but from that moment on, there was no turning back.

I raided our Christmas present stash for the Minecraft Mystery Mini-figure boxes and Minecraft magnets I'd picked up earlier, on clearance, for stocking stuffers.

I placed a mini-figure box by each plate (in place of a pinata), and gleaned enough ideas and printables from Google images to help transform a lunch...

...of sodas, pigs-in-a-blanket, strawberries, pineapple, grapes, pretzels, licorice, Swedish fish, and carrots into Creeper juice with Minecraft bread, redstones, gold, slime balls, sticks, TNT, fish and...well...carrots.

Since we've made the standard Minecraft cake before...

...I opted to make a block of grass (or is it dirt?) for E (another idea found in Google images), which in our case was just a couple of layered square cakes with chocolate frosting spread on the sides, and green colored vanilla buttercream piped on top.

The magnets, I mentioned earlier...

...stood in, as a make-your-own-scene type party game...

...which when combined with a creeper shooting gallery - with construction paper covered, cereal box creeper head targets (an idea from Housing a Forest) in front of...

...pyramids of creeper cups (green cups with sharpie drawn faces)...

...a quick game of Minecraft bingo (with a free printable from Life with Squeaker), and a Lego Minecraft present (thanks Grandma!)...

...made for a very pleased (and not at all neglected) birthday girl...

...and still left plenty of time to make it to the community Thanksgiving dinner - pot of the Man of the House's famous cream cheese and sour cream laden mashed potatoes, in hand.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Crafting a Peanuts Themed Thanksgiving Puzzle

In preparation for next week's festivities, I put together a quick 3x3 square puzzle for the "kids' table"...

...following the same instructions as for last year's Dr. Who themed, stocking stuffer puzzle, a simple grid in Paint...

...and a few appropriately clad characters from the image of a bulletin board set (again since this is just for personal use, I think that's okay).

Just as for the Dr. Who puzzle, once I had the images arranged on the grid, I printed the page, glued it to the blank side of an empty cereal box, and covered the backside with construction paper before encasing both sides in clear contact paper, and cutting the pieces apart into a puzzle that ought to keep the teens (and their younger sibs) occupied while the adults yammer away over plates of pumpkin pie.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remembering Thankfulness

Normally by this time of year our fall leaf list tree has lost most of its leaves (meaning we've worked our way through most of our fall to-dos)...

...and is beginning to fill up with thankful turkeys (hand print turkeys with one thing we're thankful for, written on each).

Last year, November snuck (or sneaked for you non-American/Canadian readers) up on us, and we decide to save crafting time by re-using turkeys from previous years - recycling thankfulness.

We might have done the same thing this year, except we got the call around the first of November, that my step-father, the children's grandfather, was nearing the end of his struggle with Alzheimer's.  I decided to make last second trip out to Oregon to spot my mother and step-sister, who were doing the heavy work of staying by his side in nursing home and hospice care. 

I arrived in time to spend a few hours with Grandpa, and had the privilege of being there to see him off.  His passing was calm and peaceful, and unlike the last few months of his struggle with the disease - easy.  I was very thankful.

The Man of the House drove out with the children for the funeral, and returned home with them, while I remained on another week to help my mother sort through the details of life as a widow once again.

All this to say, that I returned this week to a fall tree somewhat too full of undone leaves, and completely devoid of thankful turkeys.

Somehow this year, our usual thankful turkeys covered with frivolous, though heartfelt, thanks for things like  "hot chocolate" and "teddy bears" didn't seem sufficient. 

I'm thankful my children had a loving grandfather, even though my own father did not live to see them.
We're thankful his fight with a horrible disease is over.
We were thankful the faithful pastors and church family who extended a great deal of love and compassion to my mother and visiting family.
We were thankful for the safety we all had in traveling to and from every corner of the country.
We're thankful for Grandpa's love for Christ - so that we can repeat the words of Paul with confidence: "Death where is your victory?  Death where is your sting?"

With those thoughts in mind, I decided this year to fill our turkey tree with thankful memories, one for each day from November 1st through Thanksgiving, by cutting, pasting, and printing clip-art hand print turkeys, with pictures of the children with their grandfather.

They are good memories, memories he lost for a time, but now has back I'm sure, as he's been restored in Christ - and for that we are all very thankful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Gingerbread Turkeys

I had such good intentions of filling November with turkey themed thankfulness for my youngest two, but a family funeral (more on that later) called me out of town for a couple of weeks.

I returned home just in time for the first real snow of the year, and hit the ground running with gingerbread men (no story reference intended).  It's our tradition to celebrate the first, big, sticking snow of the season by decorating a batch of gingerbread men together, and I was truly thankful to be home in time to take part in the tradition.

While the cookie boys and girls were baking in the oven, I decided to try and recoup a little of November too, and get things back on the turkey track by cutting the left-over dough into gingerbread turkeys - or rather, gingerbread flowers (we don't actually have a turkey cookie cutter)...

...which could be trimmed...


...and frosted...

...into gingerbread turkeys...

...all ready to be enjoyed with steaming cups of hot chocolate on a snowy, November afternoon.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Turkeys

Well, October is gone, and it's time for the turkeys.

We started off today with a breakfast of turkey shaped pumpkin cinnamon rolls.

They were made using our pumpkin cinnamon roll bread machine recipe, and shaped as follows...

...with walnut feet...

...chocolate chip eyes...

...and dried cranberry snoods...

The two rolls need to be pinched together well to keep the feathers and head from spreading out.  We didn't pinch all of ours hard enough, and ended up with a few rolls that looked more like sad Sonics than triumphant turkeys. 

The nice thing about sculpting in sweet dough though, is even the mistakes are delicious.