Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Christmas Countdown (Days 21 - 25)

2014 is knocking on the door so it’s time to finish The Christmas Countdown recap. See Days 1-5, Days 6-10, Days 11-15, and Days 16-20. Yes, the days leading up to Christmas were filled with a flurry of activities. It was fun, not too much work, and I love how, by Christmas Day, our house was decorated for the holidays with kid art. I can’t wait to do it all over again next year. 

12.21.13 : The Saturday before Christmas was unseasonably warm – in the 60s! I took the kids to the library, farmer’s market, and playground. There were tons of people out and about. At the farmer’s market, there was a balloon artist and I tried my best to convince Anna to get a reindeer or Santa, but she insisted on a flower, so I guess we really didn't do anything Christmas-y on this day... 
12.22.13 : We had dinner at our favorite pho place and then drove into DC for an evening of holiday fun.
12.23.13 : baking soda clay hand print ornament : A whole week later, they are finally done. We did make a second batch of clay and patch up the cracks. They will appear on our tree for the first time in 2014.
12.24.13 : On Christmas Eve, we baked + left out cookies for Santa and the kids went to sleep in their new pajamas. Unfortunately, both of their pajamas got dirty overnight and didn’t make it our Christmas morning photos.
Merry Christmas Eve!!!
I hope your December was full of good memories. Ours sure did. Happy New Year! See you in 2014!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, December 30, 2013

"Santa came to our house and ate our cookies."

I hope your Christmas was merry and bright. This year, we started a new tradition of baking cookies and leaving them out for Santa on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, Anna was delighted to discover that Santa came to our house + ate the cookies + left presents. It was so fun for me to see the pure joy splashed across her face. Will, while hasn't completely figured out what Christmas is all about yet, relished in the chaos and new toys.

Instead of diving into all the presents at once, our present-opening actually got off to a slow start. Once the kids saw what Santa brought them (presents from Santa were unwrapped so they saw that first), they couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Anna received her red train (thanks mom) and Will got a new car (thanks uncle andy).
Of all the presents she received – the thing she loved the most was the red train. Which makes sense, since she had specifically asked Santa for it.

Eventually, the kids re-grouped and ripped through all the gifts under the kids' tree, which were all from my parents. Books, stickers, art supplies galore, and Hungry Hungry Hippo.
After breakfast, we moseyed over to the living room to open more presents. All the presents under our Charlie Brown-ish tree were from us. I stuck to my list here, but hubs' bought a few more for the kids on his own.
Got a picture of everyone looking, except the dog.

That night my parents, having just drove from Philly, joined us for a hot pot dinner.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!
Christmas continued into this past Saturday when we hosted Luke's side of the family. We provided the location and some stir-fry noodles + fried rice and everyone brought a dish or two or three to share - no stress at all. And we got to keep all the leftovers! And we didn't have to drive anywhere! We will volunteer to play hosts again.

Now that Anna and Will are older, they had a blast playing with the cousins. I enjoyed watching them playing a game of school, haha. Too cute.
After dinner and dessert, the beautiful chaos of gift-opening began. It was madness.  I lost track of who got who what.
Will got a lot of dinosaur memorabilia - shirts, stickers, plush. Everything dinosaur for the little guy.
Roaring at his grandparents.

Anna received enough play-dough to last the rest of her childhood, tons of stickers, Candy Land. She was so excited about every last thing she received, big or small. It was very sweet.
So this was our Christmas celebration in a nutshell. I am happy to say that I've put most of the toys away and will introduce them slowly in the coming months. I read that somewhere and think it is such a smart thing to do. 

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mama's Test Kitchen: (Chocolate Covered) Russian Tea Cakes

Russian tea cookies with chocolate
We made these tiny morsels for Santa on Christmas Eve. It was easy, no fuss to make, but I guess I had a different expectation because when I bit into it, not only it crumbled, but it tasted very, very bland. I was pretty disappointed! I never had Russian Tea Cakes before so maybe it was supposed to have no taste (?), but I wasn't a fan. Fortunately, Luke came up with the idea of melting a chocolate almond bark to coat the cakes. After this little transformation, the results were much better. The chocolate held the crumbly cakes together and added a much-needed sweetness to it. Good with a cup of tea.  :)  In the picture above, you can see what a Russian Tea Cake is supposed to look like (lower left), and how ours looked.

Did you put out cookies for Santa?  What kind?  We even left carrots for the reindeers. So. Much. Fun.
A review on (Chocolate Covered) Russian Tea Cakes:
Result: 1.5 out of 4 stars without chocolate. 3 out of 4 stars with!
Will I make it again: Maybe to unlikely. But, I think if you like your dessert not too heavy/sweet, you should consider giving it a try.
Chef's Notes: The recipe said to bake for 12 minutes in a preheated 350 degrees oven, but I think mine were in there for about 20 to 22 minutes. I turned off the oven when the top stated to crack and when the bottom was a bit brown. They had the perfect done-ness.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

baking soda clay ornaments

Hey look at what we made! Some cute Mickey ornaments! Homemade from baking soda and corn starch and lots of glitters! 
baking soda clay mickey
baking soda clay mickey 2
But here is the real story. We actually started this project wanting to make these hand print ornaments. The kids' hands are getting bigger by the minute and I wanted to capture those precious little hand prints while they are still little. Thing were going great - both kids were into the project and participating - but unfortunately, when we woke up the next morning after leaving them out to air dry, we found them cracked. :(
Luke thinks that we can make more clay and just patch up the crack. I will post final pictures once we get around to it. Hopefully tonight! But luckily, those hand prints were not the only ones we made and the others did turn out okay and we were able to decorate, take pictures, and now show them off here on the blog. :)

If you like to experiment with baking soda clay, here is the recipe I used: 1 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup corn starch, and 2/3 cup water.
And the instructions:
baking soda clay
Combine baking soda, corn starch, and water over medium heat. Don't stop stirring. After a few minutes, the mixture will thicken up and start looking like mashed potatoes. Put the clay into a bowl and cover with a wet towel until it is cool enough to handle. Knead the clay until smooth. I suspect that I didn't do this step enough and the reason of the crack. Roll out the clay and use various cutters to cut out shapes. The recipe I used was enough to make two hand prints and all the ornaments in the last picture. Use a straw to make a hole at the top for hanging.
If you like, bake in a 175 degrees. We did this because we were heating up pizza anyway. Some people bake a lot longer, but pizza was done in 20 minutes so we turned off the oven then. I think we will skip this step completely next time and just let it air dry on a rack.

Next comes the best part - decorating! Use paint, glitter, or leave them as they are. We will probably be finding glitters around the house for the rest of our lives, but had lots of fun.  
Haha, Luke got roped into doing most of the work and even fixing my mistakes. These Mickeys were all his creativity. 
We wrapped up the project with several coats of glossy sealant just to seal everything.

I've enjoyed making our ornaments this Christmas and think the chances of us BUYING new ornaments will probably be few and far in between now.  

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

a holiday evening in DC

On Sunday, we visited the National Christmas Tree in DC, just like we have done in all the years past, and here are some pictures from our night. It was the kids' first time seeing the trees (there are little trees representing each state and territory around the big tree) all lit up, and I think it was fun for them to be out at night. They both enjoyed watching the model trains, too.
The highlight of the trip - new for us this year! - was visitng Santa's Workshop. The wait was 20-25 minutes to get in, but once inside, there were plenty of things to see before meeting Santa himself.
The first area in the workshop was Santa's mailroom and next to it was rows and rows of “the list” with names that Santa has checked twice. We looked for "Anna" and "Will", but no luck. Then it was the workshop itself, with diagrams of toy ideas and toys in various stages of production. Pretty neat, and again, lots of details to see while we waited.
Then it was time to see Santa, but before that, this nice elf told Anna all about how she helps Santa make toys.
Can you believe it was MY very first time taking pictures with the man in red?  Growing up in Taiwan, I don't think people dressed up as Santa for kids to take pictures with, especially not back then. The best part of being a parent is being able to re-live my childhood again. Or in this case, live what I missed.
We continued our traditon of taking some pictures in front of the Red Cross building across the street before heading home.  Overall, a great night!  Merry Christmas Eve!
(Previous years: 2010, 2011, and 2012)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas Countdown (Days 16 – 20)

Yay! The countdown is almost done! Are you all prepared? I still have presents to wrap and tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, I plan to bake cookies with the kids to leave out for Santa.

12.16.13 : ribbon wreath : I somehow didn't take the final picture, but this was our inspiration. I cut out the middle of two paper plates and Anna + I painted the outside rim. She wanted hers pink, I painted mine in traditional green. She was a perfectionist and didn’t leave a spot of white on her wreath. Later, after dinner, once the paint dried, we decorated with assorted ribbons. She cut, I glued.
12.17.13 : Snowman Soup : We put together these fun gift bags for Anna’s classmates at school and I made myself a cup afterwards.
Also happened that night: books! It took us until mid-December to start reading Christmas books. Next time, for seasonal books, I will plan better and start reserving them at the library weeks in advance. We read a stack of Christmas books that night – a favorite around here is How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas.
Reading Christmas books!
12.18.13 : My parents came over to watch the kids so Luke and I could go to his company’s holiday dinner. Now that my life revolves around the kids, I realized this evening just how bad I am at social functions and meeting new people. I can talk to fellow moms for hours, but don’t have two words to say to anyone else. So bad! Tell me I am not alone. Anyway, the mashed potatoes and stuffed shrimps were what I remembered the most. Oh and the gift exchange, we ended up with this crazy fur hat that I am modeling in the selfie.
Picture taken the next day.

12.19.13 : paper chain craft : We had plans to go downtown to look at the National Christmas Tree and to visit Santa's Workshop, but bad traffic kept us at home. Instead, we made this simple paper chain to hang around the kids’ tree. This was a project that Will actually participated in! I love our kids’ tree so much, it’s going to be a tradition for us.
12.20:13 : It was a day of solo parenting and lots of running around and by the end of the night, I was more than done. I gave the kids candy canes and sent them to bed early.
Today's activity - eat candy cane.  (I am out of energy)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Snowman Soup Gift Bags

Do you and your kids make gift bags for their friends at school? It’s not necessary, but things like this is fun for me so we do! Here is what Anna will be handing out tomorrow – Snowman Soup!

The hardest part about this project was gathering the supplies. You will need - bag topper template (make your own or find one online), glassine envelopes, mini candy canes, marshmallows (Luke even got the snowman-shaped ones!), Hershey's Kisses, and packets of hot cocoa.
Then just start packaging.

For every bag, we put a pack of hot cocoa, a candy cane, 2 Kisses, and 2 marshmallows.
(take a break and eat some marshmallows in between)
Fold the bag toppers over and staple.  
Not including the supplies I already had on hand, I only spent $6 on this project. That's 35 cents each for 17 bags (15 kids, 2 teachers [the teachers' have an Amazon gift card tucked inside]), and we still have leftovers. LOVELOVELOVE.

PS. Nothing about this project was original. Find a bunch of examples online. 

[+/-] Extra Sugar!