Handmade Gifts this Christmas

December 31, 2011

I'm still recovering from my awesome, but too short Christmas holidays.

While most of the gifts given and received were the store bought variety, there were a few great handmade presents that I wanted to tell you about. 

Gingerbread Playdough

I found the gingerbread playdough recipe here.  This stuff smells so amazing.  We made a few batches and divided it up into little baggies to give to cousins and special friends.

Pancake Mix

My husband's aunt gave us a pancake mix that contains wheat, oats, barley, rye and brown flour.  Yum!  We had it for supper the other day.

Baby Doll and Clothes

Because my older daughter loves her baby doll so much, I thought that it was time for my younger daughter to have a baby doll of her own.  We already had so many baby dolls at our house, so I thought it would be silly to buy another one.  Instead, I had my older one choose one of her babies to give to her little sister.  We completed the gift by making a little pyjama dress for the doll recycled from a shirt with a hole in it.

Puzzle Set

My brother and his wife gave our girls a fun little set of puzzles on popsicle sticks.  The pictures are all church themed, so it will be a great quiet toy to play with in church.

Quilted Purse

My mother-in-law made my daughter and some of her same aged cousins little quilted purses.  This gift is adored.  My daughter carries it around the house, and reorganizes her purse constantly.  

Toy Bag

I gave my daughter a set of see and spell letters.  The set is great, but the container it came in does not hold all of the pieces very well.  To keep everything together, I whipped up a little bag similar in design to my advent bags.

There were, of course, a lot of non-handmade presents given too.  (Like the awesome laminator that I got.  Anyone need something plasticized?)  I think, though, that handmade gifts really have a special touch.  What were some of the great handmade presents that made it into your Christmas?

Merry (late) Christmas

December 30, 2011

I'm just popping in to say that we had a lovely Christmas.  We attended Christmas parties, exchanged gifts, ate our weight in goodies, and tried to remember the true meaning of Christmas at the same time.  We also got a new camera, and Mr. Carlee and I have been having lots of fun playing with it.  We found the tutorial for making the lights look like stars here.   

I've been doing lots of baby snuggling, and trying to get into the swing of having three kids.  Sewing, blogging, laundry, house cleaning, cooking, and leaving the house, are all taking a backseat right now as I try to get things figured out around here.  Lucky for me, my mother-in-law came to stay for the first week, and Mr. Carlee is working from home (and not full-time yet) this week.  I am slowly feeling like a normal person again, although it's going to be awhile before my jeans fit (sigh).  Baby's are worth it though, right?  Especially a baby as sweet as my new little girl. 

Welcome Baby

December 20, 2011

I am so excited to let you all know about Carlee's great news.

Her baby girl was born on Saturday, December 17th, 2011.  Carlee will be spending a lot of time getting to know her little one, and teaching her how to sleep at night and stay awake in the day.  (That's hard figure out when you're only a few days old.)

We will be seeing a bit less of Carlee over the next few weeks.  Until then, I thought that I might remind you all of about some of the great projects we've posted for babies in the past (since we're in baby mode here).

I hope that you can be inspired to whip up a Christmas present for the baby in your life. 

And of course, congratulations to Carlee on one of her best creations ever!

Best Books for Toddlers

December 19, 2011

Earlier this week, a friend wrote to ask for some good book recommendations for her little ones.  She said that she would go to the library, not know which books to get, and then often come home with books that were disappointing.  I think that this is a common problem.  There are a lot of good books out there, but not every book is a good one.  I emailed my friend a list of my family's favourites. 

Here is the list, as I am sure many of you have a little one in your life who could would appreciate a few more good books. 

Book Lists
The New York City Public Library has a great list of 100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know.  This list is a great starting place.  Not every book on the list is great for the littlest of readers, but it is a great starting point.  When I was in University, I printed off the list, and worked my way through it.  (Mr. Carlee will remember fondly how I supplied him with good bathroom reading material when he and Carlee were engaged.)

Family Education also has a pretty comprehensive list of Best Books for Babies and Toddlers. 

Great Authors

In my experience, the following authors have published lots of books that are all good, and all appropriate for kids 5 and under. 

Byron Barton
John Birmingham
Margaret Wise Brown
Lucy Cousins
Donald Crews
Mem Fox
Kevin Henkes
Ezra Jack Keats
Todd Parr
Leslie Patricelli
Peggy Rathmann
Richard Scary
David Shannon
Peter Sis
Don/Audrey Wood
Jane Yolen

More Great Books

The book Red Is Best by Kathy Stinson is a favourite.
This list is by no means complete.  Here are a few books that our family has enjoyed recently. 

The Tiger Who Came to Tea - Judith Kerr
Red is Best - Kathy Stinson
Caps for Sale - Esphyr Slobodkina
The Carrot Seed - Ruth Krauss
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom - Bill Martin Jr.
Corduroy - Don Freeman
(The New) Adventures of Curious George - H.A. and Margaret Rey
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus - Mo Willems
Harry the Dirty Dog - Gene Zion
Ten Nine Eight - Molly Bang
Jesse Bear What Will you Wear? - Nancy Carlstrom
Sheep in a Jeep - Nancy Shaw
Mr. Cookie Baker - Monica Wellington
Pigs to the Rescue - John Himmelman
Hugless Douglas - David Melling
Jamberry - Bruce Degen
More, More, More, Said the Baby - Vera Williams
Dear Zoo - Rod Campbell
Pete's A Pizza - William Steig
Where's Spot - Eric Hill
I Love you Stinkyface - Lisa McCourt

I hope you can find a few new book ideas from this list.  Which favourites would you add to the list?

Salt Dough Ornaments

December 13, 2011

One of the things that I remember most about going to my Grandmother Mary Frances' house, is making salt dough.  Salt dough is an awesome and cheap way to keep kids (and grandkids) entertained.  As a kid, the fact that my grandma baked our creations and let us take them home made me feel so special. 

This is the first time that I have made salt dough as an adult.  I know that it is a classic activity, so I guess it was about time.  My kid #1 and I decided to make ornaments for her friends and preschool classmates.

We rolled the dough flat, and used cookie cutters for the shapes.  She decided on star shape for her preschool friends, and that pig is for herself.

Once the dough was cooked and cooled, we painted the ornaments with tempera paints. 

We tied a length of string through each - and ta-da!  Our salt dough ornaments are finished.

Here is how to make your own:

Easy Salt Dough

1 c. salt
1c. flour
1/2 c. water

1. Mix together.  Add more water if needed.
2. Make shapes and bake on foil or parchment lined cookie sheet at 225 for 2 or more hours.

Felt Stockings

December 12, 2011

When Kid 1 was a baby, my husband and I collaborated on a project together, and made him a felt Christmas stocking.  Mr. Carlee is a fairly good artist, and at Christmas time he has these silly characters that he draws on cards or other things.  For the stocking we wanted to do something original, so Mr. Carlee drew a little character and letters for his name for me to applique, and I did the rest.  Kid 1 got the Humpty Dumpty elf.

Please don't look too closely at my handiwork, because it really has improved a lot over the last 4 years.  Now that you aren't looking for imperfections, it's cute, eh?

When Kid 2 was born we set at it again to come up with a little character to grace his stocking.  Many of you know this, but he had a pretty rough time for the first few months of life (you can read more about that here), and we truly believe that he's a miracle.  An angel seemed fitting.

This year, our baby could be making an appearance at any moment.  I'm due on Thursday, and I hope she will decided to arrive sometime between now and Christmas Eve.  I wanted to have something ready for her, but since we haven't decided on a name yet, I've only done part of her stocking.   

In the past I've used the 100% wool felt from Joanns, but when I went to buy some more for the stocking, I learned they don't carry it anymore.  I know you can order this kind of thing online, but I hate paying shipping, and I wanted to start work on it as soon as possible (remember, I'm running out of time).  So of course, I turned to my favourite thrift store for supplies.

I picked up a red wool coat for half price, and cut it up.

I was hoping to find something that was a tad heavier, but this was the best I could find that was half price, the right colour, and a solid piece in the back.

After I cut it all up, I washed it in my washing machine with hot water and let it felt up a bit.  I actually ran it through my washer and dryer twice to felt it as much as possible (to make it thicker and stop it from fraying).

The wool is really soft and nice to hold, and it's been fun to work on this fat little reindeer.  For the pieces, I traced my husbands sketch for each felt piece.  I redrew the antlers as carefully as I could with a piece of thin sharpened soap (THE best thing for marking on fabric), and added a few little things to make things looked balanced.   

My favourite touch is the harness with tiny gold jingle bells.  I like to add a little texture to their stockings because I think it gives it a little something extra. 

I wouldn't consider myself to be an embroiderer, but I do know how to do a few basic stitches.  I mostly use a basic back stitch, a running stitch, and my fanciest move is the french knot I use for eyes.  And that is all I can do, but luckily it is enough for what I'm interested in doing.


Although I still have the name to (decide on and) applique, I'm feeling pretty good with myself that I have her stocking mostly finished.  I guess this means I'm ready for you to be born now little one!

Oven Baked Caramel Popcorn

December 10, 2011

Here is a recipe that is simple and oh-so-satifying.  It is also a recipe that you can't mess up.  (Unless, of course, you use vinegar instead of white corn-syrup.  But who would do that?  Ah-hem...  Okay, I did that one time, and it was not my finest moment.)

Whenever I bring this caramel corn to a potluck, it gets gobbled up, and everyone asks for the recipe.  I am always happy to oblige.  I often make a quick no-bake caramel corn, but when you have the extra time, baking it in the oven is worth it, if only for the fact that it won't stick to your teeth.  Make this and your teeth will thank you, but more importantly, so will your stomach.   

Oven Baked Carmel Popcorn

15 Cups Air Popped Popcorn
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Butter
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda

  1. Preheat oven to 200ยบ.
  2. Place popcorn in large roasting pan or 2 ungreased 9 x 13 pans.
  3. Heat brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt in saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Stir occasionally until bubbly.
  5. Cook 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda.
  7. Pour sugar mixture over popcorn and toss until evenly coated.
  8. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
  9. Spread out and let cool.

Things that I Like...

December 6, 2011

Tonight while I was at the Christmas Party for the ladies at my church, my husband asked our 4-year old what he thought they should give me for Christmas.  He wasn't sure, so Mr. Carlee asked him what I liked, to see if that would help him come up with a gift idea.

Here is the list of things that he thinks I like:
  • She likes charging her phone
  • She likes to cook
  • She likes talking to people
  • She likes to hold up Christmas trees... with ropes.
And that my friends, is a pretty awesome list.  I think we can all agree that I am a very interesting person based on what my son thinks I like.  I can't wait to see what I'm getting for Christmas this year.  It could be exciting.

The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo

I just finished devouring a wonderful book.  I enjoyed it so much I thought I would share. 

Image from openlibrary.org
In this book, the author - Paula Huntley - recounts her experiences living and teaching English in Kosovo in 2000-2001.  Paula accompanies her husband to the capital city, Prishtina, where he is working to rebuild the legal system after the Albanian-Serbian conflict and years of communism.  Paula bonds with the people of Kosovo, and especially her students, with whom she forms the Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo.  Together they read Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea.  This story is, as the book jacket reads "a compelling tribute to the resilience of the human spirit."  I loved it.

I have a dear, dear friend who is from Albania but now lives in Canada. Paula Huntley's description of Albanian culture matches exactly to how my friend has described Albania and the Albanian people.  In my experience, Albanians are incredibly warm, extremely generous, and hold fiercely to their beliefs.

Reading about war-torn Kosovo has made me think a lot about my own life, and has helped me to see life through a more appreciative lens.  Despite my problems (crazy kids, starting a new business, and piles of student loans to pay off), I know that I am immensely lucky.  I am also reminded of a Babble post entitled "Be Thankful You Have First World Problems."  The post is pretty tongue-in-cheek, but I think some of the entries are scarily true.  (As a side note: I prefer the terms Developing and Developed to First and Third World.)

Has anyone read The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo?  Do you have any other read book suggestions?

Perfect Pies

December 5, 2011

I know you are all long past thinking about Thanksgiving and all the food you ate last week, but I wanted to share with you some of my favourite holiday dessert recipes, and the most fabulous pie crust that I inherited from my friend Becca.  Thanksgiving might be over, but Christmas is coming, and I personally love to eat pie just as much in December as November (and October for that matter since I still always cook a Canadian Thanksgiving feast as well).

Last week, at the Thanksgiving meal we shared with my some of Mr. Carlee's family members (parents, brother, and sister's family), I was in charge of the desserts.  I'm a vegetarian, so I get a free pass on making the turkey, and while I was involved with making a lot of the other dishes on the table, I handled all the desserts mostly by myself.  This year I made a chocolate pecan pie, a pumpkin pie (from a fresh roasted pumpkin), an apple pie, a pumpkin cheesecake, and a few oreo truffles (I will be sharing the 'recipe' later, since these are the easiest and most addicting holiday treats).


My favourite every year is always the chocolate pecan pie served with a nice pile of fresh whipped cream.  I use this recipe from Marta Stewart (I also use her pumpkin pie and cheesecake recipes), but I just bake it in a pie plate instead of a tart pan.  I also think that it must be served chilled, because the chocolate is insanely good this way.  Oh, and do yourself a favour, and buy nice chocolate to make this.  I like Ghiradelli's 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips, but you can use whatever you like best. 

And now onto the pie crust.  My mother will die when she sees how thick my crusts are (she is a women that only likes thin pie crusts) but I really like to taste the crust if it's light, buttery, and flaky.  This recipe is all of that.  I use it for fruit pies, but it's also awesome for quiche (even with the sugar).  As an aside, isn't is funny how there are somethings that you want made just like your mother made them, and others that you do completely differently? 

Deluxe Flaky Pie Crust (via my friend Becca)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4" pieces (keep it in the freezer until you need it)

1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/3 cup plus 1TBSP ice water

  1. Mix dry ingredients together. 
  2. If using a food processor, pulse carefully until butter is in coarse pea-sized crumbles.  I personally like to use a pastry knife even though it takes longer, since I think it gives me more control over the butter pieces.  And I hate washing the food processor, so win-win.   
  3. Add shortening, and pulse several more times. 
  4. Drizzle ice cold water over the mixture and pulse until it is just barely evenly moistened.  Depending on factors like the humidity and other things, you may need slightly more or less water.  Too much water will make your crust too doughy and ultimately tough.
  5. Divide the dough in half (or thirds if you want a thinner crust), form them into disks about 6" across, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour.  If I can, I make the crust the night before I'm baking pies.  The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 6 months; thaw completely in your fridge before rolling.

 A Few General Pie Crust Tips
  • For the most part, the more you work your dough, the worse it gets.  To get a nice flaky crust you want to flatten your butter pieces, not obliterate them. 
  • When I'm making quiche or baked custard pies, I like to parbake my crusts.  To minimize crust shrinkage (it's going to happen at least a little), make sure your pie crust is cold (I put mine in the fridge for about 30 minutes after rolling it out) before it goes in the oven.  
  • To keep the bottom crust from bubbling up when you are parbaking (or completely baking) a crust, I like to cover it with a piece of parchment paper and then fill the bottom with dried beans (keep the beans just for this purpose).  Another possibility is to rest another, slightly smaller, pie plate inside of your crust (with a layer of parchment paper in between).  You can also buy pie weights, but this also works well. 
  • I like to save my pie scraps (after trimming around the edge of you pan) and dust them with white sugar and cinammon.  Bake them in the oven at 375 for 10 minutes for a tasty snack.
  • To get a nice looking top, you can brush with a combination of cream, egg, milk, and sprinkle with sugar.  
  • If you find your pie top is getting too brown, loosely tent the whole pie with a big piece of foil.  If you are only having problems with the edges, cover the edges with strips of foil.
  • When you are transferring your crust from your rolling surface to your pan, I like to fold my crust in quarters, before plopping it on.  This helps me get the center of the crust in the middle of the pan.  If you are cutting symmetrical designs into the top crust, it's also really easy to do when it's folded this way.  

Any pie tips you would like to share?  Are you thin or thick pie crust lovers?  And what is your favourite pie?  As much as I love the previously mentioned chocolate pecan,  I would take a fresh peach pie over it any day.   

Baby Countdown

December 2, 2011

Are you all sick of hearing about how pregnant I am yet?  Me too.  I realize that being pregnant is kind of a binary thing - either you are or you aren't, but I think at this point (38 weeks) I should be considered very pregnant.  I'm still feeling well (for the most part that is), but I think I'm almost to the point where I'm ready to have this baby.  Not yet, since the cradle is still being painted, but I am nearly finished making space for the baby clothes and sorting and washing them.

Is it bad for me to admit that as much as I love little babies, and especially my own babies, I'm a little apprehensive about this whole thing.  I worry that I'm not going to be able to juggle three kids, especially since breastfeeding is basically a full time job for the first while, and taking care of my two kids already takes up almost all my time.  And then there is the sleepless nights that I know are about to come my way.  Not to mention the actual birth part.

All that aside, I'm really excited to meet this little girl.  I'm excited to see how different, and similar, she will be to my two boys, and smell that new baby smell.  Today at the thrift store I found these adorable moccasins for $1, and I got so excited at the thought of having a sweet little girl to wear them. 

Real Gingerbread Houses

December 1, 2011

Last year my family all got together for Christmas in a rented cabin in Upstate New York.  We had 11 adults and 5 little kids squeezed together.  It was so much fun - probably my favourite Christmas to date.  Some of the highlights of our week was the amazing food that we all cooked, and the fact that we were all actually together.  At the end of the week, when everyone was asked what they liked best about our Christmas, I think the unanimous answer was Gingerbread Houses.

Growing up, I think I remember putting together a gingerbread house from a kit or graham crackers here and there, but it was never the highlight of my Christmas.  When I married Mr. Emily however, I inherited the tradition of complex and labour intensive gingerbread houses done "the real way."  Let me tell you, it is a lot of work, but it is so much fun to make the shapes, build the houses, and decorate them in elaborate ways.  Gingerbread house building is not just for kids.

Last year, my family made a camping scene (complete with outhouse), an A-frame house (which the kids were allowed to COVER with candies) and a traditional house with a picket fence.  It was a really fun activity to do together as a family. 

Click through for the recipes for the dough, icing, and melted sugar glue (which holds the houses together better than icing ever could).

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