Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mandarin Mondays: 清明节 (Tomb Sweeping Day)

I'm a little late posting a Mandarin Mondays post again, but this week all days are a little off here. And this time it is not just due to our latest blessing, but everyone's schedule in this city is changed. This is because this week is Clear Bright Festival or more commonly known as Tomb Sweeping Day (Qīngmíng Jié, 清明节). In the city, they are only officially supposed to get one day off, but many people work through the previous weekend so they have three "days off" for the holiday this week. This does make sense for those who feel the need to travel a long way for this holiday but can disrupt a lot of schedules too.

For this traditional festival Chinese, people travel (sometimes a long distance) to return to visit their ancestors' tombs. When they are there, they quickly "sweep" or clear away leaves and overgrowth off of their relatives graves. Then they may offer food and burn "pop-up" houses or other objects to their relatives to sustain them in the next life. This is done by decorating their grave with these items. They may then say a prayer to their ancestors before lighting off fireworks (which they don't clean up) and leaving to repeat the process at their next relative's tomb. How much of these practices is done varies widely by the individual, usually related to their closeness to their ancestors and their ancestors' level of affluence. The more respected and affluent a person, the more ornate their tomb, and generally the more ornately decorated each year as well.

I must admit that this is one holiday I am quite grateful I don't have to participate in, because my Greatest Ancestor's Tomb is empty.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

I decided rather last minute, like this afternoon, that I was actually going to try to make a special dinner for St. Patrick's Day. And since our day is ending when America's day is beginning, that means there is still more than enough time for you to decide to do so as well.

I had read some posts on Life as Mom that sounded like easy ideas, and when they actually still had good beef roast meat when I went to Walmart on Saturday afternoon, I thought why not. Patrick was quite an awesome guy, even if the modern associations of luck and drinking aren't so cool. I am a tiny bit Irish, and my husband is almost 1/4 Irish, which makes the boys about 1/8 Irish.

Also I vividly remember my mom giving us green milk on St. Patrick's Day as a kid, and thinking it was the most awesome thing ever, and that she was so cool to give us green milk. I think I'd like to be remembered that way someday too.

So, I made some Irish Stew, and even threw in the green peas, so it had orange, white, and green, all of the colors of the Irish Flag. Andrew loved, loved, loved this stew. He ate about 8, albeit small, helpings, and would have kept eating all night if we didn't put it away.
I made some Irish soda bread. I used all white flour, because I was out of whole wheat. It was great though, and it tasted like buttermilk biscuits. Nate thought this bread was amazing.
Then I let Aaron help me make mint chocolate chip cupcakes. Aaron thought it was awesome that blue and yellow made green in the batter. We need to do more with color mixing I guess. I also let him help add some chocolate chips which our sweet parents sent us from America and our gracious guest carried all the way here for us. I even let Aaron eat a few chocolate chips plain, another thing I always remember my mom doing when we made cookies. Andrew was napping, but he got to enjoy cupcakes later.

Then I let him mix turn some milk green too. Both the boys thought that was an amazing treat.
I picked some clover and put in on the table, and we talked a little bit about Patrick and the legend of his explanation of three in one using clover. There can't be a perfect picture of this concept on this earth, but it is a cool illustration.

 
This was a very fun, easy, and low key last minute celebration.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Easy Heart Wreath (No Hot Glue Required)


I've seen a lot of cute Valentine's wreaths on the internet, but most of them require the use of a hot glue gun, which I don't have. So I came up with a different way to make a tissue paper heart wreath, without any hot glue.

Easy Tissue Paper Heart or Heart Wreath

  • thin cardboard
  • pink or red tissue paper
  • scissors
  • hole punch
  • ribbon (optional)
  1. Cut the thin cardboard into a heart shape whatever size you like. If you want a wreath, cut a heart shape out of the middle of the larger heart.
  2. Use the hole punch to bunch holes all over the heart shaped cardboard, about 1–2 inches apart.
  3. Cut 3–5 inch squares of tissue paper.
  4. Take a square of tissue paper and twist it a little in the middle and stick in one of the holes. Repeat until the whole heart is covered with fluffy tufts of tissue paper.
  5. You can add a ribbon if you like for hanging on the wall.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Easy Valentine's Decorations: Love Blooms Bouquet

This is such a simple and frugal project, but I love the finished effect. You could use this idea for just about any holiday, but I think it is really cool for Valentine's Day because often love grows most during hard times. The pretty ornaments hung on simple branches seem to echo this thought to me.

An added bonus is that my boys got to help with this project in a way they actually thought was cool, which isn't the case with a lot of Valentine's crafts. My husband took them outside so they could hunt for sticks for me. They were so happy to present me with their beautiful bouquets of sticks when they got back.

After I had the sticks, I just trimmed a few to the desired length and arranged them in a vase. I tied a ribbon and beaded ornament around the base and then hung beaded and stuffed heart ornaments on the branches. I decided to also just loop some thread through some fake pink jewel and hang those on as well for added sparkle.

You could vary this project a lot, just by changing the container and the type of heart ornaments used. I think this bouquet turned out really cute.







Friday, December 30, 2011

Easy Holiday Breakfasts

For this past Christmas breakfast, I made up a breakfast tray the night before. This time, I included pumpkin bread, cinnamon rolls, and strawberries. I have also done this many times in the past when I want an easy holiday breakfast all ready to go. I usually make the baked goods well ahead of time and freeze them, defrosting the day before they are needed. What is on the tray varies by what I want to bake and what fruit is in season. I love that strawberries are in season here in December! Everything is cut and washed ahead of time and then arranged on the plate. On the holiday morning, I just have to pull out the plate, and we can all nibble on it throughout the morning as we like.

This isn't quite as deluxe as making a huge fresh breakfast with eggs, pancakes, sausage, etc., but it is still delicious and takes any stress anyway from having to prepare breakfast on the morning of a holiday. We didn't have to go anywhere or meet anyone this Christmas morning (except of on Skype), but for those holidays in the past where we have been rushing out the door mid-morning, this breakfast plan has been a real sanity saver.

Family Fridays: A Very Merry Christmas

We had a great Christmas together as a family on Sunday. The night before, I had made a breakfast tray with pumpkin bread, cinnamon rolls, and strawberries and also filled all the boys stocking with granola bars and boxes of milk (in addition to a few extra treats), so we could snack on breakfast as we wished throughout the morning. Andrew was a bit surprised to find more than one item in his stocking since we have been just opening one small present each night throughout December.

First, we talked to our extended families on Skype. The boys had lots of fun opening stockings and presents from the grandparents, and so did we. Then we did some reading and singing as a family. Afterward, we opened presents as a family.

My sweet hubby got me tons of really good chocolate and made a private picture gallery website to view our family pictures more easily. We're going to work on what we want to all do with it together, but it will be an awesome way to share more pictures privately with close friends and family. The boys had great fun opening their small gifts from us as well.

Then we had an unexpected visitor stop by, a high school student who likes to come by and talk to Nate but whom we hadn't heard from in months. The timing of it worked out well, though. We were able to give him some cookies and cocoa, and Nate talked to him for a little bit before he had to go back to school for his Sunday evening classes.

In the evening, we went to a friend's house for a great potluck dinner. I must say I have never had turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, as well as cold duck, spicy lotus root, and rice porridge all for Christmas dinner before, but it was delicious and fun.

After we got back, we let the boys do their treasure hunt for their last big presents from us. It was fun watching Aaron and Andrew trying to follow the clues all over the house to find the presents at the end. It is so funny because Aaron could read the clues so easily but had such a hard time finding them sometimes even though they were almost all completely out in the open. But eventually they found their way to the end and discovered two great big books: a collection of classic Pooh tales and a collection of classic Thomas tales, one for each boy. We read to them for a while and then listened to Aaron read a little, and then collapsed into bed.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year In Review

Aaron Examining Christmas 2010
For the past two years, I have put together Year In Review DVDs of our best pictures and videos that we have taken throughout the year. First, I go through and label all of the pictures or videos we really want to save and remember. I copy the best ones into a Year In Review folder. This give us a way to look at the best pictures or videos we've take in a certain year quickly. We have then burned DVDs to give as gifts to parents and grandparents. It is an easy and inexpensive gift, except for the time involved. I have found it good to give myself this year end deadline for organizing these memories as well, and I know at least my Grandma watches them over and over again.

This year, I think that we are going to have a family movie marathon for New Year's Eve, featuring ourselves. I think we'll watch the slideshow of the Year In Review pictures and as many home videos as our little guys want to watch. They always love to watch themselves and family on video anyway, and I think this will be a great way to review all the things that have happened in 2011 on New Year's Eve. Maybe we'll make this a new tradition.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DIY Amazingly Delicious, No Corn Syrup, Caramel Sauce

I absolutely love really good, homemade caramel. Next to chocolate, it is probably my favorite flavor sweet; although really good coffee is definitely up there too. But there is something about homemade caramel that is so different than store bought. I think it is the pure caramelized sugar, butter, and cream without anything else added that makes it so good. Anyway, this caramel sauce is incredibly amazing. It is great on apple pie, on or in ice cream, on in brownies, in coffee, or just eaten with a spoon. This sauce would make a great gift in an ice cream sundae kit, paired with another dessert or coffee, or a great stocking stuffer or hostess gift all by itself.


Homemade Caramel Sauce Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Begin by placing sugar in a medium to large saucepan over low heat. Even though this recipe only makes about 1 pint of sauce altogether, you need a much bigger saucepan because the caramelized sugar will bubble and foam up a lot when you add the butter and cream, and you don't want to get burned.
  2. Melt all of the sugar completely, stirring and swirling the pot as necessary to keep it from burning. Be aware that too much stirring can make the final product a little lumpy.
  3. Once all of the sugar is melted, add the butter carefully and stir to combine. Some of the caramel may harden and seize, but if you just keep stirring it over low heat, it will melt into liquid again.
  4. Then add the cream a little at a time because this is when the mixture will really bubble up. The caramel will harden again, but just keep stirring over low heat until it melts. Cook and stir until the mixture is well combined, and then turn off heat, and allow to cool. Cooking down the mixture a long time will result in wonderful chewy caramel candy, but if you are looking for sauce, you may not find that quite as wonderful.
  5. Pour over your favorite dessert or into a glass jar, and refrigerate for later.

    DIY Christmas Gift Ideas: Bubble Bath

    I was having trouble thinking of things to make Andrew for his birthday, but I thought he would like some new things for bath time. So when I came across this blog post where Laura is having the same dilemma for a little bit older son, I thought this was a perfect idea. The basic recipe requires very few ingredients, although you can customize it more with additional scents and colors if you like. I put a sticker on the plastic bottle to make it Pooh-themed to match our soon-to-be two-year-old's birthday party theme, but you could easily make this gift appropriate for an adult too, simply but making the presentation more elegant. This would make a great inexpensive gift or stocking stuffer for a wide variety of people.

    Homemade Bubble Bath Recipe

    • 1/2 cup shampoo
    • 3/4 cup water
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • few drops essential oils (optional)
    • few drops food coloring (optional)
    Mix the shampoo, water, and salt together in a bowl (or in the bottle) until the mixture thickens together. Add any extra essential oils or food coloring if desired.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    DIY Christmas Decorations: Easy, Low Sew, Pocket Advent Calendar

    I realize this is a little late for anyone to be making advent calendars this year, but I made mine a couple days late, and we've been enjoying it ever since then. I simply cut 4 inch squares out of a variety of green fabrics and one brown square for the trunk (Christmas Day). I arranged them in a pattern to resemble a Christmas Tree and hand sewed them on. I have been embracing frayed edges and uneven stitching in our holiday decorations, but you could finish these much nicer if you prefer. I then used fabric paint to paint on 1–25 for the days of the month, but you could embroider, sew on number beads or decals, iron number transfers on, or even just write them on with a sharpie.

    The choice of fabrics and how you do your numbers could totally change the look of this calender for any decor.

    My husband and I are working on writing a Jesse Tree devotional book for our family this year and I am putting each day's symbol ornament in the pocket for that day. But you could put treats, a verse, a family activity, or even an act of service in each pocket for other ways to celebrate the season. The boys really like our advent calendar, especially because we combine it with a treat in their Christmas stockings as we count down the days to Christmas.

    DIY No-Bake, No Corn Syrup Crunchy Caramel Corn

    I really like caramel corn, but I am really horrible at baking it. Somehow I always managed to burn at least part of the batch. I am not really sure how, but some always burns. So after learning how to make simple hard caramel candy, I got to thinking...what if I could make caramel corn using this caramel? I tried it yesterday, and it worked great. No baking and minimal ingredients required. It is the easiest way I have ever tried or seen to make caramel corn. The only trick is to make sure to spread the popcorn out well, drizzle the sauce over it, and then stir and spread it really fast so it doesn't all clump together when it hardens.

    Homemade No-Bake, No Corn Syrup Caramel Corn Recipe

    • 6-8 cups popped popcorn
    • 1 cup sugar
    • Salt if desired
    1. Pop the popcorn using your preferred method. I pop mine in sunflower oil on the stove top and then sprinkle on a small amount of salt.
    2. Spread popcorn out in non-stick baking dish (like silicone) or in a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or buttered (or oiled) parchment paper.
    3. Melt the sugar in a small saucepan using the method described here.
    4. Once all of the sugar is entirely melted and caramelized, pour over the popcorn and stir quickly to coat. You can add even more salt now if you like. Let cool and you're done!
    5. Eat once cool, store in sealed containers, or package it up for gift giving.

      DIY Christmas Decorations: Pine Cone Window Treatments

      When we moved around the world by airplane, we decided not to pack non-essentials, like our Christmas decorations. So this year, I have been having fun making our own Christmas decorations with things we already have, or found, and things from nature. My goal is to have a few simple beautiful Christmas decorations to decorate our house with for free. We have a great big curved window in the front of our living room that I thought I try to decorate with some pine cones Nate and Aaron gathered for me.

      Homemade Pine Cone Window Treatments


      • Pine cones
      • Thread or fishing line
      Simply cut lengths of thread or fishing line, tie one end to the pine cone, and then tie the other end to your curtain rod or tape it to the wall. Vary the height of the pine cones for visual interest.

      I really like how the pine cones look, simple and beautiful.

      Friday, December 9, 2011

      Holiday Fun with Kids: Cutting Out Sugar Cookies

      One of my favorite holiday traditions is cutting out sugar cookies with family. I can remember making cookies and gingerbread houses with my mom and grandmas as a little girl, and now it is fun to make them with my own kids. So I really wanted to make sugar cookies when my parents came to visit for Thanksgiving. I think everyone had a lot of fun. I found a great recipe, and the boys had fun cutting out cookies for a while. We used all the shapes we had, mainly shapes from their shape sorter toy that we thoroughly washed first. Grandpa John even got really creative cutting out Christmas Tree shapes free hand.




      Thursday, December 8, 2011

      DIY Christmas Decorations: Jar Candle Luminaries

      When we moved around the world by airplane, we decided not to pack non-essentials, like our Christmas decorations. So this year, I have been having fun making our own Christmas decorations with things we already have, items we found, and things from nature. My goal is to have a few simple, beautiful Christmas decorations to decorate our house with for free. I used recycled jars, re-purposed ribbon, broken tile we found and washed, an tea light candles I already had to put together some festive candle luminaries.

      Homemade Jar Candle Luminaries

      • Clean Glass Jars
      • Non-flammable decorative filler for the bottom (tiles, marbles, sand, Epsom salts, etc.)
      • Candles (tea lights or votives, small holders optional)
      • Ribbon
      • Extra embellishments to tie on (optional)

      Fill the bottom of the jar to the height you desire, and then place the candle inside. Tie a ribbon around the outside of the jar, and add any extra embellishments you like.
         
         

        DIY Christmas Decorations: Pine Cone "Chandelier"

        When we moved around the world by airplane, we decided not to pack non-essentials, like our Christmas decorations. So this year, I have been having fun making our own Christmas decorations with things we already have, items we found, and things from nature. My goal is to have a few simple, beautiful Christmas decorations to decorate our house with for free. I have seen blog posts where people decorate their dining room lights with candy or other things, and I thought I try it with some pine cones that Nate and Aaron gathered for me.

        Homemade Pine Cone "Chandelier"
        • Pine cones
        • Thread or fishing line
        Simply cut lengths of thread or fishing line, tie one end to the pine cone, and then tie the other end to you light. Vary the height of the pine cones for visual interest.

        We're not super fond of the actual light fixture here, but it is functional, so we haven't bothered to replace it. But I really like how the pine cone look in our dining room though: simple, natural beauty. And Andrew (our soon to be two year old) loves it too. He keeps saying, "Cone, cone, pretty."

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