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Christmas baby

I was a guest speaker at MOPS Thursday morning, speaking on a couple ways our family approaches the Christmas season.  I thought I’d put it into a post here as well (especially since it’s already mostly done, and I haven’t posted anything since… ahem… March.  Can I mention life is busy here?  Baby girl #4 is due in February, and we’ve been going through all the hoops since March for foster-adopt including getting the house finished enough to certify.  We started to homeschool the twins for Kindergarten this fall, and we’ve been doing the “normal” stuff like VBS crafts, 2 pigs in the pig tractor- processed in October, a bull calf processed in November, and hundreds of miscellaneous other projects- if I only had time to blog about it all!  But I guess I’d rather be LIVING it than writing about it).

Public speaking is a big challenge for me, so I write everything out as I’d like to say it.  The following text is my speaker notes (almost exactly- my girls names abbreviated, a few pictures added, and the links completed).

First of all, I’m a MOPS peer and don’t feel quite adequate to fill the “MOPS speaker” role.  I’d be much more comfortable leading you in a creative activity.  But Ella called me and asked if I would share a little with you about some of  the Christmas concepts we’re using in my family.  It’s important enough to me that I agreed to share.

Christmas is probably the favorite holiday of the year at our house.  When I got married, I learned the tradition of setting up the tree right after Thanksgiving and leaving it up into February.  I usually insist the tree finally has to come down by Valentines day.  No, we don’t do a real tree!

My house does NOT get fully decorated- unless you count the scribbles on every surface in our house, from the walls to the toilet, and the floors to the ceiling.   In that case, we’re probably the most decked out house in the county!

(In case you think I’m kidding, here’s a SMALL sampling if their handiwork… )

colored ceiling

writing on the inside of her shirt

toilet painters

Usually it’s just the tree with ornaments and lights- and tinsel now that I’m married.  We have a nativity set.  There’s a random string of lights somewhere else in the house.  And we have a “Thankful Chain” that we add links to every year.  But my house doesn’t look like a magazine- no Christmas tree in every room, house and yard bright with lights, or wreaths, stockings, and Christmas villages at every turn.

We’re still a young family.  So we’re still navigating what traditions we bring from our families of origin, which ones we want to start ourselves, and which ones we are choosing to let go.  And we are working on the balance of time and energy output, events to go to, activities to do, and time to sit on the couch and enjoy the lights, or reflect on why we celebrate.  

I’m not going to get into traditions like reading a Christmas book each evening, serving at a soup kitchen, making ornaments, packing shoeboxes, or Elf-on-the-shelf.  Those are all perfectly fine traditions, and you should decide within your family what things are most enjoyable and meaningful to you.

But Christmas is much more than the decorations and activities.  I’m going to share two Christmas concepts we’ve adopted that provide some direction and setting for our celebrations.  Before I get started, here’s my disclaimer:

I can’t give you the perspective of a seasoned mom of teens or 20-somethings.  

I can’t tell you how successful this will make you and your children as you navigate middle and high school Christmas seasons.  

I can’t even tell you how it works in Kindergarten yet since I’m just approaching that one myself.  L and J are 5 and B will only have been a 4-year old for 3 days by Christmas.  

So we’re just getting started in this, and our experience is limited.  But we like the way these concepts have worked so far for our family, and we plan to continue them, even if we’re still working out some details as the years go by.  

Okay.  End of disclaimer and onto the content.

This first concept is in regards to Christmas giving in our household.

The average amount spent on Christmas in 2012 was $271 PER CHILD, with 1 in 10 spending over $500 per child.  

Regardless of how much you actually SPEND, there’s still a LOT of time and energy put into deciding what Christmas gifts will be given in your home.  With all the thought, time, energy, and money that goes into selecting Christmas gifts we want them to be more than just a “gimme” list to be tossed aside a few weeks after Christmas.

There’s some clever ways to manage Christmas gifts out there. “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read,” some add “something to give.”  Some say 3 gifts since that’s what Jesus got, and “do you think you’re better than Jesus?”  Some say 1 gift from Santa, 1 from Mommy and Daddy, and a full stocking.  Some just set a number of gifts each child will get, or all they can buy for a certain dollar amount per child.  Some only give as many gifts as their child is willing to give away of their current things.  Some refuse to add more “stuff” to the house and only give consume-able items like tickets to a show, some sort of lessons, or food.  Lots of tactics, and I’m not out to criticize any of them.  

For Christmas of 2010, we started the Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh- I call it the “Wise men” approach to our Christmas gift giving.  Our twins were two and our youngest was newly one.  Did they understand?  Did they need any gifts?  Not really.  It was mostly a practice year for us as parents to sort out how we were going to tackle this Christmas thing.

We knew we wanted to assign some spiritual meaning to our Christmas giving.  We had heard the concept on FLN at one time in the past- it was one of the news ladies, Sarah Harnisch, that had mentioned it. It wasn’t just giving 3 gifts because Jesus got 3 gifts- it was ascribing meaning to each of those gifts.  

I researched online looking for more information and came across a website with “The Jesus Gifts.”   

Later, after I had done a blog post about it, the man who wrote The Jesus gifts, Clark Smith, contacted me.  From some communication with him, he claims this gift giving concept.  I don’t have any reason not to believe him, so I’ll give him the credit for the concept.

On his site, there was a simple poem that caught my eye.  It describes how their family approached Christmas gift giving.  It still is tacked on my bulletin board in my office- which either means my bulletin board is in desperate need of cleaning, or it is meaningful enough to stay there. I think it’s a bit of both.    

It reads:  

“Gold, we give a gift of enduring worth,

Frankincense, a prayer reaching God above,

Myrrh, all the wonders of life on earth,

Swaddling clothes, surrounded in your parent’s love.”

That didn’t give me 100% exactly what I was looking for, but it was close. I liked that it included the gift from the parents as well as the wise men.  I researched some more to find out more about the gifts the magi brought to Jesus.  I used what I found, combined with some thoughts from others like Clark Smith. This allowed us to decide how we would select and ascribe meaning to our Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Swaddling Clothes gifts to our children.  

Gold may have been given to show Jesus role as the King.  Although Jesus didn’t take on the role of a king that some wanted Him to have when He came to earth, He was, is, and will be King over all.  

Gold was a gift fit for a king.  It has the qualities of being precious and enduring, costly and valuable.  

In our Christmas giving, we use this as a gift that carries a lot of importance to our child.  It may or may not be the most expensive or pricy gift.  But it is a gift that will mean a lot to them, and it’s benefits will likely endure over time.  It may even be a consumable or intangible gift, or a “small” gift, but it’s one that is meant to produce lots of memories or develop skills, interests, or relationships.  

(An example from us: busy books/bags.  See the post about making busy bags here)   critter busy book turtle open

Frankincense may have been given to highlight Jesus role as the Priest. He came to fill the role as our advocate and high priest before God.  

Frankincense was used in prayer time as a visual reminder to the people that their prayers rose up to God and mattered to God.  

In our Christmas giving, we use this as our gift to promote the spiritual health, growth, and understanding of our children.  We want them to learn the importance of a relationship with Jesus and their own intimacy of fellowship with God.  Our gift might be music, a book, a bible or a study tool.  It’s any item we feel will point them to God and draw them into relationship with Him. 

(An example from us:  bibles)  Frankincense gift

Myrrh may have been given to show Jesus role as our Sacrificial Savior. He experienced a human life, although sinless.  And He then experienced death as a suitable sacrifice to cover our sin before rising again. 

Myrrh was used as an embalming spice.  It has also been used over time as a way to treat suffering and afflictions in healing or numbing, as well as in preventative maintenance health care (like antiseptics, mouthwash, body wash, and toothpaste forms).  

Some give health and beauty type products in this category, some put a clothing gift in this category, some include “all the wonders of life on earth.”  

In our Christmas giving, we use this as our gift to focus on some help or healing, or as a preventative measure for something we think our child may struggle with in the next year.  

This has been our most difficult category to decide on an appropriate gift.  

Some years we have given bubble bath or a cute rice pack to put in the freezer for the bumps and bruises that come with being little.  But each year we’re working to develop deeper meaning.  We’re looking for something that may be a struggle or challenge in the next year.

(An example from us:  fleece rice cold (or hot) packs.)  Myrrh gift

The gift of Swaddling Clothes was given to Jesus by Mary and Joseph as His parents, long before the wise men ever entered the scene.  

It surrounded him, provided a physical need of warmth and protection, and wrapped him securely.  We all work to provide for the warmth, protection, and security of our children.  

Some use this category for new PJ’s, socks and underwear, a favorite team jersey, a special, desired clothing item, etc. In our Christmas giving, I like to make a dress or something else at Christmas for my girls- something that shows them they are loved and special to their parents.   

(An example from us:  Princess dresses.)  Swaddling clothes gift

With very little ones, it’s a challenge to fill the gifts with the meanings we intend.  They may not be really able tell us what they want, and we are still learning their personalities, needs, and what makes them tick.  Every year we feeling a little more confident in the fit of our gifts. 

So this is our way of infusing Christmas with it’s true meaning.  It also removes the Santa complication from the day we reserve for celebrating Jesus’ birth.  Our gifts have nothing to do with Santa, but are given using the model of the way the Wise men and Mary and Joseph gave gifts to Jesus to celebrate his coming.  It limits the expectations on how much should be given and increases the value of what will be received.  

As a side note:  We still participate with extended family in the normal traditions- name draws, small gifts for the kids, etc.- That’s outside of what our household does to celebrate Christmas.  

This leads into Christmas concept number 2 for our household.

How do we manage Santa Claus at Christmas time?  

Here are a few ways some of my friends manage Santa.  

One makes sure her children understand the true meaning of Christmas as Celebrating Jesus birth, but lets them also believe in Santa for the excitement and magical pieces while they’re young.  I think this is a pretty typical way of dealing with Santa, and was the way I was raised.  It was even the way Mary and Laura were presented with Christmas in the “Little House” books.  It also gives parents a little bit of an advantage to encourage their children to be obedient and good.  “Santa’s watching…”

Another friend says she CANNOT lie to her children and lead them to believe Santa is real.  She doesn’t want them to later question if Jesus is real because they find out the stories they’ve heard about Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy aren’t real.  

Yet another has always told her children that they as the parents get the gifts for Christmas because they can afford to, so Santa doesn’t have to at their house.  He can concentrate his work elsewhere.  

So what about my house?  Do we hate Santa at my house?  No!  We actually love the roots of Santa and want our kids to know more.  

We just want to make sure that in our family, Christmas day is solely focused on the true reasons we celebrate Christmas.  We decided we didn’t want Santa to compete with Jesus on Christmas day.

Here’s how we’ve BEGUN to manage the Santa dilemma.  Notice I didn’t say solve the dilemma completely!

A book we found and like is “A Special Place for Santa.”  If you’ve ever seen a painting or ornament of Santa kneeling at the manger, this is the story.  It does present Santa as “Real.”  But wraps into the story some of the history of St. Nicholas and the development of different views of St. Nicholas and Santa over time.  

A special place for Santa

It presents Santa as being sad that people are focused on him rather than on Jesus.  It recognizes the role of “Santa” in filing hearts with love and joy on “Jesus Special day”- preparing their hearts for the Christ Child on Christmas morning.  

It also has Santa kneeling to worship baby Jesus in a nativity at a church, and presenting Him with a present- the same gift Santa brings to Jesus every year- “Santa’s lists of the kind and loving things people-young and old- had done for one another during the year.”

The story has it’s own imperfections for us to manage and is only a piece of the puzzle for us.  We don’t believe in Christmas as a JUST a time for love and joy in our hearts, and we as a family still don’t represent Santa as “real.”  

But we like the historical roots and development it shows, so our kids understand more of the modern Christmas culture that surrounds them.  

And we like that it gives them a view of “Santa” or St. Nicholas as a worshiper and servant to help fulfill SOME of God’s purposes for Christmas.  It emphasizes the importance of Jesus over Santa at Christmas.

Our church also offered an advent book about St. Nicholas 2 years ago.  It’s “The Faith of St. Nick, an Advent Devotional” by Ann Nichols.    

The Faith of St. Nick

We read it aloud in the advent season.  The kids may not “get” it all yet, but they get pieces, and much more than we sometimes realize.  

As a way to recognize St. Nicholas (and the originating source of modern day Santa) we celebrate St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6th.  We have the girls set out their shoes and in the morning they find some little treats- stickers, candy, an orange.  Simple little things.  

St Nicholas day shoes

We’ve had some discussions about people giving gifts at Christmas just as St. Nicholas gave gifts to people.  Our girls are still little and curious and ask questions.  Like, does St. Nicholas or Santa put the stuff in our shoes?  Do reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh?  Can Santa get in locked doors?

Anytime my girls ask me one of these questions, I revert back to defining where “Santa” comes from and understanding that people (including mom and dad) give gifts in the model of St. Nicholas.  Yes, St, Nicholas was a real person, but he isn’t around anymore and he doesn’t actually come delivering gifts.  

One more thing I think is important is letting our kids know that some kids think Santa IS real.  But it’s the parents job to talk to them about Santa, not my girls job to tell them.  However, they’re also free to share where the tradition of Santa comes from historically (As much as they can grasp at ages 3 and 5).  

There’s too much of other Christmas tradition in our culture- like modern Santa, flying reindeer and sleighs, and magical sacks of toys to be delivered around the world on one night for us to ignore.  Our kids WILL hear it and we need to interface with it somehow. 

By using St. Nicholas day in our family, it lets us recognized and celebrate some of the concepts and learn about the source of our modern day culture’s Christmas season.   But it keeps it separated from the special Christmas day.  And the little gifts associated with St. Nicholas are not as important to them.   They enjoy them, but they aren’t big gifts that magically appeared by the mystical Santa.  

Instead, their gifts on Christmas day are representations of Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Swaddling clothes.  Their gifts are teaching them the deeper meaning associated with the original gifts given to Jesus.  We talk with them about what each of their gifts represent.

Their gifts should help them in celebrating Jesus birth, life, and ultimate purpose.  They celebrate Jesus as our King, Priest, and Savior, as well as reminding us of His humanity.  And that is the more important thing we want them to learn.  

If you tell your kids Santa brings Christmas gifts- please don’t feel I’m putting you down in any way.  Each family has to decide how they best feel they can navigate this tricky topic.  I’m just sharing how our family has chosen to approach it in case it can be helpful to you. 

Whether your kids think Santa is real or whether you’ve always told them there’s no such thing as Santa-I encourage you to start to include (if you don’t already) some of the church history origins of Old St. Nick.  And remember to teach them why we celebrate Christmas in the first place- as the introduction of our Savior to this world.  

Any questions?

 

One final Christmas resource I love and would recommend is the Star of Bethlehem video.  While it has little to do with gift giving and nothing to do with St. Nicholas, it holds some wonderful concepts about the Christmas season, Jesus and his birth, the Christmas star, and the biblical, historical, and astronomy pieces of the coming of our Savior.  And while it doesn’t portray itself as a set-in-stone fact, it is a very plausible and likely history of the Christmas star.  

The Star of Bethlehem

Discussion questions:

How has your family approached celebrating Christmas? Gift giving? Our culture’s portrayal of Christmas (or “Winter Solstice” or “The holiday season”)?

What things do you do to focus on the true meaning of Christmas?

What would you like to see your family do differently in the Christmas celebration?

What do you think of the Santa dilemma?  How do you handle it?

What do you do to place meaning into ALL holidays- Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.- to make it more than a day shopping sales, a day off of school, or a day to have a big meal?

Resources to check out if you want to explore more:

A Special Place for Santa:  A Legend For Our Time by Jeanne Pieper

The Faith of St. Nick, An Advent Devotional by Ann Nichols

my blog posts on what we do:

Christmas gift concept we’ve decided to use for our family

Wisemen concept of giving this Christmas

some of the websites I utilized in researching that were helpful:

The Jesus Gifts- Clark Smith who claims this gift giving concept

Todays Christian Woman: Begging for Myrrh -stressed out by Christmas presents?

SPWickstrom – this  article by Steven Wickstrom gives a spiritual look at how we can give Jesus the 3 gifts of the wise men.

Counting My Blessings: more about Gold

Counting My Blessings: more about Frankincense

Counting My Blessings: more about Myrrh

How the gifts of the magi simplified our christmas- the basic run-down of the “Counting My Blessings” gift giving method

Psycho with 6: Are you celebrating Christmas the right way? -some thoughts on celebrating Christmas the “right” way

Jen Hatmaker:  The Christmas conundrum -another article on how one woman is guiding her family’s celebrations of Christmas, and the change from how she has in the past.

The Star of Bethlehem DVD, web site with more info is here.

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A Father’s day gift that pre-schoolers can craft!  It takes some prep work, but once that’s done, you can let the little ones loose with fabric markers and some supervision and they can make a pretty nice looking father’s day gift by themselves.  Even better, the gift keeps on giving, as they can interact with dad and play “with” him (even if he’s tired!) later.

I ran across the awesome idea for a back rub shirt over at The Blue Basket (via pinterest).  She painted hers with fabric paint, and there’s a print-able template you can use if you really don’t think you can handle drawing something yourself.  (The template would need to be simplified a bit for my version.)  Other’s have printed iron on print-ables, used puff paint for outlines and filled in, or used fabric markers.  Check down through the comments for ideas and to see what others have done.

I wanted to be able to do a craft with the kids in children’s church (age 3-5) this Sunday for Father’s day and thought this would be great!  Except I like to do crafts that need minimal adult “do it for me” time, and this is a bit above pre-school abilities.  So I decided to finally try Freezer Paper Stenciling.  It’s been on my list of things to try for WAY too long.  There’s plenty of tutorials/ info available about freezer paper stenciling around if you need to know more than the beginners info I give below.

I did a trial shirt with my girls (twins approaching 4 and little sister 2 1/2).  It turned out impressively well (although it looks a little scary while they’re coloring) and they really were pretty self sufficient once I got them on task.  I prepped and applied the stencil and traced around the edges with a black fabric marker.  Then I let them loose with the markers (all colors but black to keep the edges distinct) and tried to keep them from drawing over the edge of the paper too much.  I encouraged them to select some roughly appropriate colors, but it was really up to them.  Some places it’s helpful to assist in holding the shirt/stencil for them to color easier.  They needed a little help to finish the roads- I think they were tiring of the experiment by then.  And this is how the first shirt turned out.  Not quite as cute as The Blue Basket’s, but cute enough!

With that success, I picked up a 6-pack of men’s undershirts and cut some more freezer paper to length.  Just put it on the back of your shirt to size it.

For multiple stencils, here’s what I did: Sketch one to make your “map”.  Remember that it’s a stencil, so nothing complicated.  Shade in the area you want to cut out, especially if you’re concerned you might cut the wrong parts.

Attach all your papers together with several paperclips around the outside edge (i only had to do 4 shirts.  If you’re making more than 5, I’d suggest doing them in batches of no more than 5, unless you’re really good at cutting through lots of layers of paper).

  

Make sure you have a cutting board or other surface that doesn’t matter if it’s cut underneath your paper, and get out the Xacto knife or utility knife or scissors- any and all will work.  I cut my sample out with scissors, but for multiples, the cutting board and knife/knives make it a lot quicker.  Cut out the small details first for multiples using the Xacto knife.

Then get the bigger details (buildings) with the utility knife.

Then just make a starting slit on your road and you can cut out the roads with scissors (quicker).  Cut out the center islands from the road before cutting the road away from the frame (or plan to line things back up and cut the road of the island).  Number your islands if you think you’ll have trouble remembering where they went.

    

Move on to ironing on your stencil.  Make sure the back of the shirt is wrinkle free.  Make sure your freezer paper is shiny side DOWN- the shiny is what bonds to the shirt.  Then set on the stencil, place your islands, and start adhering it to the shirt.

  

It’s a forgiving process- if you get a wrinkle or place the stencil incorrectly, you CAN lift it and re-iron.

Once stencils are in place, trace around the edges.

  

To color, insert a chunk of cardboard inside the shirt to prevent bleed-through and stiffen the surface.  You can expand the edge of the stencil and increase the protected area with additional freezer paper or tape (masking/painters).   If you don’t, you may end up with overflow from your stencil, like this:

  

Your artists may end up with colored hands from ink rubbing off of the paper and/or the shirt.

Remove the stencil when they’ve finished coloring and admire!  Fill in any details if needed- I had to draw swing ropes on to connect to the seats and barn doors.

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Our final MOPS creative activity of the year was these concrete garden stones.  I can’t say yet for sure how they all turned out, since I can’t take off the frames and until Friday.  But I think they should be great!

Update- they DID turn out great!

   

The concept for this is taken from a “Sunset” Book called “Decorative Concrete” for a reverse pebble mosaic.  This is a good intro to basic concepts of concrete without having to worry about finishing the concrete surface or hurrying to get your designs in place.

You will need a form, sand, pebbles/marbles/shells/other embeddable objects, and bagged concrete mix (Get the 5000 lb mix), plus water, a bucket to mix in, and a container for measuring (mine is a 3 cup cottage cheese container).

It’s ideal to make these outside or in an unfinished area, just because concrete can be messy.  But if you’re careful, it can easily be done indoors.  We ended up inside on carpet with 13 women making 2 a piece this morning, and I had almost nothing to clean off the floor (thank you for being neat, ladies!).  If outdoors and there’s a threat of rain while it’s curing, you can cover your concrete with plastic.  If it’s freezing, or going to freeze overnight, make it inside.

The first step is to make your form.  I’ve chosen to make 12″ square garden stones, so there are 2 pieces of wood 12″ long and 2 pieces 13 1/2″ long.  These are ripped from 2×4 stock.  The dimensions of the ripped profile is 3/4″ by 1 1/2″.

All volumes that I give for materials will be measured for filling this size form.  If you alter the dimensions, realize the volume of the form will change, so amounts of sand, concrete, and water will also change.

Because of the small size of the wood, it is best to pre-drill a pilot hole for screws to go in to prevent splitting.  The bonus is that this will be a re-usable form.  The alternative is to nail together with finish nails (regular nails will also likely cause the wood to split).  So- pre-drill a hole slightly smaller in diameter than your screws will be in both ends of the longer pieces of wood.  I used a 3/32 drill bit.  Or skip the pilot holes and chance it ;)

Once the holes are drilled, assemble the frame.  The long pieces overlap the short pieces.  Then insert screws to secure it.  You can “start” the screws so they’re most of the way through the pilot holes before you attach it to the shorter piece for easier assembly.

My screws are a little over an inch to 1 1/2″ long.

The Second Step is to prepare the form.  (Or MOPS CA starts here- I had forms already made and instructions written on a dry erase board for easy reference.) Place it on a scrap of plastic that is larger than the form.  It should be resting on a flat surface (floor, sturdy table, etc).  Then put a layer of sand in the bottom of the form.  This should be a thin layer, evenly spread to cover the entire bottom (plastic) of the form.  I used a 24 oz cottage cheese container for measuring- it holds 3 cups.  I used about 3/4 of a container of sand, or roughly 2 1/2 cups.  You will be pressing the decorative mosaic elements into this sand, and they will stick above the finished concrete as far as they’re pushed into the sand.

  

The Third Step is to make your mosaic.  Gather your embeddable objects The thinner the object, the less likely it will adhere properly in the end.  Insert whatever decorative elements you want to be visible on the stone into the sand.  I used a rough figure of  one 1-2 pound bag of stones/marbles for every 2 garden blocks.  Your mileage will vary.

Large pieces will have to be worked down into the sand and the sand re-smoothed before continuing (do these first if using).   Gently press your objects into the sand in a design of your choosing.  Remember that the further they are pressed into the sand, the further they will stick out of the finished block.

   

A few things to remember: 1)  Your image will be reversed.  If you’re making a monogram, or word, keep this in mind- the letter must be mirror image and the word needs to be written right to left, not left to right.  2) The surface you will see when done must go into the sand- do not put the side you want to see towards you, or it will be encased in concrete.  3) The sand around the objects cannot be “banked” up or over the edges of the objects inserted.

Anywhere the sand is, the concrete will NOT be when finished.  You want your objects to be securely adhered to the concrete.  If the sand was smoothed up to the back surface of my tile in the above picture, it would make a channel in the concrete when finished. You don’t want a gap or channel next to these objects.  That gap would create a place for water to get in and freeze (f you’re in cooler climates like me), then expand, and the freeze/thaw cycle will damage your finished stone, eventually destroying it.

Once you have your mosaic completed, it’s time for step number Four.

In Step Number Four you will be mixing your concrete and putting it in the form.

Detail note if you’re seeing a discrepancy in the picture:  The concrete I used for this example was 4000 lb.  mix.  It was difficult to get the concrete to be flow-able enough without adding too much water.  For our CA we ended up using 4 scoops of concrete mix plus a scoop of sand/portland blend (50/50).  The easier thing to do would be to get 5000 lb concrete mix (stronger concrete- it already has more portland in it), use 4 scoops of concrete mix plus 1 scoop of sand.  A sand based bagged concrete mix is also available, but hubby says it’s not strong enough… ::)

Again using my cottage cheese container, I measured out 4 (full) scoops (12 cups) of dry concrete mix into a bucket.  Then I added 1 (full) scoop (3 cups) of sand and 1 (full) scoop (3 cups) of water to the dry mix.  (One 80 lb bag of concrete mix should make about 7 stones).  I used a gloved hand or a trowel to mix the concrete.  Mix until thoroughly combined- check the corners for dry bits.  It should be fairly firm- easy to get clumps of concrete in your hand.  If it’s really too dry, you can add a small amount more water.  You do NOT want too much water and a soupy concrete mix.  Too much water weakens the concrete, and could possibly cause problems with the sand where the objects have been placed.

Add your clumps of concrete by handfuls to your form.  CAREFULLY set the concrete on top of your mosaic design so it doesn’t shift.  Cover designs first, then fill in any gaps.

  

Once there’s a layer of concrete on everything and your form is mostly filled, you can pat the surface. This vibrates the mixture and allows it to settle into the holes, cracks, and crevices to ensure there won’t be gaps in your final surface.

Keep patting and gently pushing the high spots of the concrete around with your hands.  Make sure the concrete is well worked into the corners and along the edges of the form.  It’s fine to do this in stages- put a little in, work it down, repeat.  If you don’t get it worked in well, you’ll have this happen:

The edge is rounded over and lumpy.  Still okay, but not as nice as it could have been, because the concrete did not get down into the edge of the form next to the sand.

It’s also fine to use a hammer to pound a bit on the top edge of the wooden form.  This helps to vibrate the concrete and get it worked down into those edges.  A palm sander does the same trick, only even nicer.

The Final Step is to even off this top (someday bottom) surface of the concrete.  You should have it already fairly even form the patting with your hands.  Now we’ll take a stick to “screed” off the surface to make sure it’s even and basically smooth.  The screed stick rests on both sides of the wooden form.  It is slid back and forth across the surface of the concrete, still resting on the side pieces of wood on the form.  At the same time, it’s slowly drawn across to the other side of the form.  So- “saw” the stick back and forth and SLOWLY pull it across the surface.  All that jiggling from the “sawing” motion allows the surface to be smoothed s you pull the extra concrete off of it.

If you get a gap where the screed has passed by (1st pic), take a bit from the extra in front of the screed, fill in the hole (pic 2), back up, and re-screed that area.

   

Continue across the entire surface of the concrete, scraping the extra off the edge of the form.

Dispose of the extra.  It will harden and cannot be re-used (unless it is used for another purpose right away).

Now for clean up.  Wash off/out anything you want to re-use.  Extra concrete can be scraped out of buckets and thrown in the garbage or outside (depending on where you live… Water it down if you throw it outside for less permanent mess).  The wash/rinse water from your clean up can be thrown outside.

Go put some lotion on your hands- concrete is pretty rough on them.  The solid lotion bars we made on Spa day work wonderfully for this!

You must be PATIENT and wait for your concrete to set up.  It will be solid within the day, but it is still very fragile and “green”- do NOT remove the forms yet.  Also know that if yo touch the surface of the concrete as it cures, it may feel warm- that’s a chemical reaction thing in the concrete- no worries.  Wait 48 hours before taking out the screws that hold the form together.

Once the screws are removed, the wood pieces can be pulled away from the block and the block can be flipped over.

    

Brush off the extra sand and see what you made!

  

The block should not be put outside in the weather for a week and if it will be used for weight bearing (sidewalk blocks, etc), it should be allowed to fully cure for 28 days.  A sealer can be applied if desired after the 28 days.  The stone below is one I made about a year ago and we sprayed part of it with a sealer to see how it would look.  These stones were not polished like the ones above, but with the sealer, they look just as nice- so they’re free instead of paying $1 a bag.

For our MOPS CA, they’re staying at the church until cured.  I’ll take the forms off and they’ll get to take the stones, forms, and screeding sticks home at the next meeting.

Need a print-able for a group project?  Try this:  concrete garden stones take-home sheet

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Our MOPS Creative Activity for April.  Our kids joined us for our MOPS meeting this past Wednesday.  We were doing a MOPS “swap” day- bring your kids stuff (toys, clothes, books, equipment) they’ve outgrown and maternity clothes and take home what you can use.

Before we swapped, we had a trail mix line for a snack- dip a bit of several different snacks out of a bowl and put it in a bag for each kid.  We enjoyed some chat time while the kids snacked and played.

Then we worked together on our Creative Activity- Summer bucket lists.   I got the idea over here at thefoleyfam.

I got sand buckets for a dollar at Michaels and made a simple wrap from paper for them- about half a sheet of paper that slightly curves.  (Your pattern will vary based on your bucket.  Just remember you can’t get the cool castle shaped buckets if you’re putting a wrapper on :( )  Everyone decorated the wrap pieces.  Some colored right on the wrapper, some had kids color on paper and cut out shapes to glue on the wrapper. Stickers or paper punch shapes would probably have worked equally well.  (We’ve got part of a sandcastle, a campfire, a wildflower, a book, a kite, a berry, and an ice cream cone here.  I-Spy, anyone?  Colored paper for either the wrapper or the shapes would have been helpful for visibility.)

The wrapper tapes onto the bucket.  You can try glue, but I don’t think it will work well.  (Not that you can see the tape here, but you get a detail of our sandcastle and some random squares/circles)

Then, the list.  The idea is to make a list of things you’d like to do as a family this summer. Go camping, roast marshmallows, catch fireflies, read books, go to the zoo, blow bubbles, go swimming, pick berries, etc. etc.  Some moms wanted to take their list home to consult with their husband and make it a full family decision.  (Great idea!  They just took clothespins with them.  I don’t always think of these things when I trial these crafts at home…)

Once the list is made, write each goal on a clothespin and clip it on the edge of the bucket.  I used a pen to get more letters on, but a sharpie would be suitable as well.  Shorten your phrases and write small.  Remember there’s 2 sides if needed for more detailed goals…

   

As you complete each activity over the summer, pull the clothespin off and throw it in the bucket.  Fun!

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For MOPS spa day we made these:

I love this stuff!  To use, rub on hands or body.  Also good as a chapstick.  It’s done a good job for me of keeping some eczema at bay that I developed in the past year on my thumb and eyelids (Odd locations- who knows why?!).  I don’t have to worry about continued exposure and potential side effects to the prescribed steroid ointment, and I can use it on my face, unlike the ointment.  I’ve also used it effectively on my kids for diaper/wet underwear overnight rashes.

I gave some for late Christmas presents, and even had some takers when I offered it to my rough working uncles, dad, and grandpa.  I think they’ll really use it for burns from welding and other rough on the skin work- they weren’t just taking it to be nice ;)

Instructions based on a recipe found here at Crunchy Betty.

Very simple, 3 ingredients- beeswax, coconut oil, and shea butter.

There’s a recipe at Little House in the Suburbs that I haven’t tried, but it does contain more common ingredients- namely, shortening and vegetable oil instead of coconut oil and shea butter.  Both use beeswax.  I’m not sure how solid the other version would be, or how greasy it may feel.

I used an electric fry pan with water to function as my double boiler for this group craft.  I set it to about 250.  You can also do this in a pan of water on the stovetop or in a (microwave safe) container in the microwave.

The can is a mushroom can- any similar small clean can would work- I wouldn’t recommend glass for this due to temperature change, though.  You can use glass if you’re going to do this in the microwave instead of a double boiler.  I did have to add water over the course of our time at spa day, since the water evaporated relatively fast.  Just don’t add too much, or your cans may tip over!

The stir stick is just a popsicle stick.

I had no trouble lifting the can without a hot mitt, and we had no trouble at our Spa day.  But use caution, your can MAY heat up and could cause a burn if left too long or if the water is particularly hot.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup lightly packed grated beeswax.  Mine is straight from the bee keeper, but any kind should work.  I used a peeler to grate off thin pieces of wax, then lightly pressed in a baggie lined measuring cup.

  

1/4 cup coconut oil.  The “solid at room temperature” oil contributes to the firmness of the final product.  Liquid oils make a very slimy, melty bar.  I did heat the oil in the jar so it was liquid to make it easier to scoop out 1/4 cup for our spa day.  It will still need to be re-melted after adding it to the beeswax since it has such a lower melting temperature.

1/4 cup shea butter.  Mine is natural, unrefined.  This is the only thing I had to buy online- I couldn’t find it at any stores locally.  This scooped beautifully with a trigger icecream scoop into a baggie- the scoop holds 1/4 cup.

Melt the beeswax.  Add the coconut oil and allow all to heat/melt again.  Last, add the shea butter last and keep on heat just until melted.  I’ve run across info that it can get “grainy” if heated too much and too long, but I didn’t experience it myself.  Stir occasionally after each addition.

      

I took the can off the heat to add items- less chance of dropping extra bits in your water, and it will help with space for a group craft.

Immediately pour into forms- we’re using ice cube trays form the dollar store.  This recipe just fills the silicone one with possibly a touch extra or a touch less.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have them anymore when I went to buy trays, so I just got regular ones, and it didn’t fill the whole tray.  We put names on with a sharpie marker. Let it cool when you’re done.  I put mine in the fridge because I’m impatient.  We had fridge space and did the same for our MOPS spa day.  It doesn’t take that long for them to set up.

      

Pop them out of the molds once they’re firm.  They pull away from the sides of the molds a bit once they’re fully set.  store in a baggie or wrapped in wax paper.

I didn’t add scent- I love the smell of the beeswax.  But you can if you want to.  Add your scent after everything is melted together before you pour it into the molds, and make sure it’s skin safe.

Here’s what I used as a directions printout for our ladies for spa day:

Lotion bar directions:

Put 1/4 cup (1 baggie) beeswax in can.  Place in hot water bath until melted.  stir occasionally with a popsicle stick.

Remove from heat.  Add 1/4 cup coconut oil.  Return to heat, melt, stir occasionally.

Remove from heat.  Add 1/4 cup (1 baggie) shea butter.  Return to heat JUST until melted, the last bits don’t have to be completely melted on the heat. (You don’t want to overheat the shea butter.)

Remove from heat.  Stir until the last of the shea butter is melted.

Pour into ice cube trays and set aside to firm up.  Can be put in the fridge to speed up the firming process.

Pop out of the ice cube tray and store in a baggie or wrap in wax paper to transport.  Don’t carry it around in your pocket or leave it in your hot car!

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Our February MOPS creative activity was coating/decorating truffles.  We made a bag for ourselves and a bag to give as a gift.  Each bag had 10-2 of each flavor.  Our steering team each made 6 dozen balls and brought them frozen to our meeting.  Then we handed them out on wax papered trays and everyone started decorating- all we had to do was melt the chocolate coatings in the microwave.  Then we waited for the chocolate to set up and bagged them.  Bags were donated from a local flower and candy shop, but I think there were decent valentines themed ones at the dollar store (= inexpensive!)

If you have a particularly soft or sticky truffle, get those done first before they have much time to thaw.  Also, if you’re using the powdered sugar or sweetened cocoa as a cover, be aware they then squish in your bags… Maybe put them in a separate bag?  I think that was the big fail of this project.  And make sure your candy bags are big enough to comfortably hold all those truffles!

Here’s how they turned out- thanks Rachel for sharing the pics!

        

The following is copied and pasted from my handout.  I spread it into 2 pages-  a directions page and a recipe page.

Coating options:

Powdered sugar or sweetened cocoa- roll truffle in the bowl to coat

Almond bark or candy melts- melt at short intervals in the microwave (or double boiler), stirring as it melts.  Use a fork or toothpick to dip the balls into the chocolate to cover.  Shake off excess/let it drip off, then put it on a piece of wax paper to let the coating set.  It can go in the fridge or freezer to set more quickly.

Leave the toothpick IN for less mess.  remove it after the chocolate sets up.  You can also use a spoon or try 2 popsicle sticks.  Whatever works best for you.

*you can also use chocolate/white chips and add a bit of shortening to help it “flow”.  DON’T add water- it can cause the chocolate to “seize”

Add garnishes before the chocolate sets.  Sprinkles, colored sugar, cookie or graham cracker crumbs, orange zest, etc

“Pipe” on swirls, flowers, leaves, dots, etc. of melted chocolate/almond bark With cake decorating bags or squeeze bottles.  Put melted chocolate in the bags as you would frosting/icing.  If it cools and needs to be re-melted, make sure to take off any metal tips before putting it in the microwave, and heat carefully/slowly to prevent overheating the bag or container.  You can also use a baggie and cut off the corner if you don’t have cake decorating supplies, or just drizzle another color chocolate with a spoon.

Recipes:  Here’s the quick version of each, a few have some modifications.  Follow the link for complete/original recipes.

Cookie dough truffles- cream 1/2 c softened butter and 3/4 c packed brown sugar until light and fluffy.  add 1 t vanilla.  gradually add 2 c flour and 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk- alternating and beating well after each addition.  Stir in 1/2 c mini chocolate chips and 1/2 c chopped walnuts.  Shape into 1″ balls and freeze.  Coat.  5 1/2 dozen

Cake balls- bake a cake mix as usual.  After cooling about 10 min, dump cake into large bowl, break up into chunks to cool.  after 1/2 hr, dump in 1 can of frosting (any flavor).  Mix completely, cover and cool 2-3 hrs or overnight.  Roll into 1″ balls, chill several hours.   Coat.

Lemon White chocolate truffles- makes about 2 dozen

Melt 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 c white chocolate, and 3 Tablespoons of heavy cream in the microwave or in a double boiler.  Stir until smooth.  Add a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of lemon extract.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours in the fridge.  It should be handle-able then.  Form it into 1 inch balls and freeze.  Coat.

Peppermint patties- one batch of this recipe should make the 6 dozen.  A can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 Tablespoon of peppermint flavoring, and 6 cups of powdered sugar, mix/knead it, then roll it into balls and pop it in the freezer.  Coat.

Oreo balls- 1 package of double stuffed ores (or fakes) and 4 to 8 oz of cream cheese.  Chop of the oreos fine- a food processor makes quick work of it.  Mash the softened cream cheese and oreos until well combined.  Roll into 1″ balls and freeze.  3 dozen (I think)

Some bonus recipes (we only made the first 5 for our decorating day)

chocolate cream cheese balls- this recipe makes 36.  These are a tad messier to roll.  I kept a light coating of oil on my hands and that worked for me to form them.  It’s just 8 oz of cream cheese, softened, and then you add 8 oz of melted chocolate chips.  Chill in the fridge for an hour or so, then form into balls and freeze.  Coat

chocolate orange truffles- 2 c crushed vanilla wafer cookies, 2 c powdered sugar, 1/2 c cornstarch, 1/2 c butter (melted and cooled), 1/2 c orange juice concentrate, thawed, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and a dash of ginger (not a big deal if you don’t have it- just skip).  Mix it all, chill an hour, roll into 1″ balls and freezer.  It’s supposed to make 4-5 dozen.

Butterfinger balls- 1 pound of candy corn melted in the microwave and add 1 c peanut butter.  When it’s cool enough to handle, form it into balls and pop it in the freezer.  Not certain how many balls this would make… I’m sure at least 2 dozen, maybe 3… I’ve never actually made them into balls, just bars.

More to try at our pinterest “candy” board if you’re looking for ideas!

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Our MOPS 4th Wednesday activity today was make ahead meals.  We make one for that evening’s meal and one to put in the freezer (or fridge) and use another day.  There’s more recipes of meals we’ve made in the past for this in the recipes tab.

The meal for tonight’s use is a broccoli, chicken, and cheese braid in crescent roll dough.  Everyone made two braids to take home.  One braid will just barely feed 4 with a side of salad. Note:  I don’t know if this dish will freeze well.  I’m trying it with an extra braid and will report back if it worked or didn’t work later!

ETA:  We pulled it out of the freezer and baked it up.  It worked fine and tasted about the same to me.

The freezer meal is Tatertot casserole.

Recipes are below.

A few details.  For group logistics:  We have no childcare on 4th wednesdays.  We break into 2 groups, half do meals while the other half watches kids and we switch part way through.  We figure the same time frame and day of the week as we usually meet for MOPS, since everyone should be free then.

We cook the meat ahead of time, since that takes a long time to do.  We have a sign up list so we know how much to purchase for ingredients, and we ask for money to reimburse the cost of ingredients.  We’ve done $10 for the two meals and that mostly covers it.

I printed off the recipes for everyone to follow and take home.

An explanation on the braids:  There’s (at least) two ways to do this.  Pics of the two methods are here, since this can be the confusing part from just written directions.  NEITHER way will completely cover the filling.  It will ooze a bit in baking.

Method 1:  Lay the crescent roll dough as pictured.  After the filling is in, pull the corners of the crescent rolls up over the filling.  Overlap so they stick to each other.

 

Method 2:  Lay the crescent rolls on your baking sheet as shown.  Use your fingers and the palm of your hand to flatten and blend the edges of the crescent rolls together.  I spread mine to fit my baking sheet (Note this is a smaller baking sheet, not a huge one!  The rolls are straight from the tube in the first photo, so there’s not a huge distance for them to stretch.)  Put your filling in the center as above, then cut slits in the edge  of the dough.  The paper has lines drawn in the same way that I cut slits in the dough.  It’s the same way I do my Stromboli.  Then fold them across the filling.  Overlap so they stick to each other.

     

Substitutions: you can use bread dough instead of crescent rolls, corn instead of green beans, cream of celery soup instead of cream of mushroom, or mashed potatoes in place of tater tots.  Make it flex to your tastes and ingredients.

Here’s the recipes- copy and paste to make your own printouts.

Chicken, broccoli, and cheese braid

1 8 oz tube crescent rolls-

4 oz velveeta/processed cheese, cubed

1 c cooked cubed chicken

2 c cooked broccoli

You are going to make 2 of these.  Each braid gets the above ingredients.

Put a piece of foil on the cookie sheet.

Spread one tube of crescent rolls out on the foil.  Flatten, stretch, and “fix” the seams.  Place on the center line of the dough the cooked chicken, broccoli, and cubed cheese.  Cut strips in the crescent roll base from both sides.  Pull strips of crescent roll over the top of the filling- it will NOT fully enclose it.

Pull the braid off the sheet with the foil, repeat with a second braid.

Baking:  375 for 15-20 minutes- ’til golden brown crust and heated through.

Tatertot Casserole

Layer in a 9×13 pan:

1 lb cooked ground beef (approx. 3 cups)

1 can of green beans, drained

1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted.  spread this over the top of the other ingredients, and use a bit of water to rinse the can, if desired.

onions/onion flakes if desired

6 pieces of sliced cheese, or sprinkle with shredded cheddar, your choice.

Top with 1 1/2 lb of tater tots (3/4 of a 2 lb bag)

Baking:  350 until heated through.

This dish is freezer friendly and can go directly from the freezer to the oven!

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