Tuesday, December 7, 2010

St. Nicholas Recipes

Well, I managed to pull off both a special St. Nicholas cookie and a Turkish style dinner. Here are the recipes we used:

Speculaas Cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp salt
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
Optional: Icing

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind. 

Sift the spices and salt with the flour and baking powder, and stir gradually into the butter mixture. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. (If you are like me and forget to read ahead that the recipe calls for chilling, you can speed the process up by sticking the dough in the freezer for 20 minutes). 

On a floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thick. If you are going to make large cutouts, you may want to make the dough a little thicker. Cut out with cookie cutters, or with a sharp knife. You can also just cut the dough in squares. You can even use a cookie mold with this dough- or shape the dough by hand. 

Place the cookies on greased baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until set and lightly browned. Larger cookies will take longer. I like my cookies soft- so I remove them when they just set. 

You could decorate these cookies with your favorite icing or glaze when cool. Makes about 3 dozen. 

Adapted from: A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz

This was my first attempt at making cut-out cookies with a toddler- and it proved more challenging than I anticipated! Jonathan was more interested in eating the dough than anything else and threw a little mini-fit when I wouldn't let him. So we made about half of the cookies, and then I stuck the rest of the dough in the refrigerator to finish later. There's no point in making cookies if it isn't fun for all involved!

There are some nice St. Nicholas cookie cutters out there (which was recommended by the recipe). I think I may try to obtain one for next year. This year, we used angels and stars to cut out our gingerbread cookies. They were fairly good-- but I think I may increase some of the spices next year as the gingerbread was somewhat mild.

For dinner, I made a variation of this dish. I'm not a mushroom fan, so I omitted the mushrooms. I added green pepper as well as red and used a can of diced tomatoes since I didn't have any fresh on hand. I served the chicken on a bed of brown basmati rice. My husband really liked it so it's going into our family cookbook.

It was a fun St. Nicholas Day celebration! I hope we can continue and add to these traditions in the years to come!

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Saint Nicholas Day!

Growing up, I attended a Catholic elementary school. Not only did we celebrate Advent, but we also celebrated Saint Nicholas Day! In the morning when we arrived at school, we would leave one of our standard uniform shoes outside the classroom door. At some point during the morning, "Saint Nicholas" would come and leave a treat in each child's shoe. It was usually a little candy cane-- but it was quite a fun tradition as a child.

When I attended college my roommate's mother had a tradition that interested me. She wanted the focus of Christmas to be celebrating the birth of Jesus. Therefore, "Santa" came on St. Nicholas Day and filled each child's Christmas stocking. Presents were still exchanged between family members on Christmas Day, but they  would also make a birthday cake for Jesus and have a present for Him. It struck me as a good way to still have some Santa-style fun, but keep the focus of Christmas on Christ, where it belongs.

Now that I have my own children, I'm excited to begin our own Saint Nicholas Day traditions! This year, our celebration is going to be quite simple, but I hope to add some traditions as the children get older.

Who was Saint Nicholas?

Saint Nicholas is the real man behind the legends of Santa Claus.He lived from about 280-343 AD. He was from the town of Myrna, which is in present day Turkey. He dedicated his life to serving God and became the Bishop of Myrna while still a young man. He was well known for his acts of generosity and many stories are told about his kind deeds. You can read a full biography here. Nicholas is an excellent hero of the faith to introduce children to and a way to talk about being merciful to those in need.

Celebrating Saint Nicholas

We have had a simple celebration this year. I've ordered stockings for the kids, but they haven't arrived yet. so this year, Jonathan came downstairs to find a little gift at the breakfast table. He got a little train to go with his new train table that some friends gave us this weekend. Gracie had a new little rattle.

This afternoon, we are making some traditional German cookies and, if I have time, I may try to make a Turkish chicken dish for dinner.

So it's a very simple celebration this year for us-- but I look forward to adding new traditions as the children get older! Do you celebrate Saint Nicholas day?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Toddler Friendly Nativity Scene

Last year was Jonathan's first Christmas. We were in the midst of moving back to Chicago, so we didn't decorate or do very much to celebrate. The only thing I did was display my Willow Tree nativity set. This year, I'm so excited to be able to decorate- especially since Jonathan's a bit older and will be able to understand a little more of what's going on around him.

Last year, I spotted this Fisher Price Little People Nativity set and I knew I wanted it for Jonathan. I love my Willow Tree set, but I believe it's important for children to have a nativity set they can play with and manipulate. We had the Little People Noah's Ark set, and I knew the nativity would be perfect for a toddler to handle.

This year I was delighted to receive it from a dear friend shortly after Grace's birth. We pulled it out yesterday and Jonathan loved it.  I used the people to reenact the Bible story and then I let him play with the figures as he wished. We repeated the story again today. His favorite part is pressing the button to hear "Away in a Manger"! I'm ordering the three wise men set for him as well.

Playing with his nativity

He likes it!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Yesterday was the official beginning of Advent. Many Protestant churches do not emphasize Advent, but I love this time of year! I grew up going to Catholic schools where Advent was celebrated and it always seemed like a magical time of the year. Now, as an adult, I've come to appreciate the meaning behind Advent. 

Objectively, advent remembers Israel's longing for the Messiah. The prophets had foretold a Messiah would come to deliver Israel, and Israel was hopefully waiting for the Messiah to come. 

But for us, as Christians, it also should inspire longing in our lives. Longing for Christ to come anew into our busy lives. In the midst of a busy season full of Christmas preparations, advent calls us to reflect. It's a time to prepare spiritually to celebrate His coming. It is also a time to reflect on the expectation that at the end of history, Jesus will rescue the world and establish His kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth. We, like Israel, are waiting for the Messiah to come. 

There's a lot of meaning to this season. And I want to share and create traditions for my children. Right now, they are to young to fully understand the significance of Advent and Christmas. But I can be planting seeds. 

Here are some more Advent articles, if you are interested in learning more about this season:

Thanksgiving Recap

The last couple weeks were very full for our family. Unexpectedly, I had some (minor) outpatient surgery on my hand that left me unable to type. Then we traveled down to central Illinois to spend a week with my husband's family. Grace got to meet some of her relatives for the first time!

Anyways, we continued to do activities about Baby Moses, which I hope to share in a later post... I'm still pretty new to this blogging thing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching Character Concepts to Preschoolers

As I shared in a previous blog post, I've been trying to think through how to teach my children about the Lord. I love working with Jonathan and teaching him about shapes, colors, numbers, and letters. But ultimately, the most important thing I can teach him is about God. Related to that is trying to build up his character so that he reflects the God who made him.

Charlotte Mason wrote that a child's home life impacts his or her character and future more than any other influence. Therefore, it's important that we consider our children's strengths and weaknesses and try to help them develop godly character traits. But how do we do this?

Over at Sarah Mae's blog, she's hosting a giveaway of a spectacular looking resource- Character Concepts for Preschoolers. It looks like something I could even simplify for my toddler. Head on over and enter the giveaway!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Peek A Boo!

Peek-a-Boo is a classic game to play with babies. Even the littlest babies can enjoy peek-a-boo. Jonathan (22 months) enjoys playing with his little sister (3 months).

Source: Flickr
Just in case you're not familiar with Peek-a-Boo- you basically cover your eyes  while your child is looking at you and then uncover them and say "Peek-a-boo!" As your child grows older, he or she can play along with you!

One way we play is by asking "Where's Mommy? Peek-a-boo!" This gets me grins from Grace.

You can also play with a translucent scarf- cover your face with the scarf and then remove it quickly and say "Peek-a-boo!" Sometimes I use the scarf to tickle Gracie (or Jonathan).

We've recently enjoyed playing Peekaboo along to a track on the album BabyFace. You can hear a sample of the song here.

Another favorite is playing Peek-a-boo with these words:

God above...

Gives us love!

I love you!

God does, too!

From Playtime Devotions by Focus on the Family

Do you have any Peekaboo games you like to play?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Baby Moses- Books

Here are some of the books we're reading as part of our Baby Moses lesson:

The Baby in the Basket by Jennifer Rees Larcombe

This is a simple retelling of the Bible story that is meant for preschool children. The text makes it a very fun read-aloud that toddlers will also enjoy. I like how this book emphasizes God's plan for His people and even includes questions to discuss the book with your children (they would work best for preschool and up).

Find this book in a library
Purchase through Amazon:

Moses in the Bulrushes by Heather Amery

This Usborne Bible tell book is another book that we've enjoyed. This is another retelling aimed at preschoolers, yet is simple enough that a toddler would enjoy. We enjoy the pictures in this book a little more, but this book does not mention God in the story, which is a major oversight.

Find this book in a library
Purchase through Amazon:

These are the best books that I've found to read aloud to toddlers. We checked out a few other Baby Moses books from our library, but these two stood out the most. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Baby Moses- Songs

I found a couple of songs online to go with our Baby Moses lesson.

Itty Bitty Moses
by Len
sing to the tune of "the Itsy Bitsy Spider"

Itty bitty Moses was crying in his room,
Then came his mommy and sang a little tune.
"Hush little baby, the Lord will be your guide,
And no one will ever harm you,
for God is by your side."

Into a tiny basket, the baby Moses went,
Placed into the Nile, and to the palace sent.
"Hush little baby, the Lord will be your guide,
And no one will ever harm you,
for God is by your side."

Lovely Pharaoh's daughter saw Moses in the Nile,
Picked him up and loved him, raised him as her child.
"Hush little baby, the Lord will be your guide,
And no one will ever harm you,
for God is by your side."

Baby Moses He is Born
by Rebecca Strickland 
sing to the tune of London Bridge
Baby Moses, He is born
He is born, He is born
Baby Moses, He is born
Hurry, hide him!

Mama makes a basket bed,
basket bed, basket bed
Mama makes a basket bed
Hurry, hide him!

Moses floating in the Nile, 
In the Nile, in the Nile
Moses floating in the Nile
Miriam is watching

Moses in the bulrushes
bulrushes, bulrushes
Moses in the bulrushes
Miriam is watching

Pharaoh's daughter picks him up
picks him up, picks him up
Pharaoh's daughter picks him up,
God protected Moses. 
(modified by me)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Baby Moses- Part Two

After we set up the story, talking about the Hebrews working for the mean king, I told Jonathan how the mean king was scared because there were so many Hebrew people. So the mean king decided to take all the baby boys away. [I didn't feel it was appropriate to talk about how the Pharaoh decided to murder the baby boys-- Jonathan isn't quite two yet and I felt he was too young to understand such a scary topic.]

Then we used the second picture from Sunday School Fun Zone. We talked about how there was a mommy that had a little baby boy. The Bible says that he was not an ordinary child. He was a beautiful baby. His mama loves him very much and wants to protect him from the mean king. She hid him for three months. When he got too big to hide, the mama made a little waterproof basket to put the baby in. 

Then we acted out this part of the story, using a baby doll and a basket. We wrapped the baby in a receiving blanket, and talked about how the mama loved her baby boy just like I love Jonathan and Grace. We sang to the baby and put the baby in the basket. This was a good dramatic play activity, although this did not capture his attention as much as the blocks did. He did enjoy pointing out different facial features on the baby doll, but it didn't capture his interest. I'm sure this would work well for other children! 

Our Baby Moses.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Baby Moses- Part One

We are doing a piece of the Baby Moses story each day, adding on as Jonathan's attention span allows. Some days we can spend a good 15 minutes on the story. Other days, I'm lucky if we can do 5 minutes. But that's okay. I just want him to have fun learning about God!

To make the story come to life, I printed out story pages from the Little Baby Moses Story at Sunday School Fun Zone. I colored in the pictures, cut them out, laminated them and stuck them onto magnets. I didn't follow the lesson available at the site, but I have incorporated some elements as we talk about the pictures.

The first day we used the picture of the Hebrew slaves. The points we covered were:

The men in the picture look sad. They are the Israelites, the children of God. They lived in Egypt and had to work for a mean king building big towers. Sometimes they were hurt by the king and got boo-boos. Did God see what was happening to his people? Yes. God loves His people and watches over them. The people were so sad, they prayed to God. God always hears our prayers.

Afterward, we went into our playroom and built a pyramid from our big cardboard blocks. He had a lot of fun building the tower as high as possible and insisted that Bob the Tomato be put on top. (I have no idea why!) This was a fun gross motor skill activity that really helped the story sink in.

Building our pyramid!

When my husband came home, Jonathan seemed to remember the story. He told my husband that the men were "sad" and when we asked what the men did when they were sad, he said "pray". Then he had more fun building towers with my husband pretending to be an Egyptian overseer: "Build Higher! Higher!" They built a tall tower and then had fun knocking it down. Typical boys! :)

Besides imparting a spiritual lesson (God cares about us and listens to our prayers), this was also good for building listening/comprehension skills and working on some motor skills. I think we both had fun!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Teaching the Bible to Little Ones

As a Christian, my faith is very important to me and I feel responsible for bringing up my children in the knowledge of the Lord. I've wrestled a bit with how to teach Jonathan and Grace about Jesus, especially since they are so young. I believe that even the youngest children need to hear about Jesus and the good news of the gospel.

What I'm attempting right now, is to focus on one particular Bible story/theme at a time. I don't know yet if we will change stories each week, month or somewhere in between. I'm going to try it out for a few months and then hopefully I'll have a better idea of what works best for us.

We're currently focusing on the story of Baby Moses from Exodus 1 and 2. In my upcoming posts, I'll share what we've done so far. Hopefully it will be a fun series!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Favorite Black/White Board Books

For Fridays, I thought it would be fun to talk about some of my favorite black and white books that I've read with my babies.

I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy.

This book has been my favorite, by far. It is a charming story about woodland animals bragging about how they played with a new baby duckling. It has big, bold, black and white illustrations with dashes of bold color. Both of my children have enjoyed this board book so far. And, best of all, it ends with a big kiss! What's not to enjoy? It is now out of print, but you can find used copies to purchase or borrow the book from your local library.

Find this book in a library
Purchase Through Amazon:

Black & White by Tana Hoban

This accordion-style  book depicts white (or black) objects against a black (or white) background. The objects are all simple silhouettes. You can use this book to describe objects to baby or prop it open for baby to look at during tummy time.

Find this book in a library
Purchase through Amazon:

Art for Babies

I checked this book out of our local library to use with my daughter. The wonderful thing about this book is it includes 12 designs from modern artists, so it's like a little art appreciation thrown into a large board book format. It also includes some pictures that you can hang in your nursery or playroom for baby to look at while you do a diaper change. This large book is also perfect for propping up for your child to look at during tummy time.

Find this book in a library
Purchase through Amazon:

Hello Animals! by Smitri Prasadam

We recently checked this book out of our library and my little girl loved it. Everytime I pulled the book out, she would smile at the pictures! It has a cute little animal on each page and each page has a hint of colored foil. It really caught her attention and is a new favorite!

Find this book in a library

Purchase through Amazon:

Note: I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a very small commission should you choose to purchase these resources through their website. However, I'd also encourage you to find these books in your local library and have included a Worldcat link for your convenience.  

How to Make Visual Stimulation Cards for Baby

You can easily make your own black/white patterns or mobile: Use a black marker to draw patterns on a sheet of white paper. You can do checks, zigzags, stripes, dots or stars. Cut the paper into small squares and glue one on each side of a piece of cardboard of the same shape. If making for a mobile, you may want to consider gluing aluminum foil to the back side of the cardboard (it will catch the light). Cover with contact paper.

Also see a unique website: fussybaby for a PowerPoint slide show of black and white designs for baby!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Visual Stimulation Activities

One of the things I have done with both of my children as newborns was to do some visual stimulation activities.

What is visual stimulation?
Research shows that black and white patterns help stimulate a baby's brain.
In the first couple weeks of life, a baby's eyes are adjusting to the world. Almost everything appears fuzzy, but babies can see black and white shapes, especially those that are in a pattern. These patterned images help the baby's vision and brain to develop by stimulating those receptors.

Note: Research has also shown that newborns can only focus on objects 8-12 inches away from them. Therefore, try to stay within that space when interacting with your newborn.

Also, be wary of over-stimulation. Although you want to help your newborn learn, you want to be careful not to overstimulate baby. Infants can get overstimulated very easily and therefore experience stress. 5 or 10 minutes of looking at pictures may be all your newborn can handle! See how to handle overstimulation

What Activities Can You Do?

Here are some ideas...

Hang black and white pictures or cards up in an area where baby can see them (such as in the crib, the diaper changing area, or near a bouncy seat)

Make a black and white mobile

Hang laminated black and white pictures from a baby gym

Play tracking games with the black and white pictures

Make a black/white picture book for baby

Show and read black/white books to baby
Make a PowerPoint (or some other slide show) program for baby to watch with black/white designs.
And you can always buy some visually stimulating toys

These are great activities that are easily portable!

Shake a Rattle

A baby can begin to recognize and focus on objects, especially familiar ones. The more your baby sees, the more he will want to look around and see more! Babies need sensory stimulation.

Sit your baby in an infant seat. Hold a rattle about 18-inches from his face. Shake the rattle a few times. Pause. Does your baby seem to focus on the rattle? Shake it some more. Each time you do so, look and see if baby is focusing on the rattle. Do this only for a few minutes each time- you don't want to overstimulate your little one!

You can also use rattles to help your baby track or find an object. Shake the rattle at one side of his head and see if baby tries to find the rattle. Have fun!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Smiling Games

At eight weeks old, we' finally enjoyed Gracie's first real smile. Babies typically smile sometime in the first couple months. It's so reassuring to see your baby recognize and acknowledge you! Smiling becomes a new way for your little one to communicate with you.

The first thing you should do is smile at your baby! Smiles are reassuring to babies-- so be sure to smile at her often!

I would sing Gracie a song about smiling to encourage her (sing to Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

Smile, Smile, Smile at Me
And I will smile at you
Every time you give a smile
It always turns to two!
(words by Pam Schiller)

Another thing you can do is to gently  Tickle baby gently under chin, under belly, etc. We like to do this to the "Feather Play" song from Kimbo's Baby Games CD.

And there's always the classic Peekaboo!

Tinker Bell Socks

Sometime during the first month or so, babies begin to realize that they can make things happen! Although your little one has a short attention span and a short memory, she will begin to repeat actions that have an effect on the world around her.

One of the ways you can do this is by putting wrist/ankle rattles on your baby. You can either buy some pre-made ones or you can easily make them yourself by attaching jingle bells to socks!

Put the rattles or socks on your baby. Sit baby in an infant seat and move her hand or foot with your hand to make the rattle sound. Repeat with the other foot or hand. Play until she understands that moving her hands/feet will ring the rattles!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sensory Activities for Newborns

I'm learning that it's important to provide a stimulating environment for a newborn. One way to do this is by trying to stimulate the five senses:

- talk with her
- sing to her
- play music in the background
- have a musical mobile

- place your face near hers when you talk with her
- show baby toys such as rattles or stuffed animals
- provide stimulating black and white images for her to look at

- hug, pat, kiss and rock your baby
- take her for a walk in the stroller
- walk around with baby in your arms
- dance with baby
- have baby feel different textured fabrics

- if you wear perfume, put a drop on baby's blanket
- put an article of your clothing in a safe place in baby's crib

(note: you can't do much with taste yet!)
- feed baby when she's hungry
- provide a pacifier or allow baby to suck her thumb


A good activity for a newborn baby is simply to swaddle your child in a blanket and snuggle! My children enjoyed being swaddled up tightly the first few months. Sometimes we just snuggled and rocked. Sometimes we danced gently to music!

Babies need to be cuddled and loved. Swaddling helps a baby feel secure. Wrapping your baby up can also help your child sleep more peacefully as they will not startle themselves awake. But, if you choose to swaddle, it's best to start during the first few weeks of your baby's life.

For the first couple months, we would swaddle their whole body. After 2 months, we would leave their arms free so they could explore. We always used a swaddle blanket. But you can easily swaddle with a receiving blanket. See this helpful video for instructions:

Monday, November 1, 2010

What Can My 0-3 Month Old Do?

Now that we have a baby in the house, I've been refreshing myself on infant development. It's helpful to know what some milestones are, so that you can choose developmentally appropriate activities!

Here's a list of some of the things a 0-3 month old can do. I am not listing when these skills emerge, because every baby is different. However, I am listing them from easiest (newborn) to more advanced (~3 months) skills.

  • feel, taste, smell, and hear
  • move arms and legs
  • cry when in need
  • enjoy being held and spoken to
  • see things 8-12" away
  • begin to turn head
  • make eye contact
  • look at clear simple pictures or designs
  • grasp a small object briefly
  • make cooing sounds
  • lift head
  • smile
  • imitate expressions
  • study hands and feet
  • follow toys from side to side
  • reach for an object or a person
A helpful chart can be found at the Family Enrichment Program Website. 

Playing with Your Newborn

What can I do with my newborn that is educational? After all, they just eat, sleep, and fill their diapers all day, right?  Playing educational games with a newborn may seem like a foreign concept.

But these early months are important. You want to provide a stimulating environment so your little one can learn about the world them. You want your baby to feel welcomed and safe!

This is a challenge for me. I know it's easier for me to come up with playful ideas for my toddler than my newborn. So, I've been reading about different games and activities to do with Gracie. Some of these I did with Jonathan (but forgot about), others are new to me.

So for this first week, I thought would share some ideas here, both as a challenge to myself and to help inspire others!
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