Making Christmas Cards & Decorating Christmas Trees with Children

Christmas Tree Cards

Decorating Christmas Trees

Christmas Crafts for kids

I posted recently about making our own Christmas Crackers (bonbons). I also like making our own Christmas cards. It’s nice because it’s an activity in itself and you can theme it around your children’s skills / ages. Christmas stickers or stamps are good way place to start with toddlers; or save their paintings through the year and turn those into cards!

Christmas Tree cards

This year, I decided to print a Christmas tree template and trace around it on a sheet of green felt. I also picked up a shiny bag of beautiful decorations that included everything from stars, to shells, to butterflies, to Christmas greetings. I wanted to make Christmas tree cards that would let Miss 3 be creative and feel involved.

Christmas Tree cards

Christmas trees and decorations

Ingredients

  • Green felt
  • Stickers / glitter / craft shapes
  • Card stock / paper
  • Scissors
  • Craft Glue / P.V.A. / glue gun
  • Blu-tak
  • Baking paper
  • Double sided sticky foam squares (like for scrapbooking)

Directions

  1. Create a Christmas tree template on paper / cardboard. Trace around it on green felt and cut out all of the trees that you need. (An adult will need to do this for toddlers / preschoolers; older children may be able to do all of the steps themselves).
  2. Blu-tak the felt onto a large sheet of baking paper. This helps keep them in place while busy little hands decorate them and also raises them off the paper a little in case the glue soaks through.
  3. Glue the decorations onto the trees. Craft glue will need to set over night, whereas a glue gun has the advantage of setting almost immediately.
  4. Make plain cards by folding the card stock / paper. Once the glue is dry, use the double sided sticky foam squares to attach the trees to the cards. These have a nice effect as they raise the tree slightly and make the cards look a bit prettier but you can just as easily glue the trees on if you wish.
  5. Ta da! Now you have a beautiful collection of cards and each one is unique.
Decorating Christmas Trees

Decorations on Christmas Trees

 

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Making Christmas Crackers (Bonbons)

How to make Christmas Crackers (Bonbons)

Have a Ka Pai Kiwi Christmas!

I posted last year about how easy it is to make your own Christmas Crackers (bonbons). I love that personalizing them means that you have full creative license to create different themes each year. Last year, we did a Christmas theme for the visual aesthetic and I hand decorated wooden beads (my daughter still has them!). This year I thought I would celebrate New Zealand’s summer with an ocean theme as well as changing the gifts inside to match Miss 3’s interests (she has autism and adores things in miniature).

Ingredients 

  • Cracker snaps
  • Cardboard tubes (inner tubes from paper towels are perfect,  just cut in half).
  • Your choice of cracker filling.
  • Blue crepe paper
  • Shells
  • Twine
  • Sellotape
  • Scissors
  • Super glue (or glue gun)

Note: Davids Emporium  sells cracker snaps for 30 cents each just ask at the sales counter.

For the inside, I did little plastic bags containing: Christmas joke, stickers, and a miniature Christmas cookie / Christmas pudding etc. These will inevitably get gifted to Miss 3 for her dollhouse 🙂  They are adorable and were a wonderful find in the button / crafts section, again at  Davids Emporium.

Directions

  1. Take a cracker snap and place it inside in your tube (it should stick out each end with a comfortable amount to pull on). Lightly sellotape it at each end to hold in place.
  2. Assemble your cracker filling and slide it into the tube. I put mine in a tiny sealed plastic bag.
  3. Roll the tube in crepe paper and tie at each end with twine;  make sure that you have enough paper at each end to cover the cracker snap that is sticking out & to comfortably pull it.  Super glue (or glue gun) on the sea shells.

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How to overcome writer’s block

hitting-the-wall

 

How do I overcome writer’s block?

The most obvious answer is: write. Life isn’t always that easy though. I have written very little on the blog since the night the ambulance came and took us both to the hospital E.R. My little one was in respiratory distress with croup and I can still vividly picture sitting on my kitchen floor with the lights on, trying to count breaths out loud by keeping a finger on the base of her barely moving throat and praying for the ambulance to hurry. Bless the calm emergency dispatcher talking to me the entire time on the speakerphone cellphone. To further complicate matters, I was desperately trying not to throw up (even more so when three burly paramedics entered the kitchen). I spent the ambulance ride sucking on a homemade ice-block, my unconscious daughter in my arms, trying not to vomit in a very unladylike fashion all over the ambulance interior.

I’m extremely fortunate that my parents live in the same city as me; they spent an hour driving in and arrived around 3am. The nurses then whisked me off to the adult E.R. and I only caught a short glimpse of my daughter the next morning when she got discharged hours before me. I turned out to have a nasty cocktail of gastro, flu, and possibly a sprinkling of croup to top it off. They wanted to keep me in hospital for a few days but that wasn’t an option as a solo parent of a special needs child (with 24/7 care). As it is, she still has nightmares, months later, about being separated from me at the hospital.

The website continued ticking along as if by magic. That’s the wonder of online publishing, you can have posts lined up weeks or months in advance. You can add new ones and shuffle old ones around and simply let things take care of themselves. The website continued looking bright and shiny while, in reality, our lives have been a valley of darkness with quarantine (due to her fragile health), her surgeries to clear her ears, reduce her turbinates, remove her adenoids, and remove her tonsils, and a horrifically painful recovery period.

There’s been the very difficult, painful, time consuming, and paperwork laden process of having her autism, anxiety, and sensory processing disorder identified (as well as the recurrent abdominal pain + Irritable Bowel Syndrome). There’s been all kinds of behavioural and safety issues because she simply could not cope with the world. I haven’t written up posts but I have shared a few about fatigue, disruptive behaviour, sensory anxiety, and the daily struggles of neuro-divergent kids. There all kinds of ways in which she needs extra support and that means my days tend to run for 16-18 hours with hopefully 6 hours sleep.

Take today, for example. She slept in till 4.45am (sleep is a major issue in our household). As well as actively looking after her, there’s been: laundry, changing bed linens, making herb bread rolls from scratch (which also included grinding the sorghum flour and picking the fresh herbs), making bread from scratch, supermarket shopping, mowing the lawns, spraying weed poison along the edges, cooking chicken (pan frying to brown the skin, baking, making chicken stock with the juices and bones, and then making chicken broth soup with dumplings), dishes, so many dishes, giving Miss 3 and the dollies a bath due to a major poo incident, tidying up all the miniature toys that have covered the floor since this morning, practising counting, cutting out cardboard wheels and using push-pins to turn a box into a car, doing occupational therapy / sensory regulation exercises, etc…Her soy allergy, which includes emulsifiers and vegetable oil, as well as needing to follow a Failsafe list of additives to avoid, means a whole foods diet which means a lot of time in the kitchen (both preparing and cleaning!).  The only reason I could do the outdoor stuff or write up this post was because I paid a special needs carer to be with us for 3 hours this afternoon. If it sounds like I’ve chosen a busy day to write about, the reality is that every day is that busy (normally busier because there would often be a medical appointment to fit into the morning as well as everything else) and what’s unusual is that I actually had some help today instead of being entirely on my own.

Our circumstances are isolating so it’s nice to know that there are people from all around the world that read these posts. Hopefully, I will start writing more often – if only because there are so many recipes floating around on scraps of paper!

Autism Answer – Easy Lasagne (low texture)

Yummy and Healthy Lasagne

ASD friendly Lasagne

This new recipe  was a breakthrough moment for me. The last two years have largely (by necessity) revolved around food from the point of view of food allergies and nutrition. I’m now finding myself needing to go a step further and think about recipes from a sensory point of view. Getting Miss 3 to eat meat and protein is an ongoing challenge; her soy allergy alone (especially because it extends to emulsifiers and vegetable oil) mean that I can hardly take her to a McDonalds in desperation and order her a cheeseburger. The secret to this recipe is minimising textures (and a food processor!)

She has until now mostly refused to eat mince (of various flavours and in various forms) although sometimes I’ll get lucky. She quite liked the process of making the Chinese Pork Koftas and it helped that I’ve found a soy & preservative free plum dipping sauce. I was over the moon when she actually ate this and asked for more!

Oh, and to any Italians reading this – I apologise. This recipe is not so much lasagne as it is one of those movies ‘inspired’ by a true life story. I know it would make the judges on MasterChef squirm but the main thing for me is getting a whole pile of nutrition into us simply and easily.

Easy Lasagne

Ingredients

  • 500g beef mince
  • Rice bran oil (for cooking)
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Onion flakes
  • Tomato Passata (400ml)
  • 1 x carrot (grated)
  • Bunch of silverbeet (finely chopped)
  • 400g tin of brown lentils (washed and drained)
  • Dry sheets of lasagna (as many as needed)
  • Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • Tasty or Colby cheese (grated)

Allergies: gluten free*, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Where’s the milk you say? I didn’t make a Bechamel sauce for this recipe for two reasons. One:  she had a sensory anxiety attack at the supermarket (damn those refridgeration unit motors!) so I had to abandon the shop and didn’t get the milk I needed. Two: sometimes when shooting for the stars, you need to aim for the moon first. I was concerned about having three different tastes / textures in a single dish.

Why not use fresh onion and garlic? Because she doesn’t like them (I do). If you’ve ever watched an adult with an aversion to onion try to remove each individual slippery sliver from their plate then you know it’s sometimes better to find a compromise and not sweat the small stuff.

How do I make this gluten free? There are gluten free lasagne sheets available (although they are pricey). For instance, Explore Cuisine do an Organic Green Lentil Lasagne.

Directions

  1. Brown the mince in a frying pan (or electric wok) with a little oil + garlic, salt, and onion.
  2. Add the tomato passata, carrot, silverbeet, and lentils. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on a low heat. Stir as needed.
  3. Grate in some parmesan cheese to taste.
  4. Let this very non-traditional beef ragu cool down for a bit and then blitz it in a food processor. It doesn’t need to be a smooth paste but it should become much more evenly textured (as seen in the photo).
  5. Layer the mince mix in your favourite lasagne dish (or dishes) alternating mince, the pasta sheets, grated cheese. Note: for the top layer of (dry) pasta you may want to add a few tablespoons of water every 10 minutes or so during cooking.
  6. Bake at 160’C for 3-40 minutes. Basically, you’re cooking the pasta and heating the mince. If you’re using a fresh pasta then it will probably cook quicker.

 

Tip: I liked the cheesy crunchy pasta topping and the textural difference on my plate of having both that and the soft pasta. Depending on the textural / sensory preferences of your ASD child, you may want to serve just one of those. I gave Miss 3 the soft pasta and the mince.

 

Mass Consumerism and the Endless Quest for the New

Mass Consumerism: New and Shiny!

New and Shiny!

I’m drafting this at 3.30am in the morning. I’m sitting in pyjamas with my daughter curled up next to me, laptop on my knees, lamplight casting a low glow to contrast the light of the tv; ‘Magic School Bus‘ is teaching us about viral invaders. It sounds all warm and cosy; it is…. except it’s 3.30am in the morning!

Don’t get me wrong, Miss 3 is a crap sleeper but tonight (and the night before) isn’t because of her health concerns. We’re awake because yet another nappy company decided to get on the train of ‘New and Improved!’, ‘All New Look!’, ‘Amazing New Technology!’. I could give two shakes of a rat’s tail for their heavy use of the word ‘new’; what I want in nappies is a reliable steadfast product that works. I have enough sleep deprivation in my life without needing to spend time in the supermarket re-evaluating nappy brands.

It’s not that long since popular nappy company Treasures changed their design causing an uproar amongst parents that eventually moved from social media parenting platforms to the mainstream news. I watched with interest (and respect) as one determined mother took our concerns to the news outlets and with our permission shared our crappy experiences (pun intended).

Now another nappy company, Kiddicare, has decided to follow suit and change their design to a dramatically new look that is eerily similar in look to the new design Treasures nappies. Their website claims “Our new five layer ultra-thin absorbent inner core made from hi-tech fibre makes for a better performing nappy.” Their ‘breakthrough technology’ and ‘non traditional materials’ are presumably meant to attract additional customers and justify a price increase.

The reality is that their old nappies worked. They were well priced and effective which is all I actually want in a nappy. I have had countless leaks from the new ultra-thin nappies during both day and night. Tonight I tried double layering the nappies and her pants; they still leaked (despite her only having a few sips of water before bed!) and I was woken yet again by her feeling cold and chilled in the middle of the night. I’ve already complained to the company (firing off an email at 2.30am yesterday) but that still leaves me having paid for a large box of nappies that have no functional purpose.

I’m frustrated and tired (and regretting that mug of coffee now) by lack of sleep and needing to strip bed sheets in the middle of the night. My ASD daughter does not sleep easily and is very routine focused. To her wake up time means a bottle of formula and cartoons; I know from experience that she will be awake for several hours before I have a chance of easing her into a nap. If I’m super lucky I can sometimes get her back to sleep when she wakes during the night but not once I’ve had to change clothes and sheets.

The question arises why multiple nappy companies are feeling the need to change their design in the first place (and why they haven’t done more product testing before release!). One can only assume it’s because they feel the need to dangle something new and shiny in front of consumers to attract their attention (like we’re nothing more than magpies indiscriminately collecting anything from tinfoil to gold watches) and have forgotten that their core purpose should be deliver something that works. I wish they would instead go with the maxim of ‘If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it’ and instead focus on aesthetics. Why can’t they just release limited edition runs of new prints with collectible cards inside the packs? Tell me all about the wonders of pandas and leopards with accompanying cute prints but have the nappies actually work!

How to make an easy and cheap instrument at playgroup (Musical Maracas)

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

What you need

  • Paper plates (small).
  • Felts, crayons, paint, stickers etc.
  • Wooden beads, sea shells, bells etc.
  • Stapler.

Directions

  1. Help your children to decorate the outside of the plates (don’t forget to write their names on!).
  2. Fold the plate in half (like an empanada) and staple along the edges. Leave a gap at the top.
  3. Hold it upright with the gap at the top. Help your children to drop beads, bells, shells etc. inside their musical instrument; one big toddler sized handful will be about enough.
  4. Staple up the gap, put on some music, and shake!

Note: This is a great activity to do on a rainy day or with a playgroup. For younger toddlers choose larger items to put inside and play with under supervision only; i.e. keep choking hazards in mind.

How to save money and freshen clothes naturally! Pre-soaking laundry using baking soda.

Replace chemical cleaners with a natural and cheap laundry soaking solution!

Replace chemical cleaners with a natural and cheap laundry soaking solution!

Miss 2 has really sensitive skin (and eczema) which means that I’ve needed to look around for non-chemical options for the laundry pre-soak bucket. Funnily enough, sometimes it’s the mid-range brands of ‘Oxygenated Whiteners’ or ‘Nappy Soakers’, which claim to be environmentally friendly and ‘natural’, which cause her to react more. Of course they’re still packed with chemicals and I know it’s just a marketing ploy but it’s easy to want to believe them!

Turns out all I needed was a 1/2 cup baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) dissolved in warm water (a couple of litres half fills my soak bucket). It helps to freshen and soak laundry (and keep it smell free) before it goes in the washing machine.

Tip: Rinse laundry first and handscrub any stubborn stains. Create a paste using four tablespoons of baking soda and ¼ cup of water. After working the paste thoroughly into the stains, apply a little undiluted vinegar.

Tip: Don’t add white vinegar to the soak bucket. Baking soda (base) + white vinegar (acid) will largely cancel each other out and reduce effectiveness. Instead, add white vinegar during the rinse cycle (instead of fabric softener or an anti-bacterial agent) and line dry in the sun if you can.  Vinegar will help to soften hard water, reduce odours, and reduce bugs. Sunlight will also help (especially if you’re washing cloth nappies!)

Winter Crafts: Painting Leaves

A wonderful winter activity can be going for a walk through the woods or local park and talking about how the trees change with the seasons (and how some don’t!).

Collect some leaves and pine cones on your walk and take them home to dry.

Tip: Putting then on newspaper or a towel in the hot water cupboard works well.

Once the leaves are dry they make a wonderful canvas for painting. Again, they dry well in the hot water cupboard and can be hung up for a few days as decorations.

Tip: You could try spraying them with varnish to help them last longer.

Jungle Stories by Miss Almost-3

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle a bird flew through the air singing “Tweet, tweet, tweet”. It went to a beautiful waterfall for a drink of water but SPLOOSH an elephant shot water out if it’s nose (trunk) and got it all wet to be silly. The birdy told the elephant a joke. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a crocodile and some fishes swimming in the river. The crocodile was very hungry so he ate the fishes, SNAP. his tummy was very full and he was happy. BURP. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a giraffe. He stretched his long neck up and ate the juicy leaves. YUM. They went through his tummy and he did a big poop out his anus. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a snake. She went round and round in the warm sun. She says Sss to her FRIENDS, the butterflies. She has a nice cup of tea and reads a book. Then elephant, giraffe, crocodile, and monkey come over for tea. They have a party and give her presents. The end.
Haha she cracks me up! She’s also going through the phase where she LOVES talking about body parts, wee, poo, and farts. What stories do your kids tell you?

Making playdough insects (portable playgroup fun!)

Playdough and straw caterpillar

Making playdough insects

Why not spend a rainy afternoon making homemade playdough and designing your own insects (or animals, or monsters!). It’s a cheap activity that’s also easily transportable to playgroup. Younger toddlers will have fun pushing the legs in and pulling them out again; preschoolers will have fun making their designs happen. Think about putting out some library picture books to help give them ideas!

What you 

  • Playdough (try making your own!)
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Knife (bamboo or wooden ones are great!)
  • Optional: Googly eyes (from craft stores)