What’s for supper? Vol. 321: Fly me to taboon (and let me play among za’atar)

Busy busy! Aren’t we all! Here’s what we had this week, including two birthday cakes (and this is why we don’t really do St. Lucy’s day or St. Nicholas day or what have you. December is already full up): 

SATURDAY
Benny’s birthday party! Pizza and cake

Benny had an ancient Egypt-themed birthday party. More guests than expected showed up, and it was a little bit bananas, and they were less interested in the activities we planned (making necklaces out of clay cartouches with their names in hieroglyphs; getting eye makeup and posing in the sarcophagus photo booth; and doing a toilet paper mummy wrapping contest) and more interested in running around screaming. But we powered through. We decorated with gold and blue plastic tablecloths tacked onto the walls, with details added with a Sharpie. 

and we did get a few sarcophagus shots

and the birthday girl was highly pleased with the cake.

I made two nine-inch square cakes and one deep loaf cake, and just kept carving them up and stacking the pieces on top of each other and sticking them together with icing, and by the time it looked like a pyramid, there was very little left over

I frosted it with tub frosting and pressed colored sugar into the sides, added lines with a toothpick, and then made some camels and trees with chocolate melting discs, and pressed those into the sides, with crushed graham crackers for sand. 

Uh, the reason it says “HAPY BIRTDAY” is because I showed her the cool golden letter candles I had bought, and asked if they were good for her cake, and she said, “Yes, as long as there are 11 of them.” Of course there are 13 letters in “happy birthday,” so I suggested “hapy birtday,” and that worked for her.

This is my #1 parenting rule: Discuss expectations ahead of time, and you will save everyone so much heartache. 

SUNDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, broccoli 

Aldi had a clearance on their bottles of that garlic aioli mayo stuff, so I bought several bottles. I complain a lot when people clutter up my limited cabinet space with unnecessary bottles, but we’re talking about garlic aioli may stuff here. I’m not sharing a picture of my chicken sandwich because I put a disgusting amount of mayo on and it looks obscene. 

I also got crafty real quick on Sunday and did a fast project I’ve been saving the materials for for a while: This pretty pinecone zinnia wreath. 

Some pinecones, not all, really look like zinnias on their undersides, especially if you paint them. I clipped the tops off with garden shears, leaving the central “spine” mostly intact; hot glued them to a grapevine wreath from the thrift store, painted them with tempera, and then picked out a few of the vines of the wreath in two shades of green. I considered adding ribbon or berries, but it’s so bright and simple, I think I like it this way.  The wreath has a kind of wild grass look, which reminds me of Cape Cod, which is where I gathered the pine cones. 

MONDAY
Ham, peas, garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Just in case they forgot who’s the best mother in the whole world: Ham, peas, and mashed potatoes, that’s who. 

Here’s my garlic parmesan mashed potato recipe, should you need it:

Jump to Recipe

TUESDAY
Mussakhan and taboon, feta cheese, pomegranates, meghli and sahlab

This meal really got away from me, in the best way. I had spotted this recipe for mussakhan a while back. It’s apparently the national Palestinian dish, and it’s easy and delicious: Sumac chicken with onions. If you like middle eastern food, this hits all those best notes. It has not just sumac, but allspice, cumin, cinnamon, lemon, and garlic. You slash the chicken (I used drumsticks and thighs) across the grain and rub the marinade in, and let it marinate several hours with sliced red onions, and then you just roast it in the oven. 

What puts it over the top is, right at the end, you brown up some pine nuts in olive oil and sprinkle these over the top, along with some flat leaf parsley and a little extra sumac. 

What puts it into the stratosphere is you serve it oven taboon, which is a dimpled, chewy flatbread which is supposed to be made in a clay oven or at least on a pizza stone, but guess what? I made one big giant slab o’ taboon on a sheet pan in my regular oven and it was AMAZING. 

I had to run out and buy bread flour, so I almost decided to just pick up some store bought pita instead, but I’m so glad I went for the homemade taboon.

Here’s the recipe:

Jump to Recipe

IT’S SO EASY. You guys know I’m kind of a dunce with baking and with bread in particular, but this was an unqualified success. I just mixed up the ingredients in my standing mixer, let it rise for an hour or so, scronched it and let it rest for ten minutes, and then rolled it out and stretched it into the pan, and baked it while the chicken finished cooking.

So at dinner time, I put the piping hot taboon on the table and then I served the chicken right on top of the bread, and poured all the cooking juices over it, and sprinkled the sizzling pine nuts over that, and finished with the parsley and sumac. 

Everyone just grabbed some chicken and tore off whatever bread they wanted and, oh man, it was fantastic. 

I wish I had taken some pictures of the inside of the taboon, but it was just barely browned and crisp on the bottom; the top was a little bit chewy, and the inside was fluffy and pillowy. So nice. The little dimples sop up the juices. 

I also had some feta cheese because I bought too much for spanakopita for Thanksgiving; and I had a bunch of pomegranates I got for Benny’s Egypt party and forgot to serve. So that went perfectly. 

I also suddenly remembered that, this summer, I had bought two pudding mixes: meghli and sahlab.

I had no idea what either of these were; I just liked the names, and I love puddings of all kind. The sahlab required you to add four cups of milk and heat and stir until it thickens, and then you can either drink it as a hot beverage, or else chill and serve as a pudding; the meghli required four cups of cold water, heat and stir to boil, and then chill. 

I chilled them both and served them with dried coconut. (Sorry about the inelegant picture. I was absolutely stuffed with food and could not be bothered to get up and find a pretty ramekin at this point.)

The sahlab had a pleasant silky texture, but tasted very strongly of rosewater and not much else, and I’m not a big fan. Rosewater just tastes like perfume to me. The kids liked it, though. If you like rosewater, I definitely recommend this mix. It was very easy to make.

The meghli was weird but nice. I liked the flavor, which is apparently predominantly anise, caraway, and cinnamon. I didn’t really taste the anise, but really mainly the cinnamon. But the flavor wasn’t really strong enough, though, and it tasted watery, and that was a little off-putting. It was also kind of pulpy. It’s possible I made it wrong, although all I had to do was stir it, so I don’t know how I could have messed it up! I might try it again and see if it comes out different. 

But all in all, a fantastic meal, very popular. Four new foods! It was a little expensive just because of the pine nuts and sumac, but I’m going to shop around and see if I can find them for cheaper, because I want to make this whole meal again. 

WEDNESDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, fries 

It’s been a while. The olive salad turned out particularly nice, who knows why. I threw in two cans of black olives, one jar of green, and one jar of kalamata, a few pepproncini, some mild banana peppers, a bunch of red wine vinegar and olive oil, and a bunch of flat leaf parsley, and I think that’s it. I had some marinated red peppers, but they got shoved into the back of the fridge and froze. 

I served it on baguettes. For meats and cheese, I came up with leftover ham, genoa salami, hard salami, and some good provolone. None of this – not the olive salad, not the meats, not the bread, not the proportions of any of it – is authentic muffaletta, but it tasted good, and hardly anyone went and had cereal, so. 

I’m trying SO hard not to eat a meal’s worth of snacks while I wait for supper time, so instead I made a salami rose 

and that has made all the difference.

THURSDAY
My birthday!

Now I am 48! So far, it’s better than being dead.

The day started out a little squalid, and I drove the kids to school while Damien drove some to the dentist, then I drove to the dentist, while he drove one of them home because we got confused about the work schedule, then I drove some of them from the dentist to school, then I did a little Christmas shopping, then home, then drove the kid to work and picked up a prescription, then went home and had a telehealth doctor visit where I was like “I’m not really fine” and she was like “yes you are” and I was like “oh ok”; and then we had to go to a meeting where they were like, how are you suckers going to pay for your kid to go to Rome, eh? And we were like, duh, I dunno, she managed to sell three pots of poinsettias and we thought that would cover it, but apparently not.

BUT THEN, that was all the things we had to do! and Damien offered to take me wherever I wanted to go, and I really wanted to go get pizza. I chose eggplant, artichoke, anchovy, and garlic, and it was frickin delicious. 

I also laughed my head off because, as I ate, I watched as the cashier tell this teenage boy that he had been noticed trying to walk out with one of the restaurant’s two-foot glittery reindeer decorations hidden under his shirt, and they weren’t going to make a big deal about it because it was Christmas, but he needed to give it back. Teenage boys are so dumb. Just, so dumb. How are they even alive. 

And then we went home and everyone showered me with lovely, thoughtful presents

and Clara had baked me a spectacular cake

It was a coconut cream cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction, to which she had added lime zest and crushed pineapple, both brilliant ideas. Oh, what a moist, wonderful cake. So it was a great birthday! I felt very cherished and cared-for. Also, earlier, I was supposed to pick up the kids from school, but instead Damien did it, and I just took a nap. And he came home with flowers. 

FRIDAY
Pizza

It is a snow day. A snow day that they told us about the day before, so we just turned off the alarms and slept in! I slept kind of late and now I’m scrambling to get caught up. Good thing we’re having pizza. 

 

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs potatoes
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover the with water. Add a bit of salt and the smashed garlic cloves.

  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with lid loosely on until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

  3. Drain the water out of the pot. Add the butter and milk and mash well.

  4. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

taboon bread

You can make separate pieces, like pita bread, or you can make one giant slab of taboon. This makes enough to easily stretch over a 15x21" sheet pan.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups bread flour
  • 4 packets yeast
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp + 3 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.

  2. While it is running, add the olive oil. Then gradually add the water until the dough is soft and sticky. You may not need all of it. Let it run for a while to see if the dough will pull together before you need all the water. Knead or run with the dough hook for another few minutes.

  3. Put the dough in a greased bowl, grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for at least an hour until it has doubled in size.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400. Put a greased pan or a baking stone in the oven to heat up.

  5. If you are making separate pieces, divide it now and cover with a damp cloth. If you're making one big taboon, just handle it a bit, then put it back in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let rest ten minutes.

  6. Using a little flour, roll out the dough into the shape or shapes you want. Poke it all over with your fingertips to give it the characterstic dimpled appearance.

  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until it's just slightly browned.

Quick and easy summer craft: Flower pounding

Here’s a little craft I’ve always wanted to try: Flower pounding. It combines two of our favorite things: Flowers, and hitting stuff. The results were not exactly spectacular, but it was so easy and fast, we want to keep experimenting. Corrie is away at theater camp, so Benny and I did this together. 

The materials:
-Light-colored cloth with a rough weave
-fresh flowers, leaves, and ferns
-parchment paper or wax paper
-a hammer

The procedure:
-Lay the cloth on a surface that can withstand hammering. 
-Arrange the flowers face down on the cloth. 
-Put a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper over them.
-Hammer the heck out of them. 
-Peel up the parchment paper and shake off whatever loose flower material didn’t get pounded into the cloth. You want just the color to be in the cloth.
-If you like, add decoration with markers, paint, embroidery thread, etc.. 

Here is Benny arranging some flowers. We chose ferns, rose petals, pansies, some wild yellow flowers with wide, flat petals (some kind of cinquefoil?), and cow vetch for our first round. We were looking for flowers with deep color and relatively flat blossoms.

And . . . bonk bonk bonk!

It was hard to know when to stop. We didn’t want the flowers to lose definition, but we wanted to make sure we were really driving the material into the weave of the cloth.

It did smell lovely as we pulverized those poor blossoms and ferns. 

Then we peeled the parchment paper up to see what we had . . .

And once we shook and brushed off the excess, the results were not too spectacular.

The ferns were nice, better in some spots than others

and the pansies came through well.

You can see the two different colors on the petals.

You could do a really pretty design, a wreath shape or something, with just ferns and pansies. But you can see the rose petals were faint and blurry.

The cow vetch gave a great, deep color (though much more blue than purple, interestingly!) but lost its shape completely, not surprisingly (the petals are small and fringe-like).

We decided the whole thing needed more color, so we added a day lily and a handful of geranium petals. This is the great thing about this project: You can just keep adding stuff.

and that brightened up the whole thing! The day lily released a surprising amount of dark red and purple when hammered, as well as orange and yellow. 

I did scrape off a bit more petal material after I took this picture, but the color that soaked into the fabric stayed very deep. The geranium petals were hard to separate from the cloth, but they certainly kept their shape and color. 

And there it is! Benny added a birthday message and we sent it off with some cookies. 

If we had more time, this would be a lovely project to combine with embroidery. I would love to experiment with making some symmetrical patterns and designs.

I will admit, I have no idea how well it keeps, but I’m pretty sure it will fade like any dried flower, although putting it behind glass would probably protect it somewhat. It would be smart to spray it with a fixative spray to preserve the colors. 

You could also do this on watercolor paper or canvas. We also wanted to try pounding daisies, white violets, and other light-colored flowers into dark fabric.  

Have you done this craft? Any tips? How long did it last? 

 

Snow day! Bird seed cakes, hot chocolate, sugar cookies, and 6-sided snowflakes

Continue reading “Snow day! Bird seed cakes, hot chocolate, sugar cookies, and 6-sided snowflakes”

For the rest of Advent, try screen-free evenings

Every year, I threaten it. Some years we actually try it. This year, we’re doing it! We’re screen free from seven to nine o’clock during Advent. 

It may not sound like a big deal, but in our house there are . . . a lot of screens. Phones, tablets, laptops, game systems. It’s really hard to moderate how much time we spend on them, and I’m the worst offender. I won’t bother to go into a long description of why too much screen time is bad for us. Everybody knows this already.

Instead, I’ll describe what happens when 7 PM comes during Advent. I look at the time and start yelling, “SCREEN FREE! SCREEN FREE!” The wifi gets shut off and devices get put away. Everyone is cranky and annoyed. People petition for exceptions. Someone lopes off to the bathroom and stays in there for a suspiciously long time. 

Then, within ten minutes, acceptance sets in, and people find something to do. Sometimes it’s a mother’s dream come true, like yesterday. During the hours of seven and nine, the kids cheerfully played Monopoly together.

One kid sketched, my husband stretched out on the couch and read his book, and a teenager practiced Christmas carols on a ukulele. My daughter brought out her baby parakeet, who sought adventure in her pants pocket.

I called my dad, then I realized I had enough energy to try a stupid craft with those toilet paper tubes I’ve been saving. I poured myself a glass of wine and crafted contentedly in the kitchen to the sounds of gentle music, laughter, and peace under the Christmas lights. 

Sometimes it’s not that idyllic. Sometimes people are mad at me for my stupid Advent ideas, and try to hide their phones under a blanket. Sometimes I’m the one who’s mad about my stupid Advent idea, and I use the time to angrily scrub out the tub. Sometimes people pass the time by kicking each other. Sometimes we decide we just can’t hack it, and we have to put on the TV. The other day, as soon as I put my phone down, I fell into a profound, drooling sleep and dreamt the moon was falling out of the sky. Sometimes Damien falls asleep on the couch and people poke his face. Sometimes the kids just pull a solid two-hour mope and then leap back onto their phones like they need them to breathe. 

Nevertheless! It works out well more often than not. People are reading more, spending more time making things, and spending more time together. We really do like each other, overall, and when we’re deprived of our electronics, we remember how to spend time together again. We’re getting to bed on time more often. I can put music on in the living room, because no one’s playing Mario Kart or Just Dancing to something loathsome. Sometimes people pick out songs on the piano that usually gets ignored.  And then, as I mentioned, sometimes we just nap. It’s just quieter and nicer, a good way to make the season stand apart from the rest of the year. 

There’s still some Advent left. You should try it!

That’s it. That’s the post. 

Oh, wait, here are some pictures of my stupid crafts. They are pretty self-explanatory. These are made of toilet paper tubes, stapes, and gold spray paint:

I guess they will go on the tree? Or I can just hang them from threads from the ceiling. Shiny! This one stands up by itself.

and these are made of foam-core board cut with a kitchen knife.

If you make two of the same shapes, you can cut one halfway up and one halfway down, and then fit them together to make three-dimensional shapes.

Well, obviously they were already three-dimensional, but you know what I mean. They didn’t turn out like I hoped, but I invested too much time in them not to follow through, so I hung the damn things on the porch and I expect they’ll be there until June. I did spray them with something that called itself “clear glitter sealant,” which turned out to be just plain clear, and not glittery in the slightest. Probably glitter would have just made the porch look more squalid anyway, if possible. 

Oh, the other evening, we just made paper snowflakes out of coffee filters. They are already round, and you can fold them in half, then into wedges in thirds, so they come out as hexagons when you unfold them.

There are a lot of things I feel like we don’t have time and energy to do, but it turns out I’m usually just too distracted to get around to them. Anyway, Happy Advent, you miserable old building and loan. That’s it. That’s the post. 

Advent resources cheat sheet!

Advent is coming up! Here is my basic list of Advent resources. These are all things you can do quickly and easily, if you stay calm. Remember, nobody does everything! It’s okay to say, “That looks nice, but I know I’ll make everyone miserable if I attempt it, so we’ll skip it this year.”

Advent chains to print out, designed by my sister, Abby Tardiff. Cut them out, make a paper chain, and cut one each day of Advent and read what’s inside. See the chains of sin and death getting shorter and shorter until Jesus comes! Kablammo! You can tape them to purple or pink strips of paper if you like. (This version starts on Dec. 1, so you’ll have to fudge a tiny bit. We never manage to do this every day anyway, so I figure it will even out.)

Jesse tree ornaments and scripture readings. This could be a very quick project if you have low ambitions and energy. Just cut out a bunch of cardboard discs and draw a simple picture on each one, then hang them with a paper clip. (Again, these start on Dec. 1. Not a deal breaker.) 

Some years, I am feeling more ambitious, and we use paint markers and capiz shells (those are both affiliate links) to make Jesse tree ornaments, and they turned out pretty good. Yeah, I splurged on something with pre-drilled holes, and that has made all the difference.

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

We make Jesse Tree ornaments the day after Thanksgiving (which is just a few days before Advent starts this year). This is officially the first day I allow kids to play Christmas music in the house. My favorite album is A Medieval Christmas by The Boston Camerata; the kids generally favor Christmas songs sung by goats.

When we can manage it, we take turns reading the appropriate reading and hanging an ornament each night before Christmas. I think we have a pre-lit fake miniature tree in the attic, but if not, we can probably find an evergreen sapling and stick it in a bucket of rocks. Some years, I lopped off a bare tree branch and hung that on a wall. You could also make a paper tree poster.

More nightly advent stuff: 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, words for all eight verses I don’t want to hear any grousing! It’s a good song. We start out singing two verses, then add two verses each week.

Sunday prayers for the Advent wreath

Advent candles. (Affiliate link) 

You can sometimes find pink and purple candles just in the regular candle section of Walmart or whatever, not specifically packaged for Advent, of course.

If you don’t have colored candles, you can use regular candles and tie purple and pink ribbons on, or even make a colored cuff halfway up with construction paper. Do not attempt to dye white candles with melted crayons. I beg of you.

How to make a good-enough Advent wreath because it’s gonna be dark anyway:

Buy a cheapo twisted twig wreath at the dollar store, then use about forty yards of thread to strap evergreen branches down thoroughly. It’s hard to attach candles to they stand up, so you can find glass candle holders and the dollar store and set inside the wreath.  Put the whole thing on a pizza pan, so you can easily move it off the table and store it in a safe, unpunchable place when it’s not in direct use. Little berries and pinecones and bells and doves are nice, but so it just plain greenery: Green for hope, round for eternity.

You can also just sort of heap evergreens in a bundle or in a basket, but then you’ll miss the imagery of the circle. But green is good.

Another very easy Advent tradition that we manage to keep as a family most years: “fast” from dessert except on Sundays. I take what money I would have spent, and buy extra food for the church’s food pantry.

Most years, we also make a stab at going screen-free from 7:00-9:00. We don’t manage it every day, and it’s not always fruitful when we do, but sometimes it really, really is. Try it!

And finally: Get to confession. Here are a few different examinations of conscience. Do that during Advent, and you did Advent right. Ta dah!

Who’s got other resources to share? Feel free to leave links to anything relevant in the comments.

Even you can make this Thanksgiving centerpiece

The other day, because I was overwhelmed by the way we hadn’t put away sandals and sneakers but we had taken out boots, and the way we hadn’t put away light jackets but had taken out snow pants, and by how all of these things were on the dining room floor and everyone was stepping on them with their muddy feet while eating corn flakes, and also there was a broken washing machine in the dining room, I got out my hot glue gun.

Here, I should warn you that this craft post is just a craft post. I have no larger point about life and failure and beauty and self-knowledge. Sometimes a glue gun is just a glue gun.

We had a leftover pumpkin that nobody carved on Halloween, so I started doodling flowers and leaves on it with hot glue.

When I ran out of ideas, I Googled “quilling flower patterns,” because quilling designs are made with strips of paper, so I figured that would translate well into hot glue lines.

Then I filled in the gaps with squiggles, spirals, leaves, and little chains of circles.

I had the idea that if I spray painted it gold, it would would look like A Thing. And I wasn’t wrong!

I am a huge sucker for anything spray painted gold, and I thought it was pretty like this.

BUT THEN, I realized I could peel the hot glue off, and it would have a sort of batik effect. AND I WASN’T WRONG.

 

I can’t be the only one who’s discovered you can do this, but I’m still very proud of myself.

Plus, it was tons of fun to pull off the hot glue shapes. They held together surprisingly well, and stayed intact.

 

I was afraid the paint on the pumpkin would chip or get scratched as I picked the glue off, but it did not, so I let Corrie help peel.

 

I used Rust-oleum American Accents 2x Extra Cover metallic bright gold, but I have no idea if that’s the only kind of paint you can use on pumpkins or what. Also, I let it dry for three days before I had time to bring it back inside, so I would say “let dry thoroughly” — both the glue and the paint, before you try to peel anything.

Also, I now have these excellent flexible gold shapes to play with. Maybe I will put them on the Advent wreath or something.

So, here it is: My attempt at a fancy centerpiece.

So you could put this in the middle of a wreath, in a basket, on a platter, or whatever, and put greenery or little pumpkins or candles or whatever shit you have lying around. I just grabbed the wool blanket for the contrast, but a smaller cloth in green or purple or brown would look swell.

You can see that I actually had little, centerpiece-size pumpkins lying around, too. If I had actually planned this project out, rather than goofing around to put off work, I would have used them but I still like it. No doubt the kids will have carved “PEE FART” into it before the day is up, but at least my camera beat the little creeps. They haven’t eaten all my flowers yet, so that’s something.

 

You could also write “LIVE LAUGH LOVE” on it, instead of flowers and leaves, what do I care. Write “HAPPY THANKSGIVING.” You could have a series of mini pumpkins laid out across your mantelpiece spelling out “T-H-A-T-S-E-N-O-U-G-H -P-I-E- A-U-N-T -B-R-E-N-D-A.” Be bold and fierce with chevrons; no one’s stopping you.

 

5 easy crafts for preschoolers (and their color-starved moms)

Maybe it’s different where you live, but here, there still isn’t any green. Just brown, tan, black, white, and grey. I know it’s Lent and it makes sense to look out the window and feel terrible, but I just can’t take it. I resorted to  . . .

Craft day.

In about half an hour, we came up with five very simple crafts that my five-year-old could do with almost no help. These are all projects that make the house brighter and more colorful, and that cost almost nothing to make. To make all five, you’ll need wax paper, colored tissue paper, paper plates, thread, glue sticks, paints and/or food coloring, scissors, clothespins, and pipe cleaners.

#1: Stained glass mosaics

Cut or tear colored tissue paper into squares or shapes. Lay out a sheet of wax paper, and run a glue stick all over it. Stick the tissue paper on the wax paper, in a design or at random. Stained glass!

 

#2: Tissue paper garden

This one is more fun to make than it is fun to look at.

Take a paper plate (always have paper plates on hand!), and color it green or brown, or glue green or brown paper on it. Cut colored tissue paper into little squares, wrap a square around the eraser end of a pencil, dab some glue on the end, and dab the gluey end onto the paper plate. Lift away the pencil, and — boop! — you’ve “planted” a frilly little flower. Plant as much or as few as you like.

You can also cut long strips of green paper and fringe half of it, so it looks like a comb. Fold it the long way, glue the unfringed side onto the plate, so the fringed half sticks up, and you have a row of grass.

#3: Flower garland

We made a lot of paper snowflakes this winter, so now we put those skills to use to make flowers. You want to start with a rough circle of tissue paper or colored paper.  (You can also use coffee filters, but, being white, they may look too snowflake-y.) You can trace a coffee can if you like. Fold it into a semicircle, then fold it in half again into a triangle, and then again into a smaller triangle, if you can.

To make a basic flower, cut the curved end into scallops or a jagged edge. Then snip off the point. Open it up carefully, and you have a sweet flower.

You can string a bunch of these on thread and make a little garland to brighten up the window.

 

#4: Coffee filter butterflies

Paper coffee filters absorb paint very nicely. Paint whatever designs you like on a coffee filter. If you get the paper wet, the colors will spread and blend.

Pinch the coffee filter in the middle to make butterfly wings. Clip them in place with a clothespin. For antennae, bend a pipe cleaner in half, twiddle the ends, and clip the bent part into the clothespin along with the wings.

If you like, you can add eyes with markers or googly eyes.
#5: Coffee filter planets

Flatten out some coffee filters. Put them on a plate, and get them nice and wet. Then take them, one by one, and drip watercolors or food coloring onto them. Then set them away somewhere to dry completely. (The washing machine or dryer is a good place to dry wet crafts, because you can wipe it clean afterwards.) Food coloring is more fun to work with, but it does stain skin, clothes, and hard surfaces, so be aware!

They get a gorgeous marbled effect, and look like glowing planets if you hang them in the window.

***

These projects are not razzle dazzle, but they are pleasant, cheap, and doable, and they make the house cheery.

Here are my general rules for preschool crafts:

1. The kids should be able to do most of the stuff without help, or else it’s not really a preschool craft.

2. The kids should listen while you explain how to do it, and then they should be able to do it however they want to, without being corrected

because it is their craft.

If mom wants it to turn out perfect, then mom can make her own!

3. Remember that some kids just want to take their pants off and watch craft day burn.

Just roll with it. That’s what old towels are for.

What fresh hell is this? It’s Pinterest Christmas 2016!

Feeling a dearth of burlap, foxes, chevrons, fairy lights, and mason jar lids in my life, I went on Pinterest to see what was happenin’.

I always start out with wholesome intentions, sincerely searching for neat DIY ideas. I even bought a set of plain glass balls, and I intend to spray paint them, using tiny paper snowflakes as stencils. As stencils! It is going to be pretty. Tell me it’s going to be pretty!

I start out, I say, with good intentions, looking for ideas that we will enjoy trying out; but I always end up calling my husband over for backup to help me mock stuff more thoroughly.

Because son, there is some stupid shit out there.

For your convenience, I’ve organized my thoughts into some basic rules to help you identify when you’ve slipped past DIY and landed smack in the middle of WTF, by which I obviously mean Where’s the Fphrenologist to feel your lumpy head and figure out what would impel you to follow through with some of these hideously inexcusable projects?

Things that would bring shame to hobos. Okay, so we all have failed crafts and stupid crafts and crafts that don’t turn out so great. That is fine. I have a number of them displayed around my house, because I have low standards.

But when I do come up with something lousy, I do not then use an expensive camera to take luxe photos of it and offer tutorials for how to recreate it in your own home. And not only because it didn’t occur to me! It’s because when you take a sweater and cut it up into heart shapes and then stick a paper clip through it, that’s not a cozy winter ornament. That’s garbage.

When kids make things that turn out a little rough and wobbly, that’s cute. When disabled people make things that are kind of naive and clunky, your heart is allowed to melt. But functioning adults are not allowed to just churn out crap and call it “adorable” just because it looks bad! Bad is bad! It’s not twee or offbeat or funky! It’s just bad! Bad bad bad!

(If you want to live a little, browse around in this chick’s site. Do not miss the confetti updo, which, the tutorial will instruct you, can be achieved by braiding your hair and then using your head to clean under the couch. In another spot, she instructs you to roast a turkey, cram some pom poms up its ass, and call it “festive feast.” I BET IT IS.)

Craft projects that require you spend $18 on a hobby store fake version of something people used to throw out back once the hogs were done with them. You know it must be within ten days of a major American holiday when local message boards are full of frantic pleas: Does anyone know where I can find wooden pallets? No, honey, nobody knows, because they have all been painted like terrible flags for the fourth of July, hung on the walls of pretentious condos for terrible wine racks, transformed into terrible herb planters in the front yards of people who wouldn’t know what to do with basil if grew with instructions right on the leaves, or tacked together by someone’s gloomy husband who would be perfectly willing to shell out cash for an actual, real, non-wobbly coffee table that doesn’t give you splinters, but now we have to spend all Thursday night sanding, and the Raiders are playing, too.

Leave pallets alone. Also milk bottles, mason jars, pre-weathered planks, and fruit crates. Gosh.

When you have a display, rather than decorations. Stores put up holiday displays. Businesses put up holiday displays. School children get together and work on a nice display together. But why are we doing this as individuals living in our homes? Why do we buy three shrink-wrapped bales of disinfected hay upon which to prop up some easily-identifiable symbols of the current holiday season in a studiously asymmetrical fashion, and set it up just to the left of the entrance to your home, and then forbid the children to play in the front yard because you’re trying to make it look homey with all those corn stalks you bought for eleven bucks a bunch? It’s your house, and you’re supposed to be living in it, not marketing it.

A small-scale rendition of this trend is when you take perfectly good stand-alone ornaments and tag them with keywords designed to snag maximum pageviews. You know what I mean: You have five glass balls in tasteful blue and silver, and that’s fine, but then you have to buy a special glass-writing marker and label each one with a Certified Holiday Word (without upper case letters or punctuation, of course, because we are having fun!). “Jingle” says one. “Merry,” explains another. “Star,” posits a third.

What? What? What is this for? This is stupid.  If you like jingling so much, maybe use a bell, eh, smartacus? This is one of those things that people only do because other people are doing it, so it seems normal and cute and pretty, but it’s not. It’s stupid and it’s making the word stupider.

Subset: those astronomically smug, oversized wall decals that literally spell out exactly what kind of family you are. “WE DO LOVE! WE DO MESSY! WE DO OOPSIE WOOPSIE DOO ON THE REGULAR! WE SHINE FULL TIME! LOOK AT MY WHITE TEETH! I DEMAND A GOLD MEDAL FOR NOT FLIPPING OUT WHEN CARTER DROPS A CRACKER ON THE CARPET! CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE YOU GET TO BE FRIENDS WITH US!” No, I can’t. Please give me my coat back; I really must be going. I think I left my humidifier running, and the cats are going to get all waterlogged.

Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re not there for guests. They’re there for the actual family, to remind them of their own ideals. Except they’re not. They’re totally there to impress people, along the lines of those “Another family for peace” bumper stickers. I’m going to start my own auto insurance company just to design a rider specifically to cover people who deliberately rear-end another family for peace.

 

Inedible food ornaments. This may just be a hangover from some stinging childhood disappointment, but I feel like it’s bad form to fill the house with marvellous scents and then not get to chew on anything. Gingerbread cookies? Those are for eating. Applesauce is also for eating, and not for compressing into little weird brick stars and hearts that only look like non-poop if you tell people, “Those are made of applesauce, you know!” I’ll make an exception for clove oranges, because they really are pretty, and they have a venerable past. But no more dried applesauce poop. It doesn’t make me mad, it just makes me sad. I like applesauce.

Complete non-ornaments that just stare baldly at you, daring you to wonder if this is, like, the lost and found shelf, or what. Skis, ice skates, sleds, bicycles, wagons, whatever. You are not TGIFridays, nor were meant to be. Just because you manage to hang it on your wall, that doesn’t magically transform them into decor. This offends my thrifty heart, and it also violates the whole “decoration vs. display” rule.

Now, if you’re trying to sell me on the idea that industrial design can be beautiful, that is one thing. I will actually go to a museum and look carefully at a very good toilet or a telephone or a circuit board, because I like design. But that is not what is going on here. What is going on here is that some deranged housewife gets it into her head that anything that is no longer for sale at full price at Bed, Bath and So Forth must be automatically nostalgic, and therefore decorative. My only comfort is that deranged people are bad at hanging stuff, so it will probably fall down at some point and hit somebody. Kapow! Where’s your nostalgia now?

 

Things made out of books.  Okay, so if the book was going to be destroyed anyway, that’s fine. But the thing that gets me is “She loves books so much, she made a whole chair out of them!” Hey, that’s great. I’m entirely blown away with your thorough grasp of the purpose of the written word! Or maybe you love books so much that you cut them up into bits and torture them into a gluey diorama depicting a scene from that book, that’s how much you love books!

Super duper. Remind me not to let you babysit my kids. Yes, I know you said you love kids. I heard you.

***

In closing:  Yes, I write things like this because I am a bitter, unhappy person who finds fulfillment in criticizing others, even though their behavior in no way impacts my life. Please pray for me.

Yes, mason jars are still a thing, still. I checked.

 

 

In which my kids make Valentine’s Day weird and creepy

We’ve been doing 3-D lollipop valentines for the last few years. Here is how it turns out when a normal family does this project:

PIC 3D lollipop valentine

 

Cute, eh? It is easy:

1. Take a picture of your kid extending a fist toward the camera.  Leave some blank space in the background for the lollipop and message.

2. If you like, photoshop a greeting onto the image.  If you are alert, you will remember how to paste things in with a transparent background; and if you care, you will be able to talk your kids out of choosing tacky images.  (This year, I was neither alert nor did I care.)

3. Print out enough photos for the class.  We use Walmart’s photo service – turns out fine.

4. Using an Exacto knife, make a slit above and below (or on both sides of) the fist.  Insert a Dum-Dum or other lollipop through the slits, so it looks like the kid is holding a giant lollipop, and tape the stick in place on the back of the photo.

Here is what we have so far this year (before getting prints and inserting lollipops):
one standard (?) lollipop holder:

 

one kid who wants to have the dog holding the lollipop in his mouth:

one kid who is just a crumb:

and one kid who wants to have the lollipop going in one ear and out the other:

I’m sure the school misses the old days, when we were new and paranoid and sure that everyone would be judging us, so we tried extra hard to seem like decent people.

Advent chains – a very easy Advent activity!

My sister Abby Tardiff is once again providing a template for advent chains.

1.  Go to this link on Dropbox and print out all six pages.  Cut along the lines so you have strips.

2.  If you want to be fancy, you can paste the strips to colored paper — purple for the first, second, and fourth weeks, and pink for the third.  If you don’t want to get fancy, just use them as is, or let the kids color the pictures in.  Make a paper chain and hang it in a prominent place.

3.  Each day of Advent, starting tomorrow, December 1, you cut snip chain and read the appropriate verse inside.  This is a nice visual activity for kids, because they can see the chain getting shorter and shorter as you approach Christmas day.  Some people draw out the lesson that the chains of sin grow weaker and weaker as the Savior draws near.  One year, I gussied up a few of the links with a hint to where the kids could find some kind of treat (chocolate in the mailbox, that kind of thing).

That’s it! Thanks, Abby.