How We Are Celebrating Winter Solstice

This will be the second year our family has officially celebrated the winter solstice, aka Yule! I am loving the inclusion of our seasonal observances/holidays because they are untainted by commercialism and provide wonderful learning opportunities. They are also full of “hygge” (my new favorite word)!

This year we will be bringing back some of the same activities we enjoyed last year: baking a sun cake, reading a story about winter solstice, decorating our tree… but we also started a new tradition!

This year our “elf on the shelf” has been bringing a book each night to read together the following day.

We don’t do the traditional elf on the shelf thing anyway – I just don’t like the idea of the fear-based tactic of the elf always watching and reporting to Santa. In years past, our elf has simply come to visit with us, sometimes getting herself into silly situations (like stuck in the sugar jar). But we have never read the Elf on the Shelf story in this house and we never will (in fact I gave the accompanying book away this year).

K has LOVED this new tradition! it’s brought us all together at bedtime and has added quite substantially to her bookshelf! I had to raid TWO local Goodwill stores to find all 25 books – new books would be lovely but, we’re all about that frugal living (I spent less than $20 on this!) and keeping things simple. Used books are just as good and I found some really fun reads by thrifting, rather than buying from a bookstore.

We will also be celebrating Christmas later this month. Since hubby and I both grew up in Christian homes and since Christmas is such a widely celebrated holiday anyway – and is honestly more secular in society’s portrayal of it – this is a holiday we can’t really get away from.

We keep it simple, Santa only brings 3 gifts and a modest stocking. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts as we prefer to spend the money on the kids. We spend the morning together drinking tea and opening gifts, then head to my in law’s for breakfast, my grandpa’s for lunch, and end the day at hubby’s grandpa’s for dinner. We visit my parents’ on Christmas Eve. My stepson joins us for at least one day. It’s a holiday full of food and family and I personally try very very hard to keep a spirit of giving, without falling prey to an obligation to spend X amount of money on X amount of people, buy plastic junk, etc.

Yule/ Solstice is different. There are no gifts – aside from the books our elf brings. We bake, we do crafts, we read together, and we light candles and give thanks for the warmth of the sun, the turning of the seasons, and all of our myriad blessings. We reflect on the past year and let go of it. We express our hopes for the new year and welcome back the sun and the lengthening of days. This year, we’ll get together with some of our friends and bake cookies/make crafts together before circling around the fire to give thanks and share a meal together. There is no rushing from place to place, there is no pressure to buy gifts, there is nothing but a cozy (if not chaotic from all the kids!) gathering and an honoring of the Earth and her cycles.

If you are new to the Wheel of the Year, and looking for some ideas on how to celebrate Yule – check out this post {updating soon}! For our Sun Cake recipe – click here!

And if you need more ideas – visit our Yule board on Pinterest 🙂

Blessed Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Diwali…. whatever you are celebrating this winter season, I hope it is filled with lots of Love and Light!

BB

Easy Sun Cake Recipe

This sun cake is so easy and delicious! This cake is light and moist, and is topped with a orange cream cheese “glaze” – not a heavy frosting! Using a ROUND cake pan , yellow cake, and oranges, this cake represents the Sun and is perfect for celebrating winter solstice (return of the sun) or as a summer treat!

Ingredients:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix PLUS the needed ingredients listed on the box (eggs/oil)
  • 2-3 cups mandarin orange slices in juice or water (the canned kind)
  • 1 block of cream cheese
  • 1 cup of sugar

Cake Instructions:

  • Prepare cake batter as directed on box with eggs and oil, BUT DO NOT ADD WATER.
  • Blend 1 cup of canned mandarin oranges and add to cake batter.
  • Add batter to greased cake pan and bake as directed on box for pan size/type. (You may need to bake it longer, but check it at the time indicated for doneness). I use a ROUND cake pan.

Frosting Instructions:

  • In a microwave save bowl, melt 1 block of cream cheese in the microwave using 30 second intervals. Stir every 30 seconds until uniformly melted and creamy.
  • Add 1 cup of sugar to the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  • Blend 1/2 cup of canned mandarin oranges and add to cream cheese mixture. Combine thoroughly

Assembly:

  • Turn out cake onto a cake plate or other flat dish and allow to cool slightly. You don’t want it to be too hot, but it needs to be warm so the frosting will glaze a bit while still covering the surface evenly.
  • Poke a few holes in the cake and pour the cream cheese glaze over the cake, starting in the middle. Allow to drip over the sides.
  • Decorate the top of the cake with remaining orange slices and serve!

DIY Painted Acorns & Acorn Necklace Tutorial

It’s officially FALL! Here’s a cute and easy fall craft you can do with ACORNS – assuming the squirrels haven’t gotten to them all first.

Acorns are popular symbols in jewelry and keepsakes, as well as in folklore and magick.

  • Acorns are an old symbol of good luck, strength, and prosperity.
  • Carrying an acorn in your pocket is said to protect you from illnesses.
  • Placing an acorn on your windowsill under a full moon is said to bring you good fortune.
  • “Passing the acorn” is an ancient pagan practice of gifting an acorn to a fellow witch at Samhain.
  • The red tannins from the water of soaked acorns can be used as a dye. Tannin-water from soaked acorns is also anti-septic, anti-viral, and will help with minor burns, rashes, and poison ivy.

Because it’s fall, and nearly Samhain, I wanted to preserve some acorns and place them on our family altar and make a necklace for K and myself to wear! Fortunatley, we live in an area of the country where several types of oak trees are abundant – and the acorns have just recently begun to fall. Preserving the acorns for our decor was super easy, and the necklaces turned out really cute! Here’s how:

First, collect some acorns – obviously 😉 If acorns are not available where you live, you can get them from Amazon! Make sure they do not have any holes or visible rot/mold. It’s OK if the caps come off, you can glue them back on. Just make sure you have a cap for every acorn!

Rinse the acorns in water and gently brush over each one with a bristly paintbrush, toothbrush, or other soft bristled brush.

Set them on a flat surface to air dry for 1 hour. Then place the acorns (and caps) in a shallow baking dish and place into an oven set to 175F. Allow to remain in the oven for 2 hours, rotating the acorns every 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Once they have cooled you can leave them as is, or you can place a shiny clear coat over them, or you can paint them! I recommend using enamel or acrylics if you choose to pain them.

If you want to make your own acorn necklace, you’ll need:

  • a needle
  • an eye pin (or jewelry wire to make an eye pin)
  • a chain with a clasp, leather cording, or whatever you want to string the acorn on to make the necklace.
  • an extra o-ring
  • an acorn, prepared as above. It’s actually easiest if you chose one that has been separated from it’s cap – though you’ll still need the cap!
  • hot glue gun

Instructions:

  1. Insert the needle straight down into the cap where you want the eye pin to go. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the acorn cap so it doesn’t crumble or crack. Wiggle the needle around to enlarge the hole a bit then insert the eye pin, loop side out.
  2. Trim the eye pin so there is only a little bit inside the acorn (about 3-5mm). Bend this part of the eye pin so it doesn’t pull straight out of the cap.
  3. Fill the acorn cap with hot glue and quickly press the acorn body into the cap. Hold pressure until set.
  4. Place the o-ring through the eye pin and close securely.
  5. You now have an acorn charm that you can place on your necklace chain, cord, or string!

We tried making the charm with 2 holes in the cap at first, but it was very difficult to pass the eye pin through both holes. The second charm we made, I used the method above and it worked wonderfully!

A note of caution, make sure if you paint the acorns that they are good and dry before you wear them as a necklace!! I’d even advise putting a clear coat over the paint so it doesn’t rub off on clothing. My little one treated her acorn as a chewie necklace shortly after we made hers and it resulted in a blue face and stained shirt! (c’est la vie)

The rest of our acorns are resting in this adorable leaf bowl on our altar!

I’m slightly addicted to colorful acorns now and I imagine we will make this a yearly seasonal tradition! Waxed pinecones are next 😉

For more acorn and fall craft ideas – follow us on Pinterest!

Easy Fall Leaf Print Art Project

Easy Fall Leaf Print Art Project

What’s a better way to learn about different trees / leaf patterns than this esay leaf print project?

All you need are leaves of various shapes and sizes, acrylic or tempura paunts, brushes, and a printable surface (we chose a small canvas, but you could also use t-shirts or tote bags!).

We gathered our leaves from our backyard, but you could gather them really anywhere during the fall! Special places or on a nature walk… Try gathering both deciduous and coniferous leaves! Just make sure you choose leaves that arent too brittle or they will break and crumble when you try to press them down.

Once you have your leaves, evenly paint the underneath side of the leaf to get all the vein patterns. You want a thin wet coat, no glops or it won’t show the print very well.

Position your leaf painted side down and lightly press/rub from the stem outward towards the tips, being caregul not to scoot the leaf across the surface of the canvas (or t-shirt, paper, etc.)

Then, gently peel the leaf upward from its stem and voila! You should have a leaf print!

Try painting patterns or multiple colors on a single leaf for more artsy prints. Also, don’t be afraid to let the prints overlap!

Experiment and have fun. Try to identify the trees each leaf came from, talk about the differences you see in the leaf patterns, etc.

Once we were done with our leaves, we let the re-painted and let the leaves dry, then ran them through oyr laminator. We cut out around their shapes and, with the help of Facebook and Google, identified each leaf’s tree and wrote its name on the unpainted side in Sharpie for my daughter’s nature collection (and educational purposes)!

Easy Lemon Cake Pops

Cake pops have to be the most versatile dessert ever. You can decorate them and flavor them a million different ways. You can leave out the sticks and turn them into “cake truffles” or “cake balls”. They are ready-to-eat in perfectly portioned sphericals and darn it if they just don’t make everyone happy!

I LOVE cake pops. I don’t have all the fancy cake pop makin’ gadgetry – just do a search for cake pop molds on Amazon and you’ll find all kinds of goodies to make your cake pop making experience much more “professional” and supposedly easier too. But I don’t use any of that stuff. Would I like to? Yes. But I don’t really have the space to store said stuff and I really really don’t need any more excuses to make cake pops more often.

If you want to use the gadgetry, by all means, go right ahead! But if you don’t have the fancy tools, you CAN still make yummy cake pops fairly easily! We made these lemon cake pops for summer solstice this year and 5 days later they were all gone!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • yellow cake mix plus ingredients on box (eggs, oil, water)
  • LorAnn lemon oil
  • 16oz yellow candy coating (vanilla flavored) – like these
  • vanilla buttercream icing
  • cooking spray/oil

TOOLS

  • 9×12 baking dish
  • large mixing bowl
  • hand mixer
  • rubber spatula
  • cookie sheet
  • wax paper/freezer paper
  • double boiler, or 1 medium pot and 1 small pot
  • cake pop sticks – i.e. paper straws, bamboo skewers, etc.
  • cake pop stand (commercial or DIY)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Prepare cake batter as instructed and add 1 vial of LorAnn lemon oil to batter. Bake as directed. Be sure to coat your baking pan with oil/cooking spray!!
  • Allow cake to cool completely then turn out in pieces into the mixing bowl
  • Mix in icing 1 spoonful at a time until cake is able to be formed into balls. You want the consistency of the resulting “dough” to be moist enough that the cake balls do not fall apart. If you add too much icing, the balls will too soft to stand upright on the sticks – so just ditch ’em! The cake balls will still taste yummy, they’ll just be a bit softer in the middle. 😉
  • Form the “dough” into 1 inch balls, insert sticks, and place on cookie sheet covered with wax or freezer paper. Freeze for 1-2 hours.
  • When the cake balls have frozen and are firm, assemble the double boiler (or use the 2 pot method).
  • Melt candy coating in the double boiler/top pot, over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning/seizing.
  • Carefully dip each cake pop into the melted coating. Either return the dipped cake pop in a standing position to the wax paper (you will have a flattened “top”) or place pop in a stand. (Tip: Sytrofoam lids, cardboard boxes, and some colanders make easy impromptu stands.)
  • Place finished cake pops in the refrigerator and allow coating to cool completely.
  • Eat and Enjoy!

This is a pretty basic recipe. Experiment with different cake flavors and icing combos and add sprinkles or an icing drizzle or even fondant flourishes to make your own special cake pops!

And don’t stress if they don’t turn out perfectly – several of ours had some less than perfect candy coating (I let hubby and the kids dip them), it’s whatever. I don’t claim to be a “Pinteretst perfect” mom, so what you see in our pics is never a doctored up reality 😉 IMO, it’s the experience and memory-making that matters.

XO,
Marissa

DIY Eco-Friendly Bird Feeders

For one of our Summer Solstice activities, we made these easy, eco-friendly, bird feeders! They are eco friendly because every part of the feeder is bio-degradable/natural!

This craft takes literally minutes to do, making it a perfect activity for those who have little time or small attention spans!! (ahem, my child.) If you’re going to let little ones do the cutting (hello fine motor skills!), you should definitely use a kid’s safety knife. We have this set and LOVE it!

SENSORY TIP: For avoiders, have baby wipes handy or have them wear gloves, as this activity can be a bit sticky. I know my daughter HATES that sticky feeling!

What you’ll need:

  • Navel Oranges or Grapefruits (large fruits with thick skin work best!)
  • Wild Bird Seed
  • String made from natural fibers (yarn, twine, etc.)
  • Tools:
    • Small Knife (or kid’s safety knife)and Cutting Board/Mat
    • Bowl
    • Spoon
    • Scissors
    • Pencil/Screwdriver (something to poke holes with)
    • Ladder (to help you hang the finished feeders!)

Instructions:

  1. Cut each orange (or grapefruit) in half. Make your cut in the widest part of the orange, not from navel to navel.
  2. Using a small knife, cut around the flesh to loosen it from the pith and rind. Do this carefully so you don’t rip or puncture the rind. We need that part to be intact!
  3. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and place in a bowl. Set aside for juicing, eating, or baking!
  4. Using a pencil or screwdriver, puncture two holes on either side of the hollowed out rind. Place these holes at least a half centimeter below the rim of the “bowl” you have created.
  5. Thread 1 string through each hole and tie securely to the orange rind.
  6. Fill the bowl with wild bird seed.
  7. Hang outside!

To extend this activity, you could use this as an opportunity to discuss the parts of an orange or how they are grown.

If you don’t want to eat or juice the orange pulp, try replacing all the wet ingredients in a yellow box cake mix with orange juice for a fresh summery take on cake! Or check out THESE other orange recipes.

Happy Summer-ing!
M

Summer Solstice (Litha/Midsummer) Celebration Ideas for Families

It’s hard to believe that the year is nearly half over! Summer is basically here, at least weather wise, where I live, but it won’t be “officially” here until the summer solstice on June 21st.

I love summer and I am super excited to celebrate Litha this year with my husband and daughter. My son is also in town, but for him it’s just summer solstice. As a blended family, we only get 7 or 8 weeks of summer with E (our son). He’ll be 17 this year and be entering his senior year of high school (and graduating with only 1 semester of college left to do to get his associates). Soon he’ll be working or pursuing other passions and we won’t have the unhindered family summers with him that we have now.

On the other hand, my daughter just turned 5 and so is at the age now where she can really enjoy (and remember) doing special things with the family. So I feel this kind of pressure to make THIS summer memorable for all of us.

We’ve already planned a trip to Niagara falls in a couple weeks – which I am SUPER stoked about – and we made a summer bucket list 🙂

We’ll return from our family vacation just in time for Litha so I’ve already been planning out our celebration activities! Here’s some of the things I came up with:

summer solstice/Litha/Midsummer activities:

  • sunrise / sunset yoga
  • brew sun tea
  • make a sundial
  • make shadow art
  • make bird feeders out of orange peels
  • make energy bags with herbs & crystals
  • make cupcakes / cake pops decorated like suns
  • gather wildflowers and make sun catchers (place between clear contact paper/laminate and cut out shapes)
  • create “time capsule” envelopes. Write down things that are going on, hopes, dreams, resolutions, etc. and put them in envelopes to open next Litha.
  • build a fire and roast marshmallows
  • cookout/grill or make a “summery” meal together

We may not do ALL of these, but I like having at least an idea of what our day could look like. I know that we will for sure do the time capsule envelopes and I’ve planned a dinner of lemon-garlic chicken linguine tossed with summer squash, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil (yum! Just thinking about it makes me hungry!) Don’t worry I’ll post the recipe after Litha! 😉

I’ll be doing a few other things to celebrate on a personal level and connect spiritually with the abundance of the season, but I don’t require or request that my family do the same.

I hope that no matter how you bring in the new season, that it’s a time of family love and togetherness!

xo,
-M

30 Minute Meals: Saag – A modern take on a classic Indian Favorite!

This past Christmas I made my family gift baskets with recipe cards I wrote out, printed, laminated and placed onto a binder ring (so that it can be added to), and the ingredients to one of the recipes. Turns out, they were a hit and every time one of them tries a new recipe of mine, they text me to tell me how much they loved it! Which makes my heart so so happy because I am an “intuitive” cook and I don’t really measure my ingredients. As you can imagine, this makes writing down / sharing my “recipes” difficult. (How much salt? I dunno. Throw in a pinch at a time til it tastes good!)

The recipe my family members have been going ga-ga over recently is my version of saag. I LOVE Indian cuisine and over the years I’ve (systematically) gotten my mom, dad, brother, and husband all addicted as well. (Mwahaha!) But the closest GOOD Indian restaurant is across the river in the city and I just honestly don’t want to always go over there to get it.

So I started experimenting with Indian spices and recipes at home and came up with this gem. It’s quick and super easy! It’d be a one pot meal, but because you have to make the rice separate, it takes two. (Honestly I throw the rice in my instant pot before I even start the rest of the meal).

This recipe calls for some specific Indian spices, which you can order online or if you happen to have a Jungle Jim’s nearby (Hello Cincinnati!) then I know you can find them there (because that’s where I got them).

Also, if you’re expecting traditional “puree” style saag, that’s NOT what this recipe makes. This is a “take” on saag – you might call it faux saag or keema saag or chunky fresh saag… I just call it saag and everyone in my family knows what that means. It has spinach in it so I’m not totally wrong 😉

Make it meat-free by simply omitting the ground beef! I’ve made it this way too and it’s just as tasty and filling!

Enjoy!
-M

Science Explorations: Butterflies & Ants

Our last day of co-op was in late April and I’m just NOW starting to feel like we are settling in to our new routine. Probably because as soon as I finished my last day of teaching, I came down with a rotten head cold, followed by K and my husband both falling ill with a flu-like virus.

On top of all that, we are desperately trying to finish up a million house projects so we can list our home on the market! Exciting stuff, but I feel like there is just this never ending list of things to be done… Also, our son (my stepson for technicality purposes) comes home for the summer next week, so we’ve been re-organizing his room.

Due to all the sickness and house-work we haven’t taken a lot of time to do any “on purpose” educating. I mean, as unschoolers, we don’t really do this on a day to day basis anyway, but we are usually more intentional about at least presenting learning opportunities.

We have done a couple cool things recently though, like raise butterflies from caterpillars and keep an ant farm!

K got both of these kits as gifts (one for Christmas and one for her birthday) this past year and we’ve been waiting for the weather to be warm enough to order the live bugs. Did you KNOW you can buy ants on Amazon?!?! There is something so weird about getting tubes of ants in the mail… and FYI, the ant farm K got is sold separately from the actual ants, which is nice if you’re gifting the set or the weather isn’t quite cool/warm enough yet to ship live ants and set up your farm right away.

The butterfly kit and caterpillars came from Insect Lore and I HIGHLY recommend this product/website for anyone who has kiddos interested in bugs/butterflies. The kit came with a info booklet, a “garden” (mesh enclosure), and a voucher for the live caterpillars. When we redeemed our voucher, we also purchased a couple plastic models of the butterfly life cycle to go with the whole experience. The models helped reinforce butterfly life cycle vocabulary and helped K visualize what would happen to the caterpillars next.

We successfully raised 4 beautiful butterflies – although one had crumpled wings when it emerged (sad face) – and it was really cool to watch the whole process of metamorphosis! I’m NOT an insect lover, but I would definitely recommend doing this with your kiddo – and we’ll likely do it again because K loved it so much (she’s a butterfly girl!). I’m thinking that next year we’ll couple the project with the planting of some butterfly friendly plants too (hopefully at our new house).

All in all, these were both cool science explorations that were easy to do at home and required very minimal effort/active time.

If you wanted to take these projects a step further, here are some ideas!

-check out books about ants/butterflies at your local library

-browse YouTube and create an educational playlist of videos about ants/butterflies (or check out our curated playlist!)

-do some butterfly crafts

-do some ant activities

-make butterfly food for your newly emerged butterflies (9 parts water to 1 part sugar. Boil until dissolved then let cool completely and add to a sponge. Place sponge in the mesh butterfly garden enclosure)

-Make an OUTDOOR butterfly feeder

-have a picnic. Use a magnifying glass to look for worker ants (just be careful not to scorch them!)

I hope you all have as much fun with this as we did!

TTFN,
-Marissa