Ice-cream Cone Christmas Trees

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Waffle cones pre-cutting.

Waffle cones pre-cutting.

I saw this recipe on The Organised Housewife last week, and thought it looked like a quick and easy Christmas food idea. I went to gather our ingredients, but our local grocery store didn’t have any normal pointy ice-cream cones! They had plenty of flat bottomed cones, and waffle cones. I’d already told the kids I had a Christmas activity in mind for after dinner, and I didn’t have time (or the desire) to drive elsewhere to find the cones, so we went with waffle cones.

After cutting.

After cutting.

These could have made some very wonky Christmas trees, so I carefully cut off excess cone using a knife, so that when the cones were turned upside down they sat on a plate without falling over. The bits of cone that I cut off, Big L ate with ice-cream, buttercream, Nutella and sprinkles later.

Icing the cone.

Icing the cone.

Adding sprinkles.

Adding sprinkles.

L helped me to make up a portion of light green buttercream, which we used to cover the cones with. Then we added red and green m&ms, pastel coloured sprinkles and mini m&ms. The kids added jelly babies to the top point of their trees at the star/angel.

Carefully placing m&ms.

Carefully placing m&ms.

This was fun, messy and very sweet, but a great activity around Christmas time.

 

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Mog at the Zoo by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski

IMG_2736Mog at the Zoo by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski, paperback picture book, first published by William Heinemann Ltd in 1982, this edition published by Puffin Books in 2014.

Meg, Mog and Owl visit the zoo, but Mog is mistaken for a tiger. The zoo keepers chase him past lots of animals until they catch him and lock him in a cage. Meg tries to rescue him, but her spells don’t always work the way they should.

This book is part of the popular Meg and Mog series. I loved it as a child, and now my own children love it! The story is easy to read and fun, while the illustrations are bright and simple. Lots of solid blocks of colours with black outlines make this book good for helping younger children to learn colours, as well as making it easy for them to enjoy the pictures without being overwhelmed by too much detail.

Mog at the Zoo is a great book to share with toddlers, preschoolers and older children. It is also perfect to read alone for lower primary school students. I like when the crocodiles cheer Mog on, and my preschooler liked that the monkeys gave Mog a banana to cheer him up. Kids will love all of the adventures that Meg and Mog have!

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Peppa’s Christmas Wish

IMG_2734Peppa’s Christmas Wish, boardbook, published by Ladybird Books in 2012.

In Peppa’s Christmas Wish, Peppa and George have been to see Santa and told him what they would like as a present. They spend Christmas day with Granny and Grandpa Pig, but when it comes time to open the presents, there doesn’t seem to be one for Peppa. Will she get her Christmas wish?

Peppa Pig is a staple in our house at the moment, the kids love her adventures, and really, I do too! When my preschooler saw a Christmas book featuring Peppa, she just had to have it. Being a sturdy boardbook has meant that my toddler could enjoy the story too, without damaging the book. He has spent quite a lot of time on his own with this book, just looking at the pictures. My preschooler loves the story and the illustrations, but then, she does love anything Peppa related. Peppa’s Christmas Wish is great for sharing with young children in the lead up to Christmas.

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Doll Bones by Holly Black

IMG_2738Doll Bones by Holly Black, paperback novel, 244 pages, first published by Doubleday in 2013, this edition published by Corgi in 2014.

Best friends, Zach, Alice and Poppy have made up a fantastical world that they play out with dolls and figurines. The Queen in this world is a very old, fine bone china doll, that is kept displayed behind glass at Poppy’s house. When Zach unexpectedly refuses to play the game any more, Poppy and Alice remove the Queen from the cabinet, discovering that she is full of what appears to be some ashes. Poppy dreams that the Queen was really a girl called Eleanor Kercher who died in 1895, and she wants Poppy to return her to her grave. This quest leads Poppy, Alice and Zach on an interstate adventure, as they try to placate Eleanor, and fulfill her last desire.

Doll Bones is an adventure ghost story, and it is also a coming of age story. Zach, Poppy and Alice are pre-teens still playing out the fantasy game of their childhood. Becoming haunted by the spirit of a lost and angry little girl trapped inside a doll, is the last true adventure of their childhood, as they move towards more teenagerish past-times. They embark on an epic quest into regions unknown in the middle of the night by themselves, vastly unprepared for such a journey. Add in a creepy doll, vivid dreams, unexplained occurences and misadventures, and you have a spooky tale indeed.

This would be a good book for middle and upper primary school students to read, especially those that like a good ghost story. I thought the story was okay, but nothing spectacular. It was an easy read, and interesting enough, but I didn’t find it gripping. I am putting that down to the fact that as an adult I like a good horror or mystery story, and spooky stories for children just aren’t spooky enough for me! Having said that, I always take photos of the books I review to add to the post, and I took photos of this book, transferred them to the computer, but when I went to add one to this review, the photos were all blank! That’s a little creepy coincidence…

I hope that my second grader will give Doll Bones a read so I can get a true child’s perspective on the story. The story did flow well, and the character’s personalities really came through from the story, so it was a good book that I think many children would enjoy.

 

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Ice Tub

Ice in a tub.

Ice in a tub.

It was very hot today, and baby T was feeling it. He was getting around in just his nappy, but he still felt warm. We had just turned on the air conditioning inside, so I placed some plastic mats on the floor in the lounge room and placed a sensory tub on the mats with some ice cubes in it.

Baby T was carrying around one of the bath squirters and a Little People cow, so he tossed those straight into the ice, and then sat down and started picking it up. He liked how cool it was.

Eating ice.

Eating ice.

Playing with the ice.

Playing with the ice.

He ate quite a few pieces of ice, so I am glad that I used only the clean ice that we use in drinks! He also rubbed the ice cubes over his face, legs and body. He moved them around, and played with the water as the ice began to melt. Inevitably, he upended the tub of ice and water over his head and shrieked with laughter.

Rubbing ice on his chin.

Rubbing ice on his chin.

This was a cheap and easy activity to help him cool down and have fun. He spent a little while playing with this tub on his own before his sisters came to join him. He became very possessive of the melting ice and screamed at L and A when they took bits of ice to eat!

There wasn’t much of a clean up as the kids ate most of the solid pieces of ice, and the water on the mats was easily soaked up with a towel and the mats put outside to dry.

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Felt Christmas Tree Decorations

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IMG_2659I was browsing in Riot Art & Craft the other day and we came across these little felt decoration kits. They looked like fun, so I bought two.

Sorted and ready to go.

Sorted and ready to go.

The circles came pre-punched in felt rectangles, so the kids popped them all out then put the scraps in the bin. Once we’d sorted the circles into piles of different sizes, I noticed that we were short a few circles, and the kids had to go and get them from the bin (luckily they were in a new bin bag so there wasn’t anything yucky in there!). We sorted the piles from biggest to smallest to make it easier to pick up the right sized circles.

Threading the felt circles.

Threading the felt circles.

We tied knots in the end of the silver string and threaded the plastic needles. Then the kids got to work, first adding the cylindrical bead for the tree trunk, and then the felt circles in descending order and finally the star bead. This was where it got a little tricky however, because then the instructions suggested making a loop and taking the thread back through the beads and circles to tie it off at the base where we started. I had to help the kids do this, and the star bead mostly popped off when we tried to tie the thread at the opposite end. The star was easy to thread back on, and then I added a knot above it to stop it slipping off again.

I have added a drop of craft glue to the bottom of the trunk bead and the top of the star bead to prevent the thread pulling through in the future. And I trimmed the end of the thread ready to hang on the Christmas tree.

L (7 years) found this an easy and enjoyable activity that she could complete herself. On the other hand, A (5 years), had more difficulties and required more help with tying the knots and getting the thread back through everything. Putting on the beads and felt circles was easy enough, but she kept letting the thread go, and she had trouble re-threading the needle. A made several trees with help, and still enjoyed it, but L could have done this as a solo activity.

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Cat and Mouse Cake

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I have made this cat and mouse cake a few times for the kids’ birthdays. It is quite easy and has been a big hit at birthday parties. I normally make butter or vanilla cakes, but A begged for chocolate cake, so I used some White Wings mixes to make the cakes.

Prior to icing.

Prior to icing.

The cat’s head is make with a round cake base, with another cake cut up to make the nose and ears. The mice are decorated cupcakes. I just cut a rough circle section for the nose, and then I sliced the piece of cake so that it was about half the depth. I attached it to the round cake using some white buttercream (vienna cream or frosting). I also used some buttercream to attach the triangular ears to the top of the round cake. I don’t worry too much about how the cake looks at this point because I know I will make it look nice with the frosting!

There are lots of recipes around for buttercream, but I used one I found on taste.com.au, it was light and fluffy and very tasty.

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After applying white buttercream.

After applying grey buttercream.

After applying grey buttercream.

A asked for her cat to be grey and white, which is pretty easy. A little bit of black liquid food colouring added to the plain frosting gives a nice grey. As I was also icing the cupcakes in white and grey, I made up a triple batch of buttercream, and divided into two bowls, keeping one white and making the other grey. A double batch probably would have done it, but I’d rather have extra ready to go if needed, especially if I am using coloured buttercream, it’s so hard to get the colour to match if I have to make more.

I roughly added the white buttercream over the nose and to make the inside of the ears. Then I did the rest of the head in grey neatly, butting it up to where the white should end, and covering any excess white frosting along the way. To give the buttercream a bit more texture, I used the flat side of a butter knife’s blade to slap against the buttercream, causing little peaks to form. I did this all over the grey areas, while keeping the white fairly smooth. The kids thought it looked more like fur that way.

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IMG_2377In the end, I decided that I wanted the white to extend a bit further down to encompass the mouth more, so I added some more white buttercream from the nose down. This gave me more room to apply the mouth and nose. The nose and tongue are half a pink marshmallow each, while the eyes are smarties. A chose the pink ones, though I suggested blue or green! The rest of the facial features are drawn on with writing icing. These little tubes are very handy and easy to use.

IMG_2411IMG_2421To make the cute little mice cupcakes, I iced half the batch with grey buttercream and half with white buttercream. The ears are made from pink or white marshmallows cut in half. Each half is placed on top of the cupcake so that the sticky cut edge is facing forwards. The eyes are shiny cachous and the whiskers, nose and tails are added using the writing icing. I had thought about using liquorice strips for the tails, but I am the only one in my family that likes liquorice, so it seemed like a bit of a waste.

Shiny cachou lollies.

Shiny cachou lollies.

The cat’s head was placed in the centre of the pre-prepared board (a piece of plywood covered in foil), and the mice cupcakes were arranged on either side. I only used eight of the mice on the board. The extras did not go to waste though, the kids finished them off quite quickly.

Unfortunately, before the cake could be unveiled at the party, Baby T leant across it and smooshed a couple of the mice and the cat’s nose. The kids didn’t care, they still gobbled it up!

 

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There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star! by P. Crumble and Louis Shea

IMG_2545There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star! by P. Crumble and Louis Shea, paperback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2012.

Yet again, P. Crumble and Louis Shea has made us laugh with a wonderful twist on the tale of the Old Lady who swallowed some things that really couldn’t be good for her. In this wonderful Christmas themed story the Old Lady is up to her old trick of swallowing larger and larger items, including an elf and a whole tree!

Hilarious illustrations complement the funny text, and make this an excellent book for sharing. My kids like to spot things in the pictures, like the little mice that are hoarding lollies and having a ride on the reindeer. My favourite illustration was of the bookshelf when she swallows the elf, the names on the spines of the books are parodies of real books. The kids didn’t appreciate this as much as me, and preferred the scene with all the Christmas lights.

This edition has a very cool lenticular cover. When you tilt the book, the Old Lady goes from the bottom of the tree, up the tree into a position of eating the star. My preschooler loves to do this over and over.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star! is a fun Christmas read for children in preschool and primary school.

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Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band by Emma Grey

IMG_2538Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band by Emma Grey, paperback novel, 233 pages, published in 2014.

Kat is a seventeen year old in Sydney with a passion for music, just not that produced by the biggest boy band in the world, Unrequited. When her mother gets delayed on a work trip, Kat has to escort her younger sisters, who are huge fans, to an Unrequited concert. Kat can think of a million different things she would prefer to be doing, like studying for her final exams or listening to her favourite band, 5 Seconds of Summer. A chance encounter with a cute boy on the train might just make up for the backstage passes to Unrequited, but will she see him again? The lead singer of Unrequited, Angus, seems to be staring at her during the concert. Could he really have noticed her out of the thousands of fans at the concert, and is she interested anyway?

A modern day Cinderella story, Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band read like a romantic comedy for teenagers. The hope of love and success and doing what you love, teenage desires finding reality. This was an uplifting read that I will probably indulge in again! If I didn’t have small children, I would have stayed up late to finish Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band. I really got into the story and wanted to keep reading without interruption, I wanted to know who Kat would choose and what would happen with her music.

The awkward situation of a love triangle (or quadrilateral) happens often, just not normally with the added complication of a very famous singer. So while this story has a slightly exaggerated fantasy feel to it, it was easy to see parallels to real life situations and people. I especially liked Kat as a character, she was different. A teenager without the conformity of a teenager, unconscious of her own abilities and magnetism, it made her enigmatic and interesting.  Angus, with his fame and money, as well as the ability to choose any of the girls that were throwing themselves at him, finds the one girl that doesn’t seem remotely interested and pursues her relentlessly. At first, I found this to be a bit arrogant, as it felt a bit like Kat would be just a conquest for him. However, I warmed to Angus after a while, though Joel seemed much more like your average Knight in Shining Armour that should win the girl’s heart.

Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band is a young adult novel, but I think kids from upper primary would find this a suitable read. I really enjoyed it, though I wasn’t much into pop culture as a teen, and am even less so now. After a few references to 5 Seconds of Summer and Douglas Booth, I realised that they might be real people. I used Google to confirm my suspicions, and then had a few moments of feeling rather old! Still, this book made me feel happy and optimistic.

I picked up a signed copy of Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band from Canty’s Bookshop in Fyshwick, Canberra, but it is also available online at Unrequited.com,au. You can read the first few chapters online too.

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Optical Illusions by Dr Gareth Moore

IMG_2514Optical Illusions by Dr Gareth Moore, hardback non-fiction, 96 pages, published by Parragon Books Ltd in 2013.

Optical Illusions presents more than 150 different images with explanations of these truly amazing illusions. The book was broken up into sections containing different types of illusions, such as perspective illusions, movement illusions, and colour illusions.

Both my daughter and myself pored over this book for hours allowing our minds to be tricked by the images. Some of them we had to move closer or further away to experience the illusion, and a few I couldn’t see at all, but most of them were very obvious. Even knowing that it was an illusion, it was incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the trick and see the image for what it really was. I loved trying though!

There was a handy little visual interpreter card inside the front cover that could be used to remove the illusion. Throughout the book, if an image could be decoded using the visual interpreter, there was a coloured circle besides the illusion indicating which part of the visual interpreter to use. This made checking whether lines were really straight or areas were the same colour much easier. My second grader liked using this visual interpreter to help her to see the reality of the image.

Optical Illusions is a very entertaining book that really has to be seen to be believed!

 

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