Showing posts with label Gifts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gifts. Show all posts

Nov 27, 2013

My Family's Favorite Board and Card Games | Best Board and Card Games for Kids

Of all the toys you can buy for children, games are really some of the very best. Children tire of them far less quickly than other toys (assuming they are great games), they last for many years, they can help bring families together (game night is our favorite night!), and they offer a lot of good learning experiences. That's why I'm always delighted when my children receive a game as a gift.

If you're thinking of some new games for your children - or someone else's - here are some we particularly enjoy. All of these games are rated as an A by both my children and myself.

Games for Little People

My children, ages 5 and 8, adore this game, and we've been playing it for about a year now. As far as first board games goes, this one is tough to beat. This game features a very large (6 foot) and sturdy game board with a classic Richard Scarry Busytown scene. Just looking at the board is fun for kids, as they see downtown Busytown, the countryside, and even the shore, with all of Scarry's cute animal characters working and playing. The goal of the game is for each player to meet up at a certain spot so they can ride the ferry together and get to the picnic before Pig Will and Pig Won't eat all the food. Along the way, Goldbug may come along and ask players to find as many things (like balloons or fire hydrants) as they can. The more everyone finds, the more everyone can movie forward to the ferry.

Skills required: Simple counting of squares on a game board. I often helped my son with this when he was younger, but if your kids can count well and follow a path along a game board, they can play this game independently. Also, if you have young kids, you know that sometimes competitive games can be a challenge. Busytown is a good introduction to board games in part because players work together toward a common goal.

Age recommendation: 3 (with help) to 8.

Uncle Wiggly
Back in the 1910s and 20s, there were some popular children's stories with a character named Uncle Wiggly. This game was created around that same time, but doesn't require that your children know the original character or stories.* The game board is heavy and beautifully printed. It shows a winding path along lovely scenes - with some unhelpful creatures (like an alligator and a fox) along the way. Each player moves his piece along the board, following directions on a card he's just drawn. The goal is to be the first to make it to Dr. Possum's house for tea.

Skills required: Counting of squares on a board game. Reading isn't absolutely required, although the cards do offer cute little rhymes on them. If your child can read the numbers of the cards and count spaces on her own, she can play this game independantly.

Age recommendation: 4 to 7.

This is a classic game every child should own. The goal is to travel along a winding path in Candyland (a place with such fun things as a rainbow bridge and a licorice forest) and be the first to make it to the candy castle. Players draw a card with either one or two board squares of a certain color and move to the nearest square of that color.

Skills required: Children must know their colors and be able to follow a game board path. Children must also be able to count to 2. For players who are new to board games, parental help is required. Otherwise, kids with these skills can easily play this game independantly.

Age recommendation: 3 to 7.

Go Fish

I don't think there's a better first card game than Go Fish. Each player begins with a small number of cards (which most kids can hold in one hand without much trouble). Each player then tries to find as many matches as she can, asking each player: "Do you have a [type of fish]?" Other players either answer "Yes" and give their opponent the appropriate card, or they say "Go fish," and the player asking the question must draw a card from the pile. The player who puts all her cards down as matches first wins.

Skills required: Being able to match alike cards. If children can't read the names of the fish, they can just describe the type of fish, or (when not playing the game) memorize their names. Kids can easily play this game on their own.

Age recommendation: 3 to 8.

Games for Slightly Older Kids (starting at about about age 6 or 7)

This is a card game everyone in our house enjoys. The goal is to be the first to get rid of all your cards. The game begins with one card facing up in the middle of the players. Each player must then try to remove one or more cards from their hand and put them on top of that card by matching color, number, or function. Things that make this game fun include cards that skip other players, reverse the direction of play, make players draw additional cards, or change the color to any the player desires. There are several variations on this game, so be sure you're just buying the classic card set, as seen above.

Skills required: Children should be able to hold a number of cards in their hands. (Although I have sometimes given my daughter a large egg carton to hold her cards in.) Players must also be able to recognize all colors and numbers. If they can do this, independant play is quite do-able.

Age recommendation: 7 to adult.

Connect 4

The goal of this two person game is simple: Be the first to get four of the same-colored discs in a row. Rows can run horizontally, vertically, or at an angle. Players take turns inserting discs into the plastic game piece to either create their own row or block their opponent's. This is a great game for teaching children to think about other players' strategies. And once your children master playing the game this way, there are directions for making the game different and more difficult.

Skills required: Children must be able to count to four and recognize rows going horizontally, vertically, and at an angle. (If they can play Tic-Tac-Toe, they can play Connect 4.) Once they master these skills, kids can play this game without parental help.

Age recommendation: 6 to adult.


A good, old fashioned game of jacks teaches kids motor skills and strategy. There are many ways to play this game, but the most basic is this: A player tosses the jacks on the floor. She bounces the small rubber ball once, catching it while simultaneously picking up one jack. The next time, she tries to pick up two jacks. The next time, three, and so on. This game may be played alone or with 2 players.

Skills required: Counting and motor skills.

Age recommendation: 7 to 10.

The goal of this game is to get all your pawns "home" before anyone else. Each player moves forward by drawing a card and moving their pawn the presented number of spaces. Sounds simple - but other players can send you back home, trade places with you, and so on. May be played with 2 - 4 players.

Skills required: Counting. Also, it's important to be able to read some of the cards, because they may actually tell you to move backward so many spaces, instead of forward.

Age recommendation: 7 to adult.

Chinese Checkers

This game board is made with indentations for marbles to fit into. Each player has his own color of marbles and tries to move them forward to their opponant's part of the board. Marbles can only be moved one space at a time, unless your own or other player's marbles can be jumped over. The first person to move all his marbles into his opponant's position wins. For 2 - 4 players.

Skills required: This game tests your child's spacial understanding. Children must learn to stategize their positions to get where they want to go as quickly as possible.

Age recommendation: 7 to adult.


No game makes my children laugh as hard as Twister. Technically, it is neither a card or board game - unless you can count a large plastic "rug" as a "board." The "rug" has dots of several colors on it. One player uses a spinner to tell the other players to put a particular limb (hand or leg) on a particular color. This continues, with players unable to move a limb from it's former location unless the spinner tells them to. The results are hilarious as kids bend into all kinds of strange positions and get twisted into each other. The winner is the person who is last to fall.

Skills required: Color recogniation and knowing the right from the left.

Age recommendation: about 6 to adult (Younger kids can play, too, but it's much more difficult for little people to stretch across the "rug" to reach the appropriate colors.)


Technically, this isn't a board game either - but Yahtsee is too fun not to include on this list. Each player rolls a set of dice and tries to get either as many of one number as she can, or combination of numbers. Each play earns a particular number of points and the person who finishes getting all the combinations and gets the highest score wins. Like Uno, there are a lot of variations on this game, so be sure to get "Classic Yahtsee."

Skills required: Basic adding skills, plus an ability to read dice. Parents can help with the adding.

Age recommendation: about 7 to adult.

Be sure to also check out this post about what toys my kids play with year after year after year.

Oct 10, 2012

How to Make a Quiet Book

Seasonal tree quiet book pages, via Serving Pink Lemonade.
One of the projects I'm considering making for my children this Christmas is a quiet book - you know, one of those fabric books with zippers to zip and buttons to button and Velcro to Velcro into neat pictures. At first, I thought my 7 year old daughter was probably too old to enjoy a quiet book, but a quick look around the internet proved otherwise. She will definitely enjoy dressing a little girl in different outfits or making her own fabric Mr. Potato Head.

And trust me, ladies, these books are wonderful for keeping kids occupied in the car, in church, at the doctor's office...The trick is to only let your children play with their quiet books during these special times. If you let them play with their quiet book whenever they want to, the book won't hold their attention for as long.

Happily, you don't need great sewing or drawing skills to make a quiet book. You can find free templates or patterns for quiet books online. If you want to do something more unique, you can also use cookie cutters or coloring book pages - or even paper dolls - as your patterns.

If you Google "quiet book ideas" or search for quiet books on Pinterest, you'll find a great wealth of ideas, from the simple and traditional to the highly creative and detailed. However, here are my favorite pattern templates, for those of us who don't want to invest the time to come up with our own:

* Monkey with colored balloons (a la Curious George), artist's palate (for teaching colors), seasonal tree (see the photo, above), barn, road for little cars, mailbox with letters, numbered flower petals, tennis racket and ball, dress up child, and a jig saw puzzle kite - all over at Serving Pink Lemonade.

* Another road template.

* Simple shapes, including a fish, duck, kite, leaves, squirrel, acorn, crescent moon, and snowman balls with carrot nose, all over at Martha Stewart Living.

* Bible-related, including: the Armor of God, Noah's ark, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, and more at Laura's Thoughts.

* Socks in the laundry.

* Mr. Potato Head.

* "Put your hand in my mitten," telephone, dress a girl, tuck a child into bed, lace a football, zip up a tepee, clock, and more at Modest Maven.

* Shoe tying (plus about a gazillion sample quiet book pages to inspire you).

* Rocket ship.

* Dump truck.

* LED Robot.

* Cooking breakfast.

* Astronaut.

* Forklift.

* Robot and rocket.

Not sure how to go about beginning a quiet book project? Have no fear! There are many tutorials online, including those at:

* Imagine our Life

* Serving Pink Lemonade

* Utah State University Cooperative Extension

* Elisa Loves

* And this YouTube video

Happy crafting!

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Dec 16, 2011

What to Do With Empty Altoid Tins

Over the years, I've used Altoid containers to hold small tool parts (like the bits for my electric screw driver), as a travel sewing kit, and as a travel "first aid" kit. But recently, I ran across some really creative uses for Altoid boxes - and I had to share. Whether you make these as Christmas gifts, presents for another time of year, or just because, I think these are great little projects!
For Kids:

* A mini dollhouse.

* An accordion book shaped like a camera.
* Travel games. Here's a super tutorial, complete with free printables to help you turn an Altoid box into a mini checkers, chess, backgammon, and tic-tac-toe game. Or, choose these instructions, which include all those games, plus dots and squares, solitaire, and reversi. Here's yet another version, which uses mostly store bought items.

* A spelling set. Purchase letter beads at a craft store and sand off the back letters. Glue a magnet to the back of each bead.

* A planets of the solar system set.

* A tin for the tooth fairy.

* A magnet faces game.

For Kids or Adults:

* A poetry magnet kit.

* A belt.

* An adorable purse. (Find a different set of instructions here.)

* A treasure box.

* A photo album. (Or try this tutorial instead.)

* A pinhole camera.

* A pocket tackle box.

* A play-able guitar.

Dec 9, 2011

Gifts in a Jar - Part II

One of the most popular posts here at Proverbs 31 Woman is about gifts in a jar. And there's no doubt about it - tossing food (or other items) into a canning jar is one of the easiest, quickest, and least expensive ways to say "Merry Christmas" or "I love you" to friends and family.

But it's 2011, and new ideas for gifts in a jar have crossed my path. Here are my favorites.

* Easy jar toppers from ornaments or toys. Spray the jar lids and the small ornament or toy with paint (silver, gold, red, or green work well for Christmas) and viola! You have a fancy jar topper!

* No cook snacks.
* S'mores kit.

* Chai tea.

* Pie in a jar.
* Cobbler in a jar.

* Crisp in a jar.

* Homemade spice blends.

* Sugar scrub. (Pictured at the top of this post.)

* Bath soaks.

* Bath snowballs.

* Bath salts.

* Shea butter body scrub.Link
* Bath fizzies.

* Hand scrub.
* Sewing kit in a jar.
* Apron kit in a jar.

For even more ideas, download this free "Gifts in a Jar" ebook, or this freebie, which includes mosaic bath gifts and dog and cat treat in a jar.

Dec 7, 2011

Last Minute Stocking Stuffer: Pirate's Eye Patch

Both my children love to play dress up, and one of their favorite "characters" is a pirate. But we've found store bought pirate patches break much too easily. So this year, I decided to make some pirate eye patches. They are quick to stitch up, a perfect stocking stuffer - and you may already have everything needed to make them.

I'll begin by explaining how I made my children's eye patches; then I'll explain an even easier, although not as "finished," way to sew them.

What You'll Need:
about an 1/8 yard of black fabric
about an 1/8 yard of iron on interfacing
white or light colored chalk
about 18 1/2 inches narrow black elastic
thread and sewing machine
sewing pins

How to Do It:Link
1. Measure your child's head and subtract 1/2 in. or 1 in. to determine the correct length of the elastic. If the eye patch is a surprise, you may have to be stealthy about this! I found 18 1/2 in. was about right for my 6 year old, who is of average size for her age.

2. Download the pirate eye patch pattern and print it out. Cut out the pattern.

3. Lay the pattern on the black fabric, which should be folded in half. Trace the pattern with white or other light colored chalk, being sure to transfer the dart and the dots. Cut out the double layer of fabric.

4. Pin the pattern on a single layer of interfacing; cut out.

5. Iron the interfacing to the wrong side of one of the eye patch pieces.

6. Stitch the darts in both eye patch pieces.

7. Place the two fabric pieces right side together and stitch a very scant 1/4 around the entire outer edge, leaving an opening at each dot. One opening should be about the width of your thumb (so the patch is easy to turn right side out). The other opening should be only slightly wider than the width of the elastic.

8. Turn the patch so the right sides face out. Turn under the raw edges at the openings and press into place. Insert one end of the elastic into the larger of the two holes; pin in place. Insert the other end of the elastic in the smaller hole and pin in place. Topstitch all the way around the edge of the eye patch.

Two eye patches took me about 15 minutes to complete.

An Even Easier Way

If you don't mind what the back side of the patch looks like, use the pattern piece to cut 1 layer of black felt for the outside of the eye patch, and one layer of black interfacing. Press the interfacing to the back side of the felt, sew the dart, and stitch the elastic in place at the dots.

Sep 12, 2011

15 Ideas for Handmade Gifts

Christmas will be here before we know it, and already I'm thinking I'd like to make most of the gifts I give. That means getting started now.

If you already sew, knit, crochet, or do similar crafts, you can probably come up with lots of ideas for gifts. But if you're not a strong crafter, there's still a lot you can make for friends and family. Here are a few ideas.

1. Canned goods. If you've taken the plunge into canning, you'll find most people are thrilled to get home canned items, especially jams, jellies, fruit butters, and the like. Check out this post on making the jars prettier.
2. An easy to knit scarf. Learn to knit by using the directions here. The design is simple, but if you choose a beautiful yarn, the end result will be lovely.Link
3. Fun, scarves for kids using only minimal sewing skills.

4. Family heirloom cookbooks.

5. Bath goods, like these bath fizzies, easily decorated soaps, bath "snowballs," and body scrubs; they are better than store bought.

6. Totes/grocery bags from pretty fabric. If you don't sew, try decorating simple store bought bags. One idea: Gorgeous silhouettes. Or try Martha Stewart's no-sew bag. For a simple sewing project, try making drawstring bags or desk bags.

7. Button necklaces.
8. A child's pom-poms (made from recycled plastic shopping bags).
9. Storage bag and play area for matchbox-style cars or an art caddy.
10. A simple dress-up cowboy vest for boys or girls or a really nifty superhero cape.

11. Map coasters.

12. Soap crayons.

13. Butterfly house.

Link 14. Rapunzel hair clip organizer.

14. Homemade vanilla extract.

15. Driftwood shelf or driftwood rack.

Be sure to also see last year's post on gifts children can make.

Dec 27, 2010

Creating a Family Heirloom Cookbook

This year for Christmas, my mother in law gave us a treasure: A collection of family recipes. It made me realize just how fun and important these recipes are, and how much I want to preserve them for my children and grandchildren. The good news is it's easy to do, and makes an excellent gift, no matter the occasion.

Begin by gathering together recipes. Start with any in your own cookbook or recipe card collection that are family favorites. Recipes often used during the holidays are an excellent choice, since your family will likely remember them for years to come, but also consider "every day" recipes that might have meaning.

Next, think about recipes you associate with your relatives. Brainstorm with your siblings or other relatives for ideas. Some relatives may not have a printed or written copies; they may keep the recipes in their head. This is an ideal time to get those recipes on paper so future generations can enjoy them. If you have cooks that don't use measures, set up a time to cook with that relative. As they toss in a handful of this and a pinch of that, measure out the ingredients and write them down.

For relatives who aren't nearby, considering sending out emails explaining the project and giving a deadline for submitting recipes. For relatives without email, send a snail mail letter or make a few phone calls. Be sure to promise a finished cookbook to every one who participates.

Once you've gathered recipes, you might think you're done. But I encourage you to do two addition things to make the cookbook a true heirloom: Gather anecdotes and images.

Write down memories or anecdotes about the recipes, whenever possible. For example, you could note that your mother made those special chocolate chip cookies whenever you had a hard day at school, or that grandma always made her famous chowder for Christmas Eve dinner. Interview the people who originally cooked the food in your family; perhaps they have an interesting story about where they got the recipe or why it became a family favorite. These sort of stories are golden!

Adding images to the cookbook is an excellent touch, too. Sure, you can include photos of what the food looks like when it's served, but better still, include family photos. For example, for each recipe, include a photo of the original family cook. Or add images of the food being served at a family function.

Another excellent way to add images to your family heirloom cookbook is to gather original recipe cards (typed or hand written), clippings, or cookbooks. Scan the recipes - including any hand written notes or food splatters - and use them to add interest to the cookbook. (If recipes might be difficult to read - for example, if they are hand written - do include a scan of the original, but also offer a neatly typed, easy to read version of the recipe.)

Next, put it all together. Type the recipes up in a word processing program like Microsoft Word, or a digital scrapbooking program. Add anecdotes or notes to the recipes. Add photographs and scans. Be creative!

If you'll only be "publishing" a few cookbooks, you can print all the copies at home. This uses quite a bit of ink, however, so you might consider printing just one copy, then having a professional photocopy shop make duplicates.

Although there are plenty of websites out there promising to make family cookbooks look gorgeous, I still think the best method of "publishing" them is the traditional one: With an ordinary binder and plastic sheet protectors.
Place two printed pages together, back to back, and slip them into one plastic sheet holder. This keeps the pages clean, neat, and mess free. Use divider sheets to break the recipes into categories. You can stick to standard cookbook categories like "main dishes," "soups," and "desserts," or divide the recipes by family traditions, holidays, or generations. Design a cover and slip it into the binder, too.

I usually also include a number of empty plastic sheet protectors so additional pages can easily be added.

And voila! You've just created a cookbook that will be passed down, generation to generation!

Dec 10, 2010

Christmas Gifts Kids Can Make

Making gifts helps everyone - adults and kids - focus on the giving nature of Christmas. This year, why not encourage your kids to make instead of buy gifts for friends and family? Here are some easy ideas:

* Candles in jars or cookie cutter candles.

* An "I love you" treasure chest. Fill a lidded basket or small wooden chest (found at a craft store) and fill it with slips of paper telling the recipient what the maker loves about him or her.

* Felt alligator sewing kit.

* Hand print coasters. Trace the outline of a hand with a fabric marker, pencil, or piece of chalk onto a double thickness of cotton or cotton blend fabric (previously washed and ironed). Cut the same hand print from heavy iron-on interfacing. Lay one fabric hand print on the ironing board, right side facing down. Place the hand print interfacing on top of this. Lay another fabric hand print on top of the interfacing, right side up. Fuse together with a warm iron, following the directions that come with the interfacing. Trim edges, if needed.

* Tins of cookies and candied orange peels.

* Photo books. (Check out the offerings at Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Walgreens.)

* Fleece scarves and other accessories.

* Recipe dish cloth.

Nov 29, 2010

Gifts in a Jar

This Christmas will be leaner for our family, as it will be for most. This makes me think more about useful, practical, and home made gifts. One way I plan to give this year is by offering gifts in a jar - home canned foods or recipe ingredients packed attractively in a canning jar.

I've found most people are really appreciative of home canned foods, whether I'm giving away apple butter or chicken soup. Canned goods are often attractive on their own, but I've been researching ways to dress them up a bit.

Labels are vital, so recipients know what they are receiving - and, in some cases, how to prepare it. Google "canning jar labels" and you'll get 704,000 hits. Or, just take a peek at some of my favorites. Print them on sticker paper, available at office supply stores:

* A Sonoma Garden offers some simple country designs.

* HP has both lid labels and labels to place on the sides of jars.

* Martha Stewart's jam labels are quite lovely.

* For modern simplicity, try Merriment Design's canning labels.

* Sweet Preservation has several styles of labels with simple flair.

* For something with a Victorian feel, visit iDIY.

* You can also purchase stamp sets for creating canning labels. My Time has some lovely products for this purpose. The image above was created with their products.

I don't recommend using tie-on tags to identify the contents of jars; they fall off and get lost too easily. If you don't want to put stickers on the jars, consider this solution:
Print lid labels on card stock, then lay a jar ring on top of each label and closely trace around the outside with a pencil. Cut out each label, cutting along the inside of the penciled circle.
Then place the labels on the inside of the jar rings and screw the rings onto the jars. I've seen examples of this where canners print both sides of the label and the inside reads "please return jars, if you can't use them." You could also print an ingredient list on the back side.

Aside from labels, the traditional jar dress up is to cut a circle from fabric, place it under the jar ring, and either screw it in place, or use a ribbon, piece of raffia, or a rubber band to hold it in place. You can pretty this up considerably by using pinking shears for cutting, or by taking the time to cut a scalloped edge. Well Preserved is also running ideas on "pimping up" canning jars, but honestly, I think most of the time, canning jars look prettiest as is.

If you need to ship home canned foods, I recommend the following:

1. Find a sturdy box, two times larger than you'd use if the jars weren't breakable.

2. Line the bottom of the box with about an inch of bubble wrap. Or, if you have some laying around, use a layer of shipping foam.

3. Line the sides of the box with about an inch of bubble wrap or foam.

4. Wrap each jar individually in bubble wrap, taping the wrap closed along the bottom, top, and sides, so the jar can't slide out.

5. Place the bubble wrapped jars in the box, filling in any extra space with crumbled newspaper, wrapping paper, or bubble wrap.

6. Lay about an inch of bubble wrap over the entire contents of the box.

7. Seal the box securely with packing tape, on both the top and bottom openings.

UPDATE 12/2011: For more gifts in a jar ideas, see my 2011 update, here.

Nov 25, 2010

Thoughtful Stocking Stuffers for Kids

Stuffing a Christmas stocking shouldn't be expensive. However, if you're not going to spend much on your kids' stockings, you may find yourself wondering what you can give them that will remain interesting for more than a day or two. Here are some ideas:

* Breakfast. When I was a kid, I always got an orange in my Christmas stocking and I was required to eat it before the gift giving began. In your household, you could use other fruit, or maybe a home made breakfast muffin.

* Small books. I'm not a big fan of so called "gift books," but if you can find small, inexpensive books your kids will like, stick one or two in the stockings. For older kids, I highly recommend Dover's thrift classics, which cost just $2 each.

* Coloring books. For the younger set, visit the local Dollar Tree for cheap coloring books. Or buy splendid coloring books (that even appeal to many adults) from Dover.

* Magazines. Tweens and teens will appreciate a magazine in their stocking.

* Blank books. Although we tend to think only older kids will enjoy these, my 5 year old has several and loves them. I carry one in my purse for her to use for drawing during church service, and she keeps another in her home desk for drawing.

* Art supplies. Colored pencils, a water color set, stickers, playdough, or a fresh set of Crayola crayons are good choices.

* Toothbrushes. This is a tradition at my sister's house and her kids (now grown) would be disappointed if their stocking lacked this item.

* Grown up lady stuff. Does your little girl like to imitate you putting on your lipstick? Then a prettily-packaged chapstick is something she'll love. Other grown-up imitating items, like bubble bath, hair brushes, play jewelry, and hair clips also work well.

* Make up. For teens, makeup, nail polish, nail care kits, compact mirror, and makeup brushes are a hit.

* Classic games. Think yo-yos, Go Fish and Old Maid, chalk, jacks, jump ropes, matchbox cars, deck of cards, and slinkies.

* Kitchen stuff. If your child likes to help you cook, an inexpensive apron, a rolling pin "just his size," or a plastic serrated knife so she can help you cut veggies are all great ideas.

* Coupons. For a really meaningful stocking stuffer, try printing out coupons your kids can redeem. They can say things like "Good for a night at the movies with Dad" or "Redeem for a baking day with Mom."

Nov 9, 2010

Bake and Freeze Christmas Treats - Starting Now

My friend and fellow writer Niki Hampton is well known for her gift baskets full of baked goodies. But this year, she tells me, she's trying something new. "Every year," Niki says, "I spent the week before Christmas in baking chaos. It was absolutely ridiculous! I'm not going to lie - I wasn't the nicest person to live with the week of Christmas." This year, though, she's making everything in November - then freezing it until it's time to deliver. How ingenious!

Niki came up with the idea accidentally. "Last year I ended up with an overwhelming amount of Amish Friendship Bread starters and decided to just start baking," she says. "I think I ended up with about 15 loaves. I threw them in the freezer, hoping for the best. When it was time to make my Christmas basket gifts, I took the bread from the freezer and discovered they were perfect! I received tons of compliments."

This year, she vows, her goodie basket extravaganza will be much less stressful because she'll stretch out the work over the course of several weeks.

Want to follow Niki's smart example? Good candidates for baking, then freezing include:

* Quick breads (like banana, pumpkin, cranberry, and zucchini bread)
* Shortbread
* Cheesecake (firm in the freezer before wrapping and storing in the freezer)
* Cake (undecorated, it freezes for up to a month)
* Pie (freeze before baking, unless it is nut based, like pecan pie)
* Most types of cookies (avoid freezing cookies made with artificial vanilla, or that have cream fillings, soft frosting, or meringues)

All baked goods should be completely cool before you double wrapped them in heavy duty foil and place them in the freezer. Niki recommends the additional protection of putting foil wrapped goodies in a sealable freezer bags. In addition, cookies freeze best if placed (unfrosted) in an air-tight, freezer proof plastic container. Use plastic wrap, foil, or wax paper to separate layers of cookies.

For easier handling when it comes time to put together gift baskets, Niki suggests freezing goodies in small amounts. For example, if you give away smallish squares of short bread, cut the short bread into pieces before freezing, and wrap each small piece individually.

Thaw baked goods at room temperature (not in the refrigerator, where they might absorb odors). Or deliver the treats frozen and provide written instructions for thawing.


Oct 8, 2010

Best Books for Babies

Whether you're hunting for a great baby shower gift or you're an expecting mama who's eager to encourage your baby's bookwormish side, here are some books I think every baby ought to have.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I wasn't familiar with this classic board book when I recieved it as a gift after my first child was born. And I wasn't impressed with the book after I read it. But for some reason every kid I've ever known loves this tale. Over time, I've come to appreciate it, too. The detail in the illustrations is wonderful, and tell a tale all their own.

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. This book allows little fingers to develop fine motor skills by lifting a piece of cloth to play peek-a-boo, put their finger through "mummy's ring," and more. Just plain fun.

Playtime Devotions by Christine Harder Tangvald and Tamara Schmitz. This is my favorite book to give as a baby shower gift. In it, you'll find all kinds of songs and rhymes to teach babies and toddlers about God and the Bible. It even includes simple scriptures to teach young children.

Baby Faces by DK Publishing. There are a lot of board books with baby faces in them, but I think this is the best. Babies and toddlers love looking at other babies, and this book helps teach kids words to describe their emotions, too. Sadly, it's not in print, so snatch it up if you see it.

Bible Stories for Tiny Tots by Kobus Sandenbuergh. It's tough to find a children's Bible that holds a toddler's attention, but this little board book is short, simple, and full of colorful illustrations. It really did the trick for both my kids.

Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton. Teaching animal noises has never been more fun. Sandra Boynton has many popular books, but this one is the ultimate for babies and toddlers. It still makes my kindergartener laugh!

Little One's Bible Verses by Stephen Elkins. This sweet and gentle book introduces the smallest "readers" to scripture. As children get older, they can start memorizing these Bible verses, too.