This has been one crazy roller coaster of a year but I still can't believe it's just about over! Tomorrow is New Year's Eve and ...

'Shanté Keys and the New Year's Peas' - Read and Rise December 2020

This has been one crazy roller coaster of a year but I still can't believe it's just about over! Tomorrow is New Year's Eve and I have the perfect multicultural New Year's book to share with you all. It's about a little girl named Shanté who is asking all her neighbors if they have black-eyed peas because her family needs to eat them on New Year's for good luck, but they forgot to pick some up at the store! Each person she talks to comes from a different cultural background and celebrates the new year at different times of the year and in different ways. It is the perfect introduction to all the various new year celebrations around the world!


Featured story: "Shanté Keys and the New Year's Peas" by Gail Piernas-Davenport


Activity: Plan your New Year's celebration! You can incorporate some of the different foods we learned about in the story or choose foods that are traditional in your family or just foods that you really like! For more New Year's ideas and inspiration, check out New Year's Traditions from Around the World.

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Today is the first day of Kwanzaa! If you're unfamiliar, Kwanzaa is an African American holiday that lasts from December 26 to January 1...

'Together for Kwanzaa' - Read and Rise Book Club December 2020

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa! If you're unfamiliar, Kwanzaa is an African American holiday that lasts from December 26 to January 1. Kwanzaa was created and first celebrated in the 1960's as a way for African Americans to connect with their African culture and heritage and is often celebrated in addition to Christmas or other religious holidays. Each of the seven days is dedicated to celebrating one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Our story today will introduce you to the seven principles of Kwanzaa as well as some of the symbols, like the kinara and mkeka mat. 


Featured story: "Together for Kwanzaa" by Juwanda G. Ford


Activity: Make your own mkeka mat! A traditional mkeka can be made from straw or African cloth and uses the colors black, red, and green. Black stands for the color of the people, red for the blood that unites all people of African ancestry, and green for the rich land of Africa. Here is a great tutorial for making your own paper mkeka: Kwanzaa Mkeka Mat Craft


Resources:

Kwanzaa Facts for Kids

Seven Interesting Facts About Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa

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Merry Christmas Eve! Today I'm sharing two stories! The first is our favorite nativity story, "Room for a Little One" by Marti...

'Room for a Little One' and 'La Noche Buena' - Read and Rise December 2020

Merry Christmas Eve! Today I'm sharing two stories! The first is our favorite nativity story, "Room for a Little One" by Martin Waddell. This story is told from the animals' perspective who, unlike all the people living in Bethlehem, gladly made room for Mary and Joseph and welcomed little Jesus into the world. For me, it's not only a sweet story about the birth of Jesus, but a nice reminder that all the amazing animals in this world deserve our care and respect.


Featured story: "Room for a Little One" by Martin Waddell



The second story is "La Noche Buena" by Antonio Sacre. This story is about a little girl who is accustomed to spending Christmas in snowy New England with her mom's family but is going down to hot Miami to spend Christmas with her Cuban father and his family. At first she's very disappointed that Christmas won't be like normal, but as she starts getting involved with preparations and celebrations, she learns that different does not have to be bad. I think this is an especially WONDERFUL story for this year, when most of us will be celebrating Christmas a little differently! 


Featured story: "La Noche Buena" by Antonio Sacre


Christmas Eve Activity: My kids like to not only leave out cookies for Santa, but treats for his reindeer! Here is a recipe for a cute reindeer treat you can sprinkle out on your lawn tonight! 

However you celebrate, stay safe and have a happy holiday with the ones you love!


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  Happy Winter Solstice! To welcome the return of the sun and longer days to come, we made Greek yogurt sun pancakes for breakfast. I made t...

Greek Yogurt Sun Pancakes for Winter Solstice

 

Happy Winter Solstice! To welcome the return of the sun and longer days to come, we made Greek yogurt sun pancakes for breakfast. I made the pancakes larger than normal because Lil C wanted to cut around to make it look like a sun. Then I set out some toppings so they could decorate their suns. These pancakes are easy to make and full of protein from the yogurt, milk, and eggs to keep little bellies full a little longer.

 
Greek Yogurt Pancakes
Makes 7 5" pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (I usually use Oikos triple zero Greek yogurt strawberry or vanilla)
  • 1/2 cup milk (any kind)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions:

1. Combine flours, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
2. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, yogurt, milk, and vanilla until well blended.
3. Pour in the flour mixture and mix until everything is blended (some lumps are fine!).
4. Heat a skillet and coat with butter. Drop batter onto skillet using 1/4-1/2 cup measure (depending on how large you want your pancakes). When bubbles start forming and popping on top of the pancake, flip and cook on the other side until golden brown and cooked through.
5. Serve with your choice of toppings. To make suns, I set out yogurt, shredded coconut, pecans, apple slices, chocolate chips, and grapes.



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Christmas is almost here! There are so many Christmas books I had a hard time figuring out what books I would share here this week. I finall...

'Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?' - Read and Rise Book Club December 2020

Christmas is almost here! There are so many Christmas books I had a hard time figuring out what books I would share here this week. I finally chose to highlight Jan Brett because I love the variety of Christmas books she has and that they are based on folktales, making them stand out from the pack. "Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?" is based on the Norwegian folktale, "The Cat on the Dovrefjell." 


Featured story: "Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?" by Jan Brett


Activity: Since our book is based on a Norwegian folktale, our activity is based on Norwegian traditions. And one thing that is prominent in Norway around the holidays is gingerbread cookies, or pepperkaker. But they don't just make cookies in Norway, they make Pepperkakebyen gingerbread towns, the largest of which is in Bergen, Norway. Now, none of us may be prepared to make a massive gingerbread town, but we can all make a batch of gingerbread cookies or a gingerbread house! You can get a gingerbread house kit from the store or just collect graham crackers, frosting, and candies and get creative. Whatever you do, just taking some time to create and spend time with your family will make for wonderful holiday memories!

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I discovered the book "Night Tree" by Eve Bunting last year while searching for winter books at our local library. I found the sto...

Decorating a Tree with Edible Ornaments for Wildlife with 'Night Tree'

I discovered the book "Night Tree" by Eve Bunting last year while searching for winter books at our local library. I found the story so sweet I knew it would become a yearly read! The story follows a family as they head into the forest the night before Christmas to find their tree. Only, their tree isn't their Christmas tree, it is the tree they decorate for the animals every year! Under the light of the moon, the family covers the tree with strings of popcorn and various other edibles and then they sip hot cocoa and sing a couple Christmas carols. 


We didn't decide to head into the forest to find a tree to decorate on Christmas Eve, but we were inspired to decorate a tree in our yard for our animal friends! Here are some of the ornaments we made for our tree.



We used cookie cutters to cut slices of bread into fun shapes then spread a thin layer of peanut butter and sprinkled bird seed over the top. I used a needle to poke the thread through the bread and knotted it at the top. **Important: do not use fishing line when making ornaments for wildlife, thread and yarn are much safer options.

Lil C strung a couple pretzels and dried cranberries onto yarn.

This is an alternating pattern of dried cranberries and raisins - we used a needle to string the fruit, just make sure you clean your needle afterwards!

Fresh orange slices hung with yarn. Lil C experimented by smushing the orange slices into the birdseed - it stuck on better than I expected!

Cheerios threaded onto pipe cleaners and shaped into a heart. **Once the Cheerios have been eaten, make sure you collect the pipe cleaner.

For more ideas for edible ornaments, check out these articles:

And, of course, don't forget to read "Night Tree"!





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  December 15th is National Cupcake Day ! Did you know that Winston Churchill was the first person to suggest putting frosting on cupcakes (...

National Cupcake Day

 

December 15th is National Cupcake Day! Did you know that Winston Churchill was the first person to suggest putting frosting on cupcakes (thank you, Winston Churchill!)? I am not sure who was the first person to suggest putting decorations on cupcakes, but I can tell you that my kids love having free reign of the sprinkles :-)


Today we made orange cranberry cupcakes with cream cheese frosting - I was looking for something with winter/holiday flavors and since I love fresh cranberries in baked goods I had to try these! The cupcakes came out a little dense (but I find most fruit cupcake recipes end up dense) but the flavor was spot on. And the frosting was creamy and just sweet enough. 


Lil C and Squidgy helped make the batter, but their favorite part is always decorating the cupcakes. They both wanted to do the frosting all by themselves (I only helped a little!) and then add sprinkles, lots of sprinkles!

Lil C's cupcakes

Squidgy's cupcakes

I also asked the kids to draw me their perfect cupcakes, promising that we would try to make them later this month.

Squidgy is a simple man, who knows what he likes. He takes after Mommy and loves chocolate - chocolate with chocolate and then some more chocolate! I love that he named his cupcake design "The Batwing!"


Lil C, on the other hand, likes to go big. And apparently when it comes to her cupcakes, going big means going "sky high" with A LOT of grape frosting on a strawberry sprinkle cake and a unicorn on top! I told her I had never had grape frosting before, nor did I know how to make any. She suggested making the cream cheese frosting again and adding grape jelly to it. It's worth a try! I'll let you know how it turns out!


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In just about a week, we will be celebrating the winter solstice. One more week of shortening days and then the days will start to lengthen ...

'Sun Bread' - Read and Rise Book Club December 2020

In just about a week, we will be celebrating the winter solstice. One more week of shortening days and then the days will start to lengthen once more! I came across this adorable book called "Sun Bread" by Elisa Kleven about a town that was desperately missing the sun among all the wind, snow, and rain. The baker came up with an idea to warm everyone spirits (and tummies): sun bread! The warm fluffy bread lifts everyone's spirits and brings the sun back to the sky! I thought this was a perfect book for winter solstice, as we eagerly await days of longer sun to warm our bodies and the earth.


Featured story: "Sun Bread" by Elisa Kleven


Activity: Make your own sun bread to welcome back the sun! You can find the recipe at the end of the story but I've also included it here:

Sun Bread (adapted from "Sun Bread" by Elisa Kleven)
1. Mix together 3 eggs and 3 tbsp sugar.
2. Combine 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour and 1 stick of melted butter.
3. Combine the egg and flour mixtures; beat well.
4. In a small bowl, combine 2 packages active dry yeast (about 4 1/2 tsp) with 3 tbsp warm milk. Let stand until foamy, at least 5 minutes.
5. Add the yeast mixture to the batter and stir. Knead dough on greased, floured surface - or in a stand mixer with a dough hook - for 8-10 minutes.
6. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until about doubled in size (about an hour).
7. Punch down dough, knead a few minutes, and separate into two pieces.
8. Shape one portion into a round, somewhat flattened ball to make the sun's face. Place dough on a large greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet. With the greased end of a spoon (or your finger), punch two eyes in the sun and draw a mouth. Make sure your lines are deep so they don't close up while baking. Make a nose by attaching a small ball of dough to the face.
9. To make the corona for your sun, roll half of the remaining dough into 4-5 long snakes. Coil the snakes into snail shapes. Shape the rest of the dough into puffy triangles. Firmly attach the snails and triangles to your sun's face. (Use a little water if the dough is too dry.)
10. Cover the sun and let it rise again in a warm place for about an hour.
11. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the sun bread for about 20 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into center of bread - it should come out clean.
12. Enjoy plain or with butter, honey, or jam.

There is some cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy weather forecast for this coming week and I think baking this sun bread will be a perfect way to warm our bellies!


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  “Lexi’s Special Tooth Fairy Pillow” is a sweet story about Lexi, a girl with a loose tooth who comes to visit her grandparents. Lexi is wo...

'Lexi's Special Tooth Fairy Pillow' by Ann Morris Book Review

 


“Lexi’s Special Tooth Fairy Pillow” is a sweet story about Lexi, a girl with a loose tooth who comes to visit her grandparents. Lexi is worried because her tooth fairy pillow is back home and she’s not sure the tooth fairy will know she has lost her tooth without it. But Grandma steps in and does what it takes to soothe Lexi’s worries and save the day!


After reading the story, my first thought was that I really loved how Grandma was willing to do whatever it took to help Lexi. It is a wonderful message of love and family – we all wish we had a grandma like that! But it is also a lesson in problem solving and a reminder that in life there are things we can control and things we can’t. Grandma may not be able to get Lexi’s tooth fairy pillow from home or simply make Lexi stop worrying that the tooth fairy won’t know she lost her tooth. But Grandma CAN make a new pillow.


I think my favorite part of “Lexi’s Special Tooth Fairy Pillow” was when Grandma felt sad that Lexi left her pillow behind but realized that it had fulfilled its purpose. As a parent, it’s easy to attach a lot of emotion to an object and it can be disappointing when your child doesn’t love and appreciate the object anymore. Squidgy pretty much lived in a carrier strapped to my chest for months when he was an infant. And then he became more mobile and wanted to be free. It was sad for a while that he didn’t want to cuddle up and lay on me anymore, but eventually I realized that he just didn’t need it anymore. Our children will always need us, it’s just that how they need us will constantly change.


This book also brought me back to when Lil C started losing her teeth. When Lil C got her first loose tooth, I was not prepared! I couldn’t remember exactly what I did growing up, just a vague memory of putting my tooth under my pillow and finding coins the next morning. But then I thought, “we can’t just put the tooth under the pillow. It’s so tiny! It will get lost!” The problem kind of solved itself because Lil C’s first lost tooth was actually lost! My daughter was eating and when she turned to tell me something, the tooth was just gone! I’m fairly certain she swallowed it while she was eating. So, we wrote a note to the tooth fairy explaining what had happened, put it in an envelope, and stuck it under her pillow. From then on, Lil C has wanted to write a note to the tooth fairy so we stick the tooth in the envelope with the note.


Our solution worked to keep the tiny teeth from getting lost in the bed, but I love the idea of a tooth pillow! It’s just so cute! What child wouldn’t want a special little pillow? Now I absolutely want to make a pair of tooth fairy pillows for my children! I immediately set about browsing the internet for ideas and these are my favorite:

Tooth Fairy Pillows

 

I hope you check out “Lexi’s Special Tooth Fairy Pillow” by Ann Morris! If you are also inspired to make a tooth fairy pillow – or if your children already have them – we’d love to see photos!

Lexi's Special Tooth Fairy Pillow

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Someone recommended "Meet the Latkes" by Alan Silberberg as a fun Hanukkah (and Chanukkah!) story and as soon as I read it, I knew...

'Meet the Latkes' - Read and Rise Book Club December 2020

Someone recommended "Meet the Latkes" by Alan Silberberg as a fun Hanukkah (and Chanukkah!) story and as soon as I read it, I knew it was the perfect book to teach us a little more about Hanukkah. The story is absolutely hysterical and engaging, while teaching you about the history of Hanukkah. This read aloud version done by Shira from Shira's Story Corner* and Scott Speiser is just perfect too - you definitely don't want to skip this one!


Featured story: "Meet the Latkes" by Alan Silberberg


Activity: Have latkes! You can absolutely purchase latkes from the store and just heat them up at home, but if you have the time and energy to make your own, this recipe was recommended to me.

Homemade Latkes

Ingredients:

- 2 1/2 pounds potatoes (about 8 large)

- 2 medium onions

- 2 large eggs

- 1 1/2 tsp salt

- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper

- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

- a pinch of baking powder

- about 3/4 cup vegetable oil (for frying)

Directions:

1. Line a tray with paper towels for draining latkes and have a baking sheet ready for keeping latkes warm.

2. Peel and grate potatoes and onions on the large holes of a grater or with a food processor fitted with a coarse grating disk, alternating onion and potato. Transfer grated onion and potato to a colander. Squeeze mixture by handfuls to remove as much liquid as possible.

3. Put potato-onion mixture in a bowl. Add egg, salt, pepper, flour, and baking soda and mix well.

4. Heat 1/2  cup oil in a large, deep, heavy skillet. For each latke, drop about 2 tbsp potato mixture into pan. Flatten with back of a spoon so each pancake is 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. Do not crowd the pan. Fry over medium heat 4-5 minutes on each side, or until crisp and golden brown. Transfer to paper towels. Stir batter before frying each new batch and add more oil to pan as necessary to fry all the latkes.

5. Serve with applesauce.


*I just happened upon the read aloud of "Meet the Latkes" on Shira's Story Corner and found that it was an adorable super fun reading. But when I clicked to learn more about Shira, I was so touched and inspired by her story! After touring the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and finding out that some children are too sick to receive visitors, Shira decided she could "visit" them by making videos of herself reading stories and sharing them online for them to see. She also writes a book every year and all proceeds from the book sales go to the Children's Hospital! 

If you'd like to find out more, visit Shira's Story Corner.

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  Tomorrow is National Brownie Day and I wanted to make sure everyone was well prepared for it! :-D My sister in law, owner of Cakes by Mari...

National Brownie Day - Brownie Recipe

 

Tomorrow is National Brownie Day and I wanted to make sure everyone was well prepared for it! :-D My sister in law, owner of Cakes by Marina, is an amazing baker so I asked if she would share her go-to brownie recipe with us (and some mouth-watering photos!). 

Cakes by Marina's Favorite Brownies
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour + 1 tbsp for coating chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare an 8x8" aluminum baking dish with a light coating of cooking spray or wipe with a small amount of shortening.
2. In a bowl, combine the white sugar, melted butter, and vanilla extract until smooth and fluffy.
3. In a second bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.
4. Beat the eggs, one at a time, into the sugar and butter mixture, until thoroughly combined.
5. Add the flour mixture in 2-3 additions, mixing slowly until just combined.
6. Toss the chocolate chips in about 1 tbsp of flour, and then fold into the batter (this will help keep the chips from all sinking to the bottom of the brownies).
7. Pour batter into prepared pan and use a rubber spatula to level off the top.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Brownies are done when edges are set and have started to pull away from the sides of the pan. The center may appear to be slightly jiggly, but will firm up once brownies have cooled.

If you're feeling extra decadent, serve brownies warm with a scoop of ice cream (and maybe some sprinkles!). Enjoy!

Cakes by Marina is located in Middlesex County, NJ. If you live in the area, check her out for all your dessert needs! She has made Lil C's and Squidgy's birthday cakes every year and not only are they delicious, but her decorating is out of this world! 

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Happy St. Nicholas Day to anyone celebrating! If you missed our St. Nicholas story and activity, you can find it here:  "The St. Nichol...

'Dancing Dreidels' - Read and Rise Book Club December 2020

Happy St. Nicholas Day to anyone celebrating! If you missed our St. Nicholas story and activity, you can find it here: "The St. Nicholas Day Snow" by Charlotte Riggle

This week our focus will be Hanukkah - the first night of Hanukkah is this Thursday, December 10th. Our story today is "Dancing Dreidels" by Alva Sachs. It is a sweet story about a group of dreidel friends preparing for a Hanukkah celebration. One of the dreidels has a hard time spinning but she never gives up! Her loving friends are there to lend support and encouragement as she keeps trying and trying. It is a great reminder that things in life are not always easy, but hard work and practice always lead to progress - especially when we have loved ones to help us! This lesson was mirrored in my collaboration with Alva Sachs this past week - it took us so many tries to get the video read aloud made, the file transferred, and the file uploaded! But we never gave up and now I can share her wonderful story with you <3


Featured story: "Dancing Dreidels" by Alva Sachs.

I wanted to share that Alva's book will also be featured on OnceUponAStorytimeLive Tuesday, December 8 at 3pm PT/6pm ET! You can watch Alva read it live and hear a Christmas and Kwanzaa story as well. I will post a reminder on the Cardboard Mom Facebook Page Tuesday to remind everyone! 


Activities: Author Alva Sachs has free printables to go along with the story available on her website. I've already downloaded them and will use them this week as some of our literacy lessons! In addition, I thought it would be fun to try and make our own dreidels! And since "The Dreidel Song" says "I made my dreidel out of clay," making a clay dreidel just seemed like the way to go. Here are printable instructions - including how to make your own clay. 

Make Your Own Clay Dreidel


I feel like this post about Hanukkah and dreidels can't be complete without "The Dreidel Song," so here it is! Happy Sunday!


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I am very excited about today's book for a number of reasons. For one, I grew up celebrating St. Nicholas Day and often felt weird and o...

Read and Rise Book Club 'The St. Nicholas Day Snow' - December 2020

I am very excited about today's book for a number of reasons. For one, I grew up celebrating St. Nicholas Day and often felt weird and out of place because no one outside of my family or church really knew about it. Everyone else just celebrated and got gifts on Christmas! So I was very excited to find a book about St. Nicholas Day that I can share the story and traditions with my children and with all of you! 


Second, I connected with author Charlotte Riggle through a Multicultural Children's Book Day group and was thrilled to be able to collaborate with her. She answered all my questions about her book (interview is after the video and activity) and created a video read aloud so that I could share her beautiful story with you! 


Featured story: "The St. Nicholas Day Snow" by Charlotte Riggle



Activity: I actually have two activities to go along with this story - you can choose one or do both! Growing up, we were told that good children would get gifts (especially fruits, nuts, and chocolates) and naughty children would get a twig. When I was teaching preschool, I found out that one of my fellow teachers also celebrated St. Nicholas Day. She told me that her mom turned the naughty twig into a treat and she would decorate a twig with ribbons and candies for each child. So the first activity is to find a nice twig that you can decorate and give someone on St. Nicholas Day. If you have some candy to hang/tape onto it, go ahead! If not you can still paint it and decorate it with ribbons, pom poms...anything you think looks beautiful!

Activity two is to make snowball cookies like Catherine and Elizabeth. This recipe is vegan so it is perfect for anyone with dietary restrictions or keeping the Advent fast.
Snowball Cookies
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine 2 cups flour, 2 cups finely chopped pecans, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut oil (or 2 sticks softened vegan margarine), and 1 tsp vanilla in a large mixer bowl. Beat at low speed until well mixed, scraping sides if necessary.
3. Use your hands to shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into 1" balls. Place 1" apart on cookies sheets. Bake 20-25 minutes or until just barely browned. Cool completely on a rack.
4. Make the glaze by combining 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, 2 tbsp light corn syrup, and 2 tbsp coconut milk in a bowl. If the glaze is too thick, add coconut milk 1 tsp at a time. 
5. Place waxed paper under the cookies to catch the drips then spoon the glaze over the cookies. Before the glaze dries, sprinkle the cookies with snowflake-shaped sprinkles, white sparkling sugar, or finely shredded coconut. Share and enjoy!

Keep reading for a little interview with Charlotte about her holiday traditions and her inspirations for writing this "The St. Nicholas Day Snow."


1. Can you tell us a little about your cultural and religious background?

I grew up in a Southern family. But we moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I never quite knew, as a kid, how to answer when someone asked where I was from. Although I was born in Mississippi, my earliest memories are from central Illinois and east Tennessee. My tween and teen years were in the southern Great Lakes area. On our trips south to visit family, Mom would go to a local buy cases of food that we couldn’t get where we were living – grits, stone ground corn meal, a particular brand of barbecue sauce, her favorite crab boil seasoning.

Besides Southern food, I also grew up with a Southern understanding of hospitality. My mother welcomed everyone to our home, and treated them like family. When it was time for a meal, she counted how many people were in the house, and that’s how many places she set at the table. It didn’t matter who you were, you were welcome.

My parents were Presbyterian, and I grew up with an understanding of the majesty of God. And I was taught, explicitly, that I can’t really take credit for anything I have or anything I do. Everything good that I have, I received as a gift from a gracious God or the good people he has placed in my life. These ideas became part of me as I grew up.

When, as a young adult, I grew restless in the Presbyterian church, I started looking for something else. The Presbyterian church is restrained and austere. I felt that the love of God called for something richer, something more. And, after some years, I found that in the Orthodox Church. 


2. What made you want to write this book?

There were three reasons, really. First, I had enjoyed my collaboration with R.J. Hughes on my first book, Catherine’s Pascha, more than I could tell you. It was such a joy to see her bring the characters and the story to life. She saw things in the story that I hadn’t even quite realized were there. She drew those things out, and made the story richer and deeper and fuller. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her again.

Second, I love St. Nicholas. Not the elf who lives at the North Pole, but the bishop who lived in the part of the world which is now called Turkey. St. Nicholas truly lived out the command to love God with all his heart and soul and strength and mind, and to love his neighbor as himself. He was known during his lifetime for his compassion and his kindness. He was an example of the virtue called philoxenia, the love of strangers. All you needed to do to get his help was to ask. I wanted to celebrate St. Nicholas, to honor his life, and to introduce him to children who might never have heard of him.

The third reason might be the most important one. I wanted to get to know Elizabeth better. When I was working with R.J. Hughes on Catherine’s Pascha, we both knew that people with disabilities are severely under-represented in children’s books. We wanted to help close that gap, and to make sure that disabled kids would have the opportunity to see themselves in books. So we decided that Catherine’s best friend, Elizabeth, would have a mobility impairment.

While we worked on the book, we learned a lot about her. We realized that she was an ambulatory wheelchair user, that her favorite color was purple, and that her patron saint was Elizabeth the Dragon Slayer. We knew that she was an only child, and that she preferred fried chicken to hot dogs. We also knew that her parents were not from Orthodox families, but had become Orthodox Christians before she was born.

But I still wanted to get to know her better. And one of the ways that you get to know a character, when you’re an author, is to put them in a story, and see what they do, and what they tell you. And by the time we were done with The Saint Nicholas Day Snow, I loved Elizabeth more than ever. 


3. What were your St. Nicholas Day traditions growing up? Do you follow the same traditions now or have they evolved?

As I mentioned earlier, I was raised Presbyterian, and Presbyterians don’t do saints, not even St. Nicholas. So I didn’t have St. Nicholas when I was growing up. I did have Santa Claus. Santa Claus came on Christmas Eve, and he left oranges, apples,  candies, and nuts in our stockings.

I didn’t start developing St. Nicholas Day traditions until after I became Orthodox. At that time, I already had two children, and they were used to having Santa come on Christmas Eve. At church, though, we celebrated St. Nicholas Vespers every year on the Eve of St. Nicholas. After Vespers, the teens put on a play based on the life of St. Nicholas, and then we had cookies and punch. And the first St. Nicholas Eve after I had joined the church, my godmother gave me a beautiful little ceramic figurine of St. Nicholas. That was the first St. Nicholas in what would become a rather large collection of St. Nicholas ornaments, figurines, and icons that I put out every year during Advent and Christmas.

I didn’t want to try to change from stockings on Christmas Eve to shoes on St. Nicholas Eve, but I did want the kids to be able to celebrate St. Nicholas Day at home as well as at church. So I started giving the kids Christmas picture books on St. Nicholas Day. I wrote that into The Saint Nicholas Day Snow – that’s what Catherine’s family does. And I would send the kids to school with candy canes to share with their class. Candy canes started out ages ago as a traditional St. Nicholas treat. The cane shape represents the bishop’s crozier, and St. Nicholas was, of course, the Bishop of Myra in Lycia.   


4. What are your Christmas traditions?

In the Orthodox Church, we begin Advent on November 15. On the first weekend in Advent, I set out my St. Nicholas collection on the mantel above our fireplace, and I set the Nativity set that my mother made for me in one of our living room windows. (The St. Nicholas figures on the mantel in Catherine’s living room in the book are all based on figures in my collection. If you have a copy of the book, the large St. Nicholas on the right, in green vestments, is one that my mother made for me.)

And I clear the display shelf on our big bookcase in the living room, and fill it with Christmas picture books.

We don’t do any other decorating until the weekend before Christmas. That’s when we put up our tree, and hang a wreath. We’ve always gone to a tree farm to cut a real tree, but we finally got an artificial tree last year. We have a young dog who has a very low tolerance for new things. We thought that an artificial tree would be easier for her to cope with. We may go back to a real tree when she’s older and more laid back. But for now, this works.

Christmas Day starts with church. When we get home, our extended family that lives in the area joins us for a breakfast of sausage biscuits and mimosas and sparkling cider. Then we open presents. Christmas dinner is usually late afternoon.

For the rest of Christmas, we bake cookies, entertain friends, and celebrate the glorious joy of Christmas.


5. If you had to pick just one thing, what is your favorite part of celebrating St. Nicholas Day?

I love picking out Christmas picture books for the little ones in my life. My kids are all grown now, of course. But I have grandchildren, and a young godson. And I love trying to find just the right picture book for each of them every year. 


Purchase your own copy of "The St. Nicholas Day Snow" here.


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A few years ago, I created a set of simple Advent countdown activities to keep things fun and interesting and to spend extra time with famil...

December Holiday Activity Calendar 2020

A few years ago, I created a set of simple Advent countdown activities to keep things fun and interesting and to spend extra time with family and do kind things for others. That evolved into daily activity cards through the entire month of December plus a daily holiday/winter themed Lego build. Last year we ended up with a huge Lego winter village! This year I have not gotten myself organized to prep daily Lego builds, but I did have the brilliant idea of including some cleaning challenges with our fun activities! 

We don't do Elf on the Shelf, but I found this cute elf-ish looking doll among the Christmas decorations in the store a couple of years ago. Elfie will be joining Sock Monkey (I felt like I needed two helpers since I have two kids! I think we can make Sock Monkey a festive scarf to dress him up!) in presenting the kids with a daily cleaning challenge. If they complete the challenge, the next morning they will find a little treat along with their next cleaning challenge. My hope is that the house can be less cluttered and our things can all be put away where they belong by Christmas! 

Anyway, back to the activities. This year, I chose activities that promote family time, acts of charity and kindness, and understanding of multicultural holiday traditions. I have created a calendar along with daily cards that you can download and print out to use at home! At the end of the file are blank cards in case you want to replace some of my activities with your own. Activities written in blue on the calendar will correlate to a post here. Check Cardboard Mom on those days for video read alouds of the stories and details about the activities. 

I hope you all take this month to celebrate love and family along with us! Happy holidays from all of us here at Cardboard Mom!





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I wanted to add this book in before we got wrapped up in the holiday hustle and bustle of December. I thought it was the perfect story to re...

Read and Rise Book Club - 'The Invisible String' November 2020

I wanted to add this book in before we got wrapped up in the holiday hustle and bustle of December. I thought it was the perfect story to remind us that even though we may not get to see all the family and friends we usually do - or would like to - for the holidays this year, we are always connected. No matter what your holidays look like this year, I know they will all be full of love!


Featured story: "The Invisible String" by Patrice Karst


Activity: Send a message or card to someone (or a bunch of someones) you won't be able to see over the holidays to let them know that no matter what, you are still connected by love. 

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This year has definitely given us more than enough things to complain about - and my heart breaks for all who have lost loved ones - but I d...

Giving Thanks

This year has definitely given us more than enough things to complain about - and my heart breaks for all who have lost loved ones - but I do believe there is good that comes from every struggle and challenge we face.


It has been 261 days since we made the decision to stop attending in person classes, eating out, visiting with family and friends indoors, or visiting at all with more than a handful of people at a time. It hasn't been easy but I am thankful that we are in a position to stay home and do our part to lesson the spread of the virus. I'm thankful for my amazingly supportive husband who has donned his mask and done all the grocery shopping for us...and a million other things. I'm thankful to my children for always reminding me of what's most important and for keeping things interesting. I'm also thankful for what I've learned and experienced during this time.

Being home has forced us to get creative about how we have fun. It has led to at home fairs, scavenger hunts and obstacle courses, nerf wars, family movie nights and sleepovers. Also, pizza, a LOT of homemade pizza.

Staying safe led to the realization that outdoor playdates and visits are so much fun! It makes me want to have all our playdates outside from now on (unless the weather is really brutal).

Without the sudden reliance on video meetings for everything, I don't think I would have ever had the idea to do a zoom lesson on coral reefs with my friend who's a marine biologist across the country! Or to have video playdates with friends and family who are too far to visit often in normal times.

I also believe that Cardboard Mom wouldn't exist without the struggles of this year. It really highlighted the need for positivity and love and compassion and inspired me to start the Read and Rise Book Club. It also gave me that little bit of extra time I needed to get things going here.

Being home has given me the time to reflect and understand where my strengths and weaknesses lie. Without the excuse of busyness, I know I need to take responsibility for my shortcomings. And being home has also given me the chance to try and break some of my bad habits. So here's hoping I come out the other side of this storm better than ever. I hope you all do too <3

I wanted to leave you with my favorite Thanksgiving story. I discovered "Giving Thanks" by Chief Jake Swamp 15 years ago and since then I have read it every year - first in my preschool classroom and now in my home. It's a beautiful reminder of all the earth provides that we often take for granted. I love taking a few moments to reflect on all we have to be grateful for before we dive in to our Thanksgiving feast.

Featured story: "Giving Thanks" by Chief Jake Swamp and Erwin Printup, Jr.



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Our homeschooling method usually involves a lot of read alouds, preferring to use living books rather textbooks. One activity we love the mo...

Story-Based STEAM Challenge - 'Balloons Over Broadway'

Our homeschooling method usually involves a lot of read alouds, preferring to use living books rather textbooks. One activity we love the most is story-based STEAM challenges. Since Thanksgiving is only a day away, for this week's activity I chose "Balloons Over Broadway" by Melissa Sweet. 



"Balloons Over Broadway" is the story of Tony Sarg, the man who created the signature balloon puppets in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. The story is really interesting - I learned that Macy's first parade was put together because Macys wanted to do something for the holidays for their employees, most of whom were immigrants, and included live animals! 


Anyway, this story inspired us to make our own balloon puppets. Since we don't have helium, we decided to make non-floating puppets like Tony Sarg's first version. 


Squidgy found a balloon that kind of looked like a body and head so he decided to make a zombie. I got the idea to dig in our pile of newborn clothes that they dress dolls in and we found some clothes to dress up the zombie - who is now a baby zombie :-) 


Lil C wanted to make a unicorn so I blew up one balloon smaller than the other so she could have a head and body. I tied the balloons together for her and then she was off figuring out how to make all the details. I was so impressed with how it came out! I'm not sure I would have thought of paper strips for the mane and tail. I happened to have 3 paint stirrers leftover so we taped them to the balloons for handles, but you could use wooden dowels, rulers...anything long and straight you find around your house. 

Our second activity inspired by "Balloons Over Broadway" was Lego parade floats. 
There's a heavy Disney theme in our parade but there are some ghosts thrown in, a Minecraft float, and Lil C made sure to add Santa and Mrs. Claus at the end just like in the read parade!





I hope you all have your own STEAM fun inspired by "Balloons Over Broadway!"



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I have always loved the idea of Native American dreamcatchers and was so happy when my husband found me an authentic one on a work trip to N...

Read and Rise Book Club - 'Grandmother's Dreamcatcher' November 2020

I have always loved the idea of Native American dreamcatchers and was so happy when my husband found me an authentic one on a work trip to NYC almost 15 years ago (it's the one on the left - that's why it's missing feathers and looking a little worn, it's moved homes several times and been well loved for a long time!). I would often get bad dreams as a child and they've been much less frequent through adulthood, but they still come now and then. When Lil C started having bad dreams, we figured she should get her own! I don't remember where we got hers, but hers is the one in the middle. Last fall, we picked up a dreamcatcher for Squidgy while we were visiting Bushkill Falls in Pennsylvania. I did notice that Lil C's is the only one with a bead in the web - I'm not positive on the meaning of that but I'm thinking it might symbolize the spider who wove the web. 


This week we have a sweet story about a girl whose bad dreams lead to her grandmother making her a dreamcatcher and sharing the story of the dreamcatcher's origin.

Featured story: "Grandmother's Dreamcatcher" by Becky Ray McCain


Activity: Illuminative has another wonderful free lesson to go along with our story this week. Download your copy of Keeper of the Dreams: The Legend of the Lakota Dream Catcher and learn how to make your own dreamcatcher. The lesson also includes digital text and read aloud versions of the story "Keeper of the Dreams: The Legend of the Lakota Dream Catcher." 


One important thing I want to note is, if you would like a dreamcatcher, please either make it yourself using the lesson above or purchase one that is made by Native Americans. I think dreamcatchers are beautiful and wonderful for helping keep bad dreams at bay, but in order to respect the culture that created them, we should understand the meaning behind them and the method in which they are made. 

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I absolutely love how my idea for the Read and Rise Book Club is having unexpected benefits. Obviously, I'm hoping it helps promote feel...

Native American Three Sisters Soup

I absolutely love how my idea for the Read and Rise Book Club is having unexpected benefits. Obviously, I'm hoping it helps promote feelings of self-worth and self-confidence as well as improve understanding and appreciation for other cultures and the earth. But I always end up learning even more than I thought I would! 


When researching books about Native American culture to include this month, the book "Fry Bread" by Kevin Noble Maillard led me to learn that fry bread originated from oppression and suffering. And when searching for more Native American recipes to try and share, I came across Three Sisters Soup. Of course with a name like that I had to look into what the three sisters were and why they were called the three sisters. Here's the short version of what I found. The traditional three sisters were corn, beans, and squash. Before the American government forced indigenous tribes from their lands and onto reservations where they could only have small garden plots, those tribes would grow the three sisters on the same mound. The corn would provide a trellis for the beans and the beans helped secure the corn in high winds. Today, we also know that there is a bacteria living on bean plant roots that pulls nitrogen from the air and converts it to a form that both the beans and corn can use. The squash vines would help shade the ground with their large leaves, discouraging weed growth and encouraging water retention in the soil. If you would like to read more about the three sisters and current efforts to revive Native agricultural practices, check out "Returning the 'Three Sisters' - corns, beans, and squash - to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land, and Cultures


This was seriously mind blowing to me! I grew up so used to the traditional method of farming where each type of plant had its own area on the farm. Now that we are researching more into home gardening, we're finding that method causes so many problems! I was just reading about good crop rotation methods a couple of days ago and learned that rotating your crops will drastically cut down on insect problems and disease. I also read that you will have much fewer insect and disease issues if you grow different vegetables together instead of having a devoted garden bed to each kind. I'm literally relearning something Native Americans knew hundreds of years ago! It's a weird mix of frustrating and amazing at the same time...


Anyway, onto the soup! There are so many variations on the Three Sisters Soup but I settled on this version from First Nations. I liked this recipe because it was simple with easy to get ingredients and because it was vegetarian - I'm always looking for delicious vegetarian meals to throw into our rotation. If you are vegan, this recipe is perfect as well, all you have to do is replace the butter with oil or margarine and stick with vegetable stock. I used butter and chicken stock, but made one small adjustment to the recipe. I left out the curry powder and red pepper flakes because we're not crazy about those flavors and instead added a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. 

I served the soup along with cranberry brie bites, since I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. The brie bites are simply crescent roll dough cut into squares and placed in a mini muffin tin topped with chunks of brie, some cranberry jam/sauce, and chopped pecans. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes. One tube of crescent roll makes 24 bites. 3 out of 4 family members really enjoyed this dinner, so I'm going to call it a win! We'll add it into our regular meal rotation and maybe the 4th member will eventually learn to like it...


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18 years ago, on November 23, 2002, John Herrington blasted into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. As a member of the Chickasaw Natio...

Read and Rise Book Club 'Mission to Space' - November 2020 Week 2

18 years ago, on November 23, 2002, John Herrington blasted into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, Herrington made history as the first Native American in space. Today, I am sharing his story and exploring Native American stories surrounding the stars and constellations. 


Featured story: "Mission to Space" by John Herrington


Activity: Illuminative is a non-profit trying to change the narrative about Native peoples and they have numerous lessons for children available for free to download. I love the following lesson about constellations:


How constellations got their names - I recommend looking at pictures of some well known constellations and then listening to "Why Coyote Howls: A Star Story" as retold by Lynn Moroney (Chickasaw) while your children make their own constellations using marshmallows or playdough and toothpicks or spaghetti (link for the story is found in the lesson plan). Then head outside on a dark clear evening and check out the stars! My kids LOVE the SkyView Lite app (available for iOS and android) for identifying constellations, stars, planets, and satellites. 


Here are some extra constellation activities (I plan on doing star darts with Lil C and Squidgy!):  https://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/skytellers/constellations/activities/

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The kids wanted to make a box fort haunted house this year and so I got to work trying to figure out how to make one! It was the first time ...

Box Fort Haunted House for Halloween

The kids wanted to make a box fort haunted house this year and so I got to work trying to figure out how to make one! It was the first time I had made a multi-room box fort that used more than one or two boxes. It was definitely not a resounding success, but it's still mostly standing and was definitely a good learning exercise for me.


As I was taping the box flaps together, I realized that I should do something to help the box keep its shape. My solution was to use scraps of cardboard to make angled support pieces in the corners (you can see them in the top two corners). This strategy worked pretty well, but after a lot of pushing and pulling and squishing from the kids playing inside and crashing into it from the outside, the supports started to bend.

The first room was done! Our door had a fancy handle on the inside and outside, but it did have one flaw. I did not measure at all and the doorway was too narrow for me to fit through! So when I had to get inside to work on it I had to worm on my side which was...interesting...

2 rooms attached! First lesson learned, single boxes - even the really big ones - make for teeny tiny rooms. 

Since I learned from the first two rooms, I used two boxes to make a third larger room! As you can see, the kids had started decorating the first two rooms with spooky decorations!

The kids wanted a "second floor" so I put a small wooden table in the corner of the large room and built a lookout tower. 

The next big lesson I learned is that making a roof for your box fort is very difficult when the boxes are not all the same size and height. Oops.

All in all, for our first real box fort I think it came out really cool! I learned a lot and I am confident that I can renovate it, build it better, and turn it into something Christmassy - maybe a gingerbread house or Santa's workshop or the post office! 

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