Tis the season when I start obsessing about holiday teacher gifts for my children’s teachers. Let’s recap. I teach at the school my children attend. I like to give a sirsee to each teacher who works with my children, so I need close to twenty little gifts at a low cost. Since I am a teacher too, I (over) analyze the practicality of the gift and whether I think the teachers and administrators receiving these holiday treats will need them and use them– and like them.
After much consideration, I chose to make herb mixes in little jars. Over the holidays, people often have guests or extended family at their house and need group food or dips on hand. These herb mixes are easy to mix by adding sour cream or mayonnaise (or both). They look pretty in the jars, are easy to assemble in large quantities, and will keep if they are not used right away.
I found the recipe for the herb mixes at Bubbly Nature Creations. I tested the Fiesta Dip Mix, Italian Dip Mix, and Ranch Herb Dip Mix. The original recipes fit perfectly into the smaller jars with cork stoppers that I had. I ended up doubling the Fiesta Dip Mix and using 65 mL jars with a flip lid. The jars held roughly 1/4 c. of dry mix. I purchased the jars at Hobby Lobby.
I made Fiesta Dip Mix Labels to tie around the jars. I printed the labels on green cardstock and used my paper cutter to make sure the labels were cut evenly with straight edges. We glued each label onto a piece of red cardstock that was a little larger than the green label, punched a hole in the top, and tied to the jar with curly ribbon. The red paper border really isn’t necessary and made the label a little too long for the height of the jar. I will skip that detail next time.
After the novelty of the petal bag sewing project wore off, I launched into the next crafty activity– Ukrainian Easter Eggs. I haven’t made them for a few years because on top of the incredible time suck to complete just one egg, they require a lot of counter space, and they are not that kid friendly. The egg dying process involves hot wax and fire, and until this year, I didn’t really want to supervise Miss Priss and Mr. Star Wars trying to make the eggs. I could have told them that they could not participate in the great Ukrainian egg decorating project and given them inferior PAAS dyes as a consolation but that would be cruel.
Ukrainian Easter Eggs are decorated using layers of beeswax and dyes. It takes a steady hand and a lot of patience. Sewing Sister can freehand hers, but I have to sketch guidelines with pencil to get better results. It can take several hours to make one egg, but the results are worth it (in this obsessive RoomMom’s opinion).
Mix dyes according to dye packet instructions with boiled distilled water. You really need to order the Ukrainian egg dyes. The colors are much more vibrant than anything you find with the regular Easter supplies at WalMart or the grocery store, and they are made for adding one color over another. You want tall containers with lids like a wide mouth pint Mason jar. Let dyes cool overnight, and keep lids on the dyes when you are not using them.
Bring eggs that you will be decorating to room temperature. The eggs are uncooked and NOT blown out. Wipe the egg gently with a paper towel moistened with white vinegar. This helps the dye coat the egg more evenly.
Draw guidelines on your egg lightly with a fine mechanical pencil. I always use patterns from the Ukrainian design books I have, and it shows me how to divide the egg. Most eggs start with a basic division into 8 sections. Pencil in any other tricky parts of the design. Pencil mistakes can be erased by wiping the egg with a piece of paper towel moistened with white vinegar.
Any areas of the egg that will stay white get covered with wax first.
Light the candle and let it burn while you work. Gently hold your kistka (the drawing tool) in the side of the candle flame. Do not hold the point of the kistka in the flame. Once the kistka is hot, dig the back of the “well” in the beeswax to fill. Begin tracing the first lines in the pattern with the kistka. Stop every few strokes to reheat the little tool in the flame and fill with more beeswax as necessary. It will be a little like writing with an ink pen that needs to be dipped in ink.
After covering all of the white parts of the design with wax, dip the egg in the lightest color (usually yellow). After several minutes (even up to 30 minutes), remove the egg from the dye, dry, and begin the next section of the design in the next lightest color.
Repeat until the design is finished. Dip in the final color, which will be the background of the egg. With Ukrainian eggs, the last color is often royal blue or black.
Remove the egg from the dye, dry completely by rolling and patting with paper towel.
Carefully hold the egg near the flame of the candle and wait for the beeswax to begin to melt. When the wax looks glassy and melted, wipe the wax away with paper towel. Continue to clear small sections of wax until all wax has been removed from the egg. Adjust your piece of paper towel, so you are always wiping with a clean portion of the paper towel.
After the egg is finished, you can drain it. I never do. The eggs are actually stronger if you leave them whole. Over time, the eggs dry out on their own if you keep them on a shelf out of drafts and movement. Do beware; if an egg cracks before it has completely dried out, you will come home to one stinky mess!
Do not retrace lines. You may think that beeswax is not covering the egg, but it is. When you retrace lines, it creates duplicate, sketchy looking lines and will not look as tidy when complete.
This process can be frustrating for kids (and beginners).
I had zero inspiration for Valentine’s cards this year. Last year, I planned the Matchbox Valentine months ahead, but no lightning bolts were happening this Valentine’s season. It is with heavy heart that I must admit that I completely lifted our Valentine’s cards idea from Pinterest. Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss love them, so maybe it is not such a terrible thing, and they were easy to make in bulk. I would like to thank Kim at 733blog.com for posting the original Tic Tac Toe Valentine’s card idea.
I created a 2-column template in a Word document (link in the materials list below). I inserted a table in the document and removed the borders to build the tic tac toe board. The part I find clever about the card is the “XOXO” part at the bottom. It is a traditional closing on a card as well as an homage to the Tic Tac Toe game. Yes, I know that detail will be lost on the 1st and 3rd graders who will be receiving these Tic Tac Toe cards Friday.
Print the cards in color on white cardstock. My template prints 4 to a page. Rather than burn out my printer, I used FedEx Office for this job. The color print and cardstock paper is much better quality than what I could print on my home printer.
When I picked up the print job, I stayed at the store and used their paper cutter to make sure the card cuts were consistent and even. It was a lot of cutting because I needed to cut all edges, not just down the center. This was a tedious part of the process. The finished cards are 4 1/2″ tall x 3 1/2″ wide.
Sign the bottom of each card after the XOXO. We used bright colored Sharpie pens in reds, pinks, and purples.
Put one card in a clear bag.
Add 4 M&M’s of one color and 5 M&M’s of another color to the bag with the card. Make sure to insert the M&M’s on top of the front of the card. Here is an interesting little tidbit– there are hardly any white M&M’s in the Valentine’s M&M’s mix. The majority are red (isn’t that the poisonous dye color?), and the two shades of pink have about an even amount of each. We dumped out the whole bag of candies and sorted into color piles before assembling the Valentine’s treat bags. A 12-ounce bag of M&M’s made ~37 Valentine’s bags (9 M&M’s per treat bag).
Seal the bag. I used my 4″ x 6″ ziploc bead bags from Michael Crafts. Clear gift bags with a twist tie or curly ribbon would be cute too but more time consuming to close securely.
Margaritas are my favorite cocktail, and I will try about any version of the classic concoction. We had a bag of fresh cranberries that had been hanging around the refrigerator since Thanksgiving (did I just admit that outloud?), and I knew we wouldn’t use them for anything else, so I gave this cranberry margarita recipe a spin on Christmas Eve.
Cranberry Jam Ingredients
3/4 c. fresh cranberries
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. finely grated orange zest
2 T. fresh orange juice
Bring cranberries, sugar, orange juice, and 1/4 c. water to a boil in a medium saucepan; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and jammy (30 to 40 minutes). Mix in orange zest. Let cool. The jam can be made a few days ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Cranberry Margarita Ingredients (makes 4)
2 T. sugar
1/4 to 1/2 t. each of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg
4 T. cranberry jam (see above)
2 oz. fresh lime juice (and a few wedges)
4 oz. fresh orange juice
6 oz. tequila
Mix sugar and spices on a small plate. Rub rims of cocktail glasses with a lime wedge. Dip the glass edge into the sugar mixture. Fill glasses with crushed ice.
For 1 cocktail, combine 1/2 oz. lime juice, 1 oz. orange juice, 1 1/2 oz. tequila, and 1 T. cranberry jam in a shaker. Add ice. Cover shaker and shake contents. Strain into prepared cocktail glass.
To make all 4 servings at one time, prepare 4 glasses with the sugared rims. Combine all drink ingredients in a small pitcher, add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain the mixed ingredients into another container and keep chilled until ready to serve– or strain straight into the cocktail glasses.
You can experiment with the spiced sugar. Try Chinese 5-spice powder or pumpkin spice instead of the spices listed above. I did not follow the amounts exactly but gave a few shakes of each into the sugar.
My fourth grade students sold Mason jar cookie mixes as a class fundraiser. It is a great project for integrating skills from a bunch of different academic areas. It is also a great project for creating a lot of extra work for the teacher. My teammate and I are exhausted and are not feeling nearly as charitable as we were at the beginning of this business project. However, it is a project that works well for groups of children. If you need a service project for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or your classroom, this might be something to consider. Like the soup mixes I am giving as teacher gifts, these are also something you can make at home with your kids to give to teachers, neighbors and friends over the holidays.
The students kicked off the project by voting on a variety of recipes (oatmeal was out but after testing cookie samples, they approved the M&M White Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix Recipe). Once we selected two recipes, we priced ingredients and estimated sales. We limited production to ~200 jars, and the students calculated the ingredient amounts for that number of mixes. I recommend limiting sales to a specific number you think is possible for your group, so you do not over commit.
The adults have to gather many supplies, and quality control needs to be monitored closely. Most of the stations need funnels, which we made by loosely rolling a piece of copy paper. The baking soda station needs a dedicated adult! With 34 students on 5 assembly lines, we had all of the mixes assembled in about 1 1/2 hours. We spent another half day tying labels and delivering.
If you can buy the ingredients in bulk, it costs between $4 and $5 to make one jar of cookie mix, and we sold our mixes for $8.50. The biggest cost is the chocolate chips and M&Ms. One warning– during the holidays, Mason jars are hard to find. We needed 17 dozen 1-quart jars. If you are buying jars in the Charleston area, stores are sold out (so I have heard). If we decide to repeat this project next year, we will be purchasing our jars in August! Click here for the M&M White Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix Recipe, and click here for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix Recipe.