Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Cookie and Candy Exchange

I had the pleasure of hostessing a Cookie Exchange for four other families today. It was a bit hectic trying to get the house ready for the occassion, but thanks to hubby, Tex, and the kids (and all of their invaluable help), everything was sparkling clean and prettily arranged for our guests' enjoyment this afternoon.

We each made five dozen cookies (that way our own families got some of our cookies, too) and packaged them separately in bags with a recipe card attached. The ladies (and their daughters) shared a few pots of Earl Grey tea and some lemon pound cake, while chatting about all things family and Christmas. The little ones ran around and enchanted the older girls with their easy laughter and hugs. The moms enjoyed watching their children, young and old, interact so graciously.

It was an altogether pleasant and worthwhile time that I definitely want to make a yearly tradition. I loved having the opportunity to fellowship with like-minded ladies and to get several new (and delicious!) recipes to add to my collection. Plus, my kids are so happy to have all those amazing cookies to enjoy over the next few days. I would never have found the time this year to make five different varieties of cookies, but one, I could do.

Here's what the ladies brought to the exchange:
  • Christmas Candies (me)
  • Ginger-Molasses Cookies
  • Sugar Cookies decorated with icing and sprinkles
  • Chocolate Chunk Cookies
  • Chocolate Fudge and Peanut Butter Fudge
I was sneaky and opened the bags tonight after the kids were in bed. Wasn't that naughty of me? I tried them all (incuding my own) and have decided that my favorite are the Ginger-Molasses cookies made by our friends, the P. family (yes, I even liked them better than my own contribution!). I have been drinking ginger tea lately to try and help my headache-related nausea and my migraines, so I guess I have developed quite a liking for the flavor of ginger. I found the slight zing to be exactly what I was in the mood for...I can't believe I actually picked something non-chocolate, but there you have it. I did.

Here is the recipe for the Christmas candy my mom makes every year (I made this instead of the cookies I'd planned to make because she is out of town helping her mother and I KNEW it would be a hit...it always is):


One bag of chocolate morsels
One bag of butterscotch morsels
One can of salted red-skinned Spanish peanuts

  1. Heat each bag of chips separately according to package instructions (well, I actually do all of the chips in one bag at once rather than by the cupful, so I have to heat it up for longer, but I do this incrementally and with stirring in between, so I won't burn the chips). I usually do the butterscotch first because they are a little bit tougher to melt.
  2. Combine the chocolate and butterscotch in one bowl and stir in the peanuts.
  3. Drop tablespoonfuls (for larger candies) of the mixture onto a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. For smaller candies, use a teaspoon (this is the best choice for families with smaller children. These candies are rich.)
  4. Allow to cool and harden in the fridge, then store in an airtight container IN THE FRIDGE. Makes about three dozen large candies.
  5. Enjoy! We are thinking this recipe might be delicious if made with peanut butter chips instead of butterscotch. What do you think?
So what is your favorite cookie/candy recipe to make at Christmas? Can you tell me why we only go crazy on the cookies once a year? We ought to do this more often. Well, then again, maybe my waistline thinks it is better to do this only once a year after all...

I hope you are enjoying your Christmas preparations.

Blessings to you and yours,


Classic and New Christmas Shows for FREE Online

So, you've made it to this point with no one discovering what you got them for Christmas...Hooray for you, Mom! Now, you just have to get it all wrapped without the kids interrupting and figuring it all out. If you are anything like me, maybe you used to wrap everything all at once with hubby on Christmas Eve, enjoying a little together time, an old movie, and a glass of hot cider in the wee hours of the morning. Sadly, the days of looking forward to that all-nighter are gone. We are older now and do not bounce back as easily as we once did from an all-too-late-night.

So we move on to Plan B. Plan B is this: Turn on the computer, pull up hulu.com, and let the kids while away an hour or two watching Christmas movies for FREE! Here is a link to Hulu's holiday movie page, with over two dozen holiday film titles on it...ranging from half-hour shows to almost two hour shows. Surely, they will find something on there they would like to watch. There are movies for the older and cartoons for the younger...and maybe even something for Mom to watch while she wraps (on a different computer, of course)!

Fair warning: you will want to scroll through and write down the titles of the shows you approve of, rather than let your kids choose on their own. Mixed in with the usual cute cartoons are Christmas episodes of many of the ridiculously inappropriate sitcoms that are on the air nowadays.

While doing Christmas preparations, I let the kids watch Prep and Landing from Disney (my teen had seen it and said it was okay), and I thought it was cute (I did miss a few minutes in the middle, but what I saw was nice). Late last night when I had a bad migraine, my teen and I watched Snow 1 and Snow 2 (plus, we were up anyway keeping track of the lunar eclipse), and other than a few veiled innuendoes made by the bad guy (which the young lady shot down immediately), those movies were also rather cute. We liked the young man who played St. Nick, and thought the young lady was sweet (at our house Santa is just a nice myth associated with secular Christmas celebrations...I don't mind stories about him any more than I mind ones about an Abominable Snowman or Paul Bunyan). The kids also loved the classic The Little Drummer Boy .

Next time I need some time with no little ones "helping" me and it is too cold to send them outside, we might check out one of these animated classics: O Christmas Tree, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Jingle Bells, Christmas Carol: The Movie, The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas, Santa and the Three Bears, or Santa and Pete (I have not previewed these yet, so I am not actually recommending them, just mentioning they are available).

If it sounds like too much TV to you, understand this has been over an extended period of time, and only as a diversion during sick, extra cold and wet, or overly hectic times for mom (or as a help for the teen who has to babysit while Mom and Dad do last minute shopping!). We've done lots of crafts (handmade ornaments and a complete Jesse Tree set) and baking this year, too, and the kids have made family and friends numerous cards and pictures. We've also attended three Christian Christmas shows as a family, plus hosted a cookie exchange and attended a Christmas Tree decorating party. I just know what a crunch these last few days can sometimes be, so I wanted to share this idea with you...you never know when it might come in handy.

Blessings to you all and a very Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Big Girl Bunk Beds

Not too long ago I mentioned that we'd moved Cowboy downstairs to share "big boy" beds and a bedroom with Tex. Tex's twin beds were converted to bunkbeds to make more floorspace available to the boys, and the swticheroo went off without a hitch. Cowboy was a bit nervous at first, to leave his buddies upstairs, but given some cool planet and stars stickers to decorate his wall, and shown the benefits of being a "big boy" in a big boy bed (more room for his stuffed animals and blankets, for one), he acclimated rather quickly and is now quite happy in his new digs.

Soon after, the girls who were left behind started asking when they would get bunk beds for their room. Both Ladybug (age 7) and Firefly (age 3) were still sleeping in toddler beds, which for Ladybug at least, was becoming rather cramped. I started checking out Craigslist regularly, hoping to find a suitable set for Christmas, but it seemed every time I made an offer (or an all out plea) for a set of beds, I missed out...until that day when I saw a listing for a solid set of beds and a matching dresser for only $75!

Believe you me, I laid it all out on the (honest) line...and spared no words begging to be chosen to buy this set. And guess what? The young couple who was selling the beds kindly chose us! I do believe God saved us for these beds. This price was certainly much more within the budget than some of the other sets I bid on. It's a sturdy set, made when manufacturers used all real wood, and thicker pieces at that. 

As you can see in the pictures, the girls are thrilled to have their new beds. Ladybug was a bit nervous at first to be up so high, but the rail all around the top bunk reassured her and she is an old hand at sleeping in it now. I am not sure the cat is thrilled with being drug up there on a regular basis, but when you are an irresistably cute kitty, you learn to put up with a lot in a house full of affectionate kids. Cowboy likes the new beds as much as the girls do, though he eagerly runs to his own bed every night, proud to be a big boy now.

I am proud of all of my "big kids" and I am enjoying watching them reach new milestones, though I am not wanting them to grow up too fast. I am thankful to still have one wee one who sleeps in a crib and wants to snuggle on Mommy's lap at night...but as each child gets older, it is so fascinating to watch them become the people God has made them to be, and such a privilege to be a part of it all.

Blessings to you and your precious ones today,


Friday, December 17, 2010

Tiny Planets for Tiny People


What is Tiny Planets?  It is an online community for ages 4-12 featuring two lovable characters named Bing and Bong. Bing is kind of a friendly abominable snowman-ish type guy and Bong is his faithful companion, a dog-like creature with six legs. They travel through outer space on a souped up plush hide-a-bed sofa with nifty controllers hidden in the armrests (I had a friend in college with a couch like this, only there were cup holders and an 8 track player hidden under there instead…this couch is much more awesome…does that factoid really date me, or what? lol!)

Parents create Cadet accounts for their children which allows the kids access to the Tiny Planets Universe. The children meet Bing and Bong as they traveling the universe and learn lessons from them about being kind, using manners, and how to handle emotions like fear. They also learn academic skills like making patterns, about weather and the seasons, and discover other scientific areas through activities, movies, and reading. There is a lot to do in this universe of Tiny Planets.

One of the first things your child will want to do is to set up his or her own planet for a homebase and get a space ship so they can travel. As you care for your planet, you can watch it grow, and earn awards as it develops. Basic (free) accounts allow for certain options in Tiny Planets. In order to access other options, you have to buy KEYS. These KEYS will not only allow access to more stuff for decorating your planet or outfitting your spacecraft, but they can also enable your child to unlock short movies and animated books .

What do you do on Tiny Planets?

  • Set up and care for your own planet. Watch it grow and win awards! My kids loved this part.
  • Cruise the universe in search of missions. Complete missions and earn points. My Three Amigos thought the missions were fun.
  • Play mini-games while cruising the universe.
  • Watch Tiny Planets TV…This contains learning videos starring Bing and Bong, co-created by Children’s Television Workshop and endorsed by Montessouri schools.
  • Read animated books starring Bing and Bong
  • Check out Tiny Planets Fun where you can print puzzles, color, play games, and read comics.
  • Explore Tiny Planets Labs where new content is being developed and tested

What does Tiny Planets cost? The basic site is free. This includes the most essential elements, games, and activity pages. To access the over sixty short movies and the approximately twenty books, plus to add the “really cool stuff” (Ladybug’s words, not mine) to your planet and ship, you have to purchase KEYS. The cost is as follows: 10 keys $1.95, 25 keys $3.95, 85 keys $9.95, 250 keys $25.95, 600 keys $49.95. Movies and books cost about ten KEYS each. Once keys are used to purchase something, those items are yours to keep. The movie will stay active in your account for as long as your account remains open.

What we liked about Tiny Planets:

  • The site had good graphics and animation. It was not at all outdated (though it might strike you as somewhat retro, at least it did me). It was very colorful and interesting.
  • There is a lot of free content. Yes, the movies and books all cost KEYs (well, there is one of each free, I think), but a lot of the planetary stuff and games are free.
  • The site is ad free. Kids cannot accidentally click on something and wind up somewhere bad, so it is pretty safe.mtp
  • I LOVED the plush flying sofa. It was cool and very funny. The Three Amigos liked Bing and Bong. They don’t say much, but you can tell they are nice and that they are good friends. Bong takes good care of Bing. The little kids were always excited if they’d cruise by a planet and run into Bing and Bong.
  • Tex thought the links to the experiments were cool. He likes Supercharged Science, and Aurora Lipper of SS hosted the experiments we looked at.
  • The Three Amigos liked building a planet, watching the movies, and playing the games. They enjoyed the site much more once it was completely unlocked and they had some KEYS to try out.
  • On the Fun TV page, they have about 65 short movies for your kids to watch. Each one teaches a lesson. We thought the movies were sweet and appealing to young ones (Firefly, age 3) and older ones (Ladybug, age 7) alike. There is no dialogue within the movies, so kids have to pay attention to capture the plot. An added bonus to that is you don’t have to worry about inappropriate word choices. The characters do make cute noises, though.
  • All the characters we saw were pretty nice. I didn’t see any meanness in what I viewed. That is a plus to me.
  • Some videos taught lessons concerning academic skills such as sorting or patterns, while others taught lessons about character, such as generosity and how to help. They were silly, but not rudely so…it was nice to not have to worry that they’d show my kids something I’d disapprove of.
  • At Bing’s Corner, there are about thirty video games for your child to play of varying levels of difficulty.
  • At Bong’s Corner, there are colorful activity sheets your children can access and print up. There are comics to download, detailed coloring pages, puzzle/activity sheets (we liked the Shape Up page about tangrams best), and even posters to print up.
  • There is a Parent Section which offers 65 activity pages and lesson plans for the parent whose kids really like Bing and Bong and want to try to incorporate that enjoyment into their learning experience. HERE is an example of one set of lesson plans.
  • The site is currently under development, so more content is coming soon. It is a cute site and has possibilities for the right people.

Some areas we thought could use improvement:

  • I had trouble staying logged in when playing games. This is a problem if you have a younger child who keeps needing help logging in. I even found it annoying and I can log myself in! Maybe I was doing something wrong. I am not sure.
  • Some of the games were pretty hard. The instructions are written, so if you are a pre-reader, you have to have help. Some of them moved too quickly or were difficult to maneuver. There were a few we really liked, but if games are what you are here after, you should try them and see if your child can manage them before you decide to invest.
  • The site is somewhat difficult to navigate until you get used to it. It could be I am too old to figure it out, or maybe they are still working on streamlining it.
  • To get the most out of the site, you have to buy full access and pay for KEYS. The videos and books cost about 10 keys each, and there are about twenty books and about sixty five movies. At roughly two dollars per book or movie (each movie is under five minutes running time, at least the ones we saw were), that seems a bit steep to me.
  • All printed material is written out, not read a loud, so for the age level of 4 and up to work, it means that pre-readers need help. The younger ones will probably like the content, though, so if their brother or sister has some sort of game they like playing online, perhaps they could earn time to play it by supervising their sibling’s play on My Tiny Planets. I would hope that the company would eventually add a “Listen to the Story” or “Have the Story Read to Me” option. The site is under development, so perhaps that is coming soon.
  • I think the age range of up to 12 might be a bit off, too. Tex was NOT at all interested in playing on the site. He was rolling on the floor, grimacing when I asked if he’d PLEASE just try it out with the kids for a while (it reminded him of Barney meets Big Bird meets a Teletubby, none of which we particularly enjoy). He did it because I asked him to, but other than the experiments, he did not find anything up his alley. Maybe other kids of an older age would like it, though.

Who would Tiny Planets be good for?

  • Preschoolers who have an older sibling or parent who wants to play with them in an online environment.
  • Readers, probably (my opinion) ages 6-10, who want to be able to play in an online environment (like their brother or sister) that is safe.
  • A mom who needs something diverting for a computer-proficient child to play while she works with other children. This would be safe, is fairly sweet, and is not educationally intense, so kids would not mind being told to play for a set amount of time.
  • A child who needs something entertaining to do at Grandma’s house while waiting to be picked up after school.
  • Space-oriented kids who like the idea of an online learning environment, with some interesting science thrown in here and there.
  • A special needs older child who wants to have an online learning environment like his or her siblings, but you need something they can handle that is ultra-safe. This would work for that.

I did not see anything offensive about this online community. We are not big on online gaming (ie. the kind that you have to pay for and/or the kind that allows players to communicate with each other), but this seemed to have effective safeguards in place.For someone who is into that sort of thing, this might be a good choice, especially for the younger members of the family.

The Three Amigos enjoyed building their planets and exploring the Tiny Planets Universe during this review a whole lot. They used teamwork to figure things out and had a good time playing. “Exploration” of the Tiny Planets Universe kept them busy several times when I needed to get work done or was unwell.

If you would like to read other reviews about this product, go HERE.



**I received a free membership to this site for the purposes of providing an honest review here on my blog. What you read here are OUR experiences with this product. Your experiences and impressions will likely be different, based on your likes, dislikes, and beliefs. I hope this review is useful to you. If you have questions regarding my experiences with this product, please feel free to contact me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Pictures 2010

Here are our annual Christmas photos. With so many young ones, it is difficult to get a shot with everyone smiling. I think we did pretty well, though. I sure do like the photos, but then, I like every photo of my kids!

Merry Christmas!!

The grandparents surrounded by their grandchildren:
Top: Bubba, Firefly, Ladybug
Middle: Nanny, Poppy, Tex
Bottom: Baby Bear, Cowboy, Brother Bear, Boo

The Drinkwaters with Nanny and Poppy

Our Family I

Our Family II

Our Family III

My brother's family: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Brother Bear, and Little Bear

 My brother's family with Nanny and Poppy

All of us!!

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

May God bless you and yours during this Christmas season and throughout the New Year,

The Drinkwater Family

We Love Snow!

We love snow...especially the Three Amigos
(and apparently, the fourth one!).
We had an unexpected snowfall and the kids enjoyed every minute of it.

His heart only looks cold...inside it burns for you!

Do you believe it...she snuck up on him and POW!

They hold my heart in their hands...

Tex just wanted to say that there is a hole in his heart because you are not here to share in the fun...
We hope you are enjoying your winter weather as much as we are.



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