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Story Time: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Story Time: The Night Before Christmas - Crafts and Activities to go with the picture book

It’s Christmastime!!  Everybody loves this time of year.  Or hates it.  Depending on whether they are at home enjoying their own Christmas tree, mugs of cocoa, and family, or they are out shopping.

People shop all year.  We all have things we need to pick up week to week–food, supplies, clothing.  So what is it about shopping for Christmas that makes some put on their Belligerent Hats and shove through like nutcases?  I suppose we’ll never know.  I’ve always thought shopping for gifts should bring out the best in people, not the worst.  So when I am out this time of year, I put on my biggest smile, and even when someone accidentally-on-purpose heels me with his or her cart for some imagined slight, I offer kind words.  I may not think them, but I speak them.  You know what a big believer I am in paying it forward.

It always makes my experience a little bit better, being kind in the face of all that irritation.  Hopefully, it makes the experience of those who come in contact with me better, too.  I am, after all, an optimist.

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More Autumn Fun

Have I mentioned that autumn is my favorite season?  October has been an amazing month for me.  It usually is.  I feel like I get more grounded with the earth during this time of year–it’s a good time to appreciate sunlight, growing things, and the way the seasons turn to provide us with all we need to live.  The nights are getting longer, but not too long yet.  There’s still plenty of time to get outside, and it’s not too hot to really enjoy it.  This is when we start really hiking our woods.  The geese are back on the pond, calling to each other in the wee, dark hours of morning when my body is telling me I should still be asleep in the dark but the alarm is telling me to haul my butt out of bed and get the day started.  The air is crisp.  It feels like you can reach out and grab it and pull it into you instead of normal, boring, old breathing.  It tingles on your sun-warmed skin.  Sure, sometimes it’s just plain cold, but that’s the price we temperate dwellers pay for getting the beauty of autumn leaves and the joy of awakening spring.

I’ll take it.  All day long.


We always celebrate autumn here at the Brison house in myriad ways.  This year, we traveled half an hour to another rural town and visited a family-run corn maze.  Big even joined us on this family outing.  It turned out to be aimed more toward much younger kids, but we made the most of our day there.  The funnest part was, of course, the corn maze itself.

IMG_1097We got our map and headed in.   At first the Littles were running pell mell through the thing, and we lost them a time or two until Martin (Mr. Super Overprotective) called them back and told them it would work better if we followed the map.  I looked at the map.  Big looked at the map.  The Littles looked at the map.  We all looked back at Martin.  He could read that?  And really tell where we were?



So we let my beautiful husband take the lead.  Because it was all mumbo jumbo to me.  We had a blast cheating our way through the maze.  Twice, Martin looked at the map, looked at the available paths and said, “That doesn’t make sense.  We need to go that way.”  We tried a path or two.  They led nowhere.  Another path.  Wrong direction.  One wicked grin on my beautiful husband’s face later, and we were squeezing through corn rows that were not part of the path, risking supernatural intervention by making jokes about Stephen King’s great short story, Children of the Corn.  We didn’t feel too bad about cheating.  It made the whole thing a bit more exciting for everyone.


The Littles surprised me by still being young enough to want to mine for gems in the sluice provided.  They came away with some treasures like amethyst, lapis lazuli, agate, and quartz.  Big helped them gather up even the smallest of rocks and I promised to get out our Rocks and Minerals book when we returned home so we could know exactly what everything was.  There were a few stones that none of us recognized while at the corn maze, but that’s the power and value of good books, no?  We learn every time we open them.  Love those teachable moments.

IMG_20151010_125154222 IMG_20151010_125818447_HDR

They had a pumpkin patch that you rode out to on a tractor-pulled wagon, but we had (unfortunately) already picked up our pumpkins for this year, so we decided not to go.  We admired it from afar, realized we didn’t need more pumpkins, and moved on.  Which kinda sucked, because I really wanted to go on a wagon ride.  I was soundly outvoted.  Blah.

We stopped and got apple cider slushies before we left, and they were delicious, but Martin and I decided it was just frozen applesauce with a bit of cider of thrown in for flavor, so we’re going to try to make them at home. The place advertised pumpkin ice cream, but they didn’t have any.  So that sucked, too.

No problem.  We went to a local produce market that serves it all fall and got a pumpkin ice cream cone on the way home.

If that’s not an Autumn Celebration Day, I don’t know what is.  I hope you’re getting your own littles out in this weather, celebrating this season, and doing all the fun things autumn provides.

Oh, and read some good autumn books.  Check out my Story Time series if you want some suggestions.

Love wins,


Have a Haunting Halloween (with lots of freebies)

When the Littles were very small, we took them trick-or-treating for Halloween.  It was so much fun to watch them scamper from house to house, dressed up as Pokemon, Spiderman, Dracula, and (of course) zombies.  By the time they were old enough to really enjoy it, Big had outgrown it, but he still accompanied us on every trip, helping to corral his little brothers.  Since we live in such a rural area, we had to drive to the nearest small town, park at the library or post office, and trick-or-treat on streets we knew and trusted but weren’t very close to home.  It made for a fun family night, especially the time we parked at the library and saw a colony of bats swoop up through the trees.


But about 5 years ago, when the Littles were 5 and 8, they were both sick on Halloween.  Not knocked out, but definitely feverish and too ill to be running around the streets and spreading their germs to other unwary children.  So we came up with a plan.  Because Halloween is my all-time, favorite, bestest holiday, and we didn’t want our poor, sick Littles to miss it.  I spent the day planning a party for just the 4 of us –Big was away at college by then, so he couldn’t be here to join in the fun.  And you know what?  The Littles loved that party so much that given the choice, every year since we have had a party at home rather than going trick-or-treating.

Here’s how to have a safe, fun, candy- and treat-filled Halloween this year without ever setting foot out your own door.  You can invite friends if you want; we never have.  It’s become the consummate family night for us.

First, buy a couple of bags of candy varieties.  You know, the kind that have Tootsie Rolls and candy bars and gum and suckers all in one bag?  That way it’s very like trick-or-treating and your littles don’t get tired of having the same candy every time you let them raid the bowl.  We have a big, black, plastic cauldron that we put our candy in.  Then I create a scavenger hunt for them so they have to work to get it.  I don’t know about your littles, but mine LOVE a good scavenger hunt.  Sometimes we have it inside the house, sometimes out around the farm (we do that for Easter eggs now, too, which is a huge hit!).  Here’s a Free Scavenger Hunt Download for inside the house.  halloween scavenger hunt

Second, make some sweet and savory treats for the family to enjoy while they play games.


IMG_20151012_201340515WHAT YOU NEED:

4 Green apples

1 cup peanut butter

almond slivers


  1. Core and quarter your apples.
  2. Spread 2 teaspoons of peanut butter on the wide edge of one slice.
  3. Insert almond slivers for fangs
  4. Place second apple slice atop peanut butter.



IMG_20151012_201806298WHAT YOU NEED:

1 3-oz package cream or neufchatel cheese

4 large tortillas

1 bag baby spinach

8 oz thinly sliced ham

8 oz thinly sliced Swiss cheese

1 7-oz jar roasted bell peppers, drained and sliced into strips


  1. Spread 2-3 TBSP cream cheese close to the edge of each tortilla
  2. Layer each tortilla evenly with 1/4 of spinach, ham, and Swiss cheese
  3. Lay thin strips of roasted peppers along center of each tortilla
  4. Tightly roll tortillas into spirals.  Slice off and discard rounded ends.
  5. Cut tortilla rolls into 1 1/2 inch slices and secure with toothpicks.
  6. Stack slices to resemble a backbone.



big treat1 can green decorator icing

6 cups Rice Krispies

3 TBSP butter or margarine

1 10-oz package regular marshmallows

12 black jelly beans

12 small licorice strips

24 green jelly beans


Prepare the Rice Krispies Treats

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat
  2. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.
  3. Working quickly, add the cereal, stirring until completely coated.
  4. Using a buttered spatula, press mixture evenly into a 13 x 9 x 2 pan.
  5. When treats are cool, cut into 12 equal squares.

Decorate your treats

  1. With decorator icing, squirt green hair onto top of each treat.
  2. Place a dab of icing in the place of each eye.  Cut each jelly bean in half. Place cut end into icing.
  3. Again using icing as glue, attach a piece of licorice for the mouth.
  4. Dab a bit of icing onto both sides of each treat and add green jelly beans for ‘bolts.’


Swamp Juice


SWAMP JUICE1/2 cup small tapioca pearls (found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores)

Food coloring

4 tablespoons sugar

8 gummy fish

Seltzer water


8 gummy worms


  1. MAKE THE EGGS: Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add the tapioca pearls. Reduce the heat slightly and boil the pearls, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes.
  2. COLOR THE EGGS: Divide the pearls, with the remaining water, between two bowls. Add 4 drops of food coloring (we used 3 drops of yellow and 1 drop of green in one bowl, and 4 drops of blue in the other) and 2 tablespoons of sugar to each bowl. Stir the mixtures, then allow them to sit uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and rinse the pearls with cold water.
  3. ASSEMBLE THE DRINK: Spoon 2 tablespoons of pearls into each glass and drop in a gummy fish. Fill the glasses with seltzer water, then add a splash of lemonade. Place a gummy worm around a spoon as shown.

Finally, play some awesome games with your family.

You can, of course, bob for apples–so long as you don’t mind cleaning up the mess.  This is a tried and true Halloween game that always makes me think of Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin and it’s tons of fun.  You can also play mummy wrap–using either crepe or toilet paper, dividing your family up in teams of two, and racing to see who can get his or her mummy wrapped first. (The mummy, obviously, being mum or dad.  It’s only fair. And hilarious.)

One year, I drew up an entire life-sized skeleton (times 2) and we raced to see who could put them together first.  You could also pin the femur or the skull or the tibia on the skeleton if you’re feeling brave enough.  Probably easier to buy one of those hinged skeleton decorations at Dollar Tree for these games, but I never try to make it easy on myself. (eye roll)  At least I traced the second skeleton off the first one instead of free-handing it twice.  Give me some credit.  Sheesh.

Another year, we bought a bunch of different pasta shapes and fashioned skeletons out of them on cardstock.  We dubbed the best looking one the winner.  But Martin didn’t get a prize.

One of the funnest Halloween games we’ve played was Halloween Headbands.  If you’ve never played the game Hedbanz, you’re missing out.  You put on the dorky headband, attach a card to it without looking, and ask the other players questions until you can guess who’s on your headband.  You can only ask yes or no questions.  And you only get one question per turn.  We had a Disney version which didn’t suit, so I made up cards with Halloween monsters on them.  We play this one every year.  In fact, here’s a Free Download of My Monster Cards, because I am nothing if not generous.

halloween headbands

There are better directions with the cards. I think.

Telling scary stories is another way to add to the fun.  Dim the lights, and spook each other out as best you can.  Here’s Another Free Download, with directions for a family round-robin-type story that you can all get in on.

scary story

One more fun game is to try on a monster’s point of view for size.  Here are some Free Cards you can download to get you started.  Your littles will have a blast thinking like a monster.

point of view

After you’ve played some games and worn them out, settle your littles in for a fun Halloween movie.  We love The Haunted Mansion, The Frighteners, Casper, Hocus Pocus, any of R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps movies.  Kid friendly but still in line with the mood of the evening.  We generally wind up our party with a marathon, and since most of these DVDs can be bought for $5 or less, they were a good investment.  Seriously, we watch them every year.

I already told you.  Halloween is my favorite holiday.

There are so many other activities, games, foods, and films you can use to make your Family Halloween Night fun.  I hope my suggestions give you ideas.  And I hope your littles have as much fun as mine do.

Love wins (and sometimes haunts you),