Sunday, November 30, 2014

PMK's 25 top children's book picks for Christmas - a new Advent tradition


Advent. The days and weeks before Christmas build with growing anticipation in our children. Each year, I try to find ways to deepen my children's understanding of their faith and the intent behind our family Christmas traditions. Picture books, stories, and chapter books have  been gifted to us over the years and have become cherished keepsakes during the days of Advent. 

Recently, a friend recommended a new twist on marking the days off the Advent calendar. What if you wrapped up 24 stories for children that highlight the best aspects of the tradition of Christmas? Each day of Advent is a chance to read aloud together and unravel the origins of our favorite Christmas traditions.

To honor today, Sunday, November 30 the first day of Advent, here are 25 favorite Christmas books (with direct links to Amazon for easy purchase) to help create your own tradition:

  1. The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna. Handed down in our family from British relations, this picture book is a simple story to introduce toddlers and preschoolers to the birth of Jesus. Introduces key vocabulary such as shepherd, Bethlehem, frankincense and myrrh. 
  2. Usborne Lift-the-flap Nativity - This Scholastic story of the birth of Jesus presents an interactive read aloud. 
  3. The Carpenter's Gift by David Rubel. A beautifully illustrated story of the Rockefeller Center Tree highlighting the tradition of the Christmas tree.
  4. A Houseful of Christmas by Barbara Joosse. The story of one lovable Granny who shelters her family from an unexpected Christmas snow storm. 
  5. Bear Stays Up For Christmas by Karma Wilson. A PMK favorite for many years. This  is an unbeatable price for a hardcover book that will be reread each year and passed along to the next generation.
  6. The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg's masterpiece of Christmas adventure highlighting the magic of Christmas for those who truly believe.
  7. Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray. Ever wonder about the process that brings a traditional Christmas tree from farm to living room? This is the book we're sharing with friends this year as it is such an important lesson to grasp for those who bring live trees into their homes to decorate. 
  8. A Christmas Carol with fresh illustrations by Brett Helquist that enliven Charles Dicken's classic tale.
  9. Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones. A charming depiction of the story of Christmas told through the eyes of the animals honoring the arrival of "Heaven's Son". The epic illustrations make this a perfect gift.
  10. The Twelve Days of Christmas - Hilary Knight's illustrations make each page something to savor as you read aloud with your children.
  11. The Crazy Christmas Angel Mystery by Beverly Lewis. Featuring "The Cul-De-Sac Kids", this chapter book for grade school kids is perfect to cuddle up with on a cold night.
  12. Richard Scarry's Christmas Mice - Perfect for toddlers and preschoolers with mice hidden in every picture.
  13. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. A longer story for older children to appreciate this classic tale of Christmas memories.
  14. The Christmas Blizzard by Helen Ketteman. A lighthearted look at Christmas with hilarious illustrations starring Santa Claus. 
  15. A Wind In The Willows Christmas - This is a longer story for older children - perfect for a winter day at home. Michael Hague's warm illustration's make it a favorite.
  16. Winter Trees by Carole Gerber. This is the ideal book to read aloud before you choose a Christmas tree. Helps children learn to identify seven types of trees in a winter forest.
  17. The Littlest Christmas Tree by R.A. Herman. Even the smallest of trees finds a perfect home in this ideal short bedtime story.
  18. The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever - Steven Kroll's adorable mice return in this tale of the search for the perfect Christmas tree.
  19. The Mitten by Jan Brett - A favorite story for decades, this story is one to keep and pass along. 
  20. The Berenstain Bears and The Joy of Giving - An inexpensive book with a powerful message. A preschool favorite we still read every year to highlight the real reason for the season.
  21. A Wish To Be A Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe. Gorgeous pictures and a rich story make a great combination in this new classic.
  22. I'll Be Home For Christmas by Holly Hobbie. Preschool favorites Toot and Puddle have an adventure while they await the arrival of Christmas.
  23. The Twelve Days of Christmas as illustrated by Jade Fang. Told with Animotion picture inserts that bring this story to life while adhering to the classic lines.
  24. Who Is Coming To Our House? This is such a sweet story of the arrival of the baby Jesus - a great story for older children to read to younger siblings.
  25. God Gave Us Christmas - A little cub wonders "Who invented Christmas?" You will love how simply this book outlines the story of the reason for celebrating Christmas.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cyber Monday deal!

Give the gift of outdoor experience with a Cyber Monday deal on annual passes offered here from Charleston County Parks!
                                           Image of Gold Pass hang tag

We couldn't live without our Gold Pass and your membership includes a discount ticket book with a free admission to the James Island County Park Christmas Lights...

Sand sculpture at the James Island County Park Festival of Lights

Linking with this post from PMK at the James Island County Park Festival of Lights

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

take a closer look: Fall leaves

"All experience is an arch, to build upon"
-Henry Adams

This post compiled to Blackbird -The Beatles

Take a closer look at leaves. Take your time. Take a breath. Trace the outline. Trace the veins and smudge the edges with soft pastel chalks, gel pens, and colored pencils.

Unplug. Slow down. Sit awhile.

Take a closer look. 

Top 5 picks for families with multi-age children for a rainy day:
  1. The Sc Aquarium and Imax 4D Polar Express movie
  2. The North Charleston and American LeFrance Fire Museum and a visit to nearby Mr. K's Used Books
  3. The Children's Museum of the Lowcountry (but go early)
  4. Charleston Main Library children's center and Teen center and cross the street for a coffee and pastry at Saffron Cafe and Bakery
  5. Get some indoor exercise at Carolina Ice Palace (ice skating for all ages) or Skyzone (trampoline jumping for all ages)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Make It Monday: passing afternoon... cranberry pomegranate pop!

This post compiled to Passing Afternoon - Iron and Wine

My favorite way to pass a day is with a house full of kids and a kitchen in full swing. We tested out some recipes today - here's a great cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving you may want to try...

Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce

  • 1 12oz bag of fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds and 1/2 cup pomegranate juice
  • 2 Tbls navel orange rind, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp Cointreau liqueur (optional) 

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Listen to the cranberries pop and you'll know it's ready when most have popped. Allow to cool and serve room temperature or chilled.

Friday, November 21, 2014

November printable #2: Thanksgiving table place cards

Tally up your Thanksgiving guests and make a list of names for your children to copy and you're off and running with these printable place cards ( use the link below to download the crisp, clear PDF version ). This activity enhances fine motor skills, following directions, and spelling. Have fun!

Click here for the downloadable PDF version

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In the Stacks: Thanksgiving books

Pluff Mud Kid's Nanna and crew have been busy testing out our new art for the site. All systems are go and, with a big thanks to local artist Brenda Gilliam, we are ready to run the second installment in our printable art series here on the blog tomorrow. Pick up some light weight card stock today and get set to make your own Thanksgiving table place cards this weekend!

Now for the books... here are some of our long time favorites for Thanksgiving:

  • Happy Thanksgiving, Biscuit!: A lift the flap story of Thanksgiving traditions. Perfect for introducing the holiday to toddlers and preschoolers. 
  • Thanksgiving Mice!: Told in the form of a play, this story is written in verse and is recommended for emerging readers. 
  • Thanks for Thanksgiving: Author Julie Markes reminds us that everything in life is something to be thankful for.
  • The Story of the Pilgrims: This book is all you need for school age children as it offers a clear, concise explanation of the origin of Thanksgiving.
  • A Turkey For Thanksgiving: Eve Bunting's funny twist on having turkey for Thanksgiving, this story is a favorite and has beautiful illustrations.
  • Happy Thanksgiving, Emily: The Emily series are great little books for babies and toddlers. This story describes the building expectation before the big feast. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Walk on Wednesday: Audubon Swamp

Hit refresh and take a Fall walk after school - somewhere new and different. We headed for the Audubon Swamp today tucked inside Magnolia Plantation. A kid's paradise...

Lowcounty Food Bank Buy One Get One

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (click here for details and admission)
3550 Ashley River Road
Charleston, SC 29414

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 2014 Charleston Currents Feature

Add A New Tradition This Holiday SeasonBy LEIGH SABINE, contributing editor
Special to
NOV. 17, 2014 -- The holiday season is a time for repeating traditions unique to each family. As your children get older, consider adding one or two new activities to keep things exciting. The following list includes a few ideas your family may enjoy:
  • Send a card to Grandma: If you are planning to stay close to home this holiday season, encourage your school age child to send some cards of their own using the creative MUSC Children's Hospital 2014 Christmas cards made by local children. Be sure your child is aware that sending these cards supports the hospital. Next year, they may even be inspired to submit their own entry! This direct link is available to order MUSC 2014 Christmas cards.
  • Study the Nativity: The 2014 Mepkin Abbey Creche Festival offers a fascinating exhibit of nativity sets from all over the world. There is no admission fee, but all donations help support the Abbey and build the nativity collection. Families must make a reservation at Located at 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner, S.C.
  • Trains and Treats: Visit the annual train display at the Charleston Place Hotel (free to the public) and treat your family to tea at the adjoining Thoroughbred Club all through December. Located in downtown Charleston at 205 Meeting Street.
  • Christmas at the Aquarium: Visit SCUBA Claus at the Great Ocean Tank at the SC Aquarium Nov. 29 through Dec. 21, 2014 and be sure to catch the wonderful Aquarium presentation of thePolar Express in the 4D IMAX movie theater on site and free with membership (Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, 2014).
  • Lights Before Christmas: Visit the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC at night for a special Christmas memory. The zoo is illuminated during the evening at Lights Before Christmas Nov. 21 through Dec. 30, 2014 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 2 to 12. *Be sure to purchase tickets online to avoid a wait in line.
  • Try a New Holiday Recipe: Check in with for coming child-friendly recipes like gingerbread cookies and peppermint playdough that are simple crowd pleasers on cold days at home!
                             Mark your calendar now to squeeze in even just one new Christmas tradition!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Make It Monday: Pumpkin Cake

            This post compiled to "Toast" - Heyward Banks ( your kid's will like this song!)

We tried a roasted pumpkin seed with roasted fig and pear salad recipe recently that was met with mixed reviews (mostly negative, so I'm not including it here!).

Pluff Mud Dad: "Too fancy-smancy... where's the meat?" (as he picked off all the fig)
Pluff Mud Twin #1: "I'm picking off all those pumpkin seeds"
Pluff Mud Twin #2:  " I like it, but not a lot. It's kinda weird"

I loved it, but sometimes you just have to go back to the drawing board.

Here's something to make with fresh pumpkin that everyone will love. Not a pumpkin pie fan? Try this pumpkin cake... more of a subtle pumpkin spice flavor and very moist.

Pumpkin Cake


  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 cups pumpkin
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Beat the eggs and sugar together until light and creamy. Add the oil and beat. Sift together the dry ingredients and then gradually add them to the egg mixture, beating well. Add the pumpkin and beat well again.
Pour into greased and floured cake tins that are lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour (oven temps vary, so check at 50 minutes). Remove to cool and ice with cream cheese icing.

So easy and so good! This is a great recipe for teaching kids to crack eggs and pour measurements. 

*Go ahead and let your kids crack the eggs - there will be bits of shell to pick out, but it's ok. They have to start somewhere and, over the years, they will learn the technique!

*I divide the mixture into two separate cake tins so I can easily ice the middle 

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 2014 printable: Artist Brenda Gilliam joins Pluff Mud Kids

I'm so excited to introduce a new collaboration with local artist Brenda Gilliam. I have admired Brenda's work for over a year now and finally gathered the courage to approach her to pitch her some ideas about working together to bring some printable artwork to this website. What I discovered in Brenda is a kindred spirit and we have ideas for many projects for your children. Each month, we offer you a free printable project... first up, this cornucopia MAZE, just in time for Thanksgiving.

  1. Print cornucopia. Start by spotting the arrow at the tip of the cornucopia and follow the maze with a pencil until you reach the exit arrow (on the leaf at the lower left corner).
  2. Now color the cornucopia while Mom and Dad are busy with Thanksgiving dinner!  

Click here to download PDF version.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Puerto Rico: one run down

                                This post compiled to Bamboleo - Gipsy Kings

Vamonos, chicas! That was the battle cry as over 2,400 women from all over the world ran through the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico for the Diva Half Marathon. It was a sultry 85/90 degrees and 75% humidity with lots of hills and slanted roads, but a gorgeous run none the less. We fell in love with the happy, gracious people of Puerto Rico and the incredible food - the perfect destination for a group run. 

One run down, one to go to raise funds for MUSC Children's Hospital Cancer Research... thank you to all who have participated in helping me reach the goal through December!

Herewith, a few images of the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and some ideas for visiting as a family:

                   Already hot when the 6am start gun went off! Course map link here

                                     This hill came early in the run - not a welcome sight!

A good omen along the way... Castillo San Cristobal

And the finish line photo... love these girls! Hard to believe we've been friends since grade school. Some walked, some ran with a partner, some ran solo in search of a personal best, but joining forces for a unified cause and encouraging one another across the finish line was the best feeling.

  • Love to run? Consider a Diva run with girlfriends, or a RocknRoll run for men and women, or the upcoming Kiawah Island Marathon here in SC on Saturday, December 13th. It really helps to have goals on the calendar to keep you motivated and monitor your total training miles. I love the Hal Higdon training programs.
  • Explore: The history throughout Puerto Rico is fascinating. Be sure to see the forts along the coastline offered by the National Park Service and open to the public for a $5 fee (free on public holidays). They date to the 1400s but will remind you of our own Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter.
  • The Food: The Puerto Rican traditional dishes and Cuban influences are delicious. Try the shrimp mofongo at Cafe Puerto Rico in Old San Juan. Here's a simple and very authenic video to show you exactly how delicious it is! Favorite finds: Oceano for the sunsets and ceviche, Nonna, and Yerba Buena for the terrace and gliding lounge chairs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Running for MUSC Children's Hospital Cancer Research: My Story

Dear reader,

Throughout the months of November and December only, Pluff Mud Kids have added a new annual goal to raise funds for MUSC Children's Hospital Cancer Research and we need your help. If you have enjoyed this blog and find the daily feed of fresh ideas useful for your family, now's your chance to chip in and show your support. Every dollar helps! (Did I sound like PBS there for a minute?)

My goal is to donate 100% of all proceeds raised by community donations to MUSC Children's Hospital to benefit furthering pediatric cancer research. I plan to run two half marathons - one in November and one in December - to total 26 miles to raise awareness for breast cancer and pediatric cancers. I will post periodic updates and picture stories about the locations so you can follow along and see where this fundraiser goes. There is a Paypal account set up to direct all proceeds to MUSC in the top right corner of this page with a tally to keep track of our progress. I like to share information about the Lowcountry and ideas for family activities, but I am more reserved when it comes to putting myself out there and sharing stories about my life. However, when it comes to supporting MUSC, I would run through the streets with my hair on fire! 

Cancer hit my family hard when both my mother-in-law and father-in-law died young of the disease and missed ever meeting my sons. An even deeper personal connection with cancer began with my Dad's diagnosis of male breast cancer. It was shocking to absorb the idea that an otherwise healthy, strong man could be afflicted with what is typically thought of as a woman's disease. Shortly after his diagnosis, my best friend from grade school and I ran a half marathon together and immediately following the run weekend, she too was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly, cancer was a part of my daily life and thoughts; much of my energy was given over to trying to make sense of this brutal disease. 

 My Dad lost his battle with the cancer that overtook him this past December. There is nothing more that can be said about that other than it is a devastating loss that has forever changed my life and the lives of those closest to him.

 My girlfriend fights on and celebrates her fifth year cancer-free anniversary this coming weekend. She is incredibly strong and has a fantastic outlook on life and so she has chosen to commemorate this milestone by gathering together a close group of girlfriends and we will run the half marathon with her... in Puerto Rico at the Diva Half Marathon in San Juan this coming Sunday. There are worse ways to earn a half marathon medal and I am delighted to run along with her!

The second half marathon is December 13th at Kiawah Island, SC. These runs will mark my sixth and seventh consecutive half marathons. I hope my photos will depict the beauty of these two very different runs and raise awareness for male and female breast cancer, surviving cancer treatment, and the research being conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina.

I appreciate any donations and support you can give to this project and this cause. Thank you for supporting this website through daily reading. Again, this fundraising event will come to a close after the second half marathon in December.

 The training miles are behind me and my bag is packed. I look forward to the journey ahead and thank you for coming along for the ride.

 --- Leigh 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


This post compiled to "When Your Mind's Made Up" - from the movie Once.

While you're standing in line waiting to vote today, here are a few great up and coming local events for families to consider:
  • The 4D Polar Express is back at SC Aquarium now through December. A PMK favorite! Perfect for the whole family.
  • This Friday, November 7th, 2014 Citadel Twilight Parade 5:10 pm to 6:10 pm.
  • This Saturday, November 8th, 2014 Run for the Yorktown Veterans Day 5K run. This is a fantastic family run to honor our veterans with a multiple plane fly over!
*Linking with this PMK post from 2012 Tote to Vote - one idea on what to do with your chickadees on their day off school today.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Make It Monday: Coconut Almond Cookies

This post compiled to "Coffee" - Sylvan Esso (this video cracks me up,y'all)

My husband loves a strong shot of espresso and a cookie... any kind of cookie. I absolutely love anything with coconut or almond. Coconut and almond in the same cookie?! We decided to give today's proposed healthy post-Halloween roasted pumpkin seed salad the flick in favor of these easy, delicious cookies (I'll post the salad later this week). I played around with a few recipes and this is what I came up with:


  • 1 cup White Lilly light all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 Tbls unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup flaked and roasted sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • parchment paper and cookie sheet
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Lightly roast your coconut on a baking sheet for about 6 minutes and set aside
  • Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt by sifting together.
  • Put sugar and butter in a bowl and beat until well blended. Add the flour mixture and slowly blend to combine.
  • Now beat in vanilla and egg.
  • Gently stir in the coconut and chocolate chips
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and drop cookie batter 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 until golden brown (oven temperatures vary, so check after 10 minutes). Enjoy!