Sometime back in November, I think it was, my friend asked me if we would be interested in holiday wreath-making since she had a lot of materials leftover from when she organized an event for her daughter's school. So of course I jumped at the chance. 

The only thing we needed to go out and get were the vines that would serve as the "frame" of the wreath. It was still warm that day, so we set off down to the riverside and played for a bit after collecting a few bits and bobs for the wreath. Then it was back home to get started on the fun. 

All of the parts of the wreath are things that can be found on a nature walk, which is what I think makes each wreath so unique and special. It takes a little bit of effort to hot glue some wires to the pine cones and acorns so that it will make them easier to add to the wreath (not that I did any of that, ahem). My older daughter was able to make her wreath without any help, and my younger daughter only needed a bit of assistance with twisting the decorative bits on to her wreath. 

I'll be honest with you -- I am not the most crafty person. But thanks to my amazing friend, my girls get to benefit from her genius ideas. I count my lucky stars that our paths crossed. 

The white "ribbon" is actually dried corn husks that my friend dried and tied into a bow. Isn't it sweet? Now if only I had thought to get it all in focus....

The white "ribbon" is actually dried corn husks that my friend dried and tied into a bow. Isn't it sweet? Now if only I had thought to get it all in focus....

It was so much fun that my older daughter decided to make two wreaths! 

You will find it no surprise, then, that it is this same amazingly talented friend who was behind the mochi-making activity that we participated in as well. Every year around this time, many of the kindergartens host a mochi-making event for the children. Now, if you're not familiar with mochi, it is a sticky "cake" (for lack of a better word) made from glutinous rice, which can be flavored to be savory, using soy sauce and nori, or it can be sweet, covered with kinako powder that has been mixed with sugar. Mochi is also eaten with sweet bean paste, otherwise known as anko. There are many other ways of serving mochi, but these are probably a few of the most popular ways of serving fresh mochi.

Mochi comes in various shapes and sizes. The ones available in the supermarkets are often rectangular (and a good size for toasting), but whenever I have attended an event like this, the mochi have been shaped to be round, since it is fresh and very soft just after it has been pounded into oblivion, haha. These photos below are from the school mochi-making event I participated in.

Once the rice has been washed and steamed (and it is important that you use mochi rice, not regular rice), it is quickly taken over to the wooden usu, which is a kind of large and heavy mortar, and then pounded with a kine, which resembles a hammer. A team works in tandem: one person to turn the rice over and over as the other person pounds it with the kine. You can see sort of how it works in the photos above or read more about the process here and here.

Since we were doing this at home, we used a machine to steam and "pound" the rice before transferring it to a different machine with which you can crank out the warm mochi. This part can be done by hand, of course, but you need to work pretty quickly (and be prepared to get a lot of cornstarch all over your hands), and if you are working with young children it is probably easier to use a machine.

If you're wondering why the mochi looks pink above, that's thanks to food coloring that was added during the steaming process. It is not your traditional mochi, of course. But the girls loved it.

And to close, a gratuitous and huge gold origami crane, a symbol of longevity in Japan.

Happy New Year's, everyone! See you in 2017!