Monday, May 10, 2010

Easy Vacation Memory Keeper

A couple of years ago my Mom hosted our entire family for an amazing trip to Italy.  We stayed in a town called Montecatini Terme in an amazing house with a pool.  We participated in passegelato after dinner every evening ("passegiata"=evening walk, "passegelato"=evening walk to get gelato).

It was lovely.  Thanks, Mom!

During this trip we were faced with the challenge of collecting some souvenirs for the kids that would remind them of the amazing trip without taking up an amazing amount of space in our luggage.

We noticed that there were these great tourist-y pins at many of the stops on our journey and decided they were just the thing to collect.  Small, inexpensive, and available just about anywhere our travels would take us.  Sold!

When we returned home from the trip, I was determined to find a way to display the pins so that Sprout and Tater could enjoy and add to their collections over time.  After considering different materials and ideas, we ended up with this super-easy combination of felt and cork board.

To make these we took a tile of self-adhesive cork and cut it in half (that made one for each child).  Then we cut a piece of black felt to the same size and stuck it to the cork (using the adhesive from the cork to stick it on).  This (not good) picture shows the side of the felt/cork sandwich.

I bought a length of canvas-like ribbon and sewed it to the back of each "plaque" so that it could be hung up.  I had to fiddle with them a little bit to get the ribbon spaced properly so that the center of the cork wouldn't sag.

Then we just stuck the pins through the felt and cork and used their backs to hook them on.  The backs really have to be smooshed on pretty hard to get them to click together, but eventually we got them all hooked.

This has been a really fun collection to add to over the intervening years.

Here is one of the originals from Florence:

Rome (we didn't go there - but my parents did):

There's also one on the side there from a Phillies game.  And the one on the far left is from Munich (we were in the airport on the way back from Italy, the kids figured that was pin-worthy).

There are also more domestic destinations represented in their collections.  Nashville:

The Mote Aquarium in Sarasota (no, I don't know what those manatees are doing...):

These are fun mementos of trips that we have been on, and it is fun to get souvenirs from the travels of friends and family, too.

How do you commemorate your travels?  Do you have a collection, too?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dinotopia at the Delaware Art Museum

We were looking for something fun to do with the kids last weekend and in my Googling around for events for kids, found that there was an exhibit at the Delaware Art Museum of original artwork from the book series Dinotopia.  My mom had actually given me a clipping about the exhibit a few months ago, but I had forgotten about it.

Anyway, we set out for our drive down to Wilmington via scenic Route 52 through West Chester, hoping all the way not to set off a bout of carsickness in Tater.  The boy is not so good on scenic roads.

Luckily he was OK (whew) and we made our way to a lovely lunch at the Cosi in Greenville and then into Rockford Park to the museum.

The kids and I had been to the Delaware Art Museum last summer (I think) to see a sculpture collection, which was very cool.  This time we skipped the other stuff and just went in to the Dinotopia exhibit.

We had a lovely tour guide who told us all about how James Gurney originally started doing paintings of this imagined world where dinosaurs and humans lived peacefully together and then started to develop them into stories.  The level of detail in his works is completely amazing, as is the amount of imagination that went into building this entire world.

The exhibit included original oil paintings, sketches, and models that were built so that Gurney could study how light and shadow would play off of his imagined creations.  The kids especially liked the stories about how Gurney would have his friends and family act out some of his ideas to see how they worked.

The "viewing of artwork" got a little tedious for the kids after a while, but they were troopers about the whole thing and really enjoyed seeing the world of Dinotopia.  Apparently there are a few books and also some movies about this imaginary world.  We are going to have to work on getting some of them so we can see what it is all about!

The Dinotopia exhibit is on display at the Delaware Art Museum until May 16th, so if you get a chance, you should definitely go check it out.

While we were there, we also stopped in to take a look at some photographs by Harold Edgerton, which capture things that the eye can't even see,  The kids loved these amazing photos, possibly even more than the dinosaurs!

Unfortunately, this exhibit is only there through April 25th, but if you get there before then, make sure to take a look!

Finally, we walked out through the Copeland Sculpture Garden, We think this guy belongs in our yard.  He's only about 40 feet tall. I think the neighbors would love that!

The Delaware Art Museum is a fun day trip and offers quite a few interesting collections and exhibits.  It makes for a less overwhelming introduction to art for little kids than a huge museum like the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  You should go.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jell-O Suncatchers

Back before Easter, I was flipping through the newest issue of Family Fun Magazine and found this fun idea to make "plastic" sun catchers using gelatin and food coloring.  Fun, right?

I asked the kids if they wanted to try it out and they gave me kind of a hard time about it, but eventually gave in when I told them they could squirt in the food coloring.  Food coloring is fun!

So we gathered our materials:

  • A box of unflavored gelatin
  • Some food coloring
  • Some glitter
  • Some plastic plates
  • Little bowls (make sure they are heatproof so they don't collapse when you add boiling water)
  • Spoons for mixing
  • And some boiling water (I was in charge of water).
First we put an envelope of the gelatin (which is icky smelling stuff) into each of our little glass bowls.

Then I carefully added 3 Tablespoons of boiling water to each.  The steam came leaping out of my Pyrex measuring cup at one point causing me to spill a full spoon of boiling water over my hand - ouch!  Be careful!

The kids diligently mixed until the gelatin dissolved in each bowl.  It got a bit lumpy here and there, but with more and more mixing, the lumps eventually went away.  I tried zapping one of the bowls in the microwave for a few seconds to see if that would help and - oh my - that was not a good idea.  There was a lot of frothing and bubbling.  Very frightening. I wouldn't recommend it.

Once we had the gelatin powder all dissolved the kids added a few drops of food coloring to each bowl and mixed that in well.  Somehow everyone ended up with very green hands.  Not sure whether that was an accident or intentional.

Then we poured each batch of colored gelatin onto an individual plastic plate.  I had these strangely shaped rimmed plates.  Bigger flatter ones would probably be easier to work with.  It was hard to peel the dried gelatin out of the corners of these.

Anyway, we spread the hot gelatin mixture out on the plates and then added a few drops of a contrasting color and swirled it around on a few.  We also dusted the surfaces with a little bit of glitter.

Then we waited overnight for the cooling, drying process to take place.

The next day I peeled the almost dry (it was still a little rubbery) result off of the plates and laid them out to dry the rest of the way.  You can see the swirls on the surface of the finished product and how they got a weird bendy, organic-type shape to them.  I think this was because of the weird plates.  If you had bigger ones and could just pop the dried disks off, I bet they would stay flat.

In the magazine, they said to cut the dried "plastic" into shapes.  But when I tried that with the blue one, it was too brittle and cracked all along the edges.  Maybe if I had tried when they weren't quite dry it would have worked better.  Or if I had a decent pair of scissors.  Or talent.  This picture is supposed to show the cracking.

I like the effect of the bendy circles anyway.  I think they have a blown art-glass sort of feel to them.  This one reminds me of the sun.
This was a fun project, but sort of dangerous and tedious for the kids.  They liked the coloring part, but the boiling water part was sort of nerve-wracking and the waiting-for-things-to-dry part wasn't fun at all.  But the final results were really cool.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Disco Easter Eggs

I found a great idea for Easter Eggs in a Family Circle Magazine that caught my eye last month.  They wrapped double-sided tape around the eggs and then rolled them in extra fine glitter.  So very cool. I ripped out the picture and saved it so we could try the technique out on our eggs this year. 

We have a traditional egg decorating party with our friends on Good Friday (that was today!) so earlier in the week we gathered our supplies. From the scrapbooking section of Michael's we picked up some glue dots and a roll of thin double stick tape.  Then from the craft section we got a fantastic collection of 16 (!) colors of glitter for under $4.  Yay!

This morning I boiled two dozen eggs.  I agree that that is WAY too many eggs for a family where only two people are willing to actually eat hard boiled eggs, but we have tried to split a dozen in previous years and the decorating is over in about 10 minutes.  So disappointing.

Our friends brought several other egg decorating kits and we all set to work.

The technique for the glitter eggs was, starting with either a naked egg or one that had been dyed and dried, to place the tape or sticky dots onto the egg and then to pour some of the glitter into a little bowl.  Then dipping the tape and/or our fingers into the glitter, we rubbed the glitter into the tape/dot until it was completely covered and shiny.  We used a soft, dry paintbrush to brush off the extra glitter.

Everyone really enjoyed this technique, although my kitchen looks very much like fairies have visited.  Very sparkly.

I am not sure what happens when you try to peel and eat the glitter eggs.  Seems like there might be some residue.  But I am hoping that a quick rinse will resolve that situation.

Sprout spend so much time and care on her eggs that she had only completed half of them by the time the other kids were done.  But she eventually finished them all and they are quite fabulous!  She made the polka dotted egg and the one that says "Happy Easter" at the top (bad picture, sorry).

Tater made this one that he called "Elvis".  I did the one with silver/blue/pink stripes. 

Here is a gallery of our other creations.  I highly recommend this technique as a new twist on egg decorating - it was really fun and so very sparkly!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Food Children are (almost) Willing to Eat

I made this great Salsa Chicken in the crock pot last night.  Sprout ate a bite of the chicken and declared it to be "not my favorite chicken (which would be nuggets, thus the picture) but not bad."  This is high praise indeed and the grown-ups thought it was quite delicious.

I didn't take a picture of what we actually had.  Too busy eating.

I know it's not fun...but having the kids not throw themselves on the floor in fits of agony over how horribly disgusting their dinner is is about as good as it gets some days.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken
Put the following into a slow cooker (mine is 4 quarts):

4 Frozen chicken breasts  sprinkled with
1 packet of low sodium Taco Seasoning
1 can of Cheddar Cheese Soup
1 cup of salsa (I used Chi Chi's Mild)
1 tiny can of green chilis

Turn the cooker on low for 6-8 hours.
Shred the chicken up in the sauce.
Serve over rice and topped with sour cream if you really feel fancy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Contract Law

Next week my daughter, Sprout, and I are going to a orientation meeting for Middle School.

I need a moment to get my head around that.  OK, I am better now.

Like I said, Middle School.  As in, no longer Elementary School.  As in, one of the more traumatic experiences of many pre-teen lives.  My baby is going into the belly of the beast.

Earlier this week we were talking about this big transition, and Mike said something about "soon she'll be leaving home".  At which point, Sprout looked at us with panic in her eyes and said, "But we still have the contract, right?"

Ah, yes.  The contract.

Walk with me down memory lane to about 5 1/2 years ago.   Little Sprout was just turning 5 and in Kindergarten.  And, being the oh-so-funny Mommy that I am, I looked into her big green eyes and said, "Pretty soon you'll have to get a job and your own apartment."  Ha ha ha!  I am FUNNY!

The next day, the Kindergarten teacher reported that Sprout had spent much of their naptime crying.  Something about how she didn't want to have to get a job and move out?


Of course I reassured her that I had been TOTALLY KIDDING about the whole job/apartment thing.  Totally!  And that she could always, ALWAYS live with us. 

But a mere verbal contract was not sufficient to re-assure her.  So we drew up an official document showing that she could always live with us.  Signed and everything. 

Not notarized.  We might need that loophole later with this whole contract thing comes back to haunt us.

This official document has now been filed away for all of those years.  But when faced with the impending (like, 8 years from now!) end of life-at-home, Sprout went and dug it out and put it on the counter.  Just so we won't forget that we promised.

We won't forget.  I am in no hurry to get rid of her permanently.

I am assuming that by the time she is able to leave, she'll want to.  She probably will choose a college far far away.  (Sob.)  She'll probably seek her fortune in a big city somewhere. (Sob.)

But I am happy for her to have this piece of mind that if ever the road points her back toward home, there will be room at the inn for her.  Always.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fun with Egg Cartons

Since we haven't done anything fun in a long time, I am digging back into old things I never managed to write about.

Which brings us to this guy.

Tater did this almost entirely on his own.  He found the idea in some book, I wish I could credit it properly, but it was months ago, so I have no idea where it came from.

He cut out a little cup from an egg carton.  Well, actually I did that part because he tried and it kept coming out the wrong shape and I was afraid he was going to start throwing things (like scissors) around the kitchen.  So I intervened.

I don't like it when people throw scissors.

Once we got the body to be the right shape, he used a permanent market to draw on the face and stripes.  We glued googly eyes on the face and cut another little piece of foam from the egg carton and glued it on for a tail. 

Voila - raccoon!

The book showed a cardboard-type egg carton, and that might work even better.  We had the foam kind and I wasn't going to buy some different kind of eggs just for the carton.  Stubborn, yes.

This could work for little cats, dogs, cows, pigs...really any animal if you embellish it properly.  Tater was really happy with the end result and proud of himself for doing it (almost) all by himself.