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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Celebratory Baking!

I have previously posted some of my creative cake baking exploits - all executed for the sake of the entertainment of my children - but not all that beautiful at the end of the day. (See here and here).

Thanks to my mom, we have much more impressive results to show for our last round of cake baking!

Tater receive the Puzzle Cakes set of funky-shaped silicone cupcake cups for Christmas from Nana. This afternoon we followed the directions (mostly) and we were able to create this FABULOUS fish cake and super FUN bug. The bug was improvised since we had leftover batter, but he turned out cute!

Basically you just arrange the little cups according to the diagram in the box. Fill them up with cake batter (whatever kind you like - ours was Betty Crocker vanilla). Then bake as usual and then ice them when they cool. Very fun and very easy.

We colored vanilla frosting to do the fish - first we put yellow coloring into the frosting tub and did the fins and tail. Then we added a few drops of red coloring to make it all orange and did his middle. The eye is white spray frosting (left over from the gingerbread house project) as is the white on the "bubbles". The black is gel frosting in a little tube. And we had a thing of "ocean" sprinkles so the "bubbles" have little dolphins on them and the fish is sprinkled with little sea turtles.

The bug was just frosted with straight-up vanilla frosting and then sprinkled with red sugar. His details are drawn on with the black gel icing. I think he might have been better with colored frosting...but he's still cute!

We are going to eat these as part of our New Year's Celebration.

First the grown-ups are going out to dinner while the kids go play at My Gym (yay My Gym!) After dinner we will come home and have fizzy drinks in fancy glasses (the kids usually have Sprite while the adults go for a little champagne) and a treat (the cakes).


Then we will have a noise parade around the house. Pots and pans, pot lids and wooden spoons. I didn't get any silly hats this year - but I am sure we will come up with something!

Then the kids go to bed and the grown-ups stay up to see Dick Clark usher in the New Year.

It's not the most glamorous plan - but it works for us. And I am totally anxious to try the cakes!

Happy 2009 to all of you! Let's hope it brings health, happiness and prosperity to all of us. As I remind the kids frequently - you don't have to have money to be rich! (Although a little cash never hurts!)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monkeying Around

Hope everyone had an awesome holiday and has recovered (at least partially) from the madness of it all. We are decidedly in the post-celebration phase of winter vacation and looking for fun!

I have completely not been following my own advice this week and we have been completely winging it. After approximately 47,000 hours of MarioCart on the new Wii, we (I) decided it was time to get out of the house.

The need to get out, combined with Tater jumping around the house like a lunatic, led me to believe that a place with moonbounce-type entertainment would be the way to go.

After considering several local alternatives, we chose Monkey Joe's in Pottstown. Strangely, their website is www.monkeyjoesphilly.com - although they are seriously REALLY far from Philly.

Located in the "Suburbia Shopping Center" on Route 100, essentially an oasis of commercialism in the middle of nowhere, Monkey Joe's, unlike many similar establishments, is brightly lit, with huge windows in the "parent lounge" area (with massage chairs and free WIFI!!) The facility is relatively new - they have probably been there about a year - so everything is nice and clean and new.

There are referees who monitor the kids (although I still can't quite allow myself to plop in front of the big screen TV (!) and watch Judge Joe while the kids are playing). Everyone seemed to be playing nicely with no major catastrophes looming on the horizon.

I really liked that they had a wristband system where kids and parents are tagged upon entry with matching numbers and no one can leave with a kid unless the numbers match. I am frantic that way :) Something about Chuck E. Cheese makes me think child predators are lurking in every corner, this felt very safe to me.

The kids bounced and slid for 2 hours, only taking a break to recharge with some scary Spongebob popsicles. Ahhh...the joys of artificial color and flavor molded into the shape of a cartoon character!

There was a moment when Mr. Monkey Joe himself (creepy - see picture above) made an appearance and I thought Tater might lose it. But he held himself together surprisingly well and even waved from afar. I think we have turned a corner in the realm of dressed-up things. Not quite Disney ready, but possibly less likely to run screaming from Chik-Fil-A if the cow makes an appearance. Good stuff!

Monkey Joe's is offering 1/2 price admission on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day - and they have lots of special things going on during the week - magic shows, story times, etc. I would highly recommend checking out Monkey Joe's if the kids need to get out and let off some steam while it is cold outside!

A great place to get your bounce on!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Easy Holiday Hat

I guess "holiday" would be pushing it, since I think reindeer are really only relevant to Christmas. But I think any kids would like this purely for amusement value.

Insanely easy.

Fold a piece of brown construction paper in half. Trace a child's hand (or your own, if you'd like) onto it. Make the "wrists" a little long so that you have something to tape onto the headband. Cut the hand out. You should have 2 hand cut-outs (because of the folding). You can cut them individually if that seems more fun to you.

Make a band of construction paper (mine is poster board, but you are more likely to have paper, I am guessing) that fits around the child's (or your) head. Tape it together.

Tape the hands onto either side of the headband.

Voila - Reindeer antlers.

I think it would be fun to cut a circle of red out and hang it down from the front (with string?) to make a Rudolf version...or you could decorate the band with stickers or glitter or something. But the straight-up version is really cute. Tater was wearing it yesterday and loved it.

We are making these at Sprout's school holiday party this afternoon. I think it will be amusing to see all of the kids wearing them. It's 4th Grade - so some kids might think they are too cool for them. But I am going to wear mine!

This could be a Christmas Eve activity during a family gathering...something for the kids to do while the parents are visiting...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Teacher Gift

When I wrote a few weeks ago about making the wreath out of paper hand cutouts, I suggested that I might try to make a felt version for Sprout's teacher as a gift from her class. So, voila - there it is!

The teacher had each child trace a hand and sent the tracings home to me. Hopefully she doesn't know why...

I cut the hands out of green felt and wrote the kids' names on the middle fingers (no, not as a gesture to the teacher - because they tended to the be the biggest fingers to write on) in fabric paint (gold glitter - sparkly!)

Once all the names were dry, I arranged them in two layers - big hands on the outside, smaller ones on the inside and stuck them together with Tacky Glue (I am out of hot glue - and I always hurt myself with it anyway!) I filled in under where the bow was going to go with "fake" hands so no one's name is covered.

To reinforce the whole thing I cut a ring out of a soda box (classy, right?) and glued it onto the back. Then trimmed all the places where "Pepsi" was showing between the fingers.

Then...(this is turning into a saga...sorry) the fingers on the top were flopping down, so I sprayed the back of them with fabric stiffener (yes, there is such a thing...like super starch). And then attached a very glittery bow. I used the glitter paint to write 2008 on the bow.

I think it turned out super cute (if slightly more involved than I thought it might be) and I hope the teacher likes it!

If I did it again I would try to find a way for the kids to help (oops). I was being insanely control-freakish about the whole thing since I didn't know what I was doing. Not proud of that part...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Issue of Barrel of Chipmunks Newsletter

Esther and I just finished up the first issue of the Barrel of Chipmunks Newsletter.

Download your FREE copy here. We hope that you can use these ideas to entertain your little Chipmunks during the long long (long) winter break.

Let us know what you think...is there too much? Not enough? Too hard? Too easy? We'd love to know what you think. Comment here or send me an e-mail. Any feedback would be MUCH appreciated!

All the best!

Friday, December 12, 2008

It Takes a Village

Koziar's Christmas Village in Bernville, PA to be more specific. I found this place by Googling "Christmas Festival" and my zip code. So if you aren't anywhere near The Middle of Nowhere, PA - you can try that technique to find something good wherever you are.

Apparently other people around here already knew about the Christmas Village, my neighbors were going tonight with a church group and my friend in Pottsville had been there before, but I was in the dark - which isn't all that surprising.


Bernville is outside of Reading, near the airport. It took about an hour to get there from our place. I had been told that it is quite a dramatic sight to come over a hill and see the lights. So, of course, for about 5 miles, we proceeded over every hill with bated breath. And then, there it was...and quite dramatic indeed.

Of course, I had forgotten to explicitly check the hours of operation for Fridays (we had originally planned to go Wednesday, but were rained out). So we were there about 15 minutes before they opened at 6 (M-F 6-9 and S-S 5-9:30). Oops.

Luckily this gave us extra time to go back to the car for the hats and gloves that everyone thought they didn't need, but really did. The line moved quickly once the gates were opened and admission was pretty reasonable - $7 for adults and $5 for kids under 12.

The vast majority of the displays are outdoors, so tonight, when the temps were around freezing, it was pretty nippy out there. Luckily there are a few places to duck into, get some hot chocolate or hot apple cider, and warm up before you go back for more.

It is difficult to fully convey what there is to see. Lots and lots of lights. Lots and lots of characters - from the Peanuts, to the Flintstones, to Sesame Street - the whole gang is there on what look to be hand-painted displays. There is a path to follow that meanders through all of the displays. Music is playing.

There are little tableaus (I think that is the appropriate word) of toy shops and candy shops and other Christmas Scenes. Some were mildly disturbing, but most were cute. There is a dancing thing that sort of made my skin crawl and Sprout proclaimed a number of things - especially those with moving dolls - to be "creeeeepy".


Rudolf and Frosty were hanging around for pictures, resulting in a historic moment when my little Tater decided it would be OK to have his picture taken with BOTH Frosty and Rudolf (this is the boy who has been terrified of dressed-up things for his entire life).

There are also two impressive train set-ups, one outdoors and one indoors. The indoor one was huge and, you know, indoors - which was a plus at the point where I could no longer feel my toes.

Named one of the top ten attractions in PA as well as the Best Outdoor Christmas Display in the World (!), the kids proclaimed it to be "Awesome" - even Sprout, who I was told might be too old to appreciate the kitchy nature of the whole scene.

Tater said we should go back next year and the next year and the next year. So that is pretty much the best endorsement you are going to get.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gift Ideas

Like many people, we are trying to control our spending on Christmas gifts. Of course, we still want the people we are gifting to know that we love and care about them. So here are a few ideas that we came up with for this year.

I have written before about how much I love the "Feel Your Boobies" campaign for early detection of breast cancer through self-examination. They offer some of their products in bulk - which is a great way to spread the message, show your friends you care, benefit a great cause AND save some cash.

I also love the charitable aspect of TOMs Shoes. For every item purchased from TOMs, they give a pair of shoes to a child who would otherwise not have any. There is a gift certificate option, some very cute t-shirts and things, and of course, the shoes themselves. I personally ordered the Navy Glitter...in keeping with the "one for them, one for me" philosophy I used to be able to follow back in the days before kids and mortgages. Is that wrong?

For the kids, we have decided to provide some delayed gratification...or long-term gratification, depending on how you look at it. They will get a somewhat edited pile of presents, and then coupons that can be traded in each month for a $25 gift card for a new toy (or some other item of their choice). This gives us the chance to spread the spending out over the year, and also the chance to say "Yes" to toys and things all through the year instead of buying a big heap of stuff now that they don't really want. I ordered gift certificates on VistaPrint to wrap up - but if I had been smarter, I would have just made them on the computer. Lesson learned for next year!

If you have any great ideas for gifts, feel free to comment and share!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Utimate Party?

The lovely ladies at Mom Central hooked me up with the ingredients to make Ultimate Party Meatballs. I don't know about you, but "Ultimate Party" and "Meatballs" haven't really occurred to me within one thought before. At this point in my life, the Ultimate Party is one that ends early, but hey, one with meatballs sounds interesting.

The recipe itself is super easy. Mix 1 Bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce with 1 can of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce (and you thought it was just for Thanksgiving!). Heat on the stove, making sure to squish any jelly bits so that they aren't floating around in there. Add in a pound of pre-made appetizer sized meatballs and heat through. Serve (I would think fancy toothpicks would add to the "Ultimate Party" atmosphere).

I made these one night to try them and I have to say the sauce was very yummy. I am not much of a sweet-and-sour meatball person (I prefer mine with spaghetti...or in a sandwich) but if you were, this would be really awesome, and insanely easy.

I might use the sauce as a dipping sauce for chicken fingers, or some other appetizer-ish thing.


The folks at Ocean Spray and Heinz are even offering a sweepstakes on their website with a grand prize of $3000 in gift cards.

That would be the Ultimate Party!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Light it Up

No, that's not my house. But if my kids had a vote, ours would look very much like that.

I just came across a picture from our first Christmas in this house. There are about 3 tastefully arranged strings of white lights. That's it.

Four years later - we have multi-colored lights on a tree, multi-colored lights going up the pillars in the entry, the hook from our windchimes is wrapped with red and white lights to look like a big candy cane, there are some additional white lights in between, and then there is the new (somewhat dangerous) lighted reindeer.

Most years - putting the lights up has been a one-hour ordeal. I use the little 3M sticky hooks and my fingers go numb trying to peel the itty bitty papers off of them (impossible to do with gloves). But that is about as much trauma as there has been.

This time it has taken me a full week to get them all up and functioning.

The first round of lights on the tree and the bushes went reasonably OK. Then I got the candy cane lights all wrapped up and plugged them in to find that none of the reds were lighting.


So back to the store for more reds. Unwrap, rewrap.

Back to the store for the lights for the pillars (the old (white) ones half-died). Got them all hooked up and turned on. Then about an hour later - half of the lights outside were out. One of the strings of lights from the new set had died.

Back to the store - new set. Take down, put up, plug in. Pretty.


Then an hour later - half the lights outside were out. The replacement string had died.

I finally put it all together and figured out that I had too many things all plugged in to one extension cord. Oops.

That whole thing about only plug 4 strings together...they meant that?


Rejig the cords...replace the blown string... Whew. And everything stayed lit. Score!

Then I saw the deer at the store. A cheap-ish deer allowing me to satisfy the pleas from the kids for some novelty item without a) breaking the bank and b) ending up with an enormous inflatable thing in my yard.

Brought the deer home...set him up...nearly killed myself while attempting to stake him into the ground (forgot about the sharp sharp antlers). And then only half of him lit up.

At this point two things kept running through my mind - the line in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" where he says "There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side." and the version of the 12 Days of Christmas where the guy keeps whining about putting up the !@#$%^&* Lights.

So the deer goes back in the box. And a new one comes home. And he is set up and staked in and lit up. And I am officially done.

I know - I am tired just writing it and I am sure you are all "Enough already!" reading it!

One of my favorite Christmas season pastimes is driving around on the way home at the end of the day and taking detours to see all of the Christmas lights. There is a shopping area/park with a ton of white twinkle-light covered trees and the kids beg to go past the "Sparkly Trees". There is a neighborhood next to ours with enormous mansions with very pretty Christmas displays.

But a couple of years ago, we happened to turn down this out of the way road. And the houses are neat little duplex-types. And we come around the corner and see - WOW - the house in the picture up above there. My camera-phone picture doesn't begin to capture the amount of STUFF these people have in their yard. It is utterly AMAZING.

And today when we drove by, both kids said - "We should do our house like THAT!"

I don't think we should. I am not strong enough for that...I think we have maxed out my capacity to rig up outdoor Christmas lights (although I have barely started on the back!)

But I am so glad someone out there does!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Glittery, Flaky Fun

My photography doesn't do this one credit. These are actually really pretty and sparkly. If you did a bunch, they would look great on the windows next to the front door (what are those called?)

The kids loved this project. To start, you draw a pattern on a piece of white paper. Simple lines are easiest to trace, but the kids can draw whatever they want. Something snowflaky.

Then put a clear plastic sheet (like a transparency film - we used a plastic notebook divider) over the white paper. Use "puffy" fabric paint to trace over the lines on the pattern. We used a silver glitter paint and a "crystal" glitter paint. Kids might need a little help getting the lines consistently thick. I just traced back over the thin spots after they were done.

The paint really needs to sit overnight to be fully dry. Don't let anybody touch it before it is dry (note the large fingerprint right in the middle of our flake...) In the morning, carefully peel the snowflake off of the plastic and stick it to the window.

I got this idea from Family Fun Magazine (highly recommend many of their projects). Their version said to use waxed paper instead of the plastic sheet. We tried that on our first batch, but there was a residue of wax stuck to the back of the flake. So about 10 minutes after we put up our first snowflakes, they fell off of the window and the dog immediately ate them. We think he is part piranha.

So - don't use waxed paper. Or, put them somewhere far away from your piranha dog.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dream House

As in, "keep dreaming, because you don't get to eat that."

Poor poor children. Forced to play with candy and cookies and frosting...only to be told that the resulting creations are off limits.

In keeping with our family Black Friday tradition, we stayed far away from the retail mania and started to construct theoretically edible Christmas cheer.

We did both the house and the tree from $9.99 kits from Michael's. Everything included - appropriately shaped cookies, candy and frosting mix.

After an unfortunate frosting bag incident during the creation of the tree (apparently I didn't thin it out enough and it came bursting out the side of the bag...um, yuck), we resorted to "spray can" frosting. I must admit that, although it is mighty entertaining to spray frosting out of a can, the frosting itself is not completely appropriate for gingerbread-based construction. Too fluffy.

This resulted in some unfortunate slippage of the roof of the house (if you look closely there is a huge dent in the middle - somewhat covered with gumdrops).

The spray frosting also sort of broke the budget at $4.50 a can (and we used 2).

But overall, I think the result is quite spectacular. And those happy kids are surely worth a few overpriced cans of off-limits frosting.

Of course, the kids were careful to ration their decorations such that there is a generously heaping pile of candies left over.

Smart kids :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Weirdest Kid Ever

Tater's new favorite snack is edamame. You probably are thinking "Eda-who?" Seriously!

Soybeans. Shelled soybeans. Straight-up green. Protein-packed. Isoflavone rich. And, when sprinked with a little kosher salt, downright tasty.

Weirdest. Kid. Ever.

I wouldn't have thought they'd be good. But I have seen them suggested as a yummy snack in numerous magazines and books and thought, why not? I figured maybe I could suffer through a few. And wouldn't it be amusing to try to get the kids to eat them?

They were super-easy to prepare. Take frozen bag of shelled edamame, and dump it into a microwave-safe bowl. Put on the lid. Microwave for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Done.

First taste...hmmm....salty (from, you know, the salt...)...not too beany...sort of indescribable...maybe a little nutty? Um...yum?

Tater came creeping over - "What is that?"
Me: "Edamame"
T: "Who's Mommy?"
Me: "Soybeans...Taste one...they are salty."
T: "Mmmm...I like these beans!"

Sprout was too terrified by the greenness to even give them a shot. But I am not all that surprised by that. Tater, however, ate handfuls of them yesterday and then jumped at the chance to have some for his after-school snack today.

And I am having trouble keeping my hands out of them. How totally weird is that??

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Handy Holiday Wreath

We have been going crazy with the projects around here, so I will try to update on what we have done. With the kids home from school for many many days over the Thanksgiving holiday (2 more days to go!) we have been keeping ourselves busy with lots of projects and lots of Christmas decorating.

This Hand Wreath is a super easy project that we put together in just a few minutes one night after dinner.

The base of the wreath is a paper plate with the center cut out (like a donut). I actually piled two plates together to make it a little sturdier and then glued them together.

The red hands are Tater's and the green ones are Sprout's. You could do any color combination that works for the holiday at "hand" (ha!). Blue and white for Hannukah, or black, yellow and red for Kwanzaa. Were there official colors of Festivus?

We used full-sized construction paper, with three sheets stacked up and folded in quarters to make 12 of each handprint with only one round of tracing and cutting. If you wanted to kill more time you could make a pattern and trace and cut each handprint separately. I was all about efficiency - but we didn't have a lot of time!

Once the hands are all cut out, space them out around the paper donut to make sure you can cover the whole thing. We did it with the curved side of the plate-donut up so the fingers are sort of fluffed out. Once you have the hands arranged how you like, stick them down to the plate with a glue stick or good old Elmer's.

Once it is dry, you could add more decorations - stickers, cut outs, a bow. Whatever you'd like to jazz things up. We went for the purist version.

I am considering doing something similar to this as a class gift for Sprout's teacher. I was thinking that if we cut the hands out of felt and hot glued them together it could be a more permanent keepsake. If I can just get a traced hand from each kid in the class, I think that it could be very cool. Maybe with the kids names on each hand...I am still formulating a plan.

Hope you enjoy this project or whatever you decide to do with those kids on these days off. December is FULL of days off for us. I need to make a list of projects to fill all of those days!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey Cookies

No, not made out of turkey. That would be wrong.

These started out to be turkey cupcakes, but I needed both chocolate and vanilla, and 48 cupcakes seemed extreme. So I took exactly the same amount of cake mix (2 boxes) and made 24 HUGE cookies. Which is exactly the same amount of calories and extreme overabundance of treats - just flatter.

I used the "Funfetti Cookie" recipe (box of cake mix + 1/3 cup of oil + 2 eggs) using one box of devil's food cake and one of white cake. I made big round cookies out of the resulting dough (about 12 from each box - I guess 2" balls of dough?) and baked them at 375 for about 6-8 minutes.

I am sure that this would work with plain old sugar cookies, either from a mix or from scratch. You just need a big round base for the decorations.

The heads and feathers are Nutter Butter Crisps (from the 100 Calorie packs). I only bought one box of them, but didn't figure on breakage...many of the cookies were only halves in the bags...so about half of our turkeys were featherless.


For the heads, we used a tube of black cake decorating frosting and just made dot eyes and a "v" for a beak. Tater used red squeeze icing to make the wattles (gobbles?).


Then we iced the rest of the cookies (we used three for each turkey, but that was because we were running out) with vanilla frosting and then sprinkled them with different colors to make colored tail feathers.

Sprout was helping with the icing process, but kept eating the "parts". Rather than test her self-control, she chose to go watch "That's So Raven". Party pooper.

To assemble the turkeys we iced the big cookies, and stuck a head and some tail feathers into the frosting. When we ran out of feathers we just decorated the rest of the cookie with sprinkles. I think both versions look turkey-ish.

These looked super-cute on a big plate for dessert. Of course, now that I am insanely full of Thanksgiving Dinner, they are looking less enticing...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Winter Storm Alert

Brainstorming that is.

I have somehow ended up as the (assistant) homeroom Mom for Sprout's classroom. I find this quite terrifying. The "real" Mom (there are no specific titles, but I have decided I am the assistant and she is real) was in charge of the Halloween Party. So I am in charge of Christmas. Only it can't be Christmas (I don't think). It has to be Winter.

So I am hunting around for games and crafts that can be finished in under 10 minutes...in a classroom...without making a mess.

So far I have these options:
Pin the Nose on Rudolf (or Frosty?)
Paper Towel Tube "Candles"
Candy-Cane Pass
Rudolf Dash (relay with red noses stuck on the kids with vaseline...which sounds gross)
Winter Tongue Twisters
Snowflake Window Clings
Mashmallow Snowmen

And possibly tracing the kids hands to make a wreath for the teacher...

Much work still to be done.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sprout & Tater's New Pad

We finally made the box house today.

After convincing the children that ALL cutting of boxes needed to be done by a grown-up (accompanied by a story about how their uncle very nearly ended up one-eyed after a scissor mishap during a similar childhood project), we put the boxes together, covered them with construction paper (including curtains and a "tiled" floor).


There was a later phase involving chimneys made of paper towel tubes and "smoke" made of balloons...but this is the essential structure.

Then, of course we had to move on to making houses for our toys using shoeboxes, mailing boxes, juice boxes... Copious amounts of packing tape were sacrificed today on the alter of childhood creativity.

But look how happy these kids are...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

3 R's

Reduce - I am reducing my use of brain cells for the day.

Re-use - You can read this post over here if you'd like.

Read - Two more Twilight books to go until my brain is mine again...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Flashback

I am reading through some of the notebooks I kept (still keep, although with less frequent entries) of funny things the kids said when they were very small.

I thought I would share a couple:

February 2003 - Sprout is 3 1/2
Mommy: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Sprout: Batman!
M: Good choice.
S: He has power! (Fist in the air) He has ugly eyes and horns.
M: Really?
S: Yeah, and rosy cheeks.

February 2005 - Tater is 2 1/2

Driving...
Tater: I see a house with a sign with a tooth and so I'm guessin' that's where the tooth fairy lives.
Mommy: Maybe it's a dentist's office?
T: No, it isn't an office, it's a house - so I think that's the tooth fairy's house.

I have tons of these...and now a 9 year-old and a 6-year-old...who say things like "If you won't take me to get Pokemon cards RIGHT NOW I am never going home."

I am not writing THAT in the cute things book...


Friday, November 14, 2008

Dear Santa

I am getting ready to start thinking about maybe planning to consider what we might need to potentially put on our Christmas lists. It is a little early in the season for me. I can't really get into the full flow of the Christmas spirit until Thanksgiving has come and gone.

I did start loading Christmas tunes onto my iPod. But I won't play them for another two weeks. Promise.

However, I do know one thing, Santa. We really don't need any more toys.

Don't let on to the kids that I am telling you this, because they aren't completely on board with this. They think that we do need quite a few more toys.

Like every single one in the Target toy catalog.
And every single one in the Toys R Us catalog.

And then a few more.

But really, we don't. They pretty much play with a plastic yo-yo and a box of Pokemon cards.

And Tater likes the pink Bunco set.

But really - they don't need more. So if you can figure out a way to make Christmas all magical and full of joy and happiness, without more toys - I am all ears.

Respectfully,

Kristen

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poke your what?

My kids have recently gotten "into" Pokemon cards. Apparently they are a hot commodity during the bus ride to and from school.

The five minute bus ride. I can't imagine that they have time to wrestle the enormous tins of cards out of their full-to-bursting backpacks, much less partake in any kind of serious bartering.

I am not clear at all on the valuation method the kids use to determine a "fair" trade. It all seems very arbitrary to me, but I guess as long as they are cool with the outcome and I don't have to develop any significant level of understanding or waste any of my few precious brain cells on this, I should just let it go.

I saw something in a magazine recently about making your own trading cards for kids. Cut their favorite characters out of magazines, or print them from the internet. Glue them on index cards, and voila, happiness will ensue.

I have to say that I think whoever wrote that is delusional. Or has extremely clueless children.

That would NEVER fly with my kids - or the neighbors' kids - or really, any actual cognizant child I have ever seen. They know the real deal and can be amazingly detailed in their requirements for specifics. Anyone who has tried (as I have, I never learn) to pass off cut-rate toys as the real deal knows I speak the truth here.

Do you see up there how very many Pokemon characters there are? And therefore how very many cards my children feel that they need to have? And don't even get me started on the Level X and whatever else there is that makes the HUGENORMOUS pile of cards they each have DRAMATICALLY deficient.

I have been tasked today with taking Tater's allowance (because I am not spending *my* money on these things...although I suppose the allowance came from *my* money...but I digress...) and finding him a Level X Torterra card. Because the Torterra card he already has isn't sparkle-y enough or something.

We were at Target on Tuesday afternoon to pick up some medicine and on the way to the pharmacy, we passed the trading card display. Both children began to dance and plead for cards, but Sprout gave it up pretty quickly when I told her she was welcome to bring her birthday or allowance money back and waste *ahem* I mean spend it to her hearts content on all the Pokemon cards she wanted.

However, Tater collapsed in a small boy shaped ball of misery on the floor and proceeded to whine, and beg, and cry and repeatedly chant "But I NEED them". I was strong, I did not cave. I did not float him a loan, although it would have been significantly less painful.

So yesterday afternoon, he wanted to go back with his money. But homework took forever. And today they have karate after school. And if I have to listen to the begging again, I may have to curl into my own mommy shaped ball of misery.

So here I am, off to Target in search of Torterra.

Unless I can find an index card and some glitter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Breaking up with Myself

This whole blogging thing started as a way to support my business, Stuff for Sprouts. Then I decided that Stuff for Sprouts needed help I could not provide for it, so I started to search for someone to adopt it and take it to the next level. Sort of like sending it to boarding school. Forever.

Now someone (yay!) is interested in buying it and I have to figure out how to take myself out of the Stuff for Sprouts equation. Which is like removing a siamese twin. But less icky.

The first move is breaking this blog, which is intended to support the next venture (and provide an outlet for me to share what is going on, which I am sure you are all enjoying so much!) away from the Stuff for Sprouts blog. There are still links over there so you can get back and forth (and please do).

And I set up a new Twitter identity. So now I am both Stuff4Sprouts and FunMommyK (which I think sounds like my rap name, if I had one). Two of me. Yikes. Plus Facebook. I am overwhelmed with myself.

I better start doing something interesting!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Box Turtle


We went to Maryland this weekend to help my in-laws move. The kids were helpful, taking things out of boxes and not breaking anything.

But what they really loved were all of the boxes!
There was much begging to bring boxes home so that they could build a playhouse. So we have two fairly huge boxes lurking in the laundry room waiting for that project to come to fruition.

But while we were still there, Tater asked me to put one of the smaller boxes over him to see if he would fit inside.
And yes, he did. So he decided that he looked like a turtle. And begged to bring THAT box home, too. And could I please cut feet and a tail.

So, yesterday we got the smaller box out and turned it into a "real" box turtle. Tater cut out the circles to glue onto the box. I was thinking larger, octagonal pieces - but he thought circles were the way to go and I handed off creative control (yay for me!)

He was very happy with the final product and sat in it to watch TV last night. Says it hurts a little...but very cute.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Compare and Contrast

It is amazing how different two children coming from the same parents and living in the same household can be.

Example:

Sprout keeps losing sweaters and sweatshirts at school. Apparently she gets hot, takes off her top layer and leaves it somewhere. I only realized this when I looked in her closet and there were NO sweatshirts left.

Upon questioning, she shrugged her shoulders and said she didn't know what happened to them. When I suggested perhaps checking the Lost and Found at school (preferably within a day or so of misplacing things) she was dumbfounded.

I had to walk her into the school and dig through the box myself. Uncovering 2 of the 3 lost sweatshirts. She seems utterly untroubled by the one that is still MIA.

Grrr.

In complete and total contrast, Tater left his sweatshirt on the bus today and within 5 minutes had dissolved into a sea of tears. Devastated. How would he EVER find his favorite sweatshirt??? How???

I called the school and, amidst the wailing and screams of great despair, got the number of the bus company. Fifteen minutes later we were in the car on our way to the bus garage (which, luckily is about 5 minutes away). We tromped around over there, found the office, and VOILA, sweatshirt. As a bonus, we also found our neighbor's lunchbox, which had also been left on the bus today.

How do we find the normal, middle-ground reaction here? Constructive concern, without freaking out?

It's a mystery to me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Sprout!!

Today is Sprout's 9th birthday.

Where did 9 years go? That was WAY too fast!

I tried to negotiate an extra year of 8...then MAYBE 9 next year. But she said no.

Darn.

That picture there is from our traditional decorating of the doors for kid birthdays. Crepe paper decorating the door and the sign hangs at eye level, so when the birthday child walks out of the room - HELLO! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Makes them smile every time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Please Touch

After waiting in line for almost 90 minutes to vote today (go Obama!), we hopped in the car, picked up some McDonald's to go and high-tailed it to the new Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia.

Traveling on the weirdly traffic-free Schuylkill Expressway, we arrived there in just about 30 minutes, a feat I can not imagine we could ever replicate.

The new home of the Please Touch Museum is Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. A really impressive building and a great improvement over the old, cramped location in downtown Philly.

We were greeted by an enthusiastic man in a Mad Hatter outfit. I found him sort of creepy/irritating, but the kids were amused. I clearly have a different sense of humor than a child.

The exhibits are, for the most part, the same as those at the old facility. However, most are expanded to take advantage of the additional space.

There is a large boating/water exhibit that I do not remember from the old museum. The kids loved this. However, the floor is woefully inappropriate for a water feature and kids were slipping and falling all over the place. They need to put down more appropriate flooring or someone is going to get seriously hurt.

Other features included a human-sized hamster wheel, an extensive Alice-in-Wonderland section with a maze and tea party, and a huge play supermarket. The last time we went the kids LOVED the supermarket. This time, possibly because it was a ridiculous mess, they weren't so into it.

There was also a play McDonald's, a food cart in the "park", a hospital, a shoe store, and a construction site.
My kids enjoyed the "garage" and driving the bus, and car. There were also "real" backhoes that the kids could dig colored balls with.

Lots of the activities would probably be more appropriate for the under 6 crowd. I think Tater enjoyed it more than Sprout, although there were moments when she was very into it.

I am not great at doing the "standing around watching kids play" thing. And I am a nut-case when kids are running in different directions and I can't keep track of them. (Yes, that's me yelling "WHAT DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND ABOUT STAY TOGETHER???"). I would have enjoyed the day more with another grown-up for coverage and company. But it was a good day anyway.

The kids were very compliant with their $5 budget in the gift shop. Each picked a yo-yo. Sprout picked a strange tube thing that makes a weird noise. Tater picked 4 small plastic cats, which he named Snow White, Fluffy, Princess and Mustard. For some reason I find that very amusing.

So, in short...if you have kids under 6 and a co-pilot, you will probably really enjoy the Please Touch Museum. And don't run around the water feature or you'll crack your head open.

Oh, also - if you have AAA you can get a slight discount ($1.50 per ticket).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best Muffins Ever


I got this recipe from my neighbor...and then of course, being the creative (aka unable to follow directions) cook that I am, I changed a bunch of stuff. I think these are SO yummy. Especially spread with a little cream cheese for breakfast.

I tried to jam in as many healthy things as possible. Various flours that supposedly have different nutritional components, oats for soluble fiber, flax seeds for extra good fats, pumpkin with anti-oxidants...maybe some raisins would make a good addition...

Tater thought they were good. Sprout was frightened that they contained "spice" but did nibble one and declare it OK.

Kids like measuring and dumping. Tater is an excellent sous chef (although I supposed that implies I am a chef, which would be ever so misleading).

I ate almost the whole batch myself the last time. I just made more...and I am scared.

Best Ever Pumpkin Muffins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine these dry ingredients:
2 cups flour (I used 1/4 cup each of Spelt, Barley, Brown Rice, and White Whole Wheat)
1 cup oats (Quaker, in the tub)
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp Ground Flax Seeds (no one will ever know)
2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
6 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (I know that sounds crazy...but trust me)
1 tsp salt

In a separate bowl combine these wet ingredients:
2 cups canned pumpkin (plain pumpkin)
2/3 cup applesauce
2 eggs

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until blended.

Spoon into muffin pans that have been sprayed with non-stick spray. If you do mini-muffins, I warn you...you will not be able to stop eating them.

Bake for 20-25 minutes - probably check around 15 if you do the minis.

Try not to eat them all at once.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Germs are no fun at all...


Go check out this fun site: Say Boo to Flu.

I didn't really realize (I mean, I sort of realized, but probably stashed it in some hidden corner of my mind) that the flu can actually be deadly!


So...go get a flu shot. I just got mine yesterday and the kids had theirs a few weeks ago, and check out the fun activities on their website.

Cinnamon Magic looks entertaining and quick...and I am all over Bug Cakes (although I would totally make them with a mix and pre-prepared frosting...anything that involves a double-boiler is WAY beyond my skills!)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nod to Tradition

Tater felt that he needed the regular carved pumpkin.

But liked the idea of cable ties for hair.

So. Voila!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pimp my Pumpkin?

How fun is this?
I am so proud of this idea.

I was not looking forward to carving pumpkins with the kids. The oogy slimy scraping. The sharp knives accompanied with incessant whining that they NEED to try to do it themselves.

So I got this idea to put stuff ON the pumpkin. Like hardware!

I went to Lowe's and wandered around looking for things (cheap things...each under a dollar) that could be face parts. I came home with a collection of little plastic pipe pieces and bolts and washers and laid them out before my children.

Sprout was on board. She picked out pieces. She helped poke holes in the pumpkin with a nail and a hammer (probably why she was on board...the girl LOVES tools). She approved my idea of wrapping stiff wire around the pieces and then poking the wire ends into the pumpkin to secure them. She jabbed the cable ties into his "head".

Tater is rejecting this break from tradition and insists that we have to make his pumpkin into a REAL Jack-o-Lantern. Darn.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rainy Saturday

We have just been hanging around today. The kids did some painting on some "treasure boxes" we had left over from this summers project-a-thon.

We went to Halloween parties last night.

Tater and I went to the Halloween Ball at his school. This was essentially a whole bunch of K-2 kids in costumes running around in the semi-darkness while the Macarena played...BUT Tater won the costume contest with his dead-on resemblance to a young and very cute Harry Potter. $20 Gift Card for Target...I am trying hard not to steal it!

Sprout and Daddy went to a Halloween party hosted by her orthodontist. The lavishness of this affair leads me to believe that I am overypaying for her treatment... But she had lots of fun, so I guess it is worth it.

We are getting ready to go to the movies. It is windy, rainy, cold. Nothing fun can happen outside. So we are going to see High School Musical 3. This is despite (or, I guess, in addition to) the fact that we are taking a bunch of Sprout's friends to see the same movie NEXT Saturday for her 9th birthday party..

Maybe I will branch out into movie reviews here!

Hope you are having fun with whatever your Saturday offers!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Try and try again...

Despite strong evidence to the contrary (submitted here), my little Tater continues to believe that I can create amazing cakes.

And despite the fact that I completely don't give a hoot about sports, we are currently putting together our Phillies party.


Twisty Cheese Curls, pizza and cake. Just what every kid needs!


Tater drew the stars and the black circle...I did the "Go Phillies". Sprout wanted to lick the icing spreader, but was shut down. Poor Sprout.

The balloons are blown up...streamers are being hung. T-shirts are on (although we will be putting jammies under the t-shirts before game time.)

I think there may be some hats secreted away somewhere.

Go Phillies! (says Tater and Sprout and their Daddy)...

Monday, October 20, 2008

And the winner is...







Here's our logo...what do you think??

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Down Time

This weekend, especially today, was filled with a glorious overabundance of nothingness.

Yesterday, Tater had a party at 1:15 and we just barely got out of our pajamas in time to get there. Sprout and I had lunch and did some shopping while he was at the party. Both kids procured yo-yos for themselves and have been yo-yo-ing ever since...


Last night Sprout had a party, so Tater and I had dinner with friends.

Today we started watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at 10AM and were still in pajamas at 12:45 for lunch...the kids never left the house...yo-yo-ing...TV watching...rotting brains oozing everywhere...but it was REALLY nice to have no agenda. Just a lot of recharging.

Not fun exactly, but good anyway...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Getting better...


The chipmunks are improving.

I am significantly less frightened of them than before.

Not sure about the sneaky one behind the dot of the "i". He still seems like he's up to no good. What's he doing back there??

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More fun with catalogs


I have to give my mom credit for this one.

She gives the kids clothing catalogs and lets them cut out clothes. Then she gives them photos of family members and they cut out the heads.

Then they pick out clothes for the family members and glue the heads on. Like a paper-doll/collage combination.

Then they draw in the details.


The kids love this. They came home from a recent visit with a whole slew of them...including this lovely rendition of me...love the pink tights...and my tiny tiny head.

Very entertaining!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Easiest Collage Ever


I am not sure this qualifies as a craft idea - more of a craft cheat.

One of Tater's homework assignments for the month was to make a Fall Collage.

Unfortunately, we couldn't find any magazines with fall pictures in them. But we did find a catalog that was chock full of Halloween-like decor (ours was the Lakeside Collection but I would think that Lillian Vernon, Gooseberry Patch, Terry's Village would all have a similar spread this time of year).

We went through and took out anything Halloween or fall-ish. You could also go onto the websites from these companies and print pictures from their on-line catalogs.


A little cut and paste, and voila - collage. All from one "magazine". It turned out pretty cute.

And collages are always a big hit because kids LOVE cutting things out of magazines. I think there is something about the usually-forbidden destruction of reading material that gives them a little thrill.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Do I want Sandy?

Sandy - your free personal email assistant
I am trying out this website: I Want Sandy, a virtual personal assistant who will send text and Twitters and things to remind you of what you need to do.

I am intrigued. I asked her to remind me to send Tater's library books to school on Wednesday. And that I am supposed to give blood tomorrow at 1. She will apparently text me and keep me on track. This might be just the dynamic solution to getting my life in order!

I wonder if she will fetch my coffee...virtual coffee?


Friday, October 10, 2008

Pumpkinland

Once upon a time, when I was a newly minted working girl, my friend and I were somehow placed in charge of planning parties for our work group. Remember when people used to have parties at work?

Anyway, we were working in downtown Wilmington, and the Halloween party was approaching. So, we did what any reasonable people would do when faced with the need for pumpkins and Halloween cheer - we drove to Media, PA and went to
Linvilla Orchards! Pumpkinland!

I grew up just around the corner from there...and it was THE place to get pumpkins. At least in my mind.


And I wasn't the most committed corporate drone...

Anyway...flash forward more years than I'd like to admit (um...20??? Ouch). The kids had the day off from school, and Esther and I were looking for a place to take the whole crowd of them for some fall fun. So...off we went to Linvilla Orchards!

It is still a somewhat unreasonable drive from where we live, although meeting for brunch at the
Happy Days Finer Diner in Frazier broke up the trip. After we fueled up on Mickey Mouse pancakes, off we went.

Despite the Yom Kippur holiday, there were many bus loads of children at Linvilla. It is a mecca for fall class trips to pick apples and go on hayrides (neither of which we participated in, but both of which are available.)

First we went and visited the animals. There is a wide assortment of beleaguered looking chickens that can be fed, a new duck pond, a couple of horses, some pigs, goats, ostriches, sheep and a few deer. The kids love to visit the animals. Usually my kids go with their Nana and she has a big bag of bread to share with the animals...this time we had a handful of dried corn from the vending machine. Bread is better.

Next stop was the train ride. $3 per person to go "around 3 times", which the driver said was "about 9 minutes". Apparently she is a bit of an over-estimator. We thought that "around" was through the fields or something...but the train went around in a big circle...and probably took under 5 minutes. But the kids enjoyed it very much, so that was good.

We passed on the playground this time. They do have a really nice one with lots of interesting things to climb on, but we had other things to see, so we moved on.

Our next stop was the Apple Flinger...I don't actually remember what they were calling it - but we got 20 apples for $5 and the kids flung them down a hill with huge slingshots. They liked that a LOT.

Tater hit one of the targets in the field and was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't a prize, but he got over it quickly!


The big event was the hay-bale maze. Esther and I decided to sit it out and sent the four kids into the maze, with strict instructions not to skewer one another with the flags they were holding (so they wouldn't get lost since they are all shorter than a bale of hay). We watched the 4 flags go back and forth for a while...and then there they all came...back out of the entrance. We turned them back around and sent them back in...back and forth for a while...back out the entrance. Back in they went for a third try...and finally Esther decided she would go in the exit and figure out how to coach them out. And then SHE got stuck in there...

Eventually she got them all to climb over one of the walls (shhh...you aren't supposed to do that...) and everyone made their triumphant way to the exit!

Finally we were ready to go into PUMPKINLAND!! The kids were so excited to pick out their pumpkins! I usually make them wait until closer to Halloween...so my guys were terribly excited that they were getting to SHOP for pumpkins!

After carefully investigating nearly EVERY pumpkin in the place (and trying hard to convince me that we really needed a 100 pound pumpkin "for Daddy!") they finally picked the winners. Tater's is round-ish, Sprout's is tall-ish. They each also picked a Jack-be-little and we got a few little decorations as well.


THEN (long day) we went into the shop to look for some Cider Donuts (for Daddy!) And a big bushel of apples to make a pie!
And, since it was an insanely hot day, lots of water!

After all that, we pushed our shopping cart full of about 60 pounds of pumpkins and apples and donuts, up the unpaved hill (ouch) to the car.

Obviously, given my propensity to drive long distances to visit, I recommend checking out Linvilla Orchards. It has become significantly more commercialized since I was a kid (lo those many years ago) so all of the additional activities cost something. Even the playground charges $1 per person (which I personally find offensive). But there is lots to do, the kids love it, and it just feels like a fun, wholesome sort of place to be.

And they make REALLY good donuts!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Meow

This is funny. Kids will be very amused. Mine are!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hey Tooth Fairy...I think you forgot something...


When my beautiful little Sprout was 5 and lost her first tooth, the Tooth Fairy brought her a very cute angel/fairy necklace to commemorate this big event. Special occasion, special gift.

Yesterday my darling little Tater lost his first tooth. Special occasion!! The Tooth Fairy, however, was, I think, a little stumped about what the male equivalent of an angel/fairy necklace was, and settled on an extra $1.

So this morning, eyes shining, Tater pulled his little Tooth Fairy bag out from under his pillow. He carefully read the note from the Fairy...he asked me to hold the little bundle of money, because "I think there is something special in there!" (Uh oh...)

He carefully unfolded the dollar...to find 4 quarters inside. And he looked at me, all big brown eyes and disappointment, and said, "That was nice...but Mommy, why didn't she bring me something special?"

Crap.

Can the Fairy revisit? Can she say "Sorry, I forgot to bring you this special thing"?? And what would that special thing be??? For a boy...a cute and sweet boy...raised in a house where we try not to draw a lot of lines between what girls do and what boys do...although I think angel/fairy jewelry of any kind pretty much falls on the girl side of any scale you draw...

I think the Fairy is still working on it...sweating it a bit, I think...Perhaps she will find something special for the second tooth...

UPDATE: Interestingly, the Tooth Fairy apparently left a airplane watch inside Tater's pillow case. We didn't find it until last night (two days later). I wonder how long it was in there...hmmm... :)

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Zoo


Yesterday, while our friends from Florida were in town, we went to the Philadelphia Zoo for the day. We met other friends there, so we had a group of 5 grown-ups and 6 kids. The kids (an almost 9 year-old, 2 six-year olds, and 3 three-year olds) had a good time, as would be expected.

I mean, the Philadelphia Zoo. Fun. Not a lot to add to that.

The only drama was that I, mean and terrible mother that I am, denied my children the joy of having their faces painted. And while you may gasp in horror at how very, very deprived my children are, let me clarify.

1) $6 PER CHILD...seriously.

2) Face painting, in my personal experience has a life-span of approximately 10 minutes, before either:

a) It starts to itch...and the child wants it removed.
b) The child decides to hug someone (usually someone wearing something
white and
dry-clean-only), leaving half of their face on the huggee.
c) The child begins to cry (either because of the itchy face, or for some
unrelated reason) and
the paint begins to run.
OR
d) The child eats or drinks something and rubs the lower half of the paint
off and ingests it.


So, no face-painting. And that's final. And if you say the words "face painting" to me one more time, we are going to the car.

I don't know what else to say about the zoo. The elephants are back (for those who don't know, they took the elephants somewhere to rebuild their habitat). The habitat looks exactly like it did before, as far as I can tell. But wow - elephants are BIG.

Giant river otters are very fun to watch. So are polar bears - if they will get in the water. We watched the polar bear think about going in the water for about 10 minutes...he kept inching toward the edge...but no, nothing. The polar bear psych-out.

Monkeys are cute. Even gorillas look cuddly, until you remember that they would utterly shred you if you got anywhere near them.

Bears - ditto.

Hmmm...I have nothing witty to add here.
Giraffes, tall. Zebras, stripy. Turtles, slow. Snakes, gross. Lizards, gross.


Anyway - if you are around Philadelphia, willing to deal with traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway (and no, don't fool yourself that it is better on a Sunday afternoon, it's not), and haven't already been to the zoo a kajillion times. You should go. Kids love it.

If you don't want to deal with the traffic, and can live without the elephants, try the Elmwood Park Zoo.

I mean, who doesn't like a zoo?