Monday, September 29, 2008

Totally Tubular #2

This one is actually older, as we made it at some point during the summer.

A more portable version of the paper towel tube ramp/maze from yesterday.

The background is a foam-core presentation/poster board. The tubes are glued onto the background (I believe we used wood glue...but hot glue would also be effective, and probably more appropriate).

The kids had an excellent time rolling marbles on this - for literally hours. I was quite amazed by the level of amusement.

It looks completely lame in the picture - but it was fun, I swear.
You could make it look fun by decorating the background and painting the tubes. But seriously, unnecessary.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Totally Tubular

So, we've been collecting paper towel tubes for a while. Like, a long long while. And we had a BIG pile of them.

Yesterday, when Tater looked at me and said "What are we going to DO today?", we decided that something with tubes was the way to go.

There are many options with tubes - an excellent recyclable craft supply. In the past, we have built castles from them, and pilgrims for Thanksgiving. Mike has also built a very impressive device (dubbed "the McGuyver Tool") which incorporates several tubes and a pasta fork, and is quite useful for fetching things that get stuck on the roof.

This time, we found a picture in a book of a marble ramp made with paper towel tubes. So we went for it.

Materials: Big pile of paper towel tubes, duct tape, scissors and stuff to prop the ramps up on. We used a shelf, a puppet theater, a picnic basket on a chair and a table. I think the more interesting things you can use, the more entertaining this whole project could be.

The tubes are taped together with the duct tape (duh). To make some angles and turns, we cut a bit off of the ends to sort of make mitered corners (but much less precise). At the end of the ramp, the balls and marbles fall into a toy kettle. We had it dumping directly in, but you could make it a little less direct and then there would be more challenge to the whole thing.

I know it is difficult to fully appreciate the full glory of the ramp in the midst of the playroom wreckage. But it is cool. And the kids played with it for quite a while yesterday.

And, since they were down in the basement and reminded that there are toys down there...the wreckage increased (yes, these pictures are before the true wreckage ensued)...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scrappy Don't

(Did you get the Scooby Doo reference there?)

I am hesitant to admit this. I am pretty crafty. I have quilted. I have embroidered. I have even decoupaged. However, scrapbooking scares the daylights out of me.

Not old school scrapbooks. My parents did what was, at the time, quite creative scrapbooking. Little corners on the pictures, captions, hand-drawn decorations. I love those old scrapbooks. Love them.

Back in the day I even made a scrapbook of the beginning of my relationship with Mike - with captions and hand-drawn decorations. Granted, it ends with the ultrasound photo of Sprout. But I did it.

But scrapbooking as a full-fledged, capital C, C-R-A-F-T...scary stuff. The aisles of stickers, and papers, and cutting devices. The shows devoted to "techniques". The home parties. The planning. The execution. Heeby jeebies...

Don't get me wrong - the finished products are quite impressive. But the idea of making any kind of dent in the accumulated history of my family with that kind of attention to detail and artistry...would make me want to stop doing things worthy of being photographed!

We have 16 photo books. The ones with the little plastic sleeves for the photos. I have all of the photos in these books (except for the past few months...which are piled up on my desk). They are in chronological order (at least mostly) and there are Post-its in there marking the date and some brief explanation of where we are/what we are doing.

This is all I can pull off.

This is partially because I can't bring myself to weed through the photos to edit down to just the best ones. I love them all. Every goofy face and blurry action shot. Every picture where my #$%^&* digital camera took a shot 4 seconds AFTER something good happened. Love them.

The other part of the issue is the performance anxiety I would have working my way through all of the options now available for how to present the pictures. Tags and ribbons and die-cuts and papers and buttons and stickers and rub-ons and....whew...I am getting light headed.

I did put together an excellent book of our trip to Italy last summer. I used the software from and the result was completely awesome. I gathered the photos from my parents and my brother and my husband and mixed in my own. Dragged and dropped and cropped and zoomed until the pictures were telling the whole story. Picked templates that fit the pictures (plain black and white). Added captions. And had the whole thing printed in a hard-backed book. It was actually fun and not at all intimidating.

I don't think I would do it for all of our pictures - that might be a little daunting. But for a special trip or occasion, I would absolutely do it again.

No stickers required.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This is a really bad idea...

If you are at all concerned with consuming healthy food.

This is a REALLY good idea if you want to eat (a little) of something HUGELY delicious and addictive.

Hard for kids to help make - messy, hot, sticky. Very easy for them to help eat!

Cracker Toffee

Rectangular butter-flavored crackers (Club Crackers)
2 Sticks of unsalted butter
1 Cup of packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (I just used a bag full) of semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped pecans (I left these off and it was still amazingly wonderful)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Line a cookie tray (with edges) or a jelly roll pan with heavy-duty foil and spray generously with non-stick cooking spray.

Arrange the crackers (it took one sleeve of them when I did it) lined up with edges touching to cover the bottom of the pan.

Combine the butter, brown sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter melts, stirring frequently. Increase the heat to high and boil for 3 minutes without stirring.

Pour this mixture evenly over the crackers and spread gently to cover them, without moving them around.

Bake for 5 minutes. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crackers, let them sit for a few seconds until they start to melt and then spread them gently to cover the crackers.

If you are using them, sprinkle the nuts on the top and press into the chocolate.

Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for 2 hours.

Break into chunks to serve.

This says that it makes 24 servings...but it would be hard to stop with a little piece!

(This is from a book called "Incredibly Easy Silly Snacks" - although I am not seeing the silliness...just the incredibleness.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Activity Overload

I am yearning for the "simple" days of the summer...when we spent our days lazing around and working through lists of crafts and trips.

Did I just say that? Me?
The one who breathed a sigh of relief when the kids went back to school?


Now we have karate, and music lessons, and orthodontist appointments, and intramurals, and chorus (at 8AM...are you kidding me??) and soon basketball...and homework...arrrgggghhhh...

I am definitely entering the phase of my life where I am the chauffeur. Lots of taking small people places and waiting for them. And I am (possibly) a little (maybe) too me-centric (a tad) to enjoy this.

Except for the 30 minutes where the kids are at music lessons right next door to the Ulta.

That part is cool.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

At the car wash...yeah!

For some reason, my kids LOVE to clean. This is not something that they inherited from me. While I enjoy living in a place that is clean, getting it that way is not something that interests me in the least.

Today, our neighbor was washing her car outside and Sprout and Tater jumped RIGHT in there to help. Tater ran to get our big sponge, Sprout was desperate to wield the hose nozzle. They were so very happy out there soaping and rinsing...even started to wash bikes...scooters...the driveway...

This made me think that I should wash my car and let them help. My car hasn't been washed in many months, and since it is (was?) white, it definitely shows. Unfortunately, the impulse passed (maybe fortunately?). But, the next nice day when we have no plans, I am getting out a bucket and some sponges and letting them go for it!

Happy kids + Clean Car = Win-Win!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


We are going to go to see the Real Pirates exhibit at the Frankin Institute in Philadelphia on October 4th. I know I usually report on activities AFTER we do them, but this seems very cool and you have to get tickets in advance...and it ends November 2nd.

Since the last pirate-themed adventure that I reported on was over the next day (oops) it seemed best to give you a heads up in case you hadn't heard about this one.

From the official website:
"The exhibition displays over 200 artifacts recovered from the ocean floor including treasure chests of jewelry, coins, and gold. Step on board a recreation of the ship’s stern, walk into the Captain’s quarters, and go below deck to discover what life was like aboard a real pirate ship! “Real Pirates” is the first exhibition of authenticated pirate treasure ever displayed."

I am hoping that Tater doesn't group pirates in with "dressed up things", or this could be a short visit.

I'll let you know more after we go...but it sounds cool!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why so scary?

We are working on a logo for "Barrel of Chipmunks", and the chipmunks are coming out way scary. This guy's little eyes have somewhat of a deranged look in them and his very very long teeth and freaking me right out.

The first iterations were profoundly squirrel-ish. Or hamster-ish. Hard to get those cartoon rodents just right.

So my instructions to the logo folks will be "friendlier eyes" and "less menacing teeth". I am having flashbacks to when I worked at the Franklin Mint and we had to discuss the expression on the face of the sculptured Betty Boop...

And I totally love that this is actually "work".

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Agritainment at its finest

Today we visited Cherry Crest Farm in Ronks (really), PA. Our friend, Jake, was all excited about this place yesterday, because the Strasburg Railroad goes through the farm every 40 minutes or so.

It took less than an hour from our place to picturesque Ronks (which is near Lancaster). We saw a few Amish buggies on the way out, which was very exciting for the kids, and somewhat disruptive to traffic.

When we crested the hill and saw the farm, it was quite impressive. According to their website they have 32 farm-related activities. We didn't even come close to doing all of them today, but the kids loved it!

What we did:
  • Saw goats walk on an overhead bridge
  • Saw baby goats
  • Saw ducks, chickens, pigs, and cows
  • Held baby chicks (Tater wanted to bring one home - I should check his pockets)
  • Rode in wagons pulled by a tractor through a corn field (many times)
  • Watched the train go by (many times)
  • Went down an enormous slide
  • Used a huge slingshot to shoot tennis balls
  • Panned for gems
  • Jumped on a huge "air pillow" - like an open-air moonbounce
  • Saw a singing chicken show
  • Took a tour of the farm on a bus/wagon
  • Held another baby chick
What we didn't do, but might go back for:
  • A huge corn maze (which apparently takes over 2 hours (!) to go through - I will continue to pass on that!)
  • Pedal cars
  • Pony rides
  • In October you can pick your own pumpkins and fling them with the big slingshots
  • Also pick-your-own popcorn
The website claims that someone in Massachusetts described Cherry Crest Farm as "Better than Disney". I don't think I'd go that far, although the absence of dressed-up creatures made it more fun for Tater. This is definitely a fun day for the kids. Lots of active stuff for them to do. I had very tired kids tonight!

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Colorful Day

Yes, it is the second week of school and therefore time for an in-service day!

Since the kids were out of school today, we were going to try to go to the Philadelphia Zoo. But then a questionable weather report let us to reconsider those plans and we ended up going to the Crayola Factory in Easton, PA. Our friend, Jake, joined us for the day.

It took about 90 minutes to get to Easton from our place, which we extended a bit with a stop at Friendly's for lunch. Yum. SuperMelt.

We ended up rolling into town around 1:30, with the Factory closing at 3, we had to manage our time well!! Luckily, the kids have been there before on school field trips, so they were reasonably focused on what they wanted to do.

First stop was the machines that give you FREE markers and crayons!! The admission price ($9.50) includes 3 tokens, each of which get you a marker, a little box of crayons, or a little pack of Model Magic clay. My lucky companions each got 4 (!) tokens since I shared my allotment among the three of them.

I think their favorite activity was painting with melted crayons. The melted wax is in huge crayon shaped kiosk-ish things and the kids dip enormous Q-tips into the wax and drip, splatter, and paint with it. Very fun. Especially the silver wax, which almost lured me into making my own project!

After that we moved on to making hats. Just a piece of construction paper, with one edge folded up (about 2 inches) and then cut into fringes. They decorated the rest of the paper with markers, crayons, stamps, and fancy schmancy paper scraps (I used gold). Then the paper was taped into a cone, so that the fringe makes a snappy little brim. Fun!

Then the kids enjoyed writing on a glass wall with markers. Sanctioned grafitti!

Next stop was the "ball thing" where the kids put plastic balls into a bin, they are pushed up a big corkscrew onto a track up near the ceiling and then dropped down a zigzag maze...and then they drop out the bottom and the whole things starts over again. I think this is intended for toddlers, but my companions - 6 and almost 9 - could have stayed there all day if I hadn't pried them away.

THEN (there's a lot of stuff to do here!) they made windsocks. They stamped pictures on paper, then put the paper through the (tah dah!) drying oven (which was surely the most intriguing part of the project, Tater and Jake put their papers through twice, just to make sure they were REALLY dry). Then they glued streamers to the bottom edge, taped the whole deal into a big cylinder and put a ribbon across the top for hanging. Socktastic!

In case you can't tell, at this point I was holding 4 hats, 3 windsocks, and 3 bags of markers and crayons...good thing we were getting close to the end!

THEN paper bag puppets. At this point, Jake, who is apparently not a big craft person, turns to me and says "When are we going to do something fun?"

So, next stop is the animation studio. They have plastic animals and a stop-motion camera. The kids weren't so interested. But while they were writing on the floor with chalk (the next station over) I made a fascinating film that went like this...Sheep walking across the counter...Sheep with a pig on his back...with a turtle on HIS back...all walking away...

I have a serious future in film, I think.

Finally we got to the last stop, making things with clay. Jake was d-u-n at this we just took the clay to do at home. The place is closing in 15 minutes. Jake says, "I want to do the boats before we leave." What boats?

Well, after a bit of asking around, we figure out that the National Canal Museum is upstairs. And they have a big train (Jake is a HUGE train fan) and an intricate working model of a whole canal system with locks and boats and water...very cool.

At this point the place is closing in 10 minutes...we run for the trains. We run back to the canals...Tater starts to cry because they won't let us in to see the canal...10 minutes people!!! I sort of guilt them into letting us in, but the woman there says they can't put any boats in (!) Come with me here.... So she finally put a boat in and speedily showed them how to work the boats through the different levels of water (which is actually way cooler than it sounds). And then they essentially booted us out.


So, off to the gift shop we went, for the traditional fraying of the nerves. Faced with a $5 budget, my children essentially lost their minds...asking how much each and every item in the store was. Eventually we settled on huge markers for the boys and a roll-on sticker thing for the Sprout.

And then we were back in the car and headed back home.

Overall, I would totally recommend going to the Crayola Factory. I would suggest that you allow yourself at least 2 hours so that you can check out the Canal Museum as well, which is likely to make the whole thing more satisfying if your kids aren't all that into the crafting. If they are into crafting, be ready to carry a bunch of stuff!!

The Factory offers a great opportunity to try out lots of Crayola products and see some of their newest stuff. There is also an actual presentation of how crayons are made. Since my posse had already seen that and we were operating on limited time, we skipped it this time. But I do recommend seeing it. The whole process is remarkably more manual than you might expect.

The store is fairly awesome and includes the world's largest crayon (huge, blue). There is a big bin of crayons in the middle and one of the most fun (although not most budget friendly) souvenirs is a tin that the kids can fill with whatever crayons they want from the bin. ($7.99 for 70 crayons...which seems like a lot to me). They used to have smaller tins and we did this on a previous visit, but it was over budget for today.

So now we need a plan for the next in-service in October. We are thinking about pumpkin picking and a hayride!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Some fun reading...

Until Barrel of Chipmunks gets off the ground (we are targeting the Spring), and while Stuff for Sprouts is up for sale (Know anyone who wants their own skin care business for kids? Great me!) I have been looking for other options to provide some income around here.

I have a book called Will Work from Home: Earn the Cash--Without the Commute, which seemed promising. There are some ideas for being a virtual concierge, or a cyber customer service rep. Nothing I am dying to be...but options...until I found out that none of these things work with a Mac. And buying a new computer doesn't seem like the first thing I should be doing to improve cash flow. Although I guess there are cheapish ones out there...

I found this blog: Notes from a Wannabe WAHM, which does a nice job of offering up some possibilities. And this one: Making a Happy Life, which is less about finding the work, and more about making sure you get it done and live to tell the tale.

I have lists of freelance writing assignments, which are fun to contemplate. And yet sort of intimidating.

I have searched part-time jobs on Monster and Career Builder. Apparently there is a part time opening for a Flight Surgeon. And I should have been a nurse.

I am beating the bushes for freelance assignments, but nothing so far.

What is an MBA-educated, business owning, business starting, and yet painfully unemployed person to do? Ideas??

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cooking Up Some Fun

My son, Tater, is a strange child in that he is a huge fan of vegetables and healthy foods.

Sprout is not, she is more of a traditional kid-food eater. She could survive happily on PB&J and Macaroni and Cheese.

Tater went grocery shopping with me on Saturday and was fascinated with the ingredients that I was buying to make soup for one of our dinners and was quite insistent that he wanted to help make it. So tonight was the night, and he was a very big helper.

We made Tuscan Chicken Soup from the Mom-a-licious Cookbook. Tater was in charge of peeling carrots and a potato, which he did very well, no fingers in the sink at all. He also measured out pasta to add in (his own modification - little shells) and added the beans. We passed on Red Chard (his choice), and had the soup with pita bread and parmesan.

When I asked if he liked it he said "I LOVED IT! We made good soup together!" Sprout, was of course not all that overjoyed due to the vegetable content but was able to pick out the chicken and pasta.

My tendency is to not let them help - too fearful of injury. But I am glad I got over myself and let him help. Now that he is a first grader, I have to empower him a bit.

Anway, here is the recipe in case you are interested - it was really easy and I agree with Tater that it was good soup!

Tuscan Chicken Soup

2 minced garlic cloves (I use the kind in a jar)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (the recipe says chili flakes - I am assuming it's the same thing)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 cups chicken broth (the original recipe said "Free Range Organic") - I added some to compensate for the pasta
14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes (I couldn't find a can that size - used most of a 28 oz can)
2 boneless chicken breasts - cut into pieces

1 Yukon Gold Potato - diced (couldn't find this - used a regular potato)
1 can Italian white beans - drained and rinsed
2-3 stalks Red Chard - cut into one inch pieces, ribs removed (we skipped this)
2 large carrots - peeled and diced
2 ribs celery - diced (I just got some from the salad bar)
Handful fresh Italian parsley (skipped)

1) In a large pot, saute the garlic and chili in the olive oil.
2) Add broth and tomatoes.
3) Add chicken. (It doesn't say so, but I bumped the heat up at this point)
4) After about five minutes add potato (I also added the carrots and celery here)
5) Cook on a gentle boil for about 15 minutes (we added little pasta shells when there were 8 minutes left)
6) Add beans, chard (if using), carrots and celery (if you didn't already) and simmer for a few more minutes.
7) Ladle into bowls. Finish with parsley, Parmesan, and taste for salt and pepper.

In case you can't tell, I am not all that great at explicitly following a recipe. But this was good - and healthy!

Virtually Friends

Here are some new blogs of people I would like to think would be my friends if I ever met them in real life.

I'd like to think that I am funny and cool enough to hang with them, although I am probably not.

I'd like to think they wouldn't think I was some crazy blog-reading stalker, but they probably would.

I aspire to be friends with people I don't believe would actually like sad is that?
Must work on self-confidence...add that to the to do list...

Suburban Jungle

Jennsylvania (just finished her book: Such a Pretty Fat, and went right out and got Bitter is the New Black )...she accepted my friend request on Facebook - so maybe I am not TOO scary.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Making Plans

Esther and I met this morning over a very yummy breakfast to discuss plans for A Barrel of Chipmunks, the activities newsletter that we are planning to start.

We are going to take what we've learned from my summer experiment and put together a newsletter that will give, on a weekly basis, a list of 3-5 activities to do with kids, all fitted to a theme-of-the-week.

We are thinking that this would be helpful for parents at home with kids (especially over the summer!), folks who run small daycare centers, nannies, grandparents, and really anyone who is looking to have stress-free fun with kids in the 4-10 age group.

We are all fired up to get this baby stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Good Green Fun with Crayons

I just received an e-mail from What's Hot for Tots asking me to joining their Crayon Crew.

Of course I did!

I actually was just reading in a magazine (can't remember which one, maybe Real Simple?) about how to recycle just about anything and crayons were on their list (with a different organization mentioned...but hey, the more the merrier!)

What's Hot for Tots will take old crayons and melt them into new ones which will be donated to schools, hospitals and care centers. How cool is that?

Now, if you are very motivated - you can do your own crayon recycling.
Tater's class did this last year at school.

First you need to carefully peel the wrappers off of the crayons. The kids had a great time doing this, although the little bits of paper ("schnibbles", as my Mom would say) were all over the place.

Then take the crayon bits and pieces and put them in the cups of a metal muffin tin. You can mix the colors in the different cups, or do one color in each - completely dependent on your personal preference.

Put the muffin tin in the oven at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes, until the wax melts. Keep a close eye on the crayons, no fires!

Let the wax cool completely before you pop the new, round crayons out of the tin.
How fun is that?

Here are some very ambitious ideas for recycled crayon activities.

I also found this when trying to find a recommendation for how to melt the crayons (they did it at school...I wasn't there!)

So - now that the kids are all off to school with new boxes of fresh, pointy crayons - clean out the cabinets and recycle the old ones!

Empty Nest

It is very weird how quiet it is around here.
No one to entertain.
No fun activities planned.
No one sneaking off to watch TV.

Today the kids are going to karate after school so I am on my own until after 5. I am at a loss for how not to completely waste the day.

I am happy to have the free time, and yet, it's hard to get back into my old routine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Home Alone

What did I do all day before the kids were home for the summer??

Trying to remember...drinking coffee...contemplating freedom...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Not a Talent

Apparently I am not meant to be a cake decorator.

My son, bless his little heart, has far more faith in my artistic abilities than I deserve. So when I asked him what we should do to celebrate the first day of school, he suggested a cake. And that we should make it. And that I could draw the school mascot, a panther, on it (!)

So - that cat-ish looking thing in the upper left is my interpretation of a panther. Tater actually drew one for me so that I would have something to copy. And the icing wasn't all that cooperative. So that is a wavy icing translation of a 6-year-old's depiction of a panther.

You can't tell from the picture, but the cake also was significantly higher in the middle than on the edges. Does anyone know how to avoid that? (Besides slicing the higher part off...)

Anyway - it was yummy. And it is back-to-school eve!