Friday, May 29, 2009

Tater's Sandbox Garden

Despite some evidence to the contrary my Tater is quite the aspiring gardener. He frequently requests trips to Lowe's to pick out flowers, and he begs and pleads for additions to the garden every time we see flowers outside of the grocery store.

He picked out a bunch of seeds earlier in the Spring and we planted them around outside and have our fingers crossed that they will survive beyond the sprout stage.

So, when I realized that we still had our ancient sand table under the deck, I thought perhaps it could be repurposed into Tater's own little garden. Like a windowbox, but bigger...with bridges!

Of course he LOVED this idea and pestered me relentlessly for several days about when would we go get the dirt and plants. When? When? WHEN???

So finally last weekend I gave in and took him to Lowe's where he picked out all of his own plants, and some decorations, for his garden.

I have been on a perennial kick for our outside beds - something about planting just once and not having to do it again next year is very appealing. Tater has latched onto that idea and was a little disappointed that the sandbox garden was probably more appropriate for annuals since the soil is not very deep and the chances of things surviving the winter in there are pretty slim.

There was a moment of drama when we took the lid off of the mud-encrusted table, which had been closed up for about 2 years. We weren't sure what was going to be living in there. I was prepared to scream and run away, but aside from a few substantial spider webs it wasn't so bad.

We used the hose to spray the table clean, and squirting the hose is always fun for a kid! Then we hauled the empty table up onto our deck and filled it with potting soil and all of Tater's plants. He did a nice job picking a mix of colors and textures - the finished result is quite fabulous and he is very proud of himself.

During the planting was where Sprout thought she might like to get involved, but she was shut out (poor Sprout) since Tater felt he had done all of the hard work and she couldn't just jump in for the fun. Which is true.

He picked out a rain gauge that looks like a ladybug to sit on the "umbrella hole" on the table, and a ceramic mushroom (the blue on the left). We also put the bridges from the sand table back in and an iron bird that had been sitting on the deck. Somehow a garden just doesn't seem done (to me anyway) unless there is some little hidden statue somewhere.

I don't know where I got that from - my parents are not big on the statuary. But I kind of love it - as long as it is subtle. Like little surprises you find amidst the flowers.

Anyway, the finished garden is a lovely addition to the deck. I am considering this to be a recycling project since the table was definitely headed for the trash before we found a new use for it. So, yay us!

Now I have to go get MORE potting soil because my little gardener also insisted on seeds for cucumbers...and might like to grow some carrots. And maybe a few more flowers out front...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer = S'mores

I was never a Girl Scout.

I begrudgingly showed up for Brownies for a year, although I wanted to quit after the first meeting.

After I had the super-stylin' jumper/vest/beanie combo I was really not all that interested in the rest of it. But since my mother had invested in the super-stylin' jumper & vest & beanie I had to go. For the whole year.

I probably would have been more into it if they had busted out the S'mores. My understanding is that S'mores are a key component of any Girl Scout camping event. Alas, I didn't make it that far so I don't know for sure. But the legend of the S'more is out there calling my name...

Until a couple of years ago, I thought that S'mores required a campfire. And some sort of super scout training. But then I discovered not one, but two extraordinarily easy ways to experience the joys of the S'more. No campfire necessary. Microwave only. Love that!

First Method - More Traditional:
Graham Crackers - The standard honey-type - broken into square pieces (half of the big regtangles)
Large Marshmallows
Hershey Bars - broken into two-square or three-square pieces - approximately the same size as the graham crackers

1.) On a microwave-safe plate, place a graham cracker square with a chocolate square and one marshmallow on top.
2.) Microwave the stack for about 15 seconds (experiment until you get it the way you want - but 10-15 seconds is probably about right).
The marshmallow will puff up in an alarming manner - which is part of the fun.
3.) Top with another graham cracker square.
Try to wait a few seconds so you don't set your mouth on fire with molten marshmallow.
Good luck with the waiting part...

Second Method - More Awesome*:
8 cups of Golden Grahams Cereal
6 cups miniature marshmallows
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
5 tablespoons butter/margerine
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

(apparently this can be done on the stovetop, but I can't imagine why...)
1.) Put the cereal in a large bowl.
2.) Grease a 9 X 13" pan - I use cooking spray
3.) Put 5 cups of the marshmallows, the butter, the chocolate and the corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl.
4.) Microwave for 1 minute.
Microwave for another 30-45 seconds.
You want the marshmallows to be melted and everything to mix together smoothly but for it to still be marshmallow-y and a little poufy - not completely runny. Keep cooking for 30 seconds or so at a time and stirring. My microwave takes less than 2 minutes to get to the right consistency.
5.) Mix in the vanilla (I frequently forget this step and don't think it makes much difference...)
6.) Pour the chocolate mixture over the dry cereal and mix together until the cereal is well coated.
7.) Stir in the last cup of mini marshmallows until they are mixed in well.
8.) Pour the whole mess into the greased pan and smoosh it down flat with your hands.
(I spray my hands with the cooking spray so they don't stick).
9.) Put the pan in the fridge to cool/harden.
10.) Cut into about 20 pieces. Or, like, you can say you only ate one piece.

So...there you go. S'mores without having to go out with the bugs, learn to build a fire, and whatever else those crazy Girl Scouts do.

Sorry I can't give you a badge. Those seemed kind of cool, too.

*This recipe is sometimes featured on the box of Golden Grahams.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Please don't Scream...for Ice Cream

It is ice cream season (yay!).

So, every day around 5, like clockwork, I hear the tinny, repetitive music as the scariest ice cream truck ever makes the rounds of our neighborhood (boo!).

Yes, 5 o'clock. Right before dinner. I mean, is anyone finished with dinner by 5? This guy is totally shooting himself in the foot with his timing.

Which isn't to say that I would be lining the kids up for his treats no matter what time he came. The truck is scary. Like, kidnappers-in-a-van scary...but with music.

So he comes and the kids beg. And I pretend I don't see him. "I have no idea what you are talking about. A truck? With ice cream? I have never heard of such a thing."

Besides, I have the fridge stocked with these babies...Skinny Cow Ice Cream Sandwiches. They are all yummy and not-bad-for-you (really!) and yummy...did I say that part already?

The lovely ladies at Mom Central hooked me up with some free Skinny Cow stuff. (Oh, how I love those ladies at Mom Central!) So I went wild and picked up some Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Sandwiches. I already knew I loved the vanilla, and the peanut butter swirl is absolutely delish!

Cookies & Cream was, as expected, another winner. Sprout loves them almost as much as I do! Of course, Tater is suspicious of any ice cream that isn't vanilla (except for the electric blue cotton candy flavor at Maggie Moo's, which for some reason seems like a good idea to him).

I love having these treats on hand.

Love the single-serving format - very difficult to overindulge when you would have to go get another sandwich (not that I haven't...but it slows me down a tad).

Love the ice's all ice-creamy and awesome.

Love the stats...low fat...low calorie.

Love the opportunity to divert attention from the ice cream man.

"Hey! Look what I have in the freezer for after dinner!"

Maybe if I get some of the cute little cones, I could present them with a variety of choices.

As if I were the ice cream man...but less skeevy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hot Dog Art

I think some backstory is required here, lest you think I just came up with the idea to be creative with hot dogs all on my own (hey, minds out of the gutter...these are kids activities I am talking about!)

A few days ago, a friend from high school sent me this link and suggested that we might like to try making Spaghetti Dogs. I guess I have to pirate the picture so you can see what that here...

I kind of thought the the kids would be into this. I suggested that they could be in charge of sticking the dry spaghetti through the hot dog pieces...but Tater was utterly horrified by the prospect of this. Why would you do that to hot dogs? Why would you do that to spaghetti? Would he have to eat it?? Unnatural...wrong...I couldn't interest either of them. Bummer.

So there I was all disappointed that we couldn't do Spaghetti Dogs...and my mind started running through what other interesting food "art" could be entertaining. And I thought about how if you cook a cut hot dog, the ends curl up...and I dog octopus...that could work.

So I started experimenting.

Materials required: Hot dogs (I found that Oscar Meyer Light worked best...Ball Park Light got strangely swollen...), sharp knife, microwave-safe plate, and microwave.

Take a hot dog - cut it lengthwise about 2/3 of the way through, then turn it 1/4 turn and slice lengthwise again 1 to 3 times to make the "legs". Skinnier legs curl up more, and clearly, to be an anatomically correct "Hoctopus" (Hot Dog + Octopus) it should have 8 legs...but 4-6 legs were working better for me. And the cooked "legs" get a little jerky-ish if they are too skinny.

Then cut across the hot dog (a shallow cut) to make the mouth and poke out two little holes for eyes. You won't be able to see them well before cooking, that's OK.

Prop the Hoctopus up on the microwave-safe plate so he is sitting on his "legs" - pull them out and spread them around him so they will curl up evenly.

Put the whole deal in the microwave for 35-45 seconds. The kids liked watching them sizzle and curl.

It might take some experimentation to get the cook time, cutting technique, etc to work out. But the kids enjoyed watching the various attempts. They wanted to do the cutting, but I am too much of a chicken/control freak to let them. Maybe with plastic knives or close supervision that would be OK for your kids. Maybe I will lighten up and let them try it next time.

We served these perched on the edge of a plate of Mac & Cheese and broccoli. Which looked weird and science-experimenty. So of course, the kids ate every bite!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Black Thumb = genetic?

Tater brought home his "Plant Log" today...a daily book of observations from planting seeds at school.

It made me laugh - so I will share it with you. I am generous that way.
All spelling is original - I think it lends to the story.

A Plant Begins: Daily Log of Observations - by Tater B.

Day 1: Today I planted a forget me not and a wildflower. I put soil in my cup. I put a stick in my cup with my name. I put in seeds and put it by the window sill and am leting it grow.

Day 2: nothing hapined

Day 3: nothing hapined

Day 4: Nothing hapined

Day 5: Nothing hapined

Day 6: Nothing hapined

Day 7: It grew

Day 8: nothing happined

Day 9: Nothing happined

Day 10: It Died.

Day 11: nothing happined

Poor Tater. But such an insightful glimpse into elementary school gardening, right?

And every single time I have planted a seed - this has pretty much been my experience. I am sort of relieved that the plant didn't make it. Otherwise, he would have brought it home to grow.

And it would have died.

UPDATE: On Friday, the cup of dirt came home from school with Tater's popsicle-stick name tag standing forlorn and alone in the center of the vast emptiness of the Dixie Cup. He thinks that maybe if we just water it some more, there is still hope...


Work is fun?

I have been working on a PowerPoint presentation for a project I am doing. When the kids came home from school yesterday I was just wrapping up for the day and Sprout looked over my shoulder at one slide I was doing and commented that it didn't seem like I had done very much work.

As if that one slide contained all of the writing I had done.

So I had to show her the whole presentation of over 40 slides just so she wouldn't think I was a slacker.

Although I sort of am. But she doesn't need to know that about me just yet. I am all about maintaining the illusion of competence.

Apparently she was impressed because a few minutes later we were getting ready to go outside and play, and all of a sudden Sprout was gone. I started calling to her and found her in the office starting up the computer.

When I asked what she was doing she said, "I want to make a PowerPoint."

To which I replied, "I thought you wanted to go outside and play."

And so she started to throw a fit because I wanted her to go play outside instead of developing a presentation on the computer.

I mean, what kid does that???

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Watch this Space

I'm coming back. I promise.

As soon as something fun that doesn't involve kids digging in the dirt and throwing things at each other happens.

Better hide the shovels.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sidewalk Artists

During "Science Weekend" last weekend, amidst failed experiments, exploding sodas, and dancing raisins, we also hit on an excellent recipe for sidewalk paint.

These pictures were trapped on our new camera and I just now found the appropriate cable to share them. Technology is frequently not my friend.

Anyhoo...the recipe (yet again from the Book of Kid Concoctions) is equal parts of cornstarch and water with a few drops of food coloring to add, well, color.

very careful when you are mixing the cornstarch and water together. It starts out very difficult to stir and if you aren't careful and don't supervise children carefully you can end up with a fine chalky coating all over your entire kitchen. Not that I would know. Just guessing.

Since it was crazy hot out, the paints were drying on contact with the sidewalk so we added a bit more water to make things flow a little better.

The kids very much enjoyed using these paints. They were doing some kind of Jackson Pollack thing with a lot of flinging and splashing. I was attempting to be very zen about it and only screamed "CUT THAT OUT!!" a couple of times.

And then I did a little painting of my own.

The "paint" easily washed out of the spattered clothing. And the rain (the endless endless rain) has washed it all away now.

So we can do this again. And maybe I can lighten up a little bit now that I know we won't be stained forever.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spoon People

Sprout was sick this weekend and poor Tater was going so completely stir crazy that we HAD to find him a project. Luckily our new issue of Family Fun Magazine came and had some great ideas. Love that magazine!

We decided to make these spoon puppets. We had most of the "ingredients" on hand: felt, pipe cleaners, markers, yarn, glue and googly eyes (I love to say "googly eyes" - it just sounds fun...) We were all out of plastic spoons (we had clear ones, but unless we were making some strange version of invisible people, that wasn't going to work) so we did a quick run to the grocery store for white ones.

The basic design is:
1) Wrap a pipe cleaner around the "neck" of the spoon to make arms.
We had long-ish pipe cleaners so we snipped them in half first.

2) Make the clothes by cutting a long rectangle of felt and then cutting a slit in the middle (fold it in half and cut the slit). Then the hole goes over the "head". Make a belt with yarn or ribbon. I think they all look like little Jedis. Or monks.

3. Glue googly eyes onto the "face" and use permanent markers to draw on the rest of the face. Tater used a pom-pom for a nose on one of his. You could also use buttons or other little things. Go crazy!

4. Make hair out of yarn (cut a bunch of pieces of yarn to the right length and then tie them together in the middle - glue the middle part onto the tip of the spoon. If you were super ambitious you could style the hair - braids, curls. Since I don't do that for my real children it wasn't going to happen here...

Here is Tater's guy with the pom-pom nose. I also like his hair and his festive jingle-bell accent.

I think the guy in black is the Jedi master. He is clearly having some sort of hair problem. But he seems to be smiling through it all.

The young lady in green with the red hair is looking pretty fab, I think.

We were planning to make a shoe box stage for these guys, but Tater lost interest due to his burning need to go plant flowers in the rain.

Which was fun and all...but I don't have any pictures to share.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dancing Raisins

So, last weekend Tater was on a science kick. Perhaps spurred by the great Mentos Experiment, he got out the book of Kid Concoctions and was on a mission to complete as many projects as possible.

We attempted to make a boat out of a soda bottle - fueled with vinegar and baking soda. It sat there. So not fun.

We tried to make a layered creation of colored water, olive oil and colored alcohol. All I can say about that one is, yuck.

Finally we had great success with the Dancing Raisins (I think the book called them Scuba Diving Raisins or something).

This was a very simple (and therefore un-screw-up-able) process. Pour club soda or other clear soda in a clear glass. Drop in a few raisins.

The bubbles from the soda grab onto the wrinkles of the raisins and in a little while, the raisins start to rise to the top of the glass. When they hit the top, the bubbles pop and they sink back down again. Sounds undramatic, but it is actually strangely mesmerizing.

The photos don't fully (OK...don't at all...) show the full effect. It is actually pretty cool.

You can add a little bit of baking soda to make things fizzier and speed the process up.

Tater watched the raisins go up and down for quite a while. After such a string of failure and disappointment, the raisin dance was a little victory.

Yay for the raisins!