August 21, 2010

Portable Kisses

It's back-to-school time! Time for nervous excitement, smiles and maybe even a few tears (for both kids and moms! ;) ) As we celebrate this time of new beginnings, I thought I'd share a book and little something special I did a few years ago for my youngest when she was having a really tough time leaving me each morning for preschool.

First, we came together to read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. It's an adorable story about a mother raccoon easing her child's anxiety by kissing his hand.

Next, I grabbed a scrap of fleece fabric that I had left over from another project. ( any fabric or even paper would work ). I traced my hand on the fabric, cut it out and painted a little heart on the palm of my handprint. I explained that this was her very own, special and secret "kissing hand".

Before she went to preschool each morning, I took my fabric hand and kissed it a bunch of times to "fill it up" with my kisses for her. Then, before she went into her classroom, I tucked it into her pocket. I told her that any time she felt sad or missed me, she could take out the hand and hold it up to her cheek for a kiss from me. It worked like a charm. Each day was a little easier and soon the tears were a thing of the past and she would go into her room with a smile and a wave.

August 19, 2010

Donut Peaches!

Have you seen these? Mother Nature sure came up with a fun way to make fruit even more appealing to kids! Someone just told me about them this past weekend and then I happened to see them at the produce market this week.

They look like peaches that have been smushed flat. By using your thumb or a knife, you can push out the pit from the center, leaving a donut-shaped peach! The kids love the novelty of it and they like not having to eat around the pit.

August 18, 2010


This substance is super cool! 
Your kids (and any nearby adults) will spend hours 
squishing, smushing, and stretching it 
to discover all its amazing properties!

Here's what you need:

Elmer's glue (4 oz bottle)
Borax (powder found in the laundry aisle)

food coloring


Here's what to do:

1. Put 1/2 cup water in a bowl. Pour in the whole bottle of glue and mix together.

2. Add food coloring to make your favorite colors and mix well again.

3. In a separate container (one with a spout for pouring is helpful) heat one cup of water. (I just microwaved it for a minute). Add 1 tbsp of the Borax, and mix well until it dissolves. Add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of Borax to the water and stir until dissolved again. Continue adding 1/2 tsp at a time until no more will dissolve. (I ended up adding 3 or 4 more 1/2 teaspoons).

4. Pour the Borax water into your glue mixture and stir well. It will immediately start to clump together. Continue stirring until you have a glob in the center and liquid around it.

5. Carefully lift out the glob. It'll be really slimy and sticky. Squish it in your hands until it solidifies more. It will lose some of its sliminess and hold its shape more. Pour out the excess liquid.

6. HAVE FUN!!! You and your children will discover all sorts of fun ways to stretch and play with your Gak! If you pull it slowly it'll stretch out. If you pull it apart quickly, it'll break. Set one glob on top of another and watch it "melt" together. Lots of fun!

7. Store your Gak in a covered container or plastic bag. It'll last for a few weeks.

Homemade Sidewalk Paint

Here's another cheap and easy project that's perfect for these last few weeks of summer when camps have ended and the regular summer activities have lost their appeal. With just a few items that are probably tucked in the back of your pantry, you can make homemade sidewalk paint and let the kids paint masterpieces on your sidewalks or driveway.

Here's what you need:

  • cornstarch 
  • water 
  • food coloring 
  • small containers (I used cupcake tins from the dollar store) 
  • paint brushes (the cheap foam ones work well)

Here's what to do:

1. In your small containers, add equal parts cornstarch and water. I used a little less than 1/4 cup of each for our paint. Mix the cornstarch and water well (it'll be gloppy at the bottom). Add several drops of food coloring to each container to make the colors your children want and mix well.

Cornstarch and water mixed well.

Adding the food coloring.

2. Paint away! The paint will go on rather watery and dull, but will dry to a nice bright pastel. If your driveway (or other painting surface) is particularly smooth or bumpy, you might want to experiment with adding a little more or less cornstarch to get the coverage you want, but the equal parts ratio is a good starting point.

3. My kids like using the paints for free form painting and also like drawing an outline with sidewalk chalk and coloring it in with the paint.

Peanut Butter & Banana "Hot Dogs"

I'll admit these sound a little odd, but my kids always enjoy them and they're a fun way to add a little bit of variety into the lunchtime menu rotation.

Today's diners wanted theirs plain, no cute strawberry jam "ketchup"!


hot dog roll
peanut butter


It doesn't get much easier than this. Spread some peanut butter on the hot dog roll, peel the banana and put it in the roll. If you want to get really cute, you can put a little strawberry jelly on top of the banana to look like ketchup.

Also just as yummy with almost the same ingredients ~ peanut butter & banana quesadillas! Spread peanut butter on a tortilla, slice bananas on top, then fold in half.

Get Ready, Get Set...

I think it's easiest to come together spur-of-the-moment and do a fun project with your kids if you have some basic supplies always on hand. Here are some of the things I like to have on hand. (They're all pretty inexpensive, especially if you can take advantage of sales!)

* CRAYONS ~ I totally stocked up on dozens of boxes at a quarter a piece in a Back-to-school sale! Coloring is always more fun with a fresh box of sharp crayons and you can also do Crayon Painting or melt them to make your own crayon shapes.

* GLUE & GLUE STICKS ~ You can never have too many of these either. They can be used for their intended adhesive purpose or even in a recipe. Sadly, my kids never seem to put the lids back on their glue sticks, so they tend to be one-time use items :( I don't get too upset, though, if I stocked up when they were just pennies a piece.)

* FOAM BRUSHES ~ Stock up when the craft stores run deals on these! They're great for sidewalk paint and to easily paint large areas.

* CORNSTARCH ~ Sounds odd, but you can use it for so much more than just making gravy! Sidewalk Paint and Magic Mud are all super fun and cheap activities using cornstarch as one of the main ingredients. It's right around a dollar a box and you can keep it in your pantry forever.

* FOOD COLORING ~ It's a couple bucks more than some of the other items on this supply list, but you can use it for everything from playdoh to paint.

* PIPE CLEANERS ~ Great for just bending into shapes as well as lots of other little projects.

* ACRYLIC PAINTS ~ Cons: They're pretty much permanent if they get on clothes, upholstery or other fabrics. Pros: They come in lots of colors and won't rub off or smear once dry. I'd recommend letting your child pick out some of their favorite colors the next time they're on sale at the craft store and just make sure you have a smock or oversized shirt when you start painting!

* BORAX ~ It's a powder found in the laundry aisle. Buy a box the next time you go to the store, then use it to make Gak with your kids. It'll last you a long time and I promise it'll be worth it!

I know I'll think of more great supplies to have on hand as I share other ideas. What are some of your most-used items?

August 11, 2010

Baltimore Orioles' Junior Dugout Club

Living so close to Baltimore, we're lucky to be just a short drive to a great, Major League Baseball stadium. (We'd be even luckier if the Orioles would ever have a chance at the playoffs, but I digress!) Unfortunately, with three kids, a regular trip to the ballpark could easily break the bank. Once you add up the cost of parking, tickets, a few hot dogs and drinks, we'd be spending over $100 for a few hours of baseball ~ way too much for anything but a once-a-season special treat.

That's why I was really excited to learn about the Oriole's Junior Dugout Club a couple years ago. Now, each Spring, the Easter Bunny stops by Chick Fil-A to pick up a kit for each kid's Easter basket. For just $17 each, they get a Orioles cap, lunch box, lanyard, some coupons and 10 vouchers for Orioles games. Those vouchers allow the kids free admission to 10 pre-selected games throughout the season. Any adults or additional guests pay just $6 for their tickets. Seating is general admission in several sections in the upper deck, giving a good view of the field. There are hot dogs, popcorn and drinks on sale for just $1 in those areas, so you can get dinner on the cheap. (You can also bring in a small cooler with snacks.) They give out a free little something to the kids each game ~ foam fingers, temporary tattoos, etc. ~ and there's free face painting & hair styling. (Get in line early for those, though, the lines are usually long and they close after a few innings.)

Even if we aren't able to make it to every game, I've found that this deal is totally worth it. The kids always have a blast, especially Kevin, and it allows us to go to many more games than we'd be able to otherwise.

August 10, 2010

Crayon Painting!

Okay, this project is really fun. Slightly dangerous, too, which makes it even MORE fun! It's also cheap and easy. Fun + slightly dangerous + cheap + easy = good times!

Here's what you need:

  • crayons (now's not the time to use the little broken crayon stubs, use the full-size ones) 
  • paper (regular or cardstock)
  • electric griddle (this creates the slightly dangerous aspect!) 
  • aluminum foil

Here's what to do:

1. Cover the cooking surface of your electric griddle with aluminum foil ( so you don't end up with crayon wax in your next batch of pancakes )and gather your drawing materials. We traced a bunch of stars onto paper. I think it would also be cute to fold rectangular pieces of cardstock in half and color one side to make notecards. You'll also want the first inch or so of the paper on the crayons you'll use to be torn off prior to starting.

2. Turn your griddle on its lowest temperature setting (mine has a "warm" setting which worked just fine) and put your paper on top of the foil.

3. Start coloring! With just a little bit of pressure, the tip of the crayon starts to melt creating a liquid-y wax. The colors are much more vibrant than with regular crayon coloring ~ more like markers or paint. Where two colors overlap, you get a cool blending effect, almost like tie-dye.

4. For our stars, I found it worked best to color the shapes first and then cut them out. (That way you don't get a lot of melted wax on your foil to smear onto other pieces of paper.)

**PLEASE NOTE** Obviously, this is not one of those projects where you get your kids set up and started, then walk away. The griddle does get quite warm and they can get burned if they touch it directly for any length of time. However, my kids made it through unscathed, enjoyed making different designs and the end results were really neat.

August 9, 2010

Baugher's Orchard (Westminster,MD)

Strawberry Picking with Friends
(The kids picked 20 pounds of strawberries that day!)

Going to an orchard to pick your own fruit is the perfect way to co
me together with your kids for an afternoon of fun. There's nothing better than allowing your children to see their fruit fresh on the vine or tree instead of just sitting in a container on the grocery store shelf. Add to that the satisfaction of picking the perfect apple or sneaking a few warm, juicy strawberries out in the field and you have yourself an outing your children will look forward to every year.

One of our favorite pick-your-own orchards is Baugher's in Westminster, MD. We ring in the start of summer by picking strawberries and then sweet cherries. Towards the end of summer, we go back for some peaches and then get ready for back-to-school by picking apples. We love the tractor rides out to the fields and climbing on the wooden train and swingset outside the market. In the market, you can pick up some extra produce, a homemade pie or some yummy fudge as you purchase your freshly picked fruit. You can also pick up a bag or two of animal food and head down the hill to the free petting zoo. My kids always love seeing the peacocks, pigs, rabbits and llamas and get a kick out of the goats and sheep who jostle each other to get a handful of food pellets. Of course, the good times continue as we come home with our fruit and make all sorts of yummy desserts.

I'm always surprised they don't make us pay extra when they see our juice-stained mouths, fingers and shirts as we take our baskets of strawberries to the counter!

August 8, 2010

Fruit & Yogurt Cones

My kids always like when I give them these cones as a little snack or dessert. Presentation seems to be the key. If I just said that we're having fruit & yogurt for dessert after dinner, they'd whine that it wasn't "dessert-y enough". However, layer those same ingredients in a cone and put a little squirt of whipped cream on top, they're clamoring to get theirs first! As a bonus, they eat the whole thing so there's one less bowl for me to wash too!


ice cream cone (the flat-bottomed cones work best)
yogurt (or pudding)
sliced or diced fruit pieces (fresh or frozen)
squirt of whipped cream (optional, but makes it extra special)

These cones were made with lowfat vanilla yogurt
and frozen blueberries & mangoes.

August 7, 2010

Kids Workshops at The Home Depot

Someone had told me about these free workshops ages ago, but I never actually got around to going. After coming across the info again just this week in my internet wanderings, the timing was perfect ~ the next workshop was this weekend and we had nothing planned. When we woke up this morning, I got this kids dressed, pulled my hair into a ponytail and headed out for the Kids Workshops at The Home Depot.

All three kids are hard at work!

The Home Depot holds these FREE (woohoo!) workshops on the first Saturday of every month from 9am-noon. The advertised ages are 5-12, but I think with a parent's help, children as young as 3 or 4 could complete the project and I don't think they'd turn you away or ask you to show ID. :) The kids get a little kit to build (today was a cute school bus organizer) and they have the tables, tools and safety googles out for them to use. The first 50 kids get a free kid-sized Home Depot apron and everyone gets a little certificate and pin, as well as their make and take project.

Cost for the project: FREE!
My kids patiently helping each other: PRICELESS!

My three LOVED building their organizers. I had to help them follow the directions and they needed help hammering in the nails at first, but Kara and Kevin were soon hammering pros! Kevin even used his newly mastered skills to help Audrey (you could tell he was so proud!). This was a great way to come together and I'd really like to go back for the next workshop on Sept. 4th (a football display).

Audrey proudly displaying her completed project.

Annie's Playground (Fallston,MD)

This photo doesn't even show the whole playground!

With at least a half a dozen playgrounds within a couple miles of my house, there would have to be a really good reason for me to pack everyone into the car and trek a good 45 minutes across town just to play on some slides and swings. Annie's Playground in Fallston, MD is that really good reason to turn a trip to the playground into several hours of fun. When I pulled into the parking lot on my first visit, I couldn't believe how HUGE it was! It's not your typical playscape found in your local park. There are tons of cool features that will keep your child entertained for hours. Pack a picnic lunch and you could easily spend half a day here.

Please note, if you have more than one child, this is definitely one of those places that could be considered a child's dream, but a parent's nightmare. There are tons of little hideouts and passageways that kids love, but that make it difficult to know exactly where your child is headed next. My children usually follow my rule that they have to stay with a buddy (or with me) while they explore and have fun. However, if you have more than one young preschooler, I'd definitely recommend saving this playground for a time when you'd have an extra pair of adult eyes to help you keep track of your children.

The fun dragon slide

Trying out a cool xylophone and drums

Hanging out on just one of the cool rope bridges

A tire bridge is fun too!

August 6, 2010

Homemade Soft Serve Ice Cream

A friend shared this recipe with me (thanks, Judy!) and boy was it a hit! Tastes just like soft-serve ice cream. Our freezer always gets things really frozen, so after several hours, ours was pretty hard and scooped just like regular ice cream, with the flavor of soft-serve. I really enjoyed making it because it was inexpensive (less than $5 for at least 8 kid-sized cones) and didn't require anything fancier than a hand mixer to make.

1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 tsp extract (vanilla, almond, your favorite)

DIRECTIONS: With an electric mixer, beat the whipping cream until thickened into a soft cream. Add the sweetened condensed milk and extract and mix until thoroughly combined. Pour it all into a plastic container and freeze for at least 4 hours, or longer.

Whipped until thickened and creamy

Adding the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract.

The kids enjoying their homemade ice cream!
(and, even though it's not even remotely diet-friendly, Mom enjoyed one too!

SpongeBall Splashpants!

Even though we're not SpongeBob viewers here, we thought this was a fun name for this project I came across. It's easy, very inexpensive and lots of fun ~ which makes it a perfect activity in my book. The total project cost was about $2 (for 10 spongeballs) and took about 15 minutes total! It also had the bonus of being one of those projects that you can enjoy doing together with your kids, but then allow them to play with the finished project themselves (while you get to rest!)  Plus, unlike water balloons, the water fun can last for hours instead of just a few minutes.

Here's what you need:

Sponges (I got a pack of 10 at the Dollar Store)
Plastic cable zip ties (mine were 4" ones I had left over from something else)
Water and a bucket or bowl

Sponges and cable zip ties

Here's what to do:

1. Take two sponges and cut them into long strips. Ours were about 3x5", and we were able to cut 4 long strips out of each. The kids (ages 4,6 and 7) could easily do this on their own with their kids' scissors.

Hard at work cutting his sponge into strips.

2. Gather the strips together in a bundle with ends fairly even. Use a zip tie to cinch them in the middle and pull tight. I helped the kids fasten and cinch the zip ties (and used my teeth to pull it really tight ;) ) Trim the excess off from the zip tie and you're good to go.

We filled buckets with water, went into the backyard and had fun. They enjoyed throwing them into the air or just squeezing the soaked spongeballs over their heads. The spongeballs are soft enough that kids can throw them at each other in a waterfight (although one of mine usually ends up whining & crying within
minutes if they get squirted or splashed by their brother or sister *rolls eyes* )

Throwing the balls in the air!

  Having fun squeezing her spongeball over her head.

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