July 28, 2012

Stuffed Animal Storage Solution

Over the years, my kids have accumulated quite a collection of stuffed animals.  We periodically do purges and give away some of our "extras" but they still have dozens that are their "favorites"!  I try to keep them contained in baskets and bins, but they still end up everywhere and look messy even when put away.  When I saw this idea on Pink and Green Mama to put the stuffed animals in a bean bag cover, I knew I had found the solution to our stuffed animal woes!  The girls can still play with them when they want to, but when they're not in use, they're tucked away in the pretty bean bag.

Check it out...

Doesn't it look sooo much better?   I found this bean bag cover at Bed Bath & Beyond, used a coupon and only paid about $10.  If you have a similar stuffed animal collection, this is the time of year to pick up a cover to contain them ~ they are pretty easy to find with the back-to-college stuff in the stores.

All we had to do was fill it up...

 Then sit back and relax with a good book!

 It's a little "lumpier" than a regular bean bag, but still comfy enough to make a good reading spot.  (Plus the room looks much better!)

 Thanks, Marylea at Pink and Green Mama for this awesome solution!  (Oh, and go check out her site, TONS of great ideas!)

July 26, 2012

Fun Card Trick (you can step through a playing card)

A few months ago, my son and I found this book,  Tricks & Pranks to Fool Your Friends , in the children's book section at Goodwill.  (Awesome place to find cheap books, by the way).  We've been having fun testing out some tricks and this was one of our favorites.

Check it out...

Here's what to do...

1.  Get an old playing card and a pair of scissors.

 2.  Fold the playing card in half lengthwise.

3.  Make two cuts down from the folded edge on either side.  You want them to be pretty narrow (mine were about 1/8") and go down almost to the bottom (again, about 1/8")

4.  Continue making alternating cuts about 1/8" wide.  Make your 2nd cut starting at the bottom (non-folded edge) and going up to about 1/8" from the top, do the opposite for the 3rd cut and so on.

5.  Now, cut on the fold for each of the middle pieces.  DO NOT CUT the two ends!

6.  Carefully open up your card and you should have cuts that look like this.

7.  Now really carefully pull open the card to make a loop.  It'll be stretchy but pretty delicate, so do this step gently!

Now put it to the test!  If your cuts were narrow enough, you should be able to step through that playing card!

NOTE:  As I mentioned, your card loop will be really thin and stretchy, making it susceptible to tearing.  However, if your child steps into it carefully, he or she will be able to actually fit through a single playing card.  My son is an average-sized 8 year old.  I'd imagine if you made your cuts even thinner, a larger child or even an adult could fit through.

Helping you be the cool grown-up by sharing this trick at:

July 24, 2012

Cherry Crest Adventure Farm (Lancaster County, PA)

This is the second year the kids and I have gone to Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  It is AWESOME!  The kids love it and we stay from open to close (10 am - 5 pm!)  A farm has to be pretty amazing to keep us all happy for 7 hours, but this place is.  There are more than 50 fun activities and they are all really cool.  I literally took hundreds of pictures of my kids (and their cousins who met us there), but I'll try to narrow it down to a few collages so you can get an idea of all the place has to offer.  Without a doubt, I'd recommend it to anyone with kids who will be in the Lancaster area.  (Oh, and I'm not being paid to write this post and I didn't get anything for free ~ we just really like it!)

First, a few of the really fun activities...

 As you can see, the kids had a blast!  There are big slides down the hill and a giant slingshot (my son's favorite).  They jumped on a giant bouncy pillow, rode pedal carts around a track, climbed on a giant web, went through a Simon Says maze and more.  

Next, the farm experience area...

We went back to this area to hold the baby chicks at least three times!  The kids loved it.  And those baby goats?  They were only 2-3 weeks old and so unbelievably cute and fun to watch.  The kids liked feeding the animals by hand and also using a special pulley system to feed the goats who were up high on the bridge.

Finally, a truly amazing corn maze...

We had so much fun doing the maze.  It's a huge 5 acres and you can see from the aerial view that it's designed like a giant baseball player.   They have several options for going through it ~ you can follow the yellow ribbon for an easy walk through (good for really little ones who want the experience, but not a lot of walking), take a medium route and use special hint signs, or take the "extreme" version and tackle the whole maze.  We opted for the hardest version and made our way through the whole maze, looking for special numbered mailboxes.  Each mailbox has a sticker that you paste on your map to complete a picture of the maze.  Your group can carry a large flag as a marker and wave it if you need help or directions from the staff.  It's also fun because when you turn some corners in the maze, you'll find a little playset ~ a slide, zipline, rope climbing, etc.

If your kids are train enthusiasts, they'll love that Cherry Crest farm is a stop on the Strasburg Railroad.  They can watch the train come through the tracks on the farm, or even take a ride.  (Discounted tickets can be purchased at the farm)

We opted to bring our own lunches to eat in the covered picnic area, but there are several concession stands with a variety of foods at the farm.

One last thing that's really cool.  If you visit any time during the summer and have a special photo taken, you can come back as many times as you like for the rest of the summer for FREE!  (until Sept 21st)  Even though the farm is about 1 1/2 hours away from us here in Baltimore, we definitely plan on returning at least once more this summer ~ the kids really love it!

July 22, 2012

Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

Ever since the kids were babies, we've been going to the Baltimore Zoo (actually called the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore).  Here are a few highlights from our recent visit.

The Maryland Zoo is divided into two main sections ~ The African Journey and the Maryland Wilderness Children's Zoo.  A tram will take you from the Main Entrance to the area with the exhibits.  My kids are past the stroller stage, but both the tram and the pathways are stroller friendly and most areas are fairly well shaded.

The African Area has many of the more "exotic" zoo animals.  A winding path takes you on a large loop through the woods and the animals' exhibits are on either side of the pathway.   There's a giraffe feeding station as well as camel rides (both have an additional fee).

My favorite area is the chimpanzee exhibit.  Eleven chimps share a large indoor and outdoor exhibit area.  We were lucky to be there for the zookeeper chat this past visit (check the schedule for the various chats when you get to the zoo).  We got to see the chimps get some fruit and learned more about their behaviors.

My own little chimps blended right in with the statues!

In the Maryland Wilderness section, you get the chance to learn about some of the animals typically found in Maryland.  You'll explore the animal habitats in a Bog, Stream, Cave, Woodlands and finally end up in a Farmyard.  There are a quite a few "interactive" parts in this section of the zoo ~ the kids will be able to climb in a birds' nest, hop across lily pads, explore a dark cave, spin in turtle shells, and slide down a big slide that looks like a fallen tree.  In the Farmyard, there's a petting zoo where you can get up close with various farm animals.

Check out all the fun they had in this area...

NOTE: The Cave exhibit is quite dark and could be frightening for little ones,
but it's easily bypassed.

The lily pads could keep my kids happily hopping for hours.  

In addition to the African Journey and the Maryland Wilderness sections, there's also The Polar Bear Watch with three large polar bears.  Many times, the polar bears are just lounging around on land, but on our recent visit, we were excited to see one of the bears cooling off in the water.  (I don't blame him, it was a hot day!)

I've been going to the zoo here in Baltimore for almost 20 years now, first as a teacher and now as a parent.  I will admit that for awhile, the zoo was getting somewhat rundown and I would be a bit disappointed when I'd visit.  However, in recent years, they've made a lot of improvements and it's much better now.  The buildings and facilities are much cleaner and better maintained than they were in the past.  

The parking is free and there are concession stands in various locations where you can purchase food and snacks.  You are also free to bring in your own food and snacks.  The Maryland Zoo also participates in the reciprocal program with other zoos in the country, so if you're visiting the Baltimore area and have a membership at your local zoo, check to see if your admission might be free or discounted.

For more info on the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, you can check out their website before your visit. 

Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Washington, DC)

The highlight of our recent day trip to Washington DC was our tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at the U.S. Treasury. 

If you want the chance to see the printing process and be in the presence of  more cash than you'll ever see in a lifetime, this is an awesome tour!

Check it out...

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is right off the Mall on 14th Street (next to the Holocaust Museum) and very close to the other museums of the Smithsonian.  Tours are FREE but you must get tickets which will tell you your entry time (more info about tours  HERE).  On our last few trips to DC, the tickets for the day were all gone by mid-morning.  This time, (maybe because it was a really hot day in the middle of week), we were able to get tickets for the 5:45 tour ( we got to the ticket office around 12:30 pm).    One person can get up to 4 tickets, so if you are in Washington DC, it's well worth it to send someone over to pick up your tickets as early in the day as possible.  

You are not allowed to take any photographs on the tour itself, but I was able to get a few before and after in the small visitor center and gift shop. 

TIP:  You do not need the timed tickets to access the visitor center or gift shop, so if you can't get tickets, you can still stop by.

Even though the kids were SOAKED 
after getting caught in a rainstorm on the way to the tour, 
they loved being this close to a million dollars!

On the tour itself, we got to see all the modern printing practices with all sorts of high-speed, automated machines.  However, in the gift shop, a man demonstrated how the bills were printed by hand from the 1860's - 1920's.  It was really interesting to see the actual engraving plate (which took four months to engrave by hand).  We watched how the thick ink was applied to get a crisp image and saw how a heavy press was used to emboss the image onto the bill.  Then, the kids got to look through a magnifying glass to see how incredibly detailed the printed scene was ~ you could see the individual people and horses in front of the building!

 Also in the gift shop was this cool chart which takes your height, and tells you the equivalent in $100 bills.  My kids are priceless to me, of course, but they got a kick out of seeing that they'd equal more than a million dollars in stacked $100 bills!

 My daughter added a hundred thousand dollars to her height 
by standing on her tippy toes!

For a glimpse of what you'll see on the actual tour, here's a postcard I picked up which shows a couple of the actual machines.

We loved getting a behind the scenes look at how our bills are made and we really loved seeing all that money in right in front of us!!  If you're planning a trip to Washington DC, put the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on your list of places to see.  (Also, there's another bureau in Fort Worth, Texas, so if that's closer to you, perhaps you can catch the tour there!)

July 20, 2012

Five Fun Ideas for Birthdays

Today is a special day for me... 

It's the 20th Anniversary of my 21st Birthday!  

At the original celebration two decades ago, 
I spent my day surrounded by college friends 
and went out to a bar around 9 pm to start a long night of drinking .  

On this 20th Anniversary, 
I'll be spending my day surrounded by my three kids
and will go out for an early dinner at a kid-friendly restaurant 
so we can be home and in bed by 9pm! 
 Despite the fun (although somewhat hazy) memories of the original night, I know I'll like today's celebration just as much. Plus, I know I'll be feeling MUCH better tomorrow morning than I did the first time!

To celebrate this special day, 
here are Five Fun Ideas for Birthdays 
that I've shared here 
at Come Together Kids...

Here they are...

How many more days until the big day?
This cute little countdown stand 
makes it much easy to know the answer!

Start off the birthday person's day
with some yummy pancakes in the shape of the age they're turning!
Add some whipped cream and sprinkles for an extra special treat.

Blow up a balloon for each year of the birthday child's age,
putting a dollar bill in each one.
Let the lucky kid pop the balloon and watch the money fall out!

Cupcakes can be a good alternative to a traditional birthday cake.
They're easy to make and easy to serve.
This DIY stand make them easy to display as well!

Getting cash on your birthday is always good,
but this cute little trick makes it fun too!

Oh, and for more ideas for parties and celebrations, 
check out our Party Themed Collection!
There are more than 50 ideas linked up 
and it's open for you to add your own  Party Ideas!

Sharing our birthday ideas:
Tip Junkie handmade projects

July 18, 2012

Our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in Washington, DC

Today I decided to take the kids on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Washington, DC.  I knew it was going to be hot, I knew the kids would probably be cranky, but I figured instead of being hot and cranky at home, we'd make the one hour drive and be hot and cranky in the Nation's Capital.  While we did enjoy some parts of our day, we decided that the adjectives Alexander used to describe his day also applied to our trip.

Doesn't look so bad here, but keep reading.

That's right, the car thermometer was reading 103!!  (it actually reached 104 several times, but not when I had my camera out).  With the humidity, I heard the heat index was up around 112!
But, Laura, you say, your kids look fine in front of the White House and at the American History Museum.  That's right, but you must remember, I had all three of my kids with me.  My oldest daughter was whining so much about the heat and how much her brother and sister were bothering her, that she wouldn't even get in the pictures and was stomping around behind me for each of these shots. 

Plus, I wasn't able to take pictures of myself constantly trying to separate them all while walking down the street or through a museum.  I only have two hands but I have three kids.  That means one kid is always next to another and that's cause for poking, annoying noise-making, flip flop-stepping, or other behaviors that need to be tattled about.

As we left the Museum of American History to head back to the car, we felt a few drops of rain.  As soon as we walked another block, the gusty winds, thunder, lightening and torrential downpours started.   We were soaked within minutes, but at that point, we just decided to keep walking.  My son and youngest daughter were frightened by the lightning and thunder and wanted to move quickly, my oldest was complaining about how much her flip flops were hurting her (which I'd told her not to wear in the first place) and wanted us to move more slowly.

Yup, that's right.  After enduring brutally hot temperatures, unending bickering and whining, and torrential rain, we reach our van to find a $50 parking ticket.  Apparently, in my excitement to finally find a parking spot after circling the Mall for a half hour, I neglected to thoroughly read the sign that stated you couldn't stay parked there between 4-6pm.  My only consolation is that they hadn't towed my car yet (there was a box marked on the ticket that said "towing requested") and all the museums are free, so I hadn't spent a lot of money already.

Looking at the bright side, the trip wasn't a total bust...

The kids enjoyed some yummy ice cream 

Notice how they're all smiles after Mommy drops $14 on ice creams!

 They liked seeing the many historical artifacts
and even trying out a fountain pen and ink.

And we all thought the 
Bureau of Engraving and Printing 
was really interesting 
 (but I'll be doing a whole separate post on that!)

Have you ever had a trip like this?  One bad thing after another, 
but you'd do it all over again (and you do!)

July 17, 2012

Melted Bead Suncatchers

When I saw this idea for melted bead suncatchers a few weeks ago at The Artful Parent, I put it right at the top of our "must do" list.  We had the plastic pony beads and the baking tins already, so we were good to go.  Following a suggestion in the comments of Jean's post, we decided to melt our beads outside on our gas grill instead of inside in the oven.  The beads melted quite quickly and there was very little melting plastic smell to worry about.

Check it out...

Here are the simple supplies needed:

That's right.  Just some plastic beads (we used a combination of translucent colored beads and some pastel glow-in-the-dark ones) and metal baking pans ( I happened to have some heart-shaped pans as well as regular mini muffin pans)

Here's what to do:

1.  Preheat your oven or grill to about 450 degrees. (I used our grill, put the burners on high, then shut the lid.)

2.  Arrange your beads in a single layer in the bottom of your pan.  We did some patterns and some just random.

3.  Put your pans with your beads in the hot oven or grill.  If you're using a grill, close the lid to help keep in the heat and speed up the process.  Check the progress every few minutes.  (The suncatchers we did in the mini muffin trays took about 5 minutes, the ones in the bigger pans took closer to 10 minutes).  You will smell some melting plastic, but it's not too overpowering outdoors.  

You can see how the beads in the pans on the left are just starting to melt, while the ones on the right are fully melted.

4. When the beads have melted completely, CAREFULLY remove the pan.  It will be VERY hot!  Set it aside until it cools completely.  (Doesn't take long, maybe 10-15 minutes).   Then, simply tap the bottom of the pan and the suncatcher will pop right out.

 5.  Using a drill, make a small hole in your suncatchers so you can hang them up.

 Attach some strings and that's it, your suncatchers are ready to sparkle and shine in the sunlight!

Oh, and remember how I said we used some glow-in-the-dark beads too?  While they weren't quite as colorful hanging up in the sunlight, they do look pretty cool glowing at night.

My kids had so much fun making these and we'll definitely be trying them again!

Sharing our suncatchers at:
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