Category Archives: Fun with Kids

Crystal Planets

I’ve been on a bit of a planetary kick recently, with the theme of Little Man’s birthday party and with us redecorating his bedroom.  But since I’ve started on this path, let’s continue.  🙂  This Crystal Planets craft is something that Little Man and I did last Autumn, but I haven’t had a chance to share here until now.

I was initially inspired for this craft by a post about making sparkly crystal Easter eggs to hang in the window.  The pipe cleaner eggs,however, were crystallized using Borax to form the crystals.  While they were beautiful, I didn’t feel comfortable using a substance that I wouldn’t want Little Man to handle.  As I thought about the craft more, even if Little Man didn’t touch the Borax crystals themselves, I was concerned about what would happen if the crystals flaked off and he (or our cats) found little sparkling bits on the floor.  In one of the comments on that post another parent expressed concern for the toxicity of the Borax and wondered if sugar crystals could be used to do the same thing. That was my “ah ha!” moment, and I started working on ways to use sugar to create sparkly, crystal planets.

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

Before I go further, I want to be clear that while kiddos can help with the beginning of this craft, the making and pouring of the sugar solution should only be done by adults.  Hot sugar solutions are quite dangerous if spilled or splashed, so little hands should not be involved in those parts.  Little Man loved helping me shape and initially sugar the planets, as well as checking on the planets daily to look at their growth.  He also loved hanging the planets in the window, and even took one (Mars) to day care for show and tell.  So while little hands cannot be a part of every step of this craft, the process and the final product are totally worth it.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar. Notice the little water hand print on the table as well.

While I shaped the pipe cleaners to make planet shapes, like I mentioned above the original post I saw used the cleaners to make Easter egg shapes.  I’ve since seen posts for the Borax crystals to make heart shapes, shamrocks, and the list goes on. It could be fun to shape the pipe cleaners into letters to form a child’s name, or to make butterflies.  The possibilities are as endless as your imagination… and the size/depth of your mason jars.

This same “craft” can also be used by suspending food safe chopsticks (I recommend bamboo since its more environmentally friendly) in the sugar solution to create rock candy sticks.  Some day if I feel like completely wiring up Little Man’s birthday guests, we’ll make these as part of the goodie bag.

Enjoy!

Making Crystal Planets
Equipment and Ingredients
:
Assorted colorful pipe cleaners
2 bowls and 1 plate
Stock pot
4 large (1 liter) canning jars
4 wooden chopsticks or other sticks
Kitchen string
Assorted food coloring
18-20 cups white sugar

Directions:

  1. Coil 1-2 pipe cleaners to make your planet shape. Don’t make it too fussy since you need to have room for the sugar crystals to grow. My favorite shape was a circle with a small curlicue across the equator to give it depth. Make sure that the “planet” can easily fit into and out of the mouth of your jar with extra room. It will be wider than it is now once the crystals have formed.

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into "planets."

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into “planets.”

  2. Measure a length of string so that once it is tied to the top of one of your “planets” and  suspended from your chopstick, the planet does not touch the bottom of the jar. If it touches, crystals will form and adhere your planet to the bottom of the jar, and you’ll have to destroy your planet to get it out.  Make sure that your chopstick (or other stick) is long enough to rest both edges on top of your jar. The chopstick will suspend your planet in the sugar mixture, so it’s good to have a bit of overhang to ensure that your “planet” doesn’t fall inside.
  3. Tie one end of the string to the top of your planet and the other end to your chopstick. Suspend the planet in your empty jar and make sure that it fits well, adjusting as necessary. Remove the planet from the jar and repeat this for the number of planets that you want to create. Set them all aside.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

  4. Pour about ½ cup of sugar into a bowl and place a bowl of cool water next too it.  Working one at a time, briefly dip the pipe cleaner planet into the cool water, and then press the planet into the sugar on the plate. Flip it over and press it in again. Gently take the sugared planet and place it on a plate to dry completely. Repeat this with all of the planets and then set them aside until you are ready to proceed.
    Planets ready for sugaring.

    Planets ready for sugaring.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process.  Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar... and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process. Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar… and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man's mouth.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man’s mouth.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man's reach, to dry.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man’s reach, to dry.

  5. In a stock pot add 8 cups of water and begin to heat it. Do not bring it to a boil, since you want to create a sugar solution not sugar taffy. Be careful since hot sugar can be dangerous. No boil overs or burns, please!
  6. Once the water is hot, but not boiling, slowly add the sugar. You want a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of sugar to water. If you need a refresher on your high school ratios, feel free to look them up on the internet. 🙂  In short, you want 2-3xs more sugar than water. Start adding your sugar a few cups at a time, stirring carefully until the sugar dissolves and the water becomes clear again. Go carefully and slowly here. After you add a good amount of sugar (aka an obscene amount), it should start taking longer for the sugar to completely dissolve. This means you are reaching saturation and that’s what you want. You want the sugar solution to be so full of sugar that it can’t hold any more (aka saturation). This may look like you have a few grains of undissolved sugar at the bottom of your pot, or some cloudiness.
    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn't quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn’t quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    So I upgraded to this one.  Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our "cauldron."

    So I upgraded to this one. Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our “cauldron.”

  7. Line up your four (or more) one-liter canning jars on a heat resistant surface (I used my cutting board) and carefully ladle in enough sugar solution to fill the jars to just below their shoulders. Leave some room at the top for the planets to be added without causing an overflow.

    One jar ready to go.  Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task.  I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn't make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

    One jar ready to go. Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task. I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn’t make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

  8. Carefully add a few of drops of good quality food coloring to each jar to create the color that you would like. If you add too much color the solution may become so opaque that you cannot see the crystals form. However, if you don’t add enough color the crystals will not take the color. My planets do not have much color to them beyond the color from the pipe cleaners, but they looked pretty in the window while they were forming.Once the sugar solution is dyed to your liking in the jars, carefully insert the planets using another chopstick to submerge the planets in the liquid. Let the jars cool until safe enough to handle.
    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    One down...

    One down…

    20140821_105400

    Three more to go.  I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth "planet."  I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a "comet."  Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

    Three more to go. I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth “planet.” I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a “comet.” Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

  9. Once the jars have cooled until safe to handle, place them in a sunny window or tall shelf where they can sit and slowly, slowly, slowly grow crystals. If after a few weeks you do not see crystal growth, then you may need to individually pour the solution back into a pot, heat it again, add more sugar and repeat the process. It took my planets awhile to form the crystals, but they did.
  10. Hang your planets in a window for a sparkly decoration.
"Jupiter"

“Jupiter”

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

"Mars"

“Mars”

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged.  The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day.  Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged. The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day. Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

Click here for a printable version of the Crystal Planets craft.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

Making Breakfast with No Electricity

There are many pluses for living outside the city.  We don’t suffer through the water bans since we are on well-water, not city.  We don’t get (as much) of the odoriferous down draft from the water treatment plant.  We get to be surrounded by forest, and wake up to the sounds of chicken and sheep, with a view of the horses in the pasture through our kitchen window.  We can tromp through our neighbors Enchanted Forest whenever we want, and rarely need to worry about Little Man walking/playing in the road since there are nearly no cars that come our way.  Plus, plus, plus…

However, every now and then, particularly in the winter, we can lose power for a couple of hours at a time.  When that happens it’s means more than simply the inconvenience of blinking clocks and a lack of television.  For us it means no running water since the pump that brings our water from the well is electric.  No showers, no washing, no water for tea or coffee unless we’ve been wise (and sometimes we are) and kept our emergency supplies of water filled along with the large jugs in the refrigerator… which shouldn’t be opened much during these times so it doesn’t “lose its cool.”

Then one morning right at the beginning of winter we woke up to the sound of disconcerting silence (no hum of the old refrigerator) punctuated by the panic inducing beeps of Little Man’s bedroom monitor losing power.  Dave and I stumbled around for a bit, trying to wrap our sleep addled brains around the fact that we had no electricity and what that actually meant for our morning.  I tried to turn on a sink tap to brush my teeth… and nothing happened.  I stood there, staring at the tap, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.  Apparently Dave was dong something similar in the kitchen since I heard him utter a low moan as realization settled in as to the extent of our dilemma.  No showers… argh!  How to brush our teeth?  My water bottle was still mostly full from yoga the night before.  What about cooking breakfast with our electric stove (or microwave) without electricity?  Doh!

At that point Little Man woke up and I went downstairs to light the wood burning stove (aka our house heater) while Dave went into our son’s room with a flashlight.  I tried to get my brain to function and to think about the breakfast predicament as I knelt by the stove balancing my flashlight beam on the things I needed, but I couldn’t quite get out of autopilot mode.  I arranged the wood, kindling and wadded up burnables in the stove and then lit the whole thing.  Closing the stove door, I waited to make sure that the fire had caught and listened to the comforting clicking of the warming stove.  Then it finally hit me.  I didn’t need electricity to cook our breakfast, I had a wood burning stove right in front of me.  My city-girl mind had only thought of the stove as a heat source for our home.  A smile stretched across my cheeks as I quickly planned our breakfast adventure.

Upstairs Dave was hurriedly getting ready since he had to teach, while also explaining to an unimpressed Little Man why there was no TV for morning cartoons.  For sanity’s sake I whipped out the ipad hoping that it had a charge, and turned on a quick Little Einsteins episode, buying Dave and I a little respite while he got out of the house and I collected my breakfast supplies.

On a large tray I piled a shallow cast iron skillet, a full tea kettle, a hot pad, plates, cutlery, a bowl with two eggs, a couple slices of bread, a mug and tea bag, a filled sippy cup, honey, jam and a few other tools.  I waved Dave out the door, put slippers on Little Man’s feet and was just leading him downstairs while balancing my tray of awesomeness… when with a pop the electricity came back on.  The TV was blaring in the front room since apparently Little Man had pushed in the power button during his desperation to show Dave that the TV worked without electricity.

With the jubilant sounds of a little boy who has found treasure, Little Man dashed back into the living room with Pooh Bear flapping behind him for his morning cartoons.  I looked at my tray, placed it down on the dining room table, snapped a picture for future sleep addled reference, and went back to our now working electric stove to make breakfast.  Next time I’ll be ready when the power is out and we get to have a picnic breakfast downstairs with our wood burning stove.  And I’ll make sure the TV stays off and doesn’t wreck our adventure.

I like the "rustic" look of the black and white photo here.  I felt all "pioneery" as I balanced by tray of modernity to cook on a hot stove.

I like the “rustic” look of the black and white photo here. I felt all “pioneery” as I balanced by tray of modernity to cook on a hot stove.

A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Food Edition

In my previous post (A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Decoration Edition) I shared a few fun crafts and decorations for a kid’s space-themed birthday party.  Here I’m going to share a bit about the food that we served.  I’m still learning the ropes about choosing how much to try to pull off by myself and how much to purchase premade. When planning the food for a party, some of the best advice I’ve heard was from Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame.  Ina suggests choosing one dish from each of three categories: made from scratch, partially home made (taking some premade products and sprucing them up into your own dish), and completely premade (where the only labor should be opening the package and pouring its contents onto a platter).  Depending on the number of guests you can increase the number dishes from any or all of the categories, but just be sure that you don’t make your “made from scratch” category too prominent.  As I look at our Space Birthday party in hindsight, I front loaded the “made from scratch” category, but I’ll get the balance right next time.  😉

In my case I was doing good until I gave Little Man the option of homemade baked chicken strips.  With Little Man being dairy intolerant we have to be very careful with the premade food we buy, reading ingredient labels carefully.  Homemade baked chicken strips are a relative staple in our household, and one of Little Man’s favorites, so it seemed a “no brainer” to ask if that’s what he’d like for his party.  However, I didn’t take into account the quantity of chicken strips that we’d have to make and the fact that since we bought the chicken breasts frozen and defrosted them for breading and cooking, we would not be able to refreeze the left overs due to food safety concerns.  Oy!  The short version is that the night before Little Man’s party, Dave and I were up breading, baking, cooling and refrigerating homemade chicken strips until 1:00am.  Ugh…  Like I often say, I am a fast learner.  I shorten my learning curve by skipping trial and heading straight for error.  I do have to say that the chicken strips were quite tasty, especially with the homemade Dinosaur BBQ sauce.  Due to the late night processing, I didn’t even try to take photos so I’ll post that recipe another time.

In terms of partially homemade foods, we bought a massive bag of french fries from Costco and baked those up the morning of the party.  We also put together a Planetary Fruit Plate, similar to the Rainbow Fruit Platter we have done in the past.  The planetary shape was fun, but I think that the rainbow wins out both in terms of ease of putting it together, as well as the fact that whenever we do the rainbow shape the platter is devoured.

The Planetary Fruit Platter.

The Planetary Fruit Platter.

Rainbow Fruit Platter served on a rectangular bamboo cutting board.

Rainbow Fruit Platter, always a winner.

We were woefully short on the completely premade foods, with only a lovely bag of Cheezies specifically requested by Little Man.  Next time I’ll have this side more fully stocked.

Aside from the other food items, there are two things that I want to make sure we do from scratch every time; the cake and the punch.  Part of this is that it just seems special to put the effort into making his cake.  When I make the cake that means that Little Man gets to help me with the cake itself and the decorations, as well as the fact that I can control the ingredients ensuring there is no dairy and the sugar ratio remains something reasonable.  Someday we may need to put the cake into the premade food category, but for now I want to keep that fun for myself.  Similarly with the punch, it’s one of those things to make from scratch that takes a bit more effort than simply removing the cap off of something bought from the store, but the final product is so much better that I can’t stand the thought of the alternative.  The actual labor in making the punch isn’t much AND I can control for the amount of sugar, dyes and other unpronounceables used, staying away from the 50 shades of corn syrup and chemicals found in most store products.  Yuck.

Rocket Ship Birthday Cake

The birthday boy making off with a handful of rocket flames (aka M&Ms).

The birthday boy making off with a handful of rocket flames (aka M&Ms).

Sticking with our Space theme, Little Man had a rocket ship birthday cake.  This was a super simple shape to cut and decorate, and didn’t require any reinforcing of layers or fondant hoopla.  For the cake itself I used a Chocolate Wacky Cake recipe.  Apparently this is a type of cake made famous during the Depression Era as it doesn’t use eggs or dairy, two expensive items at the time.  It’s also a bit kooky in the little divots you make to hold the vanilla, vinegar and oil, swirling everything together in the pan you bake it in (If you so desire.  I mixed it with the divots in a bowl and then poured it into the pan.).  The only thing I wasn’t happy with for the cake was the amount of sugar.  For this one occasion I did not halve the amount of sugar used since I wasn’t sure what that would do to the cake itself.  I’ll try a healthier version next time… which might just be next week.  For the frosting I used the Vegan Chocolate Frosting that I wrote about in the Mini Chocolate Cupcake post, and it turned out amazing as always.  Here are the links for the cake and frosting recipes, as well as the cake shape.

Chocolate Wacky Cake: This cake can be done in a variety of different flavors, but is especially fantastic for anyone with egg allergies since it doesn’t contain any.
Vegan Chocolate Frosting: I’ve written about this “stupid good” frosting before since we used it for Little Man’s birthday Mini Chocolate Cupcakes.  The recipe comes from Chocolate Covered Katie and cannot be praised enough.  ‘Nough said.  Just try it.
Rocket Ship Cake Shape: For Little Man’s party I made one 9×13 cake in a rectangular glass baking dish, and that was plenty big for our modestly-sized party.  I love how the bits that you carefully carve off to shape the nose cone become the fins for the rocket.  Waste not…

Things got crazy and I don't have a full picture of the birthday cake, but this is the shape.  It was frosted with the amazing Coconut Chocolate frosting and embellished with M&Ms, Little Man's main request for the cake.

Things got crazy and I don’t have a full picture of the birthday cake, but this is the shape. It was frosted with the amazing Coconut Chocolate frosting and embellished with M&Ms, Little Man’s main request for the cake.

Planetary Punch
IMG_3315
One of the recipes that I was most excited about trying for Little Man’s party was Planetary Punch.  The basis for this punch is the Apple and Mint Punch from Giada de Laurentis.  I quadruple the recipe whenever I make this for a party, and general cut the sugar in half.  What made the punch special for Little Man’s Space Party were the frozen juice spheres floated in the punch.  Dave has a silicon mould for making ice spheres for cocktails, so for the week leading up to the party we froze spheres of fruit juice (all fruit juice, none of the crazy corn syrup stuff here, please) in various hues to be floated in the punch as planets.  This would have worked perfectly… except that when making the simple syrup for the punch I ran out of white sugar and had to resort to coconut sugar instead.  While the punch still tasted fine, it was no longer a lovely shade of pale green, but instead the tawny shade of brown coconut sugar.  The planets were therefore a bit hazy to see through the punch.  I’ll be making it again in a couple of weeks with actual white sugar so that I can have the correct effect of the floating planets, and I’ll forward the pictures along when I do. 😉

The ice planets floating in space.

The ice planets floating in space.

While I did overload myself with a bit too much “from scratch” work, in the end we all ate well, yet managed to avoid the crummy tummies that sometimes results from party food.  Good naps were required by all.  Happy partying!

A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Decoration Edition

Space, the final frontier…

I hadn’t realized how fulfilling it would be to write that line, and I have to admit that am rather pleased with myself for doing so.  🙂  However, this is not our final birthday frontier, but just the beginning.  Little Man is already talking about the party themes he wants to have next time, although to him “next time” means tomorrow.  Not gonna happen.  In the meantime, let me share with you some of the fun space-themed party decorations and foods that we did for Little Man’s fourth (how can he possibly be four years old already!?!?!) birthday party.

When we were giving Little Man options of what his birthday party theme could be, we had no idea that “space” would be such a difficult one to fill.  I figured that with all the cartoons, etc. there must be some options out there for plates and table cloths, right?  Not so much…  Luckily our local dollar store had a good selection that if not directly related to space (like a really cool bag of marbles that look sort of like planets) could be spun that way (like the little finger lasers).  Combine that with Pintrest, and we were off and running.
IMG_3352Here are some of my favorite things that we did.  I’ll post the food tomorrow.
IMG_3309

Decorations and Activities
Since there weren’t any nice space-themed decorations in the local stores (and I searched them all), I made most of the decorations with supplies from the local dollar store.  My main focus was on the cake/food table backdrop, but I also wanted to have a fun play area for the kids, as well as decorations that extended across the room to make it all look more festive.  My favorite things that we did are the Galaxy Backdrop, the Hanging Planets, a Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor, a Rocket Ship and Glittery Stars.

Galaxy Backdrop

IMG_3294For the Galaxy Backdrop, I followed the directions from the excellent Elephant of Surprise website for Galaxy Pillowcases that could be used for floor/ground pillows.  I “upgraded” the project by using a twin-sized flat sheet so that I could use it as the backdrop on the wall above the cake/food table.  Aimee’s directions on the website are great, so other than the size difference between my twin flat sheet and her pillow cases the process was virtually the same.  Just be sure to use the real deal, cheap bleach.  I first tried this with my environmentally safe bleach and couldn’t figure out why the fabric didn’t bleach.  Ah well…  When using the “real” bleach, you should see the fabric change color almost immediately.  I ended up doing the spray bleach step twice since I didn’t quite get the results I wanted the first time.  Then after the galaxy sheet was washed and dried, the next two steps were to add a little white fabric paint and then some glow in the dark fabric paint.  Taa daa!

Here’s what you’ll need: a black twin-sized flat sheet, bleach, a spray bottle, white fabric paint, and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint. Elephant of a Surprise website link.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric.  Here mine started to turn red almost instantly.  I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric. Here mine started to turn red almost instantly. I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Hanging Planets
IMG_3296
This project was so much fun, and the effect of the Hanging Planets suspended in front of the Galaxy backdrop is pretty spectacular, so the DIY craftiness really paid off here.  Another bonus is that we are also in the process of “upgrading” Little Man’s room to change the decor he’s had since being a baby to actual little boy decor (Sob!).  After seeing his party decorations, Little Man asked if the Hanging Planets and Galaxy Backdrop could hang in his room, so now a Space-Themed bedroom is in the works and the major decor is something that resulted from his party.  That makes me doubly happy since the effort wasn’t only for his birthday, but now the decorations will be enjoyed for quite some time.  A further bonus is that all of the supplies should be available from your local dollar store, and if you do crafts with your kids you might have some of the equipment already.

Here’s what you will need:  9 styrofoam balls of varying sizes, bamboo skewers, 4-5 (depending in the size) florist foam blocks, an array of acrylic paints (I used combinations of red, blue, yellow, white and black), multicolored glitter, a wide foam brush, a smaller bristle paint brush, a plastic paint palette for mixing colors, push pins and golden crocheting yard.

Step 1: Cut the bamboo skewers in half, insert one end into the foam ball and then the other into a foam block. This will let you hold the “planet” by the skewer while you paint it, then you can put it back into the foam block to let it dry while you move on to another planet.  I was able to fit two planets each on the smaller blocks, and three on the larger one.  Just be sure that the balls don’t touch each other or it will smear the paint.  I then pinned planet names to the blocks so I could remember which ball was to be painted like which planet.  As you will notice, I also included Pluto.  While technically a Dwarf Planet, this party is more about fun than planetary fact checking.  And, I thought that my mom would like Pluto included here too.  🙂

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Step 2: Paint a base layer of whatever the predominant color for that planet (for ideas see my color examples below).  To do this, simply remove the planet by its skewer from the foam block and use the wide foam brush to apply a good layer of paint to the planet.  The planet might spin a bit, and when that happened I just stuck the skewer in a bit tighter.  The goal here is to cover the sphere, not to be painstakingly precise with your color.  Once a planet is fully coated with the first layer of paint, return the skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Make sure to let the paint dry completely before moving on to your second coat.  With 9 planets this shouldn’t be a problem, as by the time you get the base coat on all nine the first one should be dry again.  In terms of color choices, please remember that my field is not astronomy, and I painted these planets to more or less represent their “astronomical” look.  Google images helped with pictures of the planets, but I followed whimsy more than scientific fact in their creation.  See below for the colors I chose for each planet.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

Step 3: Go back over each planet with a second coat of paint, adding whatever details can be individual to the specific planet.  Depending on the details you want to paint, use either the wide foam brush or the narrow paint brush or both.  I played fast and loose with planetary features here, so remember that the goal is fun not accuracy.  Jupiter got its storm, but I didn’t go into the detail to give Saturn 3-D rings.  Instead Saturn got rings painted around its equator.  Earth, as usual is the most problematic with the continents, but again this isn’t about a geography lesson.  Get the continents more or less on there, give Earth white on both poles and move on.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

What is key to this step is that the instant you finish with the secondary painting, have your glitter sprinkles ready and apply them immediately.  My planets were drying quickly, so if I hesitated for even a breath the glitter wouldn’t stick well.  For each planet I had my glitter jar opened to the correct color and a layer of newspaper laid out to catch the extra sparkles.  The moment I set my paint brush down, I grabbed the glitter and sprinkled away.  See my description of Mercury for an idea of what to do with the mixed glitter at the end.  Once one planet is complete, return its skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Let the planets dry completely before moving on.  I let mine rest overnight.

The finished planets.

The finished planets.

Here are the color schemes I used for the planets:
Venus: Base coat of bluish green.  Secondary coat of bright green bands.  Green and gold glitter.
Earth: Base coat of bright, turquoise blue.  Secondary coat of green continents, with white at both poles.  Green glitter more or less on the continents and silver more or less on the poles.
Mars: Base coat of red.  Secondary coat of red with just a drop of black in random swirls.  Red and gold glitter.
Jupiter: Base coat of white with just a drop of yellow and brown. Purplish swirled band around the equator with a large swirly “eye” for the storm, as well as two yellow bands just off from the poles.  Purple and gold glitter.
Saturn: Base coat of muted yellow with a couple drops of purple.  Secondary bands of red and purple around the equator.  Purple glitter.
Uranus: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary white and darker blue bands just offset from the northern pole and one near the equator.  Blue glitter.
Neptune: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary coat of midnight blue (blue with just enough black so that you can still see a predominate blue color), applied not too evenly.  Blue glitter.
Pluto: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary swirls of dark blue and yellow.  Yellow and blue glitter.
Mercury: Base coat of dark gray.  Secondary coat of black applied not too evenly.  Sprinkled all over with the combined dregs of sprinkles from the other planets.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Step 4: Once the planets are completely dry they can be suspended.  I cut varying lengths of golden crocheting yard and secured each end to a push pin.  I then put one end of the pin into a planet (close to where I removed the skewer) and the other end we pushed into the ceiling.  See more below.

Planets Backdrop
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Before you set up your backdrop, decide where you want the focal point of the room to be.  Position your cake/food table in that spot, then hang the Galaxy Backdrop above the table.  Decide on the order you want your planets hung in.  The plan was to put them in actual astronomical order, but as you can see in the picture I switched Mars and Earth.  Ah well… More artistic license I suppose.  I’ll get that fixed before hanging them in Little Man’s room.  The correct order should be from left to right: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.  Hang Jupiter first since that gives you your midpoint.  We then hung Mercury and Pluto on either end of the backdrop, and spaced the remaining planets between them.  We then hung a “Happy Birthday” banner across the top and wrapped a cool strand of changing color star lights around the whole thing.  Taa daa!
IMG_3293

Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor
IMG_3328 (2)
This was almost one of my best ideas ever… almost…  I was inspired by the picture posted on Design Dazzle where for an outdoor party they simply unrolled some bubble wrap and let the kids run around on it.  For Little Man’s party, I knew we wanted to do some dancing and I thought that using the bubble wrap to make the dance floor would be perfect.  And it was… almost…  What I didn’t take into account was my sensitive child’s sensitive ears.  The other kids LOVED the popping bubble wrap, but Little Man was happier once the bubble wrap went away and he could groove to his heart’s content.
IMG_3348Here’s what you’ll need: 1-2 large rolls of large bubble wrap (not the tiny bubbles), clear packaging tape, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, rainbow light disco ball (optional but super cool)

Step 1: Decide where your dance floor (outside or indoor) will be.  Unroll your bubble wrap, cut it into long strips and then tape them together to make a square or rectangular “dance floor.”  We used 2 rolls for our area.  Then roll up your dance floor and stash it until ready to use.  Bubble wrap is near irresistible and unless you have armed guards protecting it, if it is laid down when the kiddos arrive, they will pounce.

Step 2: When you are ready to dance, activate and coil the glow-in-the-dark bracelets and place them on the floor where the dance floor will be.  The darker your room, the brighter the bracelets (aka planets) will be.  Unroll the dance floor over the planets, start your rainbow disco ball and unleash some tunes.  Little Man’s party dance music of choice is still Imagination Movers: Rock-o-matic.  It was awesome!

The DJ station.

The DJ station.

 Cardboard Rocket Ship
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There are a surprising number of cardboard rocket ship designs out there.  We wanted something that would be a great backdrop for pictures, but also that the kids could play in.  As long as it survived the party, I was happy.  It is just cardboard after all, and you should be able to get empty boxes for free from any selection of local stores.  Recycling can be fun!

Here’s what you’ll need: multiple large cardboard boxes, wide masking tape, a box cutter, spray paint, and acrylic paint.

For this craft I don’t have specific construction steps since this will vary wildly based on the shape and size of rocket you want to make.  I used a large cube-shaped box for the body, opening out the flaps and taping it all together to make a long rectangle.  If your “rocket” feels a bit unsecure in places, take some of your remaining boxes, cut strips from them and tape or hot glue these reinforcing strips on the inside of your rocket.  Once the body is complete, spray paint it silver.  After the silver paint is dried, shape fins for your rocket, hot glue them on and hand paint them dark blue with acrylic paint.

We made our rocket in two pieces so that it wouldn’t break whenever it fell over.  With another large box, shape a cone (or pyramid) top for your rocket.  Once the cone is shaped and secured with interior structural strips, spray paint it red.

After everything is dry, I cut a round window in the front and a door in the back.  Make sure your door is big enough for the kiddos to fit in, but don’t take it all the way down to the floor.  Leave a little bit that the kids need to step over in order to keep the base of your rocket strong.
IMG_3311Glittery Stars
IMG_3301Even though these popsicle stick stars (or snowflakes) are a pretty ubiquitous craft, I included them here since it was something that Little Man could have an active hand in creating.  I wanted him to be able to feel a bit of ownership in this DIY adventure, and to be able to see his art work hanging in the party space.

Here’s what you’ll need: : Large craft popsicle sticks, hot glue gun, craft glue, sticky jewels, silver glitter, silver and blue glass gems, sparkly yarn to hang them with.

Step 1: Adults, using a hot glue gun, glue two sticks into a plus sign.  Do this with the remaining sticks that you want to use.  Little Man and I made 8 stars, so we completed 16 of the plus signs.  Then glue two of the plus signs together to create the star (or snowflake) shape.

Step 2: Kiddos and adults, you can now bedazzle the stars to your hearts content.  I put a little glue on a disposable plate for Little Man and gave him a paint brush.  He could then paint the glue onto the bare star, and then place the glass gems.  Be careful to not use too many glass gems on a single star, since they can become quite heavy.  We used 4-5 glass gems per star, with the remaining space filled with sticker jewels and squiggles of glue encrusted with silver glitter.  Let your stars dry completely.
IMG_3301 (2)Step 3: Adults, once your stars are completely dry, cut lengths of your sparkly yard for hanging them.  Tie the ends of the yard together in a small knot, then hot glue the yard to the back of top arm of your star.  I used the knot in case some of our stars were heavy enough to pull the yarn through the glue, but if your stars are light you might not need to do this.  We then hung them across the ceiling with push pins.

The whole effect... except for lots of screaming... more or less.

The whole effect… except for lots of screaming… more or less.

I hope that you enjoy these ideas for a Space Themed kids birthday party.  Please feel free to share any other ideas that you come up with or that you’ve seen elsewhere.  I “pinned” a ton of ideas to my Pintrest page under Kids Birthday Ideas, and only had the time (and gumption) to pull off a few of them.  Have fun!

The party in full swing.

The party in full swing.

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes

Someone once read me a quote that describes time as a whirlwind, swirling faster as you move away from the center out towards the edges.  Time moves slowest at the center of the whirlwind and this is full of people trying desperately to slow down or hold onto time, mostly young lovers and the parents of young children.  As Little Man turns four both Dave and I find ourselves manically flip-flopping between being excited for what this new year will bring (aka let’s please get out of the threes… please…) and sappy nostalgia for the baby that Little Man used to be.  Sob!

Right now the excitement for four is winning out, and I can’t wait to see what this new year will bring.  To start his fourth year out right we wanted Little Man to be able to bring a special dessert to his day care, but still have it be something we can feel good about him eating.  I haven’t written about it yet, but much of last year has been a struggle to figure out if Little Man is dairy/lactose intolerant or not.  Many of the recipes that I have been working on recently are dairy-free versions of family favorites.  In many cases I’ve been able to simply swap out cow’s milk for almond or coconut milk.  In a few examples, the transition hasn’t been that easy.  The main thing for this birthday treat, however, was that we wanted it to be something that Little Man would be hugely excited for and that he and his “classmates” would have no idea that the treat they were eating was good for them (or at least not as bad as the refined flour and white sugar versions can be).

These mini muffin/cup cakes are delicious treats on their own.

These mini muffin/cup cakes are delicious treats on their own.

Last year Little Man and I brought mini-muffin sized versions of my Banana Chocolate Muffins, which were also one of my first posted recipes for this site (more nostalgia…).  This year I wanted to bring it up a notch and make it more cupcakey.  The first step was to revamp my previous recipe making it nearly dairy-free.  I say “nearly dairy free” since it does have semisweet chocolate chips and those contain milk.  If you want truly dairy free you can simply omit the chocolate chips, or use a dairy-free/vegan alternative.  I haven’t found one that I’m happy with yet, so standard semi-sweet chocolate chips won out.  These muffins, mini or otherwise, are delicious on their own and are treats that I feel good about Little Man eating.

But what really sets these mini muffin/cupcakes apart is the frosting.  Oh, the frosting…  This frosting is the first thing that I’ve every come across that deserves the phrase “stupid good!”  It’s amazing.  Four ingredients.  30 second to whip it up.  The hardest thing is not devouring the entire bowl before frosting your cupcakes or cake.  Seriously… This stuff is ridiculous, and I cannot take a single iota of credit for it.  The frosting recipe comes from an amazing blog called Chocolate Covered Katie.  I’ve included a link to the Vegan Chocolate Frosting Shots here, as well as in the main recipe below.  For Dave and I, we were happy leaving it just barely sweetened with a little powdered sugar, but for the kiddos I added probably about 1/2 cup total of powdered sugar to take the edge off of the bittersweet chocolate goodness that this creates.  This “frosting” could be served as a chocolate mousse in a fancy coupe and no one would be the wiser.  Seriously, it’s that good.  I doubled the recipe to make enough frosting to cover these cupcakes.

My sous chef had a great time playing "baker," though it took a bit of persuasion to convince him that wearing an apron was a good idea.

My sous chef had a great time playing “baker,” though it took a bit of persuasion to convince him that wearing an apron was a good idea.

OK, back to the awesome cupcakes…  Since these cupcakes were for Little Man’s day care buddies, it only seemed fitting that he help me make them.  You’ll notice that in the pictures from this recipe are, shall we say… a bit more messy than usual.  They often have ingredients all over the counter, with Little Man’s grubby mits sticking out of the bowl at any given time.  We had a blast.  While I “controlled” the situation enough to make sure that the end product was delicious, I wanted this to be super fun for Little Man.  He got to taste the ingredients and saw that flour did not taste good good, while brown sugar was quite tasty.  I measured, he dumped, and a good time was had by all.  By the time we were spooning batter into the muffin cups, he was pretty done with the whole procedure, but that was fine since the motor skills of filling little muffin cups cleanly is still a bit beyond him.

In terms of planning, I made the cup cakes two days in advance, the frosting the night before, and then frosted and decorated the cakes in the morning before day care.  You can certainly frost them the night before, but you would need to either leave them uncovered in the refrigerator or keep them in a container that does not touch their tops.  The frosting stays soft to the touch, so plastic wrap won’t be an option.  Your hardest hurdle to clear will be not gobbling them up before sending them off to school.

Little Man got to help sprinkle the baby planets over the frosted cup cakes.

Little Man got to help sprinkle the baby planets over the frosted cup cakes.

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes (Dairy Free)
Ingredients
:
4 very ripe bananas
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup silken tofu
2 eggs
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF and line a mini muffin pan with paper liners. A regular muffin pan can be used, but the cupcakes will spread out a bit rather than growing tall.

    I don't own a mini muffin pan, so we simply used a regular sized pan with mini muffin cup papers.  Little Man had a blast dropping single cups into each hole in the pan.  Of course this task was made more fun with a generous mug of Auntie Erin's Hot Cocoa, hence the straw in the photo.

    I don’t own a mini muffin pan, so we simply used a regular sized pan with mini muffin cup papers. Little Man had a blast dropping single cups into each hole in the pan. Of course this task was made more fun with a generous mug of Auntie Erin’s Hot Cocoa, hence the straw in the photo.

  2. In a large bowl add the bananas, oil, tofu, eggs and brown sugar. Beat them on medium high with electric beaters (or a stand mixer) until well combined. There may still be tiny flecks of tofu sprinkled throughout, but that’s fine. It will melt right in.
    Wet "more or less" ingredients.

    Wet “more or less” ingredients.

    Not the most photogenic image, but no matter how fast I whisked I couldn't get the tofu to incorporate like I wanted it to.  So I switched to the electric beaters, and they did the job.

    Not the most photogenic image, but no matter how fast I whisked I couldn’t get the tofu to incorporate like I wanted it to. So I switched to the electric beaters, and they did the job.

  3. In a medium bowl add the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk the ingredients together to combine.

    Dry ingredients, mostly in the bowl.

    Dry ingredients, mostly in the bowl.

  4. Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet, being careful to not over mix the batter. Fold in the chocolate chips if using.

    The rich, chocolate batter.  Make it truly dairy free by omitting the chocolate chips or using a vegan substitute.

    The rich, chocolate batter. Make it truly dairy free by omitting the chocolate chips or using a vegan substitute.

  5. Spoon a couple of teaspoons of batter into the prepared muffin pans.

    This was Little Man's pan that he filled.  If I had a small cookie scoop for this, it might have been easier for him.  As it was, the two teaspoons were a fun, artistic adventure.

    This was Little Man’s pan that he filled. If I had a small cookie scoop for this, it might have been easier for him. As it was, the two teaspoons were a fun, artistic adventure.

  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

    Once on they were on the rack, it became difficult to to convince Little Man that they weren't there as immediate snack treats.

    Once on they were on the rack, it became difficult to to convince Little Man that they weren’t there as immediate snack treats.

  7. Decorations: Frost the cupcakes with Vegan Chocolate Frosting, then decorate as whimsy dictates. Sprinkles are always fun, or you could use sugared flowers for an upscale look. Little Man’s birthday party this year is space-themed, so he chose tiny sphere sprinkles since they look like “baby planets.”

Click here for a printable version of the Mini Chocolate Cupcakes (Dairy Free) recipe.

Now we're talking...

Now we’re talking…

 

Hunting Dinosaurs on a Perfect Winter Morning

You are hiking in a cedar forest, the sun steaming the sodden ground where ever it breaks through the trees, periodically pausing to listen for a whistled tune.  The whistle leads you to your prey, because you are hunting dinosaurs.  One dinosaur in fact, a piccolodactyl.  Not familiar with that species?  Then you haven’t been watching Little Einsteins where in one episode the kids imagine dinosaur musical instruments, and a baby piccolodactyl gets separated from its mommy.  Thus began our dinosaur hunt through our neighbors forest.

Carving a path through the wilderness in the Enchanted Forest.

Carving a path through the wilderness in the Enchanted Forest.

This was one of those perfect Spring mornings (though it’s no where near Springtime yet, and I’m ever in wait for the snow dump that we’ll get before true Spring hits) when the sun was out and everything was steaming.  The road.  The trees.  The masses of sodden leaves and conifer needles covering the forest floor.  Our breath.  Little Man and I couldn’t stand the thought of staying inside one moment longer than absolutely necessary, so once we were ready for our public we dashed outside with his balance bike.  Then we coasted down to the original farm house on our street where the owners (they are relative newbies like ourselves, having lived here only 6 months longer than we have) have put in tremendous labor to create an accessible wilderness in their forest land.  Their grandson is Little Man’s age, and they miss the sound of little kids running around and have granted us access to their forest (aka Enchanted Forest) whenever we like.  They don’t know it yet, but there are some gooey cinnamon rolls coming their way soon as a partial “thank you.”

The dog leading Little Man on the dinosaur hunt.

The dog leading Little Man on the dinosaur hunt.

It was to their house and forest that we set out for on our steaming morning.  The dog trailed us contentedly, and Little Man constantly called to her to run with us down the paths of the steaming forest. We take turns whistling like a piccolodactyl and hiding behind mammoth cedars while the other searched for the missing dinosaur.  I should say that I was whistling while Little Man did more of a hooting call.  In the end likely more dinosaur-like than my whistling.

A pond that Little Man wills to be a river.

A pond that Little Man wills to be a river.

After much running, hiding and whistling/hooting, it was eventually time to coast back to our house for lunch.  Before lunch could happen, we needed to visit Little Man’s Ladies to gather eggs, and it was on the way to the chicken coop when Little Man and I noticed that once again the farm was living up to the name I gave this blog (see original post).  The sheep were out.  Although this time it was not “sheep” plural, but singular and tiny.  One of the smallest lambs had crawled out under the gate and could not get back under to get to his momma.  Little Man held the egg basket while I cornered and caught the little lamb, then he got to pet the soft black and white head, cooing “sweet little budgie.”

Pooh Bear under arm, ready to return home for lunch.

Pooh Bear under arm, ready to return home for lunch.

On the whole this has been a lovely farm and wilderness morning.  Hiking through the Enchanted Forest hunting for dinosaurs, snacking by the pond on a Lorax stump, rescuing and cuddling a lamb, gathering eggs and tossing food to “the ladies,” tossing a few winter garden scraps to the pigs, and finally lunching on the bounty of our labors (a couple of the eggs made their way into some fried rice for lunch).  All in all, a lovely winter/spring day.

Even if You Are a Killer of Plants, You Can Do This: A Planter of Salad Greens

Until I moved to Indiana I thought of myself as a killer of plants.  If anyone spoke of gardening I would back away horrified, explaining that my green thumb was black.  I had left a trail of dead houseplants across three states, and I could only imagine that a garden would mean large scale plant destruction.

Then we moved to Indiana for my first “real” job as a university professor and we were living in a “real” house.  Not a tiny apartment where you could literally hear your neighbor blow his nose in his kitchen while you were doing dishes, not a duplex, not a loft, a real house complete with a deck.  Our backyard was a gloriously shady space perfect for matches of extreme bocce, but didn’t get enough sun for a garden.  Our deck, on the other hand, was perfect for container gardening.  So off I went to the local warehouse store for plastic gardening containers, and a local nursery for bags of soil, seeds and seedlings.  And I didn’t kill anything.  In fact, things grew like magic.  The pictures I used here are all from my current two salad garden containers, both of which sit atop a deck railing, leaving more room for our deck set and bbq… and toddler play area.

This amazing assortment of lettuces all came from the same packet of seeds.  I believe this was a "gourmet salad mix" and contains both green and red salad greens.  My favorite is the Red Oak Lettuce that you see popping up on the left side of this image.  Needless to say when I'm "thinning" my plants I tend to leave the Red Oak to grow taller and rip out everything around it to eat first.

This amazing assortment of lettuces all came from the same packet of seeds. I believe this was a “gourmet salad mix” and contains both green and red salad greens. My favorite is the Red Oak Lettuce that you see popping up on the left side of this image. Needless to say when I’m “thinning” my plants I tend to leave the Red Oak to grow taller and rip out everything around it to eat first.

The most magical of all the containers in my deck garden was the one for salad greens.  This was the one that I had the least hopes for, and had simply filled it with dirt, drizzled some seeds over it, mixed my seeds through, watered it and moved on.  It ended up being the most amazing of all the boxes.  The greens grew like mad and were gorgeous to boot.  The “moral of this story” is that this is one of the easiest ways to garden that you can do.  Even if you have no space for a garden, maybe you have corner by your front door where you can stash a small garden pot or a window where you can hang a basket or but a box in, you can grow your own lettuce.

For this salad I used primarily the assorted greens "thinned" from my containers.  That just means that there were too many seedlings going in the pot so they can't all grow well.  So I ripped out the seedlings that were growing too close to bigger plants, ripped off their roots, and created an amazing microgreens salad.  I've done this for weeks.  As my larger plants get enough room I'll stop ripping them out and start simply snipping off a few leaves around the edges and keep going from there.  This salad also had the flowering ends of some of my herbs, particularly the oregano.

For this salad I used primarily the assorted greens “thinned” from my containers. That just means that there were too many seedlings going in the pot so they can’t all grow well. So I ripped out the seedlings that were growing too close to bigger plants, ripped off their roots, and created an amazing microgreens salad. I’ve done this for weeks. As my larger plants get enough room I’ll stop ripping them out and start simply snipping off a few leaves around the edges and keep going from there. This salad also had the flowering ends of some of my herbs, particularly the oregano.

If the easy factor isn’t convincing you to try this, lettuce is also one of the more expensive vegetables to buy in the grocery store, as well as being one of the most chemical treated if you can’t afford the organic varieties.  If grown conventionally (with pesticides, etc.), lettuce is nearly impossible to truly clean, meaning that with your salads you are eating traces of whatever chemicals, fertilizers, and insecticides they sprayed on the fields.  If you grow your lettuce at home you control what is sprayed onto the leaves, how long it sits in storage, etc.  It’s a win, win.

This particular salad day coincided with the blooming of my first nasturtium blossoms (yes, they are edible) and the fact that my basil plants were trying to bloom so I pinched off the blooming tips and into the salad bowl they went.

This particular salad day coincided with the blooming of my first nasturtium blossoms (yes, they are edible) and the fact that my basil plants were trying to bloom so I pinched off the blooming tips and into the salad bowl they went.

If you are willing to give this a try, here’s what you do…

  1. Fill your container with dirt and sprinkle the lettuce seeds more or less evenly over the surface. Gently stir your fingers over the dirt to barely cover the seeds with soil.
  2. Water your seeds and keep the soil moist as you wait for the magic to begin.
  3. As your lettuce grows and starts to fill the container you can start thinning your plants.  On the packet of seeds it will tell you how much spacing between plants you should have, which will likely be a couple of inches.  As your plants grow start pulling those that are too close together, tearing off their roots, and washing them up nicely to eat with your dinner.  Your “thinning” of the extra seeds ends up being a series of amazing microgreen salads.

There is something amazing about having a still sun-warmed salad with your dinner on the sun-bathed deck.  Give it a try and happy gardening!

Salad Green Container Garden

Oh, Canada!

My next post will continue the recipes from Dave’s Graduation Party, so if you are waiting for those do not despair.  They are coming, and soon!  This post is a “break from your expected programming” inspired by the fact that Canada Day is just around the corner.  I wanted to share this craft idea with you before the holiday has passed us by, hence the interruption in the grad party recipes.  Spoiler Alert!!!  If you are one of Little Man’s Papas avert your eyes, since this is also your belated Father’s Day gift.  Well, OK… you can peek…  I just wish that I’d been able to get the shirts to you before this was posted.  🙂

The original idea comes from the workmanfamily website, and I thought it was fantastic!  If you would like to see their original post, please click here.

I thought that the workmanfamily post’s idea of using a kid’s hand print as the maple leaf in a Canadian flag was brilliant, and the bonus is that it doesn’t take many supplies beyond a t-shirt and fabric paint.  From the original wormanfamily post they shared the idea of using an empty cereal box for the cardboard to put inside the shirt to keep the paint from seeping from one side of the fabric to the back side as well.  Just another example of renew, reuse, recycle.
Love it!

I was able to get good quality t-shirts on one of those major chain mega sales!  I used a torn up box from our recycle bin for the cardboard between the shirt layers.

I was able to get good quality t-shirts on one of those major chain mega sales! I used a torn up box from our recycle bin for the cardboard between the shirt layers.

I used a small plastic plate to hold the fabric paint, and it was just the perfect size for Little Man's hand.

I used a small plastic plate to hold the fabric paint, and it was just the perfect size for Little Man’s hand.

We did three shirts in one go, so set up the little work area for Little Man's hand prints.

We did three shirts in one go, making a little assembly line for Little Man’s hand prints.

Then I started the bars.  I began by painting the main column.

Then I started the bars. I began by painting the main column.

Then I went back and darkened in the column.

Then I went back and darkened in the column.

They I went back and strengthened the straight lines on all four edges.

They I went back and strengthened the straight lines on all four edges.  I know the edges don’t look straight here, but that’s partly from the rotation of the image.  It’s also a craft, so I can claim “rustic” just like in cooking and that makes it look better, right?

Oh, Canada!

Oh, Canada!

Two shirts for Papas and one for Daddy!

Two shirts for Papas and one for Daddy!

This Canada Day marks our one year anniversary for living in this amazing nation!  What an awesome and crazy year this has been.  I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store…

Magic Garden Songs, First Strawberries and Kids in the Garden

A week into our gardening season and I haven’t killed anything yet.  Yet.  I count that as a success.

As a professor that studies food politics and who has worked with community supported agricuture (CSAs in the States) and small farmers for years, it is funny to be on this end of the food production scale.  This is the first place that we’ve lived where I have been able to have real garden space, not just containers.  I am also, however, surrounded by gardens tended by expert gardeners who have been at it for years.  I am relying heavily on their knowledge, picking their brains about everything from how to prune tomato plants to the best time to water plants and which plants grow better in compost versus manure-based soils.

I also find myself comparing my funky garden to their amazing plots.  Due to the construction of our garden space, I didn’t get my seeds planted until a bit late in the season, and most were seeds sown into the ground rather than seedlings.  So my neighbors have a few weeks of a head start on me, and their gardens look like magic.  They look like a sort of Magician’s Apprentice version of gardening.  These staid Canadians must go out to their gardens in the cool morning mist, and sing a song conjuring their plants to rise as they slowly lift their arms.  Green shoots obligingly spring from the earth at their command, quickly growing into full fledged fruiting plants.  Or so it seems.

I find myself greedily staring at the dark brown soil every morning, looking for new green shoots that will hopefully provide my table with gorgeous (or at least delicious) veges in the not too distant future.  Little Man’s favorite thing to do in the evenings before dinner is to go to the green house and play with the strawberries.  He moves from plant to plant, carefully holding each berry in his little hand before moving on to the next.

The other day the first strawberry was finally ripe, and I plucked it from the plant to share it with him.  I took a bite of one of the warmest, sweetest strawberries I’ve ever had and held the other half out to Little Man to sample.  I thought this would be a wonderful moment, sharing with him the first fruit of the season.  He, on the other hand, looked at me in horror that I would eat one of his small red toys that just happened to be growing on a plant in the greenhouse.  At that moment I thought of all the blogs, web pages, farmers market people, etc. who talk about how meaningful it can be for little kids to grow their own food, how for many kids this helps them start eating more vegetables, and how angels sing whenever a young child helps tend a garden.  Apparently we are going to need a bit more help in this area…

A Week on Our Own: The End

I am so glad to have gotten to the end of this week!  It was a great week all together, full of fantastic accomplishments, reuniting with good friends, and some awesome Mommy/Toddler time.  It was, however, also a long week of single parenthood (Much love to all the single parents out there!  You’re amazing and don’t ever forget it!), a week of feeling like I should be somewhere else, and a lot of laundry… a lot of laundry.

Day 6 for Dave was spent jaunting from one airport to the next, each one a bit more disappointing than the last.  For Little Man and I the morning was spent at the Hazelwood Herb Farm in Cedar, and then a lot of cleaning… a lot of cleaning.

The Herb Farm was by far the bright spot for both of our day, and it’s finally convinced me that I’m trying to rush Spring along a bit too quickly for Vancouver Island.  The minute the temperatures got into the high teens in Celsius (that’s 60s… I think… in Fahrenheit…) I feel like I should be out in the garden planting something.  Except that it’s still pretty cold at night, and the ground is still pretty cold, and nothing that I want to plant (peppers, basil, etc.) is ready for that type of temperature.  This became very clear to me at the herb farm where they sell the types of plants that currently do good at this time of year.  Little Man and I came away with some great herbs (oregano, thyme, chives, and sage), as well as celery.  I’ve never tried celery in my garden (or container box) before, but I thought that it might look like a great dinosaur forest for Little Man.  So like for most things, including parenting and gardening, I’m learning that a little patience goes a long way.  But right about now, I’m really impatient for Dave to be home!!!

Day 7: Homecoming!!!

Welcome Home!Dave finally made it home this morning.  Little Man has been counting the number of breakfasts he had to get through before Daddy would be home, so this one he ate with relish and was constantly glancing at the door expecting Daddy to come waltzing in the minute his food was finished.  Not quite…  But after breakfast and the crazy dance of getting myself and my toddler ready for public appearances, we finally got the long awaited text that the ferry was pulling in, and then we were off to the car.

It’s always good that I give a buffer zone of time just for the process of getting the few meters (Canada-speak there… Did you catch it?) from our front door to our car.  This time it was the two farm dogs that caught Little Man’s fancy, but then he had to go say “hi” to his lady friends, the chickens.  At that point the little bitty “not dog,” as the farmer calls him, was running with him, Little Man took the opportunity to make a mad dash across the farm towards the sheep pen and his favorite hill at the back of the property.  Eventually the dogs and the toddler were corralled and we got to the ferry terminal just before Dave made it out of the building.

The rest of the day was a blur of Daddy and Little Man cuddles, nap time for all, and much playing.  You could almost hear the “reunited and it feels so good” chorus as the two of them raced around the yard, Little Man “cutting the grass” with his toy lawnmower and chasing his dad.  I have a feeling that the upcoming week will be one of recovering from exhaustion and gearing up for more dissertation deadlines, but at least we’re all together and now there are two of us to clean up toddler messes.  And there’s the awesome sign, too.

Checking the fluids to ensure the mower runs smoothly.

Checking the fluids to ensure the mower runs smoothly.

Lots of toddler cackling here...

Lots of toddler cackling here…