First Fruits

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Picking juicy, ripe fruit is a beloved summer and fall activity. We’ve just enjoyed our first cherries of the season from our local “u-pick” orchards. We picked at least eight and a half pounds, and I think I have a good 3 hours of pitting ahead of me. Pie and preserves are on the way. What’s your favorite summertime fruit? Do you have any recipes to share?

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Mad Lib Magic

IMG_2740_2We are big fans of mad libs in our house. For Cooper’s Star Wars LEGO birthday party, I ordered mad lib books for the goody bags. The mad libs have been a big hit with the Curious Kids, especially on road trips.

As a mom/teacher/writer, I love that mad libs help the boys recognize parts of speech. To complete the mad libs, they have to know what adjectives, verbs or nouns are. They are getting practice with sentence structure all in the name of fun.

Here’s a MadLib (MS Word) I wrote for a special Star Wars fan, Renn. Learn about Renn and his galactic battle with epilepsy here. May The Force be with you, Renn!

Egyptian mummy birthday

Frequent readers of this blog know about Finley’s love affair with Egyptian mummies. Ever since he saw his first mummy at the Getty Villa, he’s been obsessed. So, when it came time to celebrate his 4th birthday, we opted for an Egyptian mummy party.

He took these mummy cupcakes to school. We spread a thin layer of icing on the cupcakes, and then used a flat tip to apply the bandages. The eyes were mini M&Ms dotted with food-safe decorator markers.

Because I couldn’t find a lot of Egyptian decorations, I used my newly acquired Silhouette to print and cut the gift bags and banner. Most of the artwork came from PhillipMartin.com, which has some adorable clip art. My mom used an online hieroglyphics translator to find out what the kids’ names would be in Egyptian. The gift bags included mummy pretzel sticks made from drizzled white chocolate and M&M eyes, as well as an Egyptian activity book and bookmark from Amazon.

We planned three games. The first was a chariot race. My mom made a pharaoh costume for Spider Man. He rode in the “chariot,” which was the trailer for our wagon outfitted with a harness (thanks to my husband and mom). We timed each child as he ran the course, with the fastest child winning. There was a catch — if King TutanSpidey fell out, the child had to stop and put him back in.

Just for fun, we let the children take turns wrapping each other with toilet paper to make mummies.

Finally, I downloaded The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” for a modified version of musical chairs. Instead of chairs, I printed out Egyptian clip art and glued it to card stock. The children had to scramble for squares instead of chairs. Those who were “out” got to walk like an Egyptian on the sidelines.

For the cake, we baked a sheet cake and covered it with icing and graham cracker “sand.” We cut graham crackers to make pyramids and then added a Nile river. We used LEGO Pharaoh’s Quest figures for decoration.

The birthday was a success!

$1 investment, priceless play

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I don’t know about you, but this is what happens when we buy new toys. Day 1: The kids play endlessly with the new toy. The day-to-day bickering subsides. I am in heaven. Day 2: The boys still play almost exclusively with the new toy, but even now interest is starting to wane. Fighting ensues. Day 3: What new toy? The boys forget about the new toy completely, and it’s back to the same old, same old.

Researchers on curiosity talk about the importance of novelty in sparking curiosity, but, honestly, who can buy a new toy every three days? So it’s nice when we can rely upon some ways of injecting novelty into play without buying a new LEGO kit or Hexbug habitat addition.

I caught the boys squirting my husband’s shaving cream in the bathroom sink. Fortunately, they hadn’t made too much of a mess when they asked, “Mommy, can we use Daddy’s shaving cream to build a tall, tall tower?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Outside.” In minutes we were outside squirting shaving cream on our outdoor dining table. (Bonus: The table is now clean and fresh smelling.) They squirted it, ran their fingers through it. Then they decided to drive their cars through it.

“Look, this car is having a car wash.” They ran over to our water table to wash the suds off.

Injecting a $1 can of shaving cream into their play resulted in an hour of happy, peaceful, outdoor playtime. Thank you, novelty!

And here’s my favorite quote from their shaving cream adventures, “If you aren’t getting dirty, you aren’t having fun.” I think they heard that one on Curious George.

Almost April Fool

April Fools’ Day came early to our house this year with a visit from Punxsutawney Phyllis. Phyllis, as you may recall, was on her world tour to promote her newest book, April Fool, Phyllis! Now the real April Fools’ Day (Sunday) has snuck up on me.

This year the boys are old enough to understand practical jokes and the  purpose of the day. They love telling jokes and think just about anything is funny. It got me thinking, what sort of pranks could I play on them to celebrate the day? So, without further ado, here are a few ideas I’ve come up with thus far.

  • Make a fake pillow mommy under the covers and wait for the unsuspecting boys to rush in and announce, “Time to wake up!”
  • Dye their milk green and tell them it came from a green cow. (FamilyFun had a similar idea.)
  • Declare it backwards day and let them wear their clothes backwards.
  • Give them an apple…with a gummy worm climbing out of it.
  • In the spirit of the Punxsutawney clan, create my own treasure hunt. I have to think carefully about the prize though. No maple candies for us with Easter and all that Easter candy right around the corner.

Do you have a favorite April Fools’ Day prank? I’d love to hear your ideas for injecting some fun into the day.

Building Curiosity and more

Rover test yard

We recently took a field trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to visit the Mars rover test yard. As some of you may recall, my eldest, Cooper, was obsessed with the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, for at least a third of 2011. (NOTE: Curiosity lands on the Red Planet August 5th — 6 months from yesterday.)

The rover test yard is a simulated martian surface composed of dirt, large rocks and hills. The yard houses Curiosity’s “twin,” a second rover almost exactly like Curiosity. Scientists can test out techniques and fix problems using the test rover before trying things out on Mars. While we were there, we saw how Curiosity will use the sun to orient itself on Mars. Cooper also got to “drive” the rover. After commands were punched into the computer, our eager five-year-old got to hit the enter key. One of the most amazing things about the rover was the sound it makes while it moves. It sounds exactly like someone crushing aluminum cans.

During our trip, we visited one of the labs and toured the JPL museum, which chronicles every JPL mission to date. We ran into several groups of schoolchildren and boy scouts. It was a cool place!

To learn more about the Curiosity mission, see the JPL Web site. On Youtube, JPL has a great series, called Building Curiosity ,about all the new rover technologies.

In other news, writer extraordinaire Beth Stilborn granted me the coveted Kreativ Blogger award. It’s almost like getting a Pulitzer. (Hey, I said almost). So, “thanks Beth!” As part of the award, I get to introduce you to six fantastic bloggers and tell you 10 things about myself. First, the bloggers who shall receive the Kreativ Blogger Award are:

Check out these great blogs, please!

Now, 10 quick things about me:

  1. On my nightstand: “Curious?” by Todd Kashdan and a P.D. James’s “Cover Her Face”
  2. Most recently recorded item on my DVR: “Wild Animal Baby Explorers”
  3. Favorite color: Red
  4. Most delicious thing I ate recently: Me Gusta’s tamales. The pineapple is to die for.
  5. Best recent purchase: Levenger’s Nantucket Lap Reader (using it every day for 12 x 12)
  6. Best part of the Super Bowl – game or commercials: The game (if only the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing)
  7. Early bird or night owl: early bird!
  8. Pet peeve: Having dirty feet. I will not walk around barefoot outside.
  9. What drives my kids crazy: I sing all the time.
  10. Dream vacation: I still haven’t made it to Rome despite taking an entire class on Renaissance Italian Art History.

Feeling the Love

Wow! A fellow children’s writer/teacher/blogger, Cheryl Velasquez, recently awarded me the Liebster Blog Award. Cheryl and I “met” via the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge and our über-supportive Facebook group. Check out her Book Nook blog when you get a chance, as she does a lot of great picture book reviews.

The intent of the Liebster award is to help drive traffic to blogs with fewer than 200 followers (yikes – that’s me!). As part of the award, I am supposed to share five things about me and pass the Liebster torch on to five worthy bloggers. So here it goes:

1) I used to teach yoga to seniors b.c. (before children). My oldest student was 92.

2) I wash and reuse Ziploc bags (most of them anyway). Frugal? Green? You decide.

3) I enjoy doing taxes and anything that requires an Excel spreadsheet or a checklist.

4) I know what Liebster means — beloved — because I lived in Germany for three years.

5) I don’t watch very much TV, but I am currently addicted to Masterpiece’s “Downton Abbey.”

In no particular order, I’d like to pass some Liebster love on to:

Go forth and spread the love!

Let it snow!

Southern California has been awfully sunny — and warm — this winter. Still, Finley had a “snowball” fight at school Monday without a real snowflake in sight. His teacher invited each of us to bring a bag of cotton balls. We pooled these together to make our “snow.” The kids had lots of fun throwing the snow at each other (especially at their teacher) and throwing it up in the air to mimic a snowfall. The only bummer was that we couldn’t make snowmen out of it.

If you want to try this at home, choose a room with hard surface flooring like tile or wood. You could even use your garage. It’s easier when you can sweep the snow into a pile. My mom’s school uses balled up tissue paper instead of cotton balls to make “snow.” Either way, the smiles are definitely worth the mess, especially if real snow is in short supply.