Valentine’s Day Playdough

For a quick morning craft, we whipped up some Valentine’s Day playdough, adapted from my Batman Playdough post.  Add some pink, purple and/or red food coloring, a pinch of glitter and tadah- playdough straight from Cupid’s heart.  I stuffed some into a lone mason jar, wrapped some twine around the top, added a tag and called it a playdough Valentine; a perfect goodie for any Valentine’s Day party. 

vday playdo

Here are some other V-day crafts that I love:

Stained glass hearts from Martha Stewart.

vday blog2

Here’s one I remember making when I was a kid.  From AuntAnnie.com

vday blog3

A cute wall hanging from Crafts Kaboose.

vday wall hanging

Some heart-shaped crayons for your little Cupids to make their own Valentines with.

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And pretty much everything from this blog.

vday blog

Happy V-day Crafting!!

 

 

I-Should-Open-A-Bakery Cookies

Here’s my first post of the series “Bake Sale Saturday”…enjoy!

Big, soft, chewy and full of chocolate chips.  A pretty accurate way to describe these cookies.  After taking a bite, you may think about quitting your day job and becoming the next Mrs. Fields.  (Alright, keep your day job.  But they’re pretty dang delicious).

What you need:

*2 cups flour

*1/2 teaspoon baking soda

*1/2 teaspoon salt

*3/4 cup butter, melted (I microwaved mine until *just* melted, then whisked)

*1 cup packed brown sugar

*1/2 cup white sugar

*1 tablespoon vanilla

*1 egg (room temp)

*1 egg yolk

*Chocolate chips (as many as you want)

cookies

What you need to do:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Do not grease a cookie sheet- use a good quality, non-stick one.  Sift together flour/baking soda/salt.  Set aside.

In another bowl, mix together both sugars then add the melted butter, stirring well, until creamy.  Add the vanilla.  Whisk together the egg and egg yolk, then add, creaming together ingredients.   Slowly mix in the sifted ingredients, stirring until well blended (I feel like you can’t over-mix!).

Then add the chocolate chips, stirring by hand.  I had open bags of chocolate, white chocolate and butterscotch chips leftover from Christmas baking,  so I added all of them.  No complaints there.

cookies2

Refrigerate the dough for at least 30-45 minutes.  (I know, you want the cookies NOW.  But with the dough being firmer, the cookies will hold their shape better.  It’s worth it.  Pop the dough in the freezer if you’re impatient).

Drop the chilled dough onto ungreased cookie sheets using 1/4 cup as your measurement.  Place them 3 inches apart.

Good excuse to use my new baking sheets

Good excuse to use my new baking sheets

 

Bake for about 15 minutes.  You’ll have to watch closely, as the baking time can make or break the cookies.  You want them to be just slightly browning at the edges, but still look a little doughy in the center.  This is because you’ll leave the cookies to continue to bake on the sheet for the next few minutes.  This guarantees superb chewiness!

Nothing like warm cookies

Nothing like warm cookies

Ta-dah!!

Ta-dah!!

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (Unless You’re at Costco)

We’ve all done it.  Or I tell myself that, anyway.  Attempt to feed our children (and ourselves) lunch–and a healthy, well-balanced one at that–solely on free samples at Costco.  Why is it that kids (at least my kid) are such picky eaters at home, but suddenly develop an impressively vast pallet upon entering the doors of Costco?  Macaroni and cheese at home?  Only if it’s shaped liked dinosaurs.  Yogurt?  Only if it comes in a tube with Sponge Bob on the front.   Vegetables with texture?  Forget it.  But at Costco:  Chicken Parmesan?  Well of course!  Tomato bisque?  Bring it on!  Spinach dip and fancy, aged cheese?  More please!

On a recent trip to the Free Samples Warehouse, my son was acting as if we’d been starving him for the past week.  He couldn’t get enough of the chicken parmesan, and as I waited in a line longer than that of a new Halo release, people actually shoved and reached and cut in front to get their hands on a paper cup of microwaved noodles.  Just as I was reaching for the coveted sample, a hungry family of five swooped over the red tray like vultures, licking and smacking their lips, saving their sporks for round two.

The third time I went back for the chicken teriyaki meatballs I actually removed  my red jacket in hopes that the sample guy didn’t recognize me and withhold my skewer.  I watched the workers, cheerfully donned in plastic gloves and hair nets, and I wondered about the thoughts that must be running through their heads as they witnessed, day in and day out, the swarms of greedy, pushy, desperate Costco customers, unable to keep a line formed, worse than school children.  I wonder if these sample providers look at the human race in a different light than others.

What is she really thinking?

What is she really thinking?

Sampling at Costco is, apparently, a very popular, well-known and widely-covered subject.  Upon Googling “samples at Costco,” you’ll be provided a variety of information from guides to free food grazing and New York Post articles revealing the best days to get free samples to ways that you can save a whopping $2000 a year by taking advantage of Costco samples.

As one Yelp-er laid out the rules of sampling:

To All The People At Costco Eating The Free Samples:

1. Can you not go up to the free sample table with your big ass cart, and/or surrounded by your entire family??
2. Put your cart out of everyone’s way, get your sample, and move on.  Don’t stand there pretending you’re going to buy it when you know all you wanted was a free bite. 
3. Don’t stand there forever talking with the person giving out samples about the product. Most of the questions you’re asking can be answered by just reading the damn box. 
4. Don’t get greedy. One sample is enough. If you like it that much, buy the product. Or go to the food court and buy a cheap hotdog/churro/chicken bake.

These quarter-sized portions of food that we already have in our freezers (sometimes for months) somehow become irresistible to us and, within the safe walls of Costco, we forget our professionalism, class and manners, turning into something else.  Something that can only be explained through the novelty of the words “free” and “sample.”  No matter what our income is, what nationality or religion we are, or who we voted for…  When it comes to free samples, we’ve GOTTA GET US SOME!!**

** This is a reflection on myself and the other sample-searchers I see at Costco every time I go.  To those of you who get in and get out with just your grocery list: you have awesome self-control.

What’s on This Weekend?

Many of us are looking forward to a 3-day weekend!  With (a little) sun in the forecast, there may be a chance to get outdoors and enjoy this winter weather!  From nature walks and fun runs to a model railroad show and concerts, here are a few options for your weekend:

weekend

 

Outdoor Fun

Tails & Trails Little Tykes

Nature-loving tots: this is for you!  Start your morning off with a story at the Seward Park Audubon Center, then head outdoors to explore the trails of Seward Park!  Walks are easy and less than one mile in length.

Seward Park Audubon Center  /  Saturday, Jan. 19 @ 10am-11am.

Ages 1-3  /  $2/person

seward

 

MLK Weekend Run @ Magnuson Park

Get the whole family out for a jog at this Saturday’s MLK Run!   5k, 10k, 15k or 400 meter Kids Dash!  Register online.

Magnuson Park  /  Saturday, Jan 19 @ 10:30am

$3-$28

 

Ranger Program: Wetland Birds

Take your little bird-lovers to the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center this Sunday and learn about our feathered friends that inhabit wetland ecosystems.

Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center  /  Sunday, Jan 20 @ 2-2:30pm

Ages 5 and up  /  FREE

 

Indoor Fun

Hawaii in Your Own Backyard (Seattle Aquarium)

Get a dose of the tropics this weekend at the Seattle Aquarium!  Discover and explore some of the unique sea life native to the Hawaiian Islands.  As with any event, the Aquarium will feature hands-on activities and special diver shows!

Seattle Aquarium  /  Jan 19-21 @10:30am-3pm

Free with admission

otter

 

Model Railroad Show

Calling all conductors!  Bring your little train enthusiasts to the Pacific Science Center this weekend for the 39th Annual Model Railroad Show.  One of the Center’s most-loved programs, the show will feature dozens of model railroad displays and layouts, crafts & activities galore, and –of course– trains for kids and tots to ride!   Reference here for specific train times.

Pacific Science Center  /  Jan 19-21 @ 9:45am -6pm

Free with admission

railroad

 

Music / Concerts

Caspar Babypants Concert

Caspar Babypants is making his way to West Seattle this Saturday for some musical fun!

High Point Community Center  /  Saturday, Jan 19 @ 10:30am

$3 advance tickets, $5 day-of ($20 max for families)

 

Eats & Beats: Eric Ode

KidsQuest Museum’s popular Eats & Beats program welcomes the much-loved Eric Ode this Saturday evening!  Come for music, stories, puppets and pizza!

KidsQuest Children’s Museum  /  Saturday, Jan 19 @ 5:30pm-8pm

$8-$12 / $3 Jet City Pizza & lemonade

 

Here’s to a great weekend!  For more indoor play areas check out my previous post featuring indoor hot spots!

Small Hands, Big Impressions: Volunteering Opportunities for Children

Following my recent blog post about embracing the little, simple things, I wanted to include a post about volunteering with little ones in tow.  Though pint-sized, our children possess a great ability to bring joy to others; to help those in need and bring a smile to anyone’s face. 

The act of helping others also is an immensely important life lesson, teaching empathy and nurturing the compassion that I believe all children are born with.  As parents, we are in a wonderful position to continue to cultivate this compassion by presenting opportunities, being good examples and showing our kids that volunteering can be fun.

Here are a few ideas:

Book Drive

Have your kids round up some of their old books to donate to local hospitals or shelters.  Get your friends and neighbors involved too!

book-drive Truck[1]

Get Creative

Contact a local nursing home or hospital to see if they’d welcome having children make cards for residents.  Cards can be for birthdays or holidays, or just to say “I’m thinking about you!”

Senior Centers

Contact a local nursing home or senior center to see if they would welcome cards, crafts or baked goods from your children.  There’s nothing like a smiling 5-year old holding a plate full of home-made cookies to brighten someone’s day.

Secret Shopper

The next time you head to the grocery store, grab an extra basket and have your kiddo pick out some (healthy!) items.  Then drop them off at a local food bank or shelter.

Partaaayy!

Host a toy drive.  Make a fun, themed party and ask each guest to bring a new, unwrapped gift (doesn’t have to be big or expensive!).  Then have your kids come with you to donate the toys to a Children’s Hospital.

Make a Blanket

Fleece blankets are easy to make and don’t require sewing. The blankets can be donated to a Children’s Hospital or a daycare center.  Easy blanket-making instructions here:

Love Your Animals

Most kids will love this one: head out to a local shelter or humane society and give your furry friends some love!  Donations of toys, food, litter, old towels, etc., are always welcome, and many shelters allow people to volunteer as dog walkers or cat cuddlers. 

volunteer4

Get Outdoors

Let your kids play Park Ranger for a day.  Your local Parks and Recreation Department may need help on trail clean-up.  Kids can help staff clean and/or create trails, plant trees or flowers and maintain park facilities. 

Here’s one of my favorite volunteer/charity ideas:

Both My Stuff Bags and Bags 4 Kids provide “comfort bags” to children when they have been displaced due to neglect, abuse or abandonment.  During the transition between their home and the shelter or foster care, these kiddos often have nothing of their own (or sometimes transfer what belongings they do have in trash bags).  These charities assemble backpacks and duffel bags (stuffed with blankets, books, toys, toothbrushes, etc.) and hand them off to social services, police stations, crisis shelters and foster agencies, where they are then given to the children upon their arrival.  The bags are a symbol of comfort, hope and new beginnings to these children; something they can call their very own. 

volunteer1

Here are some great volunteering resource websites, specifically geared towards family and children volunteer opportunities:

Kids Serve Global

Doing Good Together

 Big Hearted Families

The Volunteer Family

And here are 25 more awesome volunteer resources from Red Tricycle.

Please share some of your own volunteering ideas or experiences!

 

 

 

Pulp Fiction Muffins

Ok, I swear I’m not turning this into a food blog, but I do have to post about these muffins I just made.  I used pulp from the juicer to make them (and yes, they taste great).  I’ll call them Pulp Fiction Muffins.

I received a Jack Lalanne Juicer from Santa this Christmas, and today was its inauguration.

fruit

The juice came out fantastic.  But what do you do with a load of carrot/beet/celery/apple/kale/cucumber pulp?  Compost?  Feed to farm animals?  Toss it out?

pulp

I’ve heard that one can use leftover pulp to bake with (or make soups, salsas, etc) but, honestly, anything with the word “pulp” in it just doesn’t sound very appetizing to me.

But I tried it.

And it’s awesome.

I made muffins, adapted from a recipe I found here.

I changed a few things:

The recipe calls for grated zucchinni or carrots.  I used all the veggie pulp from my juicer(carrots, kale, beets, cucumer, celery, apple) and it still tasted great.  I used butter, not oil.  I also used 1/4 cup honey plus 1/2 cup brown sugar.  I omitted nuts/raisins, and added a touch more cinnamon.  I used a large muffin pan, and after greasing the pan with butter and filling to 2/3 full, they came out perfectly.   Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes (depending on how quickly your oven bakes).

muffins

I can’t wait to have my 3-year-old try these.  Vegetables in the muffins?? Shhhh…..

Batman Playdough

Since I mentioned homemade playdough in my last post and feel that, having a mom blog, I should mention playdough somewhere in a post, here you go:

Homemade Playdough a la Seattle Travel Mom

There’s more than one way to create your own playdough, and definitely more than one blog to find a recipe on.

Here’s a simple, oldie but goodie:

playdo1

Stir 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tspns cream of tartar in a medium-sized saucepan.

Add 1 cup water, 1 tbspn oil, continue stirring over medium heat.

playdough2

I added food coloring at this point (blue, “ONLY blue,” to be exact), squeezing out more color until my son was satisfied with the precise shade of Batman Blue.

When dough starts sticking and forming a ball, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

(Or until you can start kneading it without getting an unfortunate and potentially embarrassing playdough burn).

playdough3

Tada!  Warm, blue, homemade playdough that (almost) don’t cost a thing! 

playdough4

What are some of your favorite playdough recipes?  Variations? 

It’s Not Just a Blog Post: Renewed Inspiration for the New Year.

I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block lately.  Partly from being so busy with the holidays and many other family functions and gatherings, but mostly, I have to admit, from lack of inspiration since the Newtown tragedy.  Since that day, it’s been difficult for me to put much effort into writing about holiday happenings, kid-friendly events or rainy day crafts.  In comparison to the magnitude of loss and suffering, I saw any potential post quite unsubstantial and pretty much meaningless.

But as Christmas came and went and we welcomed another new year, it became apparent to me that these small and ordinary posts are actually, in their own way, very much important after all.  Whether they be my own ideas of the best indoor play areas,  another mom’s post on a DIY Pottery Barn play kitchen, or someone else’s best homemade play dough recipe, these are the small, happy and simple moments that we must cherish with our children.  These are the moments in time that will stand out to us, clear as yesterday, as we drop our kids off at college, when we walk them down the aisle on their wedding day, while we hold their own babies.  These are all the sort of moments that we must collect like grains of sand in an hour glass with not enough hours, and imprint on our hearts like homemade play dough. 

skipping rocks 2

So, from the evil that the world witnessed last month, let’s turn our eyes more than ever to the good.  From helping others, which we have already begun to do and see, many of which through the 26 Acts of Kindness; to putting our phones, computers, tablets and i-anythings down for a bit, and devoting 100% of ourselves to the world of our little ones.  Whether it be visiting an indoor play area, making a DIY kitchen, or playing with your homemade play dough.

skipping rocks

And more to come.  Check back for some great kid-friendly volunteering opportunities!

 

O Christmas Lights, O Christmas Lights

Christmas is right around the corner, but there’s still time to squeeze some more holiday spirit out of the season.  Christmas light viewing is right up there on the list with cookie baking and Christmas tree hunting.  There’s not much that beats bundling up with mittens and hot cocoa and setting off through the neighborhoods in search of the best Christmas light displays.  And Seattle can definitely do Christmas lights.

Looking for a quintessential Christmas village, 10-foot candy canes and all? There’s a display for that.  A few grandiose nativity scenes?  There’s a display for that.  Lighted trains and inflatables?  There’s a display for that.  If neighborhood spectacles aren’t enough for your little elves, there are plenty of more options on a grander scheme, from Woodland Park’s WildLights to Bellevue’s Garden d’Lights.  And the best part?  It doesn’t cost a thing!  Except perhaps a couple of cocoas.

whistler cocoa

Olympic Manor

Numero Uno on my list for best light displays in Seattle is Olympic Manor, near Greenwood.  Like Candy Cane Lane, their homeowners association “encourages” each house to decorate for Christmas, and from what I could tell, each house went above and beyond a string of lights.  Plus, it’s much bigger than Candy Cane Lane, so there’s no traffic jams (and more lights!)

Start at Northwest 85th Street and 23rd Avenue Northwest

xmas lites  olympic manor

Candy Cane Lane

Of course I still love one of Seattle’s longest running display of lights!  The charming neighborhood of Park Road in Ravenna has been lighting up Christmas since 1941.  I still remember driving past the beautifully decorated Tudor homes with my grandma and brothers over 20 years ago.

Dec 15 – Jan 1, 4pm-11pm (midnight on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve).

Northeast Park Road, off Ravenna Boulevard

xmas lites candy cane lane

Greenlake Christmas

Head to Greenlake for a music & lights show!  When you arrive, tune your radio to 102.1 FM, and watch as the magic happens!  30,000+ lights are synchronized to music.

Greenlake, 5pm-11pm daily

xmas lites greenlake

Keener’s Christmas

For over a decade, Bothell resident and Christmas enthusiast, Jeff Keener, has been spreading holiday cheer through over 100,000 lights.  Visitors are welcome to drive through the huge circular driveway while admiring 1.5 acres of light displays.

Daily 6pm-10pm (11pm on Weekends)

16504 112 Place, Bothell

Kerry Park Viewpoint 

Kerry Park isn’t just great for sunsets; it also boasts one of the best views of Seattle’s Christmas lights.  From the gorgeously decorated homes of Queen Anne HIll to the tree topping the Space Needle, the views are like a postcard from the North Pole.

211 W. Highland Dr.

***For more light displays (plus other holiday happenings, check out MyNorthwest.com

***And please add your favorite light displays!!

The Perfect Christmas Tree

It may be the most monumental of Christmas holiday traditions: the choosing of the tree.  It must be the perfect tree; precise height and width (of course, not forgetting the need for ample space for maximum presents), superior in color and fragrance, with branches suited for flawless ornament-hanging.

Sometimes dad picks it out, hemming and hawing about how he would most effectively secure the tree to the roof of the car.  Maybe mom picks it out, secretly delighted with her Martha Stewart eye and knack for choosing a tree which will a). continuously give off that fresh pine-needle scent, and b). not continuously shed pine needles all over the floor.

This year it was our 3-year-old who picked the tree.  Out of rows and rows of beautiful trees, our son zoned in on one, waaaaaayyyy down towards the other side of the U-Cut field.  He ran to this perfect, special tree, unseen yet by us, only on his radar, his pointer finger leading the way.  When we finally reached it, our son with a big, satisfied grin on his face, we all agreed: we had found our perfect tree.

We visited McMurtrey’s Red-Wood Tree Farm in Redmond, a beautiful tree farm with over 20 years of Christmas tree experience.  McMurtrey’s sells from both their U-Cut field and their pre-cut lot.  (The U-Cut has closed for the season- it’s so popular that it only stays open for a couple of weeks.  The pre-cut trees are available and ready to go)!  For U-Cutters, McMurtrey’s offers hand saws and wagon rides from the field back to the lot.  The staff is incredibly helpful, and will shake & bale your tree for free, as well as secure it to your car.  The complimentary cocoa and candy canes are always a plus. 

McMurtrey's Tree Farm

McMurtrey’s Tree Farm

Some Christmas Tree trivia from the McMurtrey’s experts:

Douglas Firs do the best at low altitude and are the traditional tree in this area.

Noble Firs are the “premiere tree.”  They last the longest, so are a good bet for families that like to buy their tree right after Thanksgiving, keeping it up through the New Year.

Fraser Firs are more popular on the East Coast, with needles that are blue on the bottom and green on the top.

Grand Firs have softer needles that are flat and strong, great for ornament-hanging.  It also has a strong citrus aroma.

The perfect tree!

The perfect tree!

With Christmas trees on the mind, get out the craft supplies!  Here’s a simple craft from Mommyapolis.com, perfect for younger kiddos.  Find directions here. 

Perfect for preschoolers

Perfect for preschoolers

Now how about some ornaments?  I found this cute snow globe ornament craft on icraftdaily.com.  Find directions here.

Snow globe: Easy

Snow globe: Easy

Taking the snow globe craft a step further….. Find directions here.

Snow globe: Easy/Intermediate

Snow globe: Easy/Intermediate

And we’ve got to have that sweet treat!  Here’s a tasty Rice Krispie treat from Positively Splendid.

xmas tree treat

Happy Holidays!