A spring fun box

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0471

I wanted to show you the finished version of the fun box Maia and I have been working on. After Maia pasted the pictures on the shoe box, I covered the whole thing with Mod Podge to help it last a bit longer and also used some colored construction paper to finish the ragged edge of the hole in the top.

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0470 Then we sat down together and came up with activities to include in the box — mostly the ones I already mentioned at the end of my 31 Activities post, but she did add a couple of her own, including "make gingerbread men cookies." I thought about just including spring-y activities, such as make a spring nature table (which I want to do soon!), pick a bouquet of spring flowers, plant a little garden pot/plot, make a paper mache egg, dye Easter eggs, etc., but in the end decided to stick to my original idea of having a box of quick and easy activities that I know Maia likes, especially since I'm still working through my perhaps overly ambitious list of 31 activities. However, I really like the idea of having a seasonal activity box and may go with that next time.

Jean’s art camp for little kids

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0448

So, if you're going to give birth to a new baby any day now and need a little rest or some time to visit your doctor/midwife, send your kids to my boot camp art camp. I'll put them through their paces with various art projects, especially if it's been raining for days and backyard playtime isn't much of an option. If there's one thing I can do, I can whip out the art materials. Bored? Why don't you try drawing. Scuffle over a toy? Look, there's an art project set up at the table.

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0431

tissue paper stained glass using wax paper and liquid starch

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0416

recycled paper bags as art surface (idea from good + happy day)

By the way, there's a post on Laura Egley Taylor's Mothering magazine blog about the crafty mamas article I wrote for them. If you haven't seen the article, take a look, because she includes several of the beautiful photos in her post as well as a link to an applique tutorial Sally Shim did for their website. SouleMama did a tutorial as well (from her upcoming book Handmade Home), although I don't see it up yet. I'll keep you posted.

Learning to knit

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0409

I've wanted to learn how to knit for a while now, but never really thought I would have the patience for it. But now, look! I'm learning to knit. Slowly but surely. I'm still not sure I have the patience for it — I think the first three stitches took about half an hour. But after that it went a lot quicker, so there's still hope for me.

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0402

I'm using Stitch 'N Bitch as my guide and some knitting supplies graciously loaned to me by a friend. I can do this, right? Lots of people knit. I think I'd like to try straight needles next time though, rather than these circular needles. They keep getting in the way of each other, the yarn, me. Although that's probably just me and complete inexperience.

Now here's what I'm wondering. How soon will I be able to do something like this? — hats for the whole family and then some.

I think it's time to visit my grandma. I could pick up some serious tips from her (and some leisurely side-by-side knitting time).

I heart doughnuts

Homemade Heart Doughnuts

Ha! I couldn't help it. I know I'm being cheesy. But it's true. I do love doughnuts. And these are baked, so they're healthy, right?

Actually I think I'm experiencing sugar-induced punchiness. Okay. Let's start over. We made doughnuts this morning using this recipe at 101 Cookbooks, found via the ever-inspiring SouleMama. Luckily Justin and Nathan were here to help make (and eat) them. I figured doughnuts ought to be made when we had reinforcements so I wouldn't be inclined to eat them all.

Homemade Heart Doughnuts

I gave each kid a ball of dough to roll out and some circle and heart-shaped cookie cutters and let them go at it. The heart shapes were because I only had one pair of circle cookie cutters (and they were loaners). I figured hearts might be a little easier to make than, say, dogs or Christmas trees.

After the kids put their shapes on the cookie sheet, I took the mini heart and circle cookie cutters and cut the center holes out of each.

We also discovered another way of making doughnuts besides the cookie cutter method. The kids rolled the dough into snakes, then squished the ends together to make a circle. It worked well, especially for the leftover dough pieces that weren't big enough for a cookie cutter shape.

Homemade Heart Doughnuts

They all loved making these, but 2-year-old Nathan really got into it. He stayed at the table far longer than either of the others although his method was a bit different. He refused to put any of his shapes on the cookie sheet and, in fact, snuck doughnuts off the cookie sheet to smush and add to his expanding pile of dough. One more reminder that for little kids it's the process, not the product!

The doughnuts were baked rather than fried, making them both easier, in my opinion, and possibly healthier. Although the next step was to dip each doughnut in melted butter and then a cinnamon sugar mixture, so the health benefits of baking were possibly negated. (I'm choosing to ignore that part for the moment.)

Homemade Heart Doughnuts

They were ready by the time Rachel came for the boys and we all sat down for some milk and warm doughnuts. So yummy!

Mmm… Food blogs. I’m obsessed!

I feel like I've come across a whole new world! A peak at one food blog recently led to printing out a few recipes, then to checking out the blogs on her blogroll. Wow. Talk about salivating at the computer. Who needs cookbooks when you have food blogs?! I say that half joking, because I'll never give up books, even cookbooks, but still there's nothing like reading someone's personal experience and seeing all the lush food photos.

Here are some recipes that I want to try soon (and the blogs where I found them):

Oatmeal & raspberry pancakes and applesauce snack cake at a whisk and a spoon

Crunchy oven baked fries with herbes de provence by Joy the Baker. Oh, and her fried breakfast polenta with blackberry meyer lemon jam! Oh my goodness. I'm not usually a big polenta fan, but I definitely have to try this.

The Pioneer Woman is a riot! I want to try her ginger steak salad (and everything else on her blog). Take a look at her amazing recipe file, complete with pics!

Lemony lemon cake at Smells Like Home (yes, I have a major sweet tooth and I love citrus)

Tapenade, red pepper, and goat cheese crostini at Confections of a Foodie Bride

Lasagna Rolls at Pennies on a Platter

Salt-kissed buttermilk cake (with raspberries) at 101 Cookbooks

Home fries (two kinds) and cardamom honey chicken at Simply Recipes

Mmm… I'm hungry now. Do you have any favorite food blogs? Help feed my new obsession!

Sandpaper art and starting a spring fun box

Sandpaper Art

We made sandpaper art from the list today. I can't say I was too impressed, although Maia enjoyed the novelty of drawing on the rough surface. We placed the colored sandpaper on a cookie sheet in a 250 degree oven for about 10 minutes to let the crayon melt. Both of us were expecting the "cooked" product to look a lot different but besides being slightly brighter it wasn't terribly different. To be fair, I think you're supposed to cover the sandpaper with more crayon than Maia did.

Sandpaper Art

It was worth a try though. I'm always up for trying new art projects and having the list has been helpful in getting me to do so. Some are big-time winners (such as the yummy pretzels), some are changed somewhat by the kids (stirring the clean mud with spoons rather than hands), and some don't quite live up to my expectations (the sandpaper art) although are still worthy experiences.

It's all part of the bargain I suppose.

Maia wanted to do another art project after drawing on the sandpaper, so I thought we could start decorating a shoe box to use as the fun box. I thought it would be fun to borrow Quinne's idea of a flower collage to decorate it so I found a few garden catalogs and magazines and let Maia cut them up. I cut a rectangular hole out of the top of a shoe box then handed it to her to glue on the pictures.

Sandpaper Art

Sandpaper Art

I didn't take a picture of the finished box, but it's completely covered with colorful flowers and fruit and looks great! It looks like spring and summer combined, which is just what we need right now. I think I'll cover it with Mod Podge before we use it, partly to help hold down the sparsely glued pictures, and partly so it'll hold up better to handling over time.

I'll post a pic once we finish the box and add the slips of paper with fun activities.

Update: Here's the post about the finished spring fun box.

Follow-the-leader drawing

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0288

We had some good studio time yesterday afternoon. Lots of drawing. Maia led the whole thing after an aborted attempt on my part to suggest a certain collage project from the list. I have to remember that while she often still gets excited about a project that I introduce, she is also old enough to know exactly what she wants and to take the lead.

She set out paper and materials for each of us, first for collage, then for drawing. After a while she said we were going to play a game of table hockey (?!). She would draw a line or oval or squiggle and then have me do the same (all on one piece of paper). It was a fun sort of follow-the-leader drawing activity.

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0307

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0312

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0318

Clean mud is a fun (and messy) art project

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0228

Justin and Nathan were over on Friday and we made clean mud together in the studio. The idea is to tear toilet paper into little pieces, mix in water and grated soap, and mush it all around with your hands.

They all enjoyed this project and got very absorbed in adding the various ingredients but they went at it like little scientists. None of them wanted to actually touch the stuff (is it their ages? or personalities?) so I ended up giving them spoons to stir with. We followed Julie's recommendation of using liquid watercolors (which the kids are applying with droppers) rather than food coloring, although the food coloring would work fine as well.

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0236

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0237

On another note, I'm feeling behind on everything. I was super tired this weekend and felt like I was moving in slow motion. I didn't get on the computer once, didn't bake the bread I had planned, didn't clean, and definitely didn't do anything artful. I'm feeling better now but we may have a slow start to our week.

Note: Some links in this post may be affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link and place a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the sales price and will send you virtual hugs.

Treats for the birds

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0212b

We almost didn't do anything from the list yesterday. I spent most of the day doing our taxes and just didn't feel like I had it in me to pull together an art (or other) project. But in the afternoon, Maia and I were playing in the backyard and I noticed a bunch of pinecones near the fence and remembered the pinecone bird treat idea.

We've done this once before, at our friends' home, when they had an after-Christmas tree decorating party (inspired by this book). They moved their tree to the yard and we decorated it for the birds with popcorn garlands and pinecone birdseed ornaments. I loved the idea! And I've been wanting to try the pinecone birdseed treats again.

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0196

When I added these birdseed treats to the list, we were in the middle of a snowstorm and they seemed very appropriate. Less than a week later it's warm enough to make these picnic-style in the backyard. Crazy North Carolina weather!

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0193

First we spread peanut butter on the pinecones, then rolled them in the sunflower seeds. Actually, I ended up doing most of the spreading, while Maia's spoonfulls of peanut butter always seemed to end up in her mouth. She liked the rolling-in-birdseed part though. I would have used one of those birdseed mixes with the smaller seeds as well, but we don't have any at the moment.

jeansphotos_03-2009_pic0204

We tied yarn to the top of the pinecones and hung them in our dogwood. I hope the birds like them. I'm sure the squirrels will.

Making the Best Ever Soft Pretzels!

Best Homemade Soft Pretzels

Okay. I know I just said that about the pizza Harry made the other night, but I swear I don't automatically think that about everything we cook. These pretzels were so yummy and salty fresh out of the oven that halfway through eating ours, Maia and I decided to rush some to Harry at work while they were still warm! They were that good.

Best Homemade Soft Pretzels

Making pretzels was #7 on The List (I'm jumping all over the place) and we used this recipe, recommended by Erica. She said she used to make all kinds of different shapes, but we stuck to regular pretzel shapes this time.

I had a big uh-oh moment when I finished kneading the dough and realized I hadn't added the melted butter. So I did my best to knead the butter into the dough after the fact (not very easy!) and thought that I had probably ruined everything. But they seemed to work out okay after all even though the dough wasn't as smooth as it could've been.

Best Homemade Soft Pretzels

Maia really enjoyed rolling the dough into long snakes, then curving the ends over to make the pretzels. After making the pretzel shapes, I dunked each in a boiling water/baking soda mix for half a minute then set them on cookie sheets.

Best Homemade Soft Pretzels

Maia brushed the egg yolk on each pretzel, then sprinkled on the salt. I couldn't find "pretzel salt" at the store so used course sea salt instead, which worked beautifully.

Best Homemade Soft Pretzels

We baked them, then immediately sat down to eat warm pretzels for lunch. Yum!