ARRANGE A PARTY CHEESE BOARD WITH KIDS

There are so many ways that kids can be part of daily meal prep, from setting the table or popping ice cubes into a pitcher of water to hulling fresh strawberries for dessert.
Routine jobs are important to family life, and new responsibilities can be introduced as kids grow and become more confident in their kitchen skills. It’s especially gratifying for kids when they can be part of the action when company comes.
If there’s an end-of-summer informal barbecue on your calendar, there are always extra to-dos, many of which are suited for young helpers, like arranging fresh fruit, cheese slices and other tasty and healthy nibbles on a cheese board for a delightful, trendy appetizer.
Kids are artistic by nature, so first give them an opportunity to take a visual tour with you in the kitchen to find out what healthy appetizer-type food items are on hand on pantry shelves, in the refrigerator and in the fruit bowl on the counter. They’ll no doubt be inspired by the rainbow of colors on the spectrum, from red cherry tomatoes to green olives and violet grapes.
Now it’s time for them to get creative.

BASIC FAMILY-FRIENDLY CHEESE BOARD

For young school-age kids, begin with a few foods that can go directly to a cheese board or platter with minimal fuss. Good choices are pre-sliced cheeses, nuts, olives, dried fruit, cold cuts like salami and clusters of washed grapes. Kids can line up the cheese or place a chunk of cheese at an angle with a cheese knife to the side. Put small piles of nuts near cheeses, line up cold cuts in rows, then fill in spaces with dried fruit, grapes, sweet cherries and berries. Pile a variety of crackers here and there.

If you have space, spoon prepared hummus into tiny bowls for spreading on crackers. Peanut butter, jelly and honey will make the selection even more kid-friendly. Add style with a few edible blooms, such as nasturtiums, or use a pretty silk flower or two.

As kids become more comfortable in the kitchen, teach them how to mix their own sweet and savory dips, slice vegetables and wrap breadsticks, pretzels or asparagus with cheese or meat.

Extra family fun: When guests arrive, your young child might like to play the role of a “waiter” and take orders from adults of their choices from the cheese board. They can assemble the “order” on a small plate and deliver it to the guest.

“SEW EASY” HOODED BATH AND SWIM TOWEL


Sew a simple fingertip or hand towel to a colorful bath towel in contrasting colors and your child will have a clever hooded cover-up that can be used every time he or she finishes play and swim time in a lake, the ocean or a swimming pool. It’s a plain and simple, cozy solution for the post-swim chill. Come fall, it’s just as useful and comforting when getting out of the bathtub. Whatever the wet occasion, being wrapped in this hooded bath towel from head to toe feels oh so good.

Once you see how quickly it comes together, sewing just two seams, get inspired to make more for birthday party presents — and even for a baby shower gift, by reducing the towel dimensions for a baby or toddler size.
Enlist your older kids to help you measure and pin. If they’ve never used a sewing machine, it’s a good first sewing project because of the simple straight seams.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for a hooded towel for a young school-age child:
— 1 fingertip towel with or without fringe, about 11 by 18 inches
— 1 bath towel in similar or contrasting color, about 25 by 48 inches
— straight pins
— thread
— large button or a 2-inch strip of hook and loop fastener, such as Velcro brand (optional)
— sewing machine
Here’s the fun:
1. Fold the fingertip towel in half widthwise with right sides facing. Pin one of the short sides together with straight pins.
2. Sew along the pinned side, allowing for a 1/2-inch seam. Turn right-side out. You have now made the hood portion.
3. Measure, and mark with tailor’s chalk or a pin, the center point on one of the long edges of the bath towel. Now, mark the center point on the unsewn length of the fingertip towel. Match the points of the towels and pin them together, right sides facing.
4. Stitch the towels together from one end of the pinned fingertip towel to the other.
5. Fit the hooded towel on your child. For a front closure, stitch strips of Velcro to the bath towel, or make a buttonhole and sew on a button (optional).

BANANA BOATS:A CAMPING AND BACKYARD GRILLING TREAT


Benjamin Franklin gets credit for saying that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Hey, Ben, do you mind if I add bananas to your list?
No matter the time of the year, I’m always certain that when I take a trip to my local grocery store, there will be a bunch or more of the yellow treasures that end up in my shopping cart. They are relatively inexpensive, healthy (potassium rich), and they come naturally well-wrapped.
Toss bananas in your kids’ sports bags when they head off to soccer practice, or tuck them in your carry-on for an instant snack on a flight to your vacation destination. You just can’t beat that dependable, always in season, always there banana.
No, I’m not a spokeswoman for the banana council, but I am a real fan of the fruit, even if I sometimes complain that they seem to go from yellow to brown way too fast, or when they end up getting smooshed in the bottom of a kid’s backpack, not to be discovered for a week or two.
Here is another reason to make certain that enough bananas make it home from the grocery store. You can create, concoct and cook this yummy “Banana Boat” dessert treat with kids on a camping trip, or fire up the grill at a designated picnic spot at a city park or in your own backyard.
BANANA BOATS
Serves 6
— 6 firm, ripe bananas
— chocolate candy bars, broken into pieces, or chocolate chip morsels
— marshmallows, miniature or regular
— aluminum foil
1. Slice each banana just through the skin, lengthwise without removing the peel. Use a teaspoon to scoop out a small amount of the banana the length of the slice, to create a little cavity. Tuck the chocolate bits and pieces and the marshmallows into the cavity of the sliced banana.
2. Wrap each entire banana in foil, and place directly in the coals of a campfire or on a grill. Cook until chocolate and marshmallows are melted, about 8-10 minutes.
Remove with tongs. Unwrap and eat with a spoon. Yummy!
Cook’s note: Add nuts, granola, dried fruit or other toppings, if you wish.
Tip: If you have extra bananas that are starting to turn brown, peel them, wrap in plastic wrap, store in a freezer bag and freeze. Eat them whole while slightly frozen, mash them for baking, or toss into a blender with favorite smoothie ingredients.

MAKE A TWIG BASKET FOR SPRING PLANTS

It’s spring! Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and Arbor Day is the 27th. Here’s a fun family craft that combines all three. It gets you outside, with your eye on nature’s beauty for collecting and crafting a simple twig basket.

Head out into a park, or your own block or backyard with your kids on a windy day or after a rainstorm, and collect the sticks and twigs you find here and there on the ground. You might think of this activity as nature’s game of “pick-up sticks.”

When you get home with your preschoolers and school-age kids, sort through the collection, and turn the straightest sticks that are a quarter-inch or so wide into a lovely, earthy basket to hold a potted indoor plant or succulent. The attractive natural container also might be handy to hold fresh fruit on your kitchen counter or table.

Here’s the stuff you need for a twig basket that holds a 4-inch planting pot:

  • 33 sticks, 7 inches long, about 1/4 inch thick (to cut sticks into equal lengths, score with scissors, then snap off excess. Trim any pointy ends with pruning shears)
  • 1 18-inch-long thin, pliable stick for the handle
  • Twine
  • Nontoxic wood glue or a low-temp glue gun

Here’s the fun:

 

Construct the base: Arrange four sticks into a square on a newspaper-covered table or counter, with a 1-inch overlap at each corner. Dab nontoxic wood glue or glue from a glue gun at each corner.

Tie each corner with a 4-foot piece of twine. Knot it in the middle and let the long ends dangle.
To make the bottom of the basket, glue three twigs in a row 1 inch apart to the square base.

Secure each twig to the base with a 1-foot twine piece. Trim excess.

Make the sides: Dab glue on the twine at each corner. Lay four sticks in a square, log-cabin style, then tie corners as before. Continue layering and tying until you’ve used all of the 7-inch sticks.

Set your favorite growing plant inside.

 

 

 

 

MAKE EASY BUNNY BALLOONS FOR EASTER AND SPRING


What is the difference between a bunny and a rabbit? And, just as perplexing, what is a bunny rabbit?
To California artist Ivy Chew, whether you call them “bunnies,” “rabbits” or “bunny rabbits, they’re the inspiration for her charming “Rabbit Run” series of archival ink and colored pencil art where her imagination takes us into the clever details of a bunny’s day of activity, from gardening to folding an origami boat to playing solitaire.

I happened by her art opening at Agency in Santa Cruz, California, where she was gleefully blowing up animal balloons with a simple hand pump and twisting them with a flick of her wrist into eye-catching bunny-ear balloons in multiple shades of lime, yellow, orange and red. Playfully displayed here and there around the exhibit, they invited guests in to participate in the artful event.

They caught my eye! Ivy’s bunny balloons were my inspiration for this Easter’s creative family activity idea with older kids. They are simple to create with a few inexpensive supplies.

Here’s the fun:
You’ll need a small balloon pump or a pump used for inflating sports or exercise balls, and long, skinny balloons for balloon animals (available online, at toy stores or party supply stores).

Inflate a balloon into the shape of a long sausage, about 38 inches long. Hold it horizontally in front of you with hands outstretched about 8 inches in from each end.
Simply bring your hands together to form a “V” shape, and twist the balloon ends together at that 8-inch point. You have just created a bunny head and two floppy ears (watch a how-to video at www.donnaerickson.com).

Hold it up to frame your face and take a photo!

Make more, and set them around the house, or tie fishing line around the ears and hang in windowsills for Easter weekend.

Extra idea: Make a face for the bunny.
Set a bunny balloon flat on an 8-1/2-by-11 inch sheet of plain paper. Use balloon as a pattern, and use a pencil to outline outside of the oval head shape, minus ears. Cut it out. Use markers and colored pencils to draw and decorate the bunny’s face on the paper.
Use double-stick tape to secure the rim of the paper face to the back of the balloon.

Safety note: Young children can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Adult supervision is required. Discard broken balloons appropriately.

Resources: View a colorful sampling of Ivy’s whimsical and charming “Rabbit Run” art series at www.donnaerickson.com.

MAKE A SIMPLE BALLOON BUNNY-(video)

Click below for a short video on how to make A  bunny balloon. You do not need to stand outside in snow and mouth numbing cold to do this activity.

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California artist Ivy Chew makes a simple balloon bunny at the opening event of her “Rabbit Run” art series at Agency in Santa Cruz.

GET INSPIRED WITH THE WINTER OLYMPICS


Let the excitement of the 2018 Winter Games in distant Pyeongchang, South Korea,  Feb. 9-25, generate some new interests and activities your whole family can enjoy right at home.
The weeks of daily television coverage that follow the pageantry of the opening ceremony  bring opportunities for your family to learn and have fun together watching the competition. Here are some teachable and inspirational moments the games can provide as you and your kids cheer for your favorite athletes.

WATCH AND LEARN
Devote a family bulletin board (or use a large piece of poster board) to the Olympic Games. Hang it in your kitchen or in a place where you come and go. Help your children find, cut out and display newspaper, magazine or printed online articles of athletes they are rooting for and admire. They might even be your hometown favorites.
To add to the spirit of the games, make a chart with their favorite athlete’s names, nationalities and sports. Note achievements as the games progress.
The Olympics are also a great tool for teaching kids global geography. You might hang a world map near your television or computer to locate continents, countries and cities.

NEVER GIVE UP
The skills and stories of hard work, courage and persistence of thousands of athletes worldwide are inspiring. When they tumble and fall, they get back up and keep on going, teaching those of us at home to strive to do our best. And remember, despite their talent, even the best trained athletes still make mistakes and only a small percentage actually win a medal.
Ask your children what personal characteristics they think led to the success of the athletes you watch. Then talk about the sports they enjoy in their lives and the challenges and feelings of accomplishment they experience on the ice, in a gym or snowboarding down a hill.

BRING HOME THE SPIRIT OF THE GAMES
Encourage a spirit of cooperation when engaging in your own family projects, sports and games. Winning certainly is fun, but encouraging and supporting others can be even more enjoyable. If you’re playing board games, tackling a household chore or if you’re inspired to try an Olympic sport like ice skating or skiing, aim toward challenging one another in a cooperative spirit.

MAKE LOOK-ALIKE POLAR FLEECE SCARVES FOR COZY WINTER DAYS

   
Be warm and feel cozy with easy, no-sew polar fleece scarves. Make one for each member of the family — including your dog! — in the same plaid or pattern, and you’ll be dressed with extra family spirit for  sporting events, get-togethers and taking photos.
Find washable polar fleece fabric in a variety of patterns and designs by the yard online and at fabric stores. (Stores such as Jo-Ann offer coupons regularly for significant discounts on your purchase. My scarves came to less than $2 each.)
I zoomed in on the checks and plaids, and chose classic black and red buffalo check this year — a great look for cold winter months. The straight lines of plaids and checks provide a visual guide when measuring and cutting, a timesaver when cutting out several scarves.
For school-age kids and adults, an 8-inch-by-60-inch scarf is a nice size, so count on purchasing about 1 2/3 yards for six scarves, depending on the repetition of the pattern. Since the fleece doesn’t ravel, there’s no need to allow for seams.
Here’s what you’ll need for six medium-size scarves:
  –1 2/3 yards of 59-60-inch-wide polar fleece fabric
  –good sewing scissors or rotary cutter (adults only) and rotary cutting mat
  –a clear plastic ruler such as a quilter’s ruler
  –straight pins or fabric pencil if using scissors
Here’s the fun:
  1. Lay out the fabric on your worktable and rotary cutting mat, if using rotary cutter. Measure and mark the length (60 inches) and width (8 inches) points of your scarves with straight pins or fabric pencil. The scarf length should be along the selvage (not across the width of the fabric), so that the scarves won’t stretch out of shape. For a uniform look, be mindful of repeat checks or plaids as you measure. Adjust measurements if making scarves for small children or your pet.
  2. Cut off the selvages, and then cut out scarves.
  3. Cut fringe 1/2 inch by 4 inches on each end for a fun, finished look.
  Extra idea: For a unique and useful memento, make matching scarves for guests at your next birthday or sledding party.

 

SHARE A STORY WAITING TO BE TOLD

  “Tell me another story about your sled dogs … didn’t they get cold feet?” Ten-year-old Aubrie Odeyemi was full of questions as cousin Mary shared the adventures of her incredible accomplishment of finishing the almost 1,000 mile 2016 Iditarod sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.

  Mary, 34, was good at telling her action-packed experiences of perseverance from the fear of losing the trail and getting lost, and taking care of the dogs in sub-zero temps every night, no matter how cold or tired she felt, to feeding the huskies meals and providing frozen beef and fish snacks throughout the day when on the move — “they’re like a popsicle to a dog!” she adds. In every story, her love of her dogs, the thrill of the challenge, and the beauty of Alaska came through her words.

  Stories magically hold our attention. What do you remember from a presentation? It’s usually the story that was told. How do savvy political candidates try to get your vote? By telling a heartwarming story. And what keeps us gathered around the table long after the dishes have been cleared? A lively storyteller spinning a yarn.

  This festive season, discover that the best dramas, mysteries and true adventures aren’t necessarily in theaters or on the big screen. They’re also in the hearts, minds and experience of people right under your roof, because everybody has a story.

  Here are three story-swapping tips:

  Photos make lively story starters.

  Grab a family album and show a photo from decades ago to a grandparent to trigger a memory of an event. “Oh, that’s at our annual family picnic when I was in charge of churning ice cream,” Grandpa might say. “We made the special treat ourselves in those days. Once your Uncle Paul put a pickle in it when I wasn’t looking. It tasted just awful.”

  Good listening encourages creative, confident storytelling.

  Encourage your kids to listen to one another respectfully as stories are told.

  The world is waiting for your stories.

  There is no right or wrong way to tell a story, and you’ll never run out of ideas. As someone’s tale is being told, the hidden magic, images or meaning will get you thinking, and your own stories will surface, to everyone’s delight.

 

MAKE “PINE TREE” VOTIVE CANDLEHOLDERS

Creative time also can be vocabulary-building time when your kids learn how to say and spell “arborvitae.” Check it out online or, depending on where you live, take a walk together and discover the common hardy shrub with flat spraylike green branches that grows in most zones of the country. Here’s the fun part. Take a closer look, and see how the tips on branches resemble the shape of a pine tree.

“Why not glue the flat tree-like tip portions of the branches onto clear glass votive candleholders?” thought my friend Lisa MacMartin, who is always on the hunt for natural materials for sharing projects with children at her welcoming store and family craft studio, Heartfelt, in Minneapolis (heartfeltonline.com).

I gave her idea a try. After clipping a few sprigs in my backyard, I flattened them between pages of a thick book for a week. When pressed, the mini branch tips were ready for adhering to clear glass votive candleholders. For the holidays, a dash of white glitter on the sticky glue was the perfect wintry touch.
Press a few branch tips, and you’ll be set for a family craft night making these festive votives for a cozy candle lit evening in your home. Or, wrap extras up for hostess gifts when you share the season with others.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–pressed stems of arborvitae
–scissors
–standard-size clear-glass votive candleholders available at craft stores, or upcycle clear glass jars with labels removed
–Mod Podge water base sealer, or household white glue
–paper plate
–small paintbrush
–fine white or sparkly white glitter

Here’s the fun:
1. Trim four “tree-shaped” ends of the arborvitae to fit a bit less than the height of the votive holder.
2. Pour Mod Podge or glue onto plate. (If using glue, dilute with a few drops of water). Brush Mod Podge or glue mixture on a section the size of one of the “trees” on the outside of the glass. Press greenery with your fingers until it adheres. Lightly brush on another layer or two of the adhesive. Sprinkle with glitter. Repeat as you go around the candleholder.
3. Once dry, your votive holder will be set for service. Place a lit candle inside, and watch it shimmer.

Extra idea: If you don’t have access to arborvitae, instead, print and cut out images of pine trees or other natural images online or from magazines.
Safety note: An adult should always be present when burning candles.