Celebrate Thanksgivikkah with a gingerbread menorah

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop Gingerbread Menorah

Well, if you haven’t heard, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have melded together into Thanksgivikkah. And there’s no better way to celebrate than with a gingerbread menorah. I discovered this wonderful melding of deliciousness through Sweet Thrills Bakeshop, a collaboration of two Bay Area moms who believe the kitchen is the heart of the home and that sweet treats make everyone smile.

These smart ladies are packaging chocolate gingerbread menorah kits that are perfect for families to build and decorate together. The unique idea sparked from spinning the dreidel with a traditional gingerbread house in the background. The result? A sweet twist on celebrating Hanukkah — and a great way to create special memories with your kids.

I was so excited to get my hands on a box and make one with my tot. Yes, probably even more than she was. Included in the kit was everything needed to assemble the menorah, including a wonderfully detailed set of directions, helpful tips, and educational information about Hannukkah, making this kit fitting for any family.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop

My daughter jumped right in and loved assembling the menorah. In fact, she was pretty much able to follow the drawn directions on her own (while I snuck a few candies that were included in the kit). What’s great about the kit is that along with being creative, your child is learning about construction and design.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop gingerbread

As it states in the directions, it’s important to let the the frosting set between steps, but we found ways to entertain ourselves while waiting. We enjoyed reading the included information about Hanukkah, counted the candy candles, and, of course, had to sample the frosting.

My daughter really took her time working on her special menorah and we have it proudly displayed on our mantel. She loves telling us how she made it all by herself.

sweet thrills bakeshop menorah

Which she really did.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop has two different sized unassembled menorahs as well as a mini pre-assembled menorah available this season. Order now to ensure your kit arrives on time. We’re looking forward to enjoying our menorah during our Thanksgivikkah celebration!

And, did I mention? They’re delicious.

*Just so you know, I am actually friends with one of the co-owners of Sweet Thrills Bakeshop and volunteered to do this review simply because I think this chocolate gingerbread menorah kit is seriously awesome. And delicious. And a fantastic idea.

Celebrate National Pi Day with, um, well, PIE!

Marie Callender's

In celebration of National Pi Day, which falls on March 14th, why not celebrate with the kind you can eat – pie from Marie Callender’s! I love pie, and realized my tot hasn’t experienced the wonders of slicing a fresh piece from a perfectly round perfection. And because Pi is all about numbers, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to learn about basic math while eating something delicious. And sweet pies from Marie Callender’s are made from real ingredients. Really. I had my eye on a chocolate satin mini pie, which was the perfect size for the delicious math activity I had in mind. And if you’re looking for other party ideas, recipes, or how-to’s, check out Marie Callender’s blog.

-keep reading for our tasty math activity and how to get our Marie Callender’s coupon!

The Birch Aquarium

While we were down south, there were a couple of days the weather wasn’t right for hitting the beach, so we explored the area for a few fun things to do. And we found ourselves heading to La Jolla for a stroll through the public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego Birch Aquarium.

BirchAquarium1

I enjoyed the informative guides lurking (well, not lurking, but roaming in the darkness of the aquarium) and ready to answer any questions or share fun tidbits of information. We all became quite intrigued with the eels in the above left photo, and were told all about their amazing lives together (yup, that’s a proud mama and papa), how they’ve produced hundreds of baby eels, and are often found nestled together in the tank. But the collection of jellyfish just about put my tot in a tizzy…

BirchAquarium2

Located next to each tank are helpful plaques sharing facts about the fish and other sea life, perfect for us adults that have no clue what we’re looking and then can utterly amaze our not-yet-scholarly tots by reading (without them realizing it) bountiful information about the amazing sea creatures.  And it’s great for older kids, allowing them the opportunity to learn more on their own. We loved this huge tank filled with coastal sea life.

BirchAquarium3

And part of the aquarium is dedicated to educational and interactive learning about the sea and California coastline. Most of it was totally advanced for our daughter, but that didn’t stop her from putting her hands on everything.

BirchAquarium4

But the seahorses stole the show. We were all impressed and amazed by these little creatures. A whole wing is dedicated to educating the public about the lives of seahorses, sharing how the aquarium is helping to nurture and build their numbers, and showcasing the amazing beauty of the cool sea animal.

BirchAquarium5

And we had such a great time, we ended up walking (well, running) through the aquarium one last time at the tot’s insistence to see it all over again. Along with the indoor tanks, the Birch Aquarium has outdoor interactive tide pools, a shark tank (not interactive), and some really cool solar activities for the kids to check out. Perfect for kids of all ages, the aquarium has something for everyone, is easy to navigate, has a small outdoor snack bar on site, a gift shop, and wonderfully friendly staff. If you’re in the La Jolla/San Diego area, it’s a fun way to spend an overcast day.

*If you’re not from the area, please, PLEASE, make sure to have directions before you head out to La Jolla. No joke, every time we go to La Jolla from the north, we get lost. It’s really not crazy difficult or anything, there are just a few twists and turns that can catch you by surprise.

 

Shove It! Des Moines Regional Skatepark Fundraiser

shove-it.illy_

My first boyfriend knew his way around a skateboard. I tried to get the hang of it, but my total lack of coordination while in movement did me in. It takes mad skills to do all those cool moves.  And, honestly?  He, and all his skater friends, were darn cute while attempting new tricks and skating around town.

Ah, the wonders of junior high in late 80’s.

It doesn’t matter where you live, offering an outlet for youngsters (of all ages) to express themselves in a safe and supportive environment is essential. And my creative brother-in-law is working hard to make that happen in Des Moines. On June 7th, 2013, Shove It!, a curated show by Baykiddead held at the Des Moines Polk Country Heritage Gallery, will showcase artists that are putting forward works to help raise awareness (and funds!) for the amazing civic project that will bring the country’s largest free outdoor skatepark to downtown Des Moines.

How cool, right?

Even if you’re not in the area, check out this page for more information or like Shove It! on Facebook.

Do it.

California Academy of the Sciences (and a toddler)

Yesterday we all had the day off and decided to (finally) take advantage of a few free passes the husband had won for admission at the California Academy of the Sciences in San Francisco (before they expired at the end of the month). Located next to the de Young Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden, as well as paths and paths in Golden Gate Park, this is a total destination spot for San Francisco visitors – and even those of us that live in the Bay Area. There is no way to explain this place. With aquariums galore (one you even walk under), crazy realistic stuffed animals, real penguins, baby ostriches running about, amazingly good food, a complete faux rainforest with three levels, a planetarium, special exhibits, interactive activities for the kids, museum shops, and upper natural living roof observational level, you can’t go wrong. I’ll be honest – admission isn’t cheep. But, if you’ve got a toddler like we do (kids 3 and under are free), it’s not that bad. And there’s enough stuff for the tots to keep them entertained and engaged. We did everything twice – and being there on a weekday meant less crowds. Kids under 6 aren’t allowed in the planetarium, which gives us something to look forward to in the future. My husband did an awesome job taking pictures while I chased after the tot…

Want more info? Here’s the California Academy of Sciences website.

Outdoor summer art activities

Outdoor summer art

The other day temps were in the mid 80’s and the last thing the tot and I wanted to do was anything in the house. Sure, it’s always fun to bring markers and crayons outdoors, but there are also lots of fun ways to get crafty with summer outdoor art activities that keep everyone cool. Along with helping hone fine-motor skills, these toddler tested (and approved!) projects can be done over and over and over and over….

You know what I’m saying.

Frozen edible paints – This is so simple – and so fun! Fill small popsicle molds 3/4th of the way full of lemonade and then add a few drops of food coloring to each, creating several different vibrant colors. Pop the tops on the popsicles and freeze overnight. The next day, release the popsicles and take outdoors along with a several sheets of white paper. Enjoy drawing with the popsicles along with taste testing! Your child can see if the various colors of popsicles taste the same – or different! Just be prepared for a very colorful face and mouth once finished….

Magic mist – Select three colors of washable paint with your toddler and add a scoop of each to three small spray bottles. Small misters are around $1 at your local everything store. Add about 1/2 cup water to each bottle, screw on the top, and shake, shake, shake to mix the paint and water together. Pick a spot outdoors to tape the paper on an wall, fence or even flat on your driveway. Now your child can spray and mist that water-downed paint all over the paper watching as the colors blend and drip together. Encourage color theory skills by having your child yell out colors along the way! Make sure to use washable paint and avoid working on untreated wood, which does stain (which I discovered while doing this project (oops)).

Driveway painting – Draw large shapes, letters, or objects with your toddler on the driveway or sidewalk using sidewalk chalk. Once finished, offer your child a small plastic container filled with ice-cold water and a medium-sized paintbrush. Encourage your child to paint over the top of the chalk drawings and see what happens! And, if your child gets more interested in painting themselves with that cold, cold water – so be it. Experiment by doing the activity in reverse – draw with the water and then cover with chalk. Does the chalk look different? What happens with the water? Along with being plain fun, this activity encourages letter and shape recognition.

Sand play dough  – Mix together 2 cups sand, 1 cup flour (you may need a bit more), 1/2 cup water, and a glug of vegetable oil. Mix and kneed the mixture together to create a fund play dough that makes for hours of fun outdoors. And you can leave it in the sun to dry, creating really fun shapes and forms.

Found object sculpture – Have fun with the natural objects in your yard by creating a small structural sculpture using twigs, leaves, or even flowers. Help your tot start by forming a teepee like base using small sticks. Now your child can add to the creation by embellishing with leaves or adding bigger sticks. Creating a balanced form takes focus and concentration! Make sure to take pictures of the finished sculpture to remember the experience.

What’s your favorite summer outdoor activity to enjoy with your toddler? Share a link!

 

 

Fine art for kids: Chinese calligraphy scroll

With the Chinese New Year just days away, the tot and I revisited a fun art activity we’d done in the past – but with a spin. This is a fun project for kids of all ages – and older ones can take things a bit further. All you need are a few items, which you probably have hanging around, and some imagination and creativity.

Older kids can do a bit of research to learn more about the art of Chinese calligraphy. The art of writing and creating characters has been a large part of the Chinese culture for thousands of years. It’s considered one of the most sublime forms of art in the Orient, with artists spending their lives dedicated to the creation of beautifully drawn symbols and letters. Invite your child to search out examples of Chinese calligraphy online and print out a few examples. Or, if you’ve got a younger tot, you can have an example handy.

Gather together a toilet paper roll, some white paper, a few brushes, and some black tempera paint. You’ll also need scissors, a length of sting, and some tape. Once you’ve got everything together, invite your child to cut a length of white paper just a bit skinner than the width of the toilet paper roll cutting from one of the longer sides of the paper. This will be the paper for his Chinese calligraphy scroll.

Now your child can take a closer look at the examples of Chinese calligraphy. In Asia, calligraphy is created with special brushes made from bamboo and written on paper created specifically for calligraphy. Have your child pick the perfect brush to use for creating his Chinese calligraphy scroll.

Water down some tempera paint and offer it to your child for creating his own unique calligraphy drawing creations. Younger ones can free form lines and designs while older children can try to copy letters exactly – along with putting their own spin on things. Symbols in Chinese calligraphy go from top to bottom, so encourage your child to create his letters in a linear line.

Once your child has finished making a few marks, he can let his scroll dry while creating more marks on another paper. As soon as the paper is dry, your child can tape the paper onto the scroll and finish things off by tying the length of string around the ends of the toilet paper roll.

Find the perfect place to hang the scroll or give to friends and family on Chinese New Year!

Randall Museum

The other day we met up with some friends at the Randall Museum in San Francisco. I’d never heard of the place, but the minute we started up the winding hill just outside of the Castro, I knew it was a winner. Alongside the museum is a great dog park with sweeping views of the city. You’re right under Sutro Tower, so you’re up there.

Along with an awesome dog park there are great trails, which once we hooked up with our friends, we wandered along with the kids. There are steep inclines, easy walks, and steps in some areas. So even kiddies my tot’s age (two) can easily explore and enjoy. Us adults whipped out our cameras and snapped away at the 360 views.

This was all before we even got into the Randall Museum.

Right when you walk into the space, you’re beautifully accosted with animals and educational displays that are both interactive and exciting for adults and kids. Rescue birds are strutting around, aquatic jellyfish and starfish are floating about, a swarm of bees are making honey right in front of you, a few furry friends are available for petting… And, it just so happened that five minutes after we arrived, an amazingly entertaining guy took a group of people outside to enjoy an animal discussion with a hawk, and owl, turtle, and snake.

(oh, my!)

My tot was a bit young for sitting and listening quietly, so we headed back inside for a private petting party with the duck, that really loved her shoes, and then explored the mock houses and other displays about the history of San Francisco. There were people playing with musical instruments in one room, kids building blocks together on moving plates replicating an earthquake in the hallway, families creating clay sculptures in the art room, and smiling and helpful attendants ready to lead you here and there.

And don’t forget the wood roaches…

Once we had run and explored and petted all we could, our collective walked down the slope to the awesome, sandy playground for some swinging and sliding.

By the time we headed out, we were all perma-grinned and blissed-out.

We had a fabulous time at the Randall Museum and are already planning another visit.

Seriously.

Check it out.

Yes, your kids can make this.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The idea of kids cooking in the kitchen may terrify adults with concern about those sharp knives, potential food poisoning, and the resulting messy kitchen. But there are simple and easy recipes that kids can accomplish without causing a big fuss. According to WebMD, cooking with kids has many benefits, from encouraging picky eaters to helping children learn about healthy food choices.

Eating a balanced meal is an important part of helping children develop strong bodies and healthy minds. Having family dinners is one way to encourage kids to make good food decisions and for adults to model positive eating habits. Cooking a meal from start to finish with a child encourages basic math abilities, hones fine-motor skills, and teaches how simple it is to create a complete and nourishing feast. Yes, everyone might get a bit messy in the process, but the end result is sure tasty!

Getting Started: Salad

Combine spinach and strawberries to create a simple salad that may entice picky eaters to try something new. Not only does this salad include healthy spinach, which contains folic acid, but the sweet taste of strawberries along with a tart dressing. There’s nothing scary or challenging here!

Start by having the child rinse two bunches of fresh spinach in a colander to remove any residual dirt. She can also remove any long stems remaining on leaves.

Along with giving the spinach a good clean, she can rinse 2-cups whole strawberries. Both the spinach and strawberries can be gently dried using a paper towel.

Now tear the spinach leaves into bite-size pieces and put into a medium-sized salad bowl.

Then she can use a butter knife to remove the tops of strawberries and slice. The sliced strawberries can be tossed in with the spinach.

Using measuring spoons and cups, along with a glass jar with a lid, the simple and sweet dressing can be made. First, invite the child to measure 1/2-cup vegetable oil and 1/4-cup white wine vinegar and add to the jar.

Now she can add 1/2-cup sugar, 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds, and a pinch of salt. Once the lid has been put back on the jar, she can shake, shake, shake the dressing vigorously and pour over the spinach and strawberries. Toss and serve!

Learning Aspect – Tearing the spinach and cutting the strawberries helps hone a child’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, promoting the use of the small muscles of the hand that help with her writing skills. While the child is cutting the strawberries, she can put her fine motor and math skills to the test by seeing how many slices she can cut from each strawberry, keeping count, and adding up the total slices in the salad.

Main Dish Cooking

A main dish that is fun makes the whole family happy and encourages everyone to join the clean plate club. Turn spaghetti and meatballs into a true treat by adding a special surprise. When cooking with raw meat, share with children proper ways to keep their bodies and the kitchen safe from food poisoning. Before cooking with ground turkey, have everyone wash hands.

Invite the child to help add seasonings to 1 pound of ground turkey placed in a mixing bowl by measuring 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried garlic, 1 teaspoon dried onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

Next she can add 1-cup of plain breadcrumbs and use a mixing spoon to combine well.

Before making the meatballs, have the child decide what she wants to be the super secret surprise tucked inside the meatballs. Options include her favorite cheese, half a mushroom, or half a black olive.

She can use a butter knife to cut her secret ingredient and then begin rolling meatballs by gathering a spoonful of meat, pressing her secret ingredient into the center and then rolling into a ball.

Have her place the rolled meatballs on a sheet pan lightly coated with vegetable oil and preheat the oven to 425 F. Once she’s finished working with the meat, don’t forget to wash hands thoroughly!

While the oven preheats, she can begin making her pasta and sauce. She can heat up her favorite store-bought pasta sauce in a medium pan along with boiling a large pot of salted water for her favorite kind of pasta.

Once the oven has heated, it is time for an adult offer some assistance with popping the meatballs into the hot oven for 7 to 10 minutes. The child can be in charge of setting a timer to keep track of cooking time.

An adult can check the meatballs, turning them after 7 to 10 minutes, browning meatballs on both sides. Place half a box of pasta noodles (8 ounces) in the hot water to boil so everything is finished at the same time.

Remove the meatballs from the oven and invite the child can help transfer them from the tray, using tongs, carefully placing them into the hot pasta sauce to let cook for an additional 5 minutes. Also, an adult can drain the pasta when it is cooked through.

Now the pasta can be placed on plates, the meatballs and sauce can be ladled, and the special surprise meatball dinner can be enjoyed with garlic bread and a sprinkle of fresh basil!

Learning Aspect –While using measuring spoons and cups, a child is learning math concepts such as fractions. Put her math skills to the test by figuring out how many different combinations of measurements she can find that create 1-cup or a tablespoon. She can write out her computations on a sheet of paper.

Dessert Creation

Dinner isn’t complete without dessert and using yogurt is a healthy option and also beneficial for good digestion. These treats need to be made a day in advance to freeze properly, but can also be enjoyed freshly made (although a bit messy)!

Gather ingredients for the child to use including graham crackers, 1-cup plain vanilla custard-style yogurt, and a jelly flavor of her choice.

She can tear several squares of plastic wrap for wrapping her treats.

Start by placing a half a graham cracker on the plastic wrap and have the child use a butter knife to spread a layer of jelly on the cracker.

She can then place a spoonful of vanilla yogurt on top of the jelly.

Invite her to spread another half a graham cracker with jelly and gently place on top of the yogurt.

Carefully wrap the graham cracker in the plastic wrap and she can continue making sandwiches so each family member has one. Place the finished treats in the freezer for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

Learning Aspect – When creating a frozen treat, a child is learning science concepts dealing with how materials change in different temperatures. She can create a chart to help her track how the cold temperature of the freezer affects the yogurt treats. After each hour, she can document how the ingredients in the treat have changed along with using a cooking thermometer to track its internal temperature.

No matter if you are an experienced cook or barely know your way around the kitchen, cooking easy recipes with kids encourages a healthy self-esteem and promotes positive cooking skills – and it’s a great (and tasty) way to spend quality time together!

*This is an article I originally wrote for Funderstanding.com. Go on over and check them out!

 

Fun summer science experiments

 

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Summer is here, which means hitting the pool, spending time outdoors, and relaxing with friends and family. That doesn’t mean learning something new is out of the question! Kids, and adults, are always looking for something new, interesting, and educational to keep busy and occupied. Why not experiment with some simple and engaging fun summer science projects? With the help of basic materials, creativity, and lots of enthusiastic hands, these fun science projects are a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Science activities should be an exciting way to bring learning and fun together, and these activities do both. Not only are basic scientific method concepts brushed upon, these projects can be easily added to and adjusted for different age levels. It is all about how far you want to take the experience, and how much fun you want to have with science!

Invisible Message on a Paper

The art of secrecy has been around since the dawn of time, and creating invisible ink was just another step in creating ways to get secret messages from one place to another. The idea of sending top-secret information during the American Revolution gained much popularity, causing the mystery of invisible ink to hit the mainstream!

To create your own invisible ink, all that is needed is a liquid acid and some sort of writing utensil. The best and safest option for an acid is lemon juice, and using a cotton swab works wonderfully as a writing utensil.

Your chid can start by squeezing the juice of a lemon into a small container and adding a couple of drops of water. Now he can dip the cotton swab in the mixture and use it to write on a sheet of paper. The message will be visible until it dries and then stay invisible until it is held over a heat source, such as a light bulb.

Invite your child to give the super-secret note to a friend and see if he can figure out how to decipher it. Take the experiment to the next level by trying different colors of paper. What happens if the paper is used with a different heat source, like leaving the paper in the sun?

Bubbling Blobs

The wonders of liquids can be explored with this simple and fun science project, creating the opportunity to discuss different weights of fluids and how they interact. The end result is enjoyable and can be observed for days and days!

Your child can start by filling a washed and dried liter plastic bottle with ¾ cup water. Using a funnel, invite him to add vegetable oil to the water until the bottle is almost full, leaving about an inch of room at the top.

Now your child can slowly drip several drops of food coloring into the mixture and watch as the water, oil, and food coloring mix and separate.

For the final effect, drop half a seltzer tablet into the mixture and see what happens! Alka Seltzer works really well.

Because oil is lighter than water, the water sinks to the bottom, and due to intermolecular polarity, the two do not mix. The fizzing tablet makes everything even more interesting due to its ability to create gas. The activity can be taken to the next level by using different sized containers or oils. Create a chart with the discoveries.

Solid Milk

When one thinks of milk, what comes to mind is a white liquid that is somewhat sweet and commonly poured over morning cereal. But, milk contains ingredients that interact with other elements causing interesting results.

Have an adult help heat 1-cup milk over medium heat until it is warm, but not boiling. Place the warm milk into a mixing bowl.

Now invite your child to measure 4-teaspoons of white vinegar and add it to the milk and then stir for about a minute. Position a strainer in the sink and pour the milk through the strainer.

Investigate what has been left in the strainer. Once rinsed and cooled, your child can squish and squeeze the white blogs together into a form and left to dry for a couple of days.

This activity can be taken to a whole new level by investigating how this fun science activity leads into the cheese making process, and by making a batch of your own cheese in the comfort of your own kitchen!

Summer Flower Fun

Head outdoors for a nature walk with your child searching for white flowers. Daisies work wonderfully for this interesting science project. While on the nature walk, discuss how flowers grow with the help of sun, water, and soil.

Invite your child to find several clear glass containers to fill with water and different colors of food coloring. Now he can put the daisies in the glasses and observe what happens.

Help your child create a chart on a paper to document the science experiment and the changes in the flowers every couple of hours.

After 24 hours, discuss what has happened to each flower helping him mark the changes on his chart. He can also take photographs of the flowers to visually show the results!

Cut flowers pull liquid through their stems and up through the flower’s petals. The water with food coloring changes the colors of the petals, showing how water moves through the flower.

Whether rain or shine, fun summer science projects are a great way to spend an afternoon learning and experimenting. Along with discovering new concepts, these projects offer end results that can be enjoyed over and over!