Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

I hope that today finds you with your families, making wonderful memories.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Very Short Blog Hiatus

Very Short Blog Hiatus

This time of year is very busy for us all. Lots of extra projects and gatherings demand our time and attentions. hopefully we see more of our family as well, so it's all worthwhile.

But since I have more than normal to keep up with, and you probably don't have the time for an extra outing anyway, I'm going to take a short break from my "Fun Places to Go with Kids" posts, and crafty posts as well until the new year.

If it turns out you DO have extra free time, and you want some ideas of places to go as a family, then check out the sidebar for some of my previous posts. there are lots of fun ideas there. And have a great time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Make a Graham Cracker Gingerbread House - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Make a Graham Cracker Gingerbread House - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

After one of my Halloween posts, I promised to share something fun you could do with the Halloween leftover candy that nobody likes. Here it is: use it to decorate a mini graham cracker gingerbread house.

These graham cracker gingerbread houses are cute, and fun to make. And since they are small, they aren't too complicated. The key to a nice graham cracker house is good frosting. A frosting that is too soft will make the house wobbly, and easy to fall apart as you add other decorations. However, a frosting that is really nice and stiff, and will dry like stone will also be pretty uneatable, so you might want to decide ahead of time if you want to eat them when they are done. I suppose you could also use glue instead of frosting if you don't want to eat them, but most white glues will dry clear, and I think they white joints look nice.

I find that the canned frosting is generally too soft. I like the prepackaged tubes of frosting because they are fairly stiff, and much easier to handle and work with with little mess. If you want to make your own, I found a  recipe for stiff royal frosting here.

For the graham cracker parts of the house, we used two squares (1/2 of a whole big graham cracker) for the roof, and 4 squares for the sides of the house. I have also seen ones made with 2 small rectangles of graham cracker (or 1/2 of a square) for the sides of the house, and the front and back made by cutting a square of graham cracker into a house shape by cutting the corners off one of the smaller rectangles. When I've tried to make those cuts, it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I broke a lot crackers, and became frustrated. They do turn out a little cuter that way though.

Use your frosting to stick all the sides and the roof together and then let it sit and dry a little while. When it is dry and fairly stable, you can use more frosting to stick candies on the house for decorations.

TA-DA! Little Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Surprise Trip to San Francisco to See Union Square

A Surprise Trip to San Francisco to See Union Square

A few days ago we took a partial day surprise trip to San Francisco. I thought it would be fun for the kids to visit Union Square all decorated for Christmas, and explore the City a bit. While we didn't do anything all that spectacular, the kids have been talking about the trip ever since. They really had a blast. Things they loved about our trip to San Francisco:

We took BART to get there. 
And unless riding BART is something your kids do often, then they will probably get a kick out of it. From studying the train map, to putting their pass into the entry gates, to picking seats that went 'backwards', the kids loved the BART train. I had a little bit of frustration when I learned that the discounted child BART tickets can't be purchased at the station, but have to be pre-purchased someplace else. I even checked the BART website before our trip to research route prices, and still didn't see that mentioned. After spending 30 min circling the parking garage for a space, I wan't going to leave to find a 7-11 that offered the child passes, so I paid adult rates for them. Naturally, thought, the kids could care less, and their fun was in no way lessened.

We Took Time To Wander. 
The plan for this trip was very open. We wanted to go to Union Square, but otherwise, we explored the blocks right around that area and did some Christmas shopping (very little) in the stores that interested the kids.

We Saw the Union Square Christmas Tree, Menorah, and Ice Rink.
While we only spent a few minutes there admiring it all, but the kids were duly impressed. My youngest was afraid to try the ice skating, so we passed on that this year, but they still had big smiles as they watched some of the skaters while we were there.

We Took A Break for a Soft Pretzel
There are lots of stands for soft pretzels, but we found a spot in the basement of Macy's across the street from the Union Square Christmas Tree that had lots of tables and seats. I'm sorry I don't remember the name of it. But there were plenty of other food court style eating establishments down there if soft pretzels aren't your thing. Lots of walking on Big City hills was hard on my soft suburban kids and their little legs, so we enjoyed the rest and snack.

Street Performers
I'm not a city girl myself, so I actually tried to steer clear at first from most of these folks. But my kids were drawn to some, and enjoyed their talents, and as it turned out, all the ones we stopped to watch were friendly and smiling, and made the day better.

Are my kids the only ones who go to a new place, only to get super excited by stuff there that is exactly the same as we have at home?  We do actually have pigeons in our own town. But somehow, San Francisco pigeons are more exciting.

What other sorts of things do your kids love about a visit to San Francisco?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Play a Board Game - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Play a Board Game

We used to enjoy a weekly family game night. The with unpredictable work schedules, and busy weekend obligations, we lost track of it. Now we don't always manage a board game every week, but we get the whole family together from time to time, and we are always happy we made the effort.

Plus games are one of those sneaky fun learning experiences for kids, especially younger kids. There is counting, sometimes adding, maybe spelling even in games like Scrabble, sometimes strategy and logical thinking.

Here are some of the games that my kids pull out the most often when it's their turn to choose a family board game:

What are your family's favorite games?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book review: Come Back, Cat by Joan L. Nodset

Book review: Come Back, Cat by Joan L. Nodset

ComeBack, Cat by Joan L. Nodset is darling books that both kids and cats will love. There are few words, but the story involves a little girl who wants to play with a cat she meets. However, her attempts to catch and cuddle the cat are met with fear and aggression from the object of her desire. Through the story she learns how to move slower, and speak more calmly in order to win the cat over, and allow it to trust her enough to come near.
Kids often let their excitement about animals override their other judgments about how the animal is responding to them. This is a very simple reminder for children to pay attention to the reactions they get from a cat to help avoid frightening it, or getting bit or scratched themselves. My kids have checked this out from the library more than once, and really love reading it over again. The message seems to be working its way into their brains too, but sometimes excitement still gets the better of them. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sew a Monster Friend – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Sew a Monster Friend – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Sewing is a useful skill to have, for both boys and girls alike. A great way to start learning about sewing is to make something with felt. Felt is very forgiving, inexpensive, comes in lots of fun bright colors, and you don’t need to worry about raw edges. If you just need a good rainy day activity, and are not quite ready for sewing lessons, this can even be done with Tacky glue instead of stitching.

Monsters are fun to make because if they turn out looking a little strange, or goofy – well, that what monsters are supposed to look like!

Start by having your child make a simple drawing of what they might like their monster to look like. Emphasize for them to keep it simple. While thirty eyes and twenty arms might look cool, actually trying to cut out and sew them may not work so well, you could suggest maybe five eyes would be enough.
Next, you can let your child pick out a few colors of felt to use. Again, try to help them keep it simple.

Using their drawing as a guide, cut out the shapes you’ll need to make the monster. You, as the grown-up will have to make the call if this is a step your child can do on their own or one you’ll do for them. Any parts that you want to stuff, make sure to cut out both a front and a back for, this would include at least the body.
Simple chain stitches can attach any embellishments to the body of the monster. If thin parts like arms or antenna are needed, I would just keep those as a single layer of felt, and sew them into the seam between the two body layers.

Sew around the outside either with a chain stitch or a whip or blanket stitch, making sure to leave an opening for stuffing. After the monster is stuffed to your satisfaction, go ahead and sew the stuffing hole closed.

As an extra little sewing lesson, I like to have the kids use buttons for eyes. It’s always useful to know how to sew buttons on! If you want to make a no-sew monster, just use Tacky glue (it works much better than Elmers on felt) to glue on the decorations, and a line of glue around the edge for the seam. You’ll want to let the body seam dry before stuffing so it doesn’t pull apart once you start to add the stuffing, then just close the stuffing hole with a line of glue as well.

Ta Da! A little monster friend!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Christmas Fun for Families Around the Bay

More Christmas Fun for Families Around the Bay 2012

Friends have told me about some of their favorite places to take their kids in December:

The Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland - For three weekends, Dec 1st and 2nd, 8th and 9th, and the 15th and 16th, the Dunsmuir Hellman house in Oakland holds their Christmas event. The Estate is decorated in traditional turn of the century Christmas style, and offers special Teas for both adults and children. There is also a breakfast with Santa, carriage rides and a kids area. They are open from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, but the teas and Santa Breakfast have special times and additional costs. Follow the link above for schedule specifics.

A Christmas Carol at the Lesher Theater in Walnut Creek - This great live stage production of A Christmas Carol runs from Dec 6th thru the 16th 21012. We saw this last year and the kids really enjoyed it. Tickets can be a little pricey - we were fortunate enough to get to go with a homeschool group that got group pricing, and we attended on an afternoon when there were only other school groups there. This led to a more rowdy audience, but much more affordable  I'm not sure what it involved in setting up a group rate, but if you have enough friends interested, it would be worth a call the the Lesher Theater to find out. There is a reasonably price parking garage very close, and the theater is lovely.

Christmas Parade and Holiday Market in Benicia - On Sat, December 8th from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm in downtown Benicia. The parade begins at 10:00 am, and there will also be arts and crafts, and food booths. I've never been to Benicia's Holiday event, but our family has enjoyed ever other event we've attended in downtown Benicia.