Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Camping With Kids - Beyond the Essentials

You've pored over the camping checklists and packed all the necessities - but what about the fun? Here is my list to keep kids happy and active on the road and on the campground.

Bikes - If you bring no other activity you must bring bikes or scooters. I once saw kids "riding the loop" for over two hours. Make friends and ride the loop. Watch out for cars and don't forget the helmets!

Mad Libs - Great for the car ride and hanging at the site. Younger kids? Adults or older children can do the writing and reading.

Large, soft disc flyer - Frisbee is fun but getting hit in the nose by a plastic frisbee is not. Younger kids have a hard time with traditional frisbees but almost anyone can handle the big floppy flyers that are out now. Some models even fold up if you're short on space.

Track Ball - Easier and more fun than just plain catch. Family of four or more - buy extra rackets (and a few extra balls as they will get lost). Everyone loves that zip noise - it just screams camping. We also bring a soccer or kick ball as it's easy to start up a game with neighboring kids.

Cards & Games - An assortment of games is always good to have on hand - especially for rain and/or in the car. Some favorites: Blink, Uno, Jenga, Mancala and Rush Hour.

Art Supply Bag/Journal - Artist in the family? Pack a large ziplock with paper, small markers or crayons and scissors. A journal is also a great thing to pack for older kids - helps to keep that writing going in the summer!

Books - Always plan on a little tent time (rain or just a need to relax) - books are a great way to wind down. Pack some new and some old favorites. Trivia or informational books are good too - Guinness Book of World Records, Gross Facts or books about the nature and wildlife in the area where you will be camping.

Snacks - Make sure to pack lots of snacks - especially if you'll be hiking. There's nothing worse than a whiny kid on a beautiful hike. Low blood sugar = unhappy kid. Snacks are the answer. Pre-pack bags of trail mix, dried fruit, crackers, etc.

S'mores - Camping isn't camping without s'mores! Don't forget the sticks.

Now get out there!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eat Your Greens

I've finally found a way to get Monkey to eat greens without complaint! I'm not promising this will work for you - but it's worth a shot. I first made these tacos without adding greens and they were a hit.  Another day I decided to make them again and I happened to have a huge amount of rainbow chard arrive in the CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) box (or "the food box" as Monkey likes to call it). So I decided to grab some of that, chop it really fine (I'm talking super fine - like I used to for spinach eggs back in the day). I threw it in and hoped for the best . . . the verdict? "These are even better mom!" The next time I tried kale and held my breath - success! So now I add even more of whatever hefty green I have on hand! So far it's worked every time (and he even knows they're in there now). He always brags about how he's getting so many nutrients as he scarfs his tacos (such a kiss ass). So now you can try it - but if you have a picky eater like mine and want to start small try it w/out the greens - then next time add a little and then if it's working for you - a lot!

I used to dice even smaller than this (when I was being sneaky)

Turkey, Chard and Potato Tacos

All of the following measurements are extremely arbitrary! So feel free to play around with the amounts.

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion - chopped
1-2 garlic cloves diced
2-3 small potatoes (I've used yellow fingerling, baking, purple and new - they've all been good). Peeled and cut into one inch cubes.
1lb ground turkey (or a bit more)
taco seasoning of your choice
1 bunch of swiss chard, rainbow chard, kale or greens of your choice (you could try spinach but I like a heftier green) diced very small.
Small corn tortillas (18-20 or more)
Oil to crisp tacos (I use canola since it won't smoke like olive oil at higher temps)

1) In a skillet, saute the onion in the olive oil for a couple of minutes, add the garlic and then the potato. You want to cook until the potatoes are tender. Sometimes I add a little water and put the lid on to steam it a bit (this also reduces the chance of the potatoes sticking to the pan).

2) When the potatoes are almost tender - add in the chopped greens. Cook until tender and turn off heat.

3) Simultaneously, in a separate pan, brown your turkey. Drain fat if it's too fatty but you usually won't have to. Season with taco seasoning. I like to put on my seasoning, add about a 1/4 cup of water and let simmer. You can use a packet or make your own.

4) Once the turkey is browned - add the potato mixture and mash with a potato masher. You want it all to mush together. This helps keep the taco filling together and insures your greens are all incorporated.

5) The next bit is a bit of an assembly line. You'll want to have a pan for your tortillas, the taco mixture and a pan with oil (on medium or med/high) to crisp your tacos. Just a small layer of oil is good.

6) Warm your tortillas - you'll want to make sure they harden a bit so you can fill the tacos and keep them shut with a toothpick w/out it ripping through.

7) Fill each tortilla with about 2-3 tablespoons of filling, fold in half and secure with a toothpick.

8) Place filled tacos in the hot oil to crisp the bottom - then lay on a plate lined with paper towels. I let them brown for a couple of minutes. I usually put them in the oil, then go back and get the newly warmed set of three tortillas - fill them and remove the crisped tacos - repeat, repeat, repeat.

Serve with salsa, sour cream and avocado - or whatever else you'd like!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer Reading

I've signed up Monkey for the summer reading program at the Seattle Library every year - even those years he couldn't walk or talk. It's a great program. Your child reads (or you read to your child) at least 10 books and you get a free paperback book AND a family pass to the Burke Museum. You can even sign up online! So do it now - now!

So we've done it every year and Monkey loved going to the library, getting the stickers, seeing his name on the wall, choosing a free book and the museum visit. But this year is especially exciting (mostly for me) because Monkey can start reading books on his own! We are going to head down to the library tomorrow after school to sign up. I'm giddy with anticipation.

I also heard about some other summer reading programs which I've yet to check out. So I'll link them here so YOU can. Then I googled and found some more. So let me know how it goes!

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading
Pottery Barn Summer Reading Challenge
Scholastic Summer Challenge
Half Price Books Feed Your Brain Summer Reading Program
Old Spaghetti Factory - Reading Can Be Magical

Wishing you were a kid again to cash in on all this action? Seattle Library has an adult reading program too - for every three books you read and comment on you get entered to win a Kindle.

Get reading!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

North Cascades Highway

Diablo Lake Overlook
Before Monkey arrived on the scene Mr. Monkey and I spent many vacations in the Methow Valley - but always in winter. The Methow has one of the largest cross-country trail systems in North America (and great snow-shoeing too). The only drawback is that Highway 20 closes for the season. So we've always taken the long way around - missing the very best part of the scenic highway. After many years of talking about it, we finally decided to do it! And we brought along a six-year-old who is no fan of riding in the car for long periods of time. Crazy? Well, yes . . . but I had a plan to minimize whining - and it worked.

We were only going for a short time but we packed the car full of activities, layers and snacks to combat any situation we might encounter. I really wanted to camp but was unsure if we would be able to find a spot on a busy holiday weekend (plus, Mr. Monkey is still not entirely thrilled with my need to camp). So to preserve our marriage and reduce stress, we decided to book a room in Winthrop. Besides, I'm not a fan of camping for one night as I feel like all I'm doing is unpacking, setting up, taking down and re-packing gear. I would recommend staying more than one night anyway (it is a long drive) but my husband was adamant that he wanted to spend at least one day at home for the long weekend - and it all worked out since the main point of the trip was the drive.

Here's how we broke it up and survived enjoyed the drive!

First stop - Marblemount
We left mid-morning and drove with minimal stops (one potty break) to Marblemount (about two hours from Seattle). We ate at the Eatery Inn. Do not do this unless you love slow (but pleasant) service and mediocre food. We passed the Burger Barn in Darrington and we would have stopped there if we'd known what we were in for - how could it be worse? But Monkey had his new-found love (a hot dog) so he was happy as a clam. If you know of any other places to try along this route do let me know! After we ate we looked for rabbits around the grounds but didn't spy any, so we ambled across the street to visit the Wildwood Chapel (teensy church) where Monkey practiced his "speeches" at the pulpit. There is also a marked trail to the river which we decided to pass up as we were going on to Newhalem (about 20 minutes away) and had a hike planned there.  If I were to do it again I think we'd pack a picnic and follow that sign down to the river.

Second stop - Newhalem (milepost 120)
The first place we visited was the North Cascades Visitor Center. I highly recommend this stop. The rangers are very friendly, there's a great 3-D map of the cascades (lots of buttons to push that light up each marked peak, valley and river), a nice area with some exhibits for you and your kids to explore and some easy hikes right out the back door. The best part is you can pick up a Jr. Ranger booklet and your child can get started earning a patch right away. Monkey was able to get his badge and patch within 30 minutes. Normally we'd complete this at a leisurely pace while camping - but since we weren't sure if we'd be back later this summer he decided to complete it while we were there. You can also download the booklet and become a "web ranger" if you're unable to visit the park. Find out more about the Jr. Ranger program here. Monkey is already asking when he can earn his next patch. So next we'll visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Park in Pioneer Square and hopefully hit another National Park this summer.

Trail notes.
Taking the pledge.

Third stop - Ladder Creek Falls/Gorge Powerhouse (also in Newhalem)
Cross the pedestrian suspension bridge and walk up behind the Gorge powerhouse to view the falls. Monkey loved it. He said gleefully, "this is the best day of my whole Kindergarten life!" I'd say that's pretty high praise. Falls are always a good destination and even better when the walk is short. Add in a suspension bridge, steep stairs, blue butterflies, a snake, a peek at the turbines in the powerhouse and zig-zaggy trails - the kid was in heaven.

After that we decided it was getting late enough that we should cut our stops short and head to Winthrop. The drive was insanely beautiful! Jagged, snowy spires jutting above the tree-covered hills. Teal lakes sparkling in the sun and yet more waterfalls all along the route. So the adults were fine - but the kid was a little more challenged after he got bored with spotting waterfalls. So I created a travel bingo game on the fly and we played a few travel games (I'm Xavier, carrying a load of x-rays and I'm going to Xanadu). He even did a little meditation - but I will admit there was a wee bit of whining. Thank goodness for dried mango - it's chewy and it's almost impossible to whine while chomping - almost.

Day 2 - On the road again

First Stop - Shafer Museum
The next morning we checked out the outdoor Shafer museum just across from our motel. Make sure to have some cash on hand when you visit as they run on donations. $2 minimum is suggested. Wander among all the old mining equipment and historic buildings to get a taste of Winthrop history. 

Second Stop - Falls Creek Trail
Before we left the Methow we stopped at the Falls Creek Trail. Yet another falls and an easy, accessible trail - only about 1/4 mile so perfect for a quick stop to get the wiggles out.

Third Stop - Happy Creek Forest Walk (milepost 134.5)
We stopped for a picnic lunch at Happy Creek. This is a newly rebuilt, short (are you seeing a theme?),  accessible boardwalk/gravel trail that goes through some old growth forest and past a creek that lives up to its name. We had originally planned to eat at the Diablo Lake Overlook but didn't want to backtrack and we were too hungry to wait. 

Fourth Stop - Diablo Lake Overlook (milepost 132)
What is there to say - it's spectacular! There's no reason not to stop. Seriously, you need to stop!

Fifth Stop - Diablo Dam (milepost 127)
We saw a sign and decided to follow it - so we got to drive across the Diablo Dam. It was pretty surreal to be up so high. Mr. Monkey was pretty freaked out with the wind and the narrowness of the dam we were driving across. I thought it was awesome! We parked at the far end and got out. Mr. Monkey was not comfortable with us walking across but I went a little ways out. Next time I'm walking across!

Sixth Stop - Cascadian Farms Roadside Stand (Rockport, WA)
This was our last stop before the final push home. In addition to some organic snacks, frozen berries and such they have ice cream and big fields to run around in (and some nice interpretive signs about organic farming - but Monkey was really into running laps around a newly plowed field).

All in all it was a fun (albeit short) trip. Here are some survival tips if you choose to go:

1) Pack snacks - lots and lots of snacks. If you think ahead you can wash fruit and such before you go.  If not, you can wash grapes with your water bottle water like we did. Bring snack cups (or just cups) and portion out some fruit and snacks so you don't have to stop and pull it all out. 

2) Pack activities. Monkey has a small backpack and I put his travel-size markers in there with a notepad and a sketchbook. He's starting to get into writing so he wrote a few stories. I also used it to make some travel bingo boards. That can be an activity too (the making of the board prior to play - everyone in the car can give suggestions of what to put in each square). I also recommend Think Fun's Rush Hour Jr.. It's a great game and perfect for travel. I packed a few other games as well and put them all in a shoe box. Monkey used the lid as a small desk for games and snacks.

3) Map out your trip and try to have some sort of stop each hour or so. This trip was all about the journey and in order to make it fun for all we really tried to plan out some fun stops throughout the drive. But know that sometimes you just have to press on - and prepare your kiddos for that reality :) Have fun!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Boredom Buster #1

Have you ever had one of those days when it's raining, or perhaps your child is home sick but not sick enough to nap the day away? You can't watch movies all day. Well, you can, (and we have) but here's an easy activity to break up the day a bit. Marshmallow and toothpick building.

Here's what you need:

mini marshmallows

It's well past hot cocoa season so hopefully you still have a stale, open bag of mini marshmallows languishing in the deep recesses of the cupboard (or full-size) and if not, it's a very cheap addition to the craft closet. Set out some marshmallows in a container, some toothpicks and go to town. Your only limit is your imagination and gravity. Monkey even got the markers out and colored some of the toothpicks to make a campfire. He made a robot with missiles (of course), some buildings and a campfire. It helped us both survive our sick day (we were both sick). What will you make?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pinterest Challenge

Ahhh Pinterest. How I love you. You provide inspiration, relaxation (time wasting) and a place to store ideas. I love perusing pins and pinning. As with all art, sometimes it is all about the process and not the product! Yet, other times I need to remember to stop the pinning and start the doing. Luckily,  Sycamore Stirrings reminded (and inspired) me last week with her Pinterest Challenge.

I've made a few things over the past few months - enough so that I created an "I Made This" board to keep up the doing and to keep me honest. It makes me feel good to move a pin every once in a while to this board! Now, thanks to Sycamore Stirrings, I can move a few more.

Last week I didn't do any crafts but I did try some new recipes. I made these vegan meatballs, this quinoa salad (trying to get more quinoa in our diet but the kid is not having it) and these green cake muffins (Monkey's friend loved them but Monkey not so much). Sometime in the near future I hope to make this homework holder (which I planned to make months ago - but maybe I'll make it before school starts next year!) and this wall art project (I bought the letter for it months ago). I refuse to beat myself up about it - but I hope I will continue chipping away at pins from time to time. I've even thought of hosting a "Pinterest Party" where friends can get together and bring a pin they'd like to start on. We can spread out on the dining table and get to work. If I ever get it off the ground I'll be sure to let you know!
Monkey, spaghetti and "meat" balls