Celebratory poppers.

29 December 2013
Hooray! It's almost New Year's and I was selected to participate in the Mom Trusted Kids Craft Blogger Challenge! Which means... drum roll please.... you get to see a super fun party craft to do with your kids tonight AND have an activity at the ready for your New Year's Eve celebrations. (And, psst... the adults at your party will think it's pretty cool too!). And, these will work for other celebrations too-- they'd be particularly fun for birthday parties!

So, here's how the whole challenge works. Mom Trusted (a super cool site full of fun activities to make with kids!) gathers up a bunch of unbranded, unrelated craft supplies. They pack them into a bag and send them off to the selected creative bloggers. Each blogger is then challenged to create a unique project that others can replicate with the kids in their lives. The tricky part? You must use the items included in the bag to create your final project. 

Here's what arrived in this month's challenge package:

Completely fun, right? I mean, who doesn't like feathers (and pipe cleaners and little stacks of brightly colored tissue paper)?! Upon seeing the supplies, I thought that the kids would love to make New Year's Party Poppers-- clever little kid-sized poppers made out of hollowed out eggs. They will be perfect for bopping each other with on New Year's Eve. As the eggs crack, the feathers and tissue confetti will spill out and flutter to the ground. Such fun (to make and to play!)....

Here are the additional supplies you'll need:

In addition to the tissue paper, feathers and pipe cleaners, you'll need a gold paint pen, black puffy paint, bamboo skewers, and blown out, dried eggs. (Note: I blew out the eggs in advance of crafting with my kids since I find a project more fun if I don't make them stop and start over the course of several days. I created a fairly good sized hole at one end and just quickly emptied the egg out. Then, I ran them under water and laid the eggs out to dry overnight.)

After you've gathered your supplies, it's time to gather all of the little crafty hands in your house and begin:

  1. Tear or cut the tissue paper into tiny 'confetti-sized' pieces.
  2. Trim your feathers into smaller pieces, reserving enough large sized feathers to have two-three per egg left over.
  3. Wrap the skewers with the pipe cleaners to create a spiral pattern (or a solid covering).
  4. Stuff the confetti and snipped feathers into each egg. You want the eggs to be full. Be careful... the eggs are really fragile!
  5. For an adult to do while the kids finish stuffing eggs and wrapping skewers: Use a glue gun to attach two-three large feathers over the hole of the egg (this will create a barrier so that the stuffing doesn't fall out). Then, use a glue gun to attach and insert a wrapped skewer into the egg. When this step is complete you will have created the structure of your popper.
  6. Working on a piece of parchment or a newspaper covered table, create polka dots on the eggs with the gold paint pen. Follow with polka dots from the black puffy paint.
  7. Allow to dry for several hours until the paint is hard.
  8. Celebrate by holding like a wand and popping them on each others heads. Use a gentle pop and take care with the sticks as younger children play! 

Happy New Year's to you and yours!!!! May it be a fabulous 2014. And, don't forget to check out the other featured projects at the Mom Trusted Kids Craft Blogger Challenge.... the site has hundreds of cool kids activities.

feast: flourless chocolate torte.

02 August 2013

A few weeks back, the kids and I were enjoying a series of hot summer days. We were eating lots of melon and playing outside-- generally feeling light and happy. And, then, a hot night led to a lack of ability to sleep and the desire for something slightly decadent. We were having family stop by the next day and decided to whip up a (quick, easy... and gluten-free) decadent dessert. It's one of my favorites and I don't think I've ever shared it. Enjoy!

Flourless Chocolate Torte

12 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
12 ounces of dark chocolate (Choose a chocolate profile that you like. I prefer a very dark, bitter chocolate so I use something with a high percentage of cocoa for this recipe.)
6 eggs, separated
1/2 cup of sugar pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
a pinch of cayenne pepper
unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting the pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. In a double broiler, melt the butter and remove from heat. Slowly stir in the chocolate and allow to melt completely. Beat the egg yolks and slowly add the yolks to the warm chocolate mixture. Stir slowly and constantly to allow the eggs to create a smooth texture as they incorporate. (You don't want scrambled eggs in the chocolate!). Add the salt, cinnamon and cayenne. Stir and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff.

Slowly fold the chocolate into the egg white mixture until the two are incorporated. You shouldn't see any white streaks, but be careful to not stir the air out of the whites. Stir just until they are combined.

Butter a spring form pan and dust with the cocoa powder. Pour the batter into the pan and place on a cookie sheet. Insert the torte into the oven on the top rack. On a lower rack, place another cookie sheet and fill it with water. Close the door and cook for 40-50 minutes. A toothpick inserted near the center should come out almost clean (a few crumbs are good in this recipe!).

Enjoy the torte on it's own or, as we did recently, topped with unsweetened whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

style: bike on.

30 July 2013
Photo: Source

I'll be really honest. I'm missing my bike. And, that's a big statement from a person who hadn't ridden in years and years (and years!) just six months ago. But, there's something oddly addictive about city neighborhood cycling. And, maybe even more addictive is when you have a cute little giggling two year old companion sitting with you on the bike. But, with my two oldest on summer break from school, and my middle child not really a proficient rider yet, there is little opportunity to get on the wheels and go. So, in the meantime, I've been living up summer holiday to the fullest possible experience and stashing my bicycling dreams in the back corner of my brain. Although I'm not ready for summer to be a memory (not even slightly... I've got a ton of summering left that I must do!), I do have my eyes on a few dreamy bicycle goodies.

1. A picnic blanket that attaches to your bike. This would be fantastic for those early Autumn days in Seattle. I could bicycle over to the water, spread the blanket out on the grassy viewpoint and share some hot cocoa with my two year old. Which brings me to....

2. Isn't this the most beautiful hot cocoa holder you can imagine? From Beg Bicycles (so is the picnic blanket above!), I love the vintage feel of this flask. It's really quite gorgeous. And, would complement this next accessory that puts a modern spin on a vintage looking favorite....

3. I am still looking for the perfect bell and I think I may have found it. This striped bell has the look of the electra one I've been considering for my townie, but the stripes and ringing mechanism on this one are different than the ones I've seen so far. (And, dare I say, it might be absolutely perfect...)

4. And, into every bike owner's life a great lock must come. I'm so thrilled to have found a solution of where to put the lock while you're riding around though. I've been throwing mine in my basket, but every little bump sends it rattling and rolling around. (Am I the only one annoyed by this?!). So, this chic U-lock holster is a pretty dang cool answer to my problem (and I feel a bit comforted to know that others must have been annoyed by their rattling locks as well!).

5. I can't help it, I've been in love with the leather Electra handlebar tassels since the first day I discovered they existed. Bicycle Tassel + White Leather = Pretty Amazing Fabulous.

6. So, one day you wake up and it hits you. Bam! You feel like your bike needs a few polka dots. When that day strikes you, now you can pull out a box of Paint Job Stickers and polka dot your bike to your heart's content. Super cute (and super removable for the day that you wake up and decide you aren't quite in a polka dot mood any longer!).
7. Which brings me to the grand finale of this post. The one item that I think is BEYOND cool and amazing and I kind of want one so badly it hurts. I was at a summer festival recently and one of these rode by! The Wee Hoo Trailer Bike held an adorable little girl with beautiful curly hair blowing in the summer breeze. From that picturesque moment on, I have been dreaming of my little guy strapping into one of these as he gets too big for the Topeak seat he's now riding in. Yup, this thing is fantastically functional and pretty darn cute too.

travel+explore: road trip with kids

27 July 2013
road trip with kids!

I'm in the process of packing for an upcoming road trip. While we won't be in the car for multiple days, I still love the idea of kids that are happily entertained during the drive time. All three kids are used to traveling so they understand the types of things they like to do when seated for long periods of time whether it be on the road, in the air or on a boat.

Here are a few of our tried and true items that are being stashed into each kids' backpack. (And, a little note about packing: I know that stores sell all sorts of car and toy organizers. I've used some in the past and continue to go back to the simple method of having each child pack their own bag to place near their feet. Additionally, I hold a small stash of items in my own bag to whip out when the going gets perhaps a bit rough and the kids need something 'new' to hold their attention!)

The kids have the following items in their bags, ready to hit the road:

1. I've written about these before and have used them in all sorts of situations. The Crocodile Creek Matchbox Puzzles are tiny puzzles, perfect for road trip pit stops. When lunch is being purchased, the puzzles hold everyone's attention. Plus, they are easy to tuck into your handbag (and have at hand for coffee shop time) when you reach your destination.

2. I love the Leapster Explorer. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. The kids get a video gaming experience and the games are really helpful in subtly adding some summer learning. They games are fun and based on current characters that fit a wide variety of interests and ages. (And, although she's at the top end of the recommended age range, the Leapster is continuing to hold my now 9-year-old's attention. And, although he's a bit young by product recommendations, my two-year-old has one for this road trip now too.) The leapsters aren't used around the clock in our house, but instead pulled out for travel or special quiet time once in awhile.

3. My youngest received the My Pal Scout toy (also from Leapfrog Learning Toys) stuffed toy when he was just a year old. Now at age 2, he's started to take a strong interest in it-- talking back to the prompts. And, the best part? You hook the toy to your computer via a USB cord and personalize the prompts. Enter your child's name, favorite food, favorite songs, etc. The prompts are fun, age appropriate and engaging.

4. Another great product from Crocodile Creek (they make the puzzles above that I love too). These water bottles pack well, don't leak and hold just the right amount of fresh water. (Plus, they come in tons of designs!)

5. Mad Libs. Perfect in every way.

6. Little activity books from Dover Publications. They are a perfect small (packable) size, come in tons and tons of different activities (mazes, connect the dots, temporary tattoos, stickers) and topics (space, bugs, travel, animals) and are great for a wide variety of ages.

7. Neck pillows. These come in soft fabric, several fun animal designs and the perfect size for a child's neck. Really great for impromptu napping.

In my bag, I stash a few unexpected items to bring out when I need to change the pace. Here's what I'm carrying on this trip:

8. Whistle Candies. I introduced these to my kids while we were on a layover, a few years back, in the Tokyo airport. You can buy them online or you can, do as I did, and visit your city's international district to purchase them from a local supplier. Put these between your lips, blow and watch the kids giggle.

9. Ping Pong Balls (in bright neon colors!). These are great for when you arrive at your destination and you need to get the car unpacked. Give the kids a few plastic cups, some ping pong balls and stick a bit of masking tape to the ground. Tell them to sit on the masking tape marks and try to make baskets with their ping pong balls. Surprisingly simple, but shockingly effective!

*** Oh, and I should say that I'm not paid by any of the listed companies to express my opinion. I just genuinely find the above products to be great!

from white out to lilac.

20 July 2013

When I was in fifth grade, white out and glue nails were all the rage. In fifth grade, we took little bottles of white out and painted our digits to achieve a completely matte finish. It lasted for a day and signaled to others that, clearly, you were a trendsetter. Glue nails haven't (yet!) seen a comeback, but, surprisingly, white-out-esque nails have come mainstream.

So, when I flipped through a magazine a couple of months ago and saw opaque white nails, I couldn't help myself. I smiled thinking of the white out, grabbed a bottle of white varnish and painted my nails. That experiment lasted about three hours-- with me constantly looking at my hands (because, honestly speaking, they just looked weird tipped in that bright, thick white polish) and the polish chipping almost as fast as the white out used to.

So, I went on a search for ways to achieve the pale, opaque nail look-- but in a not so weird and not so quick to chip way. And, to save you from a day of looking at your hands oddly, I thought I'd pass along my discoveries. Now we can bring the magic of fifth grade white out into a more sophisticated light. Come along and let's all rock the pale nail look together...
  • Discovery: You don't actually want the chalky finish, white out look. Matte nails ONLY look good on a hand model, photographed in a glossy magazine. (And, then, the glossy page finish actually makes the matte polish look good.) Remember that gloss is good-- paint your nails white and then apply a high shine top coat.
  • Discovery: For a clean edged white nail manicure, sweep a layer of nail polish remover over your nails and cuticles. Immediately, follow with a coat of polish in a sheer white (similar to what you might use for a french manicure base). Allow the 'base coat' to dry and then apply your chosen opaque white polish in one coat. Finish with a high gloss top coat.
  • Discovery: Maybe opaque white isn't really a good look. And, as you can guess from the picture above, I have adapted the white out nail a bit and added just a drop of color. I'm liking opaque lilac quite a lot right now (painted in the same way described in the point above). The stark white was just too bright on my hands and, frankly, annoyed me a bit throughout my day. The addition of a touch of purple calms it down and highlights a summer tan in a way that feels modern, fresh and fun. The same can be said of a adding a drop of pale pink or sky blue to a white polish.
Have fun with your mid-summer manicure! Here are a few shades to get you started:

Opaque 'white' polishes

fresh garden peas = ice cream

17 July 2013

A bit of picking in the garden yielded a bowl full of green peas and a handful of fresh mint. The day was a scorcher-- reaching the mid 90s in the Pacific Northwest. I love green peas. I love fresh mint. I love a great vanilla bean ice cream. Why not combine them all together for one fresh (and surprisingly delicious) flavor? So, with flip flops on and a sense of anticipation, I plugged in the ice cream maker.

On the stove top, in a heavy bottom pan, I mixed together 2 cups of non-fat milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 vanilla bean-- split and scraped. I heated this mixture until steaming hot, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then, I removed it from the heat and added a pinch of salt, the shelled garden peas (discarding the pods) and the freshly washed mint. Then, I gave it a stir and set it aside to steep. About an hour later, I returned and strained the mixture. Next, I added the liquid to the ice cream maker and turned on the machine.

Within 30 minutes, the kids and I were licking cones that everyone loved. The mint imparted a subtle flavor and the peas provided a fresh, even sweetness. (And, if you don't have fresh garden peas on hand, just throw in a handful of frozen peas right out of the freezer!).

diy watercolor pencils.

14 July 2013

As the temperature climbs outside, it's nice to have a few "two minute" projects in my back pocket that can serve as an escape from the summer heat either for myself or for my kids. On this particular day, the temperatures hit 92 degrees and all three kids were spending huge amounts of time in the sun. For a quick shade break (and sunscreen reapplication), I spread a quilt out on the grass and laid out a simple DIY project. They had a few minutes of fun and I ended up with a few needed pencils that now grace my studio desk.

Gather the following supplies and you'll be able to create some dreamy watercolor pencils of your own. All of the items can easily be gathered at your local art supply store. You'll need masking tape, watercolor pens and some unfinished wood pencils.

  1. use the masking tape to create lines, stripes, swirls or whatever pattern you'd like on each pencil.
  2. apply the watercolor markers to the untaped areas (the watercolors will bleed under your tape lines, but I think the ragged edges add to the dreamy, summery quality of the design. If you like a crisp line, you might want to use sharpie markers.
  3. allow the markers to dry for a few minutes and then remove the tape.
  4. sharpen and enjoy!

Project also happily posted on Skip to My Lou!

fave meal: polenta.

12 July 2013

San Francisco, 1997. I was at the tail end of my studies in University and I flew to visit my then boyfriend in the city by the bay. On many of the evenings, we went out to little hole in the wall restaurants that were so (so, so, so) delicious.

On one particular evening, we walked into a tiny Italian restaurant, just on the border of the inner Richmond district and the Laurel Heights district. Various sized mirrors hung on a dark walnut wall that ran the length of the restaurant. Solid wood booths, that looked like they held stories of decades, ran perpendicular to the entry door. We tucked out of the fog creeping into the neighborhood and settled into a booth in a corner of the restaurant to examine the menu. I was drawn to a simple one line description that read something like this: "Rich vegetable ragout atop a creamy bed of cornmeal polenta."

At the time, pre-foodie, I had never seen the word ragout and incorrectly pronounced it Rag-Out. (Don't judge. I've gained some food knowledge since that time!). The wait staff corrected me gently and I ordered the dish happily. What arrived at our table twenty minutes later was a deep white earthenware bowl layered with an intense stock infused cornmeal concoction. Since the moment I tasted that dish, it has been on my top favorite foods of all time list. This is comfort food.

So, on a recent evening, with the kids in their jammies, I poured myself a gorgeous glass of pinot grigio and got to work. The youngest jammie clad bohemian spent time hanging out at my legs, taste testing warm spoonfulls of polenta in process, and discovering that his shadow dances along with him.

I slowly wilted a hand full of finely diced onions into bubbling olive oil. Then, little bit by little bit, I worked half cup by half cup of vegetable stock into the golden cornmeal. And, I stirred and stirred and stirred... and stirred. And, over the course of the next hour, the magical process of polenta came to a close with the final addition of some Parmesan and a bit more olive oil. I like to vary my toppings and on this particular evening I chose to lay down a bit of pesto, a generous amount of colossal prawns and a few roughly chopped tomatoes (that I squeezed over the top before placing on the dish). As the house grew quieter, I realized that over the years I have probably gone through a similar ritual well over one hundred times. There's something about polenta...

going where the days take you.

05 July 2013
The kids and I have happily been on holiday, house sitting for family about an hour south of Seattle. Enjoying the expansive property and savoring the moments spent together, we've loved our morning walks in the warm summer air. The days have been relaxed and lazy and full of all the things spontaneous summer days should be. Here's a glimpse of what we've been up to. 

May your summer continue to be full of sun and memorable moments. What are you doing to soak up the days?

welcome Americans.

04 July 2013
Today, on July 4th, all across the country people will celebrate their naturalization into America. At ceremonies they will celebrate their often long desired and hard earned accomplishment of becoming new citizens of the United States. 

And, each of them have passed the U.S. citizenship test featuring dozens of questions about our country. Here are three examples.* Test yourself, and the friends gathered at your celebration, and see how you do:

1. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
2. In what document is the Freedom of Speech found?
3. What do the stars on the U.S. flag represent?
(answers below... scroll on down!)

Happy Birthday America! And, to each of you, may the fireworks overhead, goodies on the grill and time spent with loved ones be a grand celebration.

Answer 1: July 4, 1776
Answer 2: The Bill of Rights
Answer 3: One star for each state

*source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services