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Zoo Strolling

My Mother In-law and I took the boys to the Cougar Mountain Zoo yesterday, which is a few miles from where we live. I have started on taking them on outings, to see how they enjoy it. Walker is the perfect age now!

Not everyone is a fan of zoos/preserves I realize…I mean I wasn’t as a kid, after too many vintage zoos that were horrid (Seattle and Portland were plain awful, elephants chained and on concrete). The Cougar Mt. Zoo is an intimate learning area, with only a few areas to visit. Open air, with room and the animals actually seem happy. A perfect zoo for small children to spend 1-3 hours in. They are happy but not overwhelmed! And even the 15 year-old had fun – I think he enjoyed it the most, especially the talking birds….and the tigers. The gorgeous tigers!

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The area for the tigers was one of the nicest I have seen. Grass, a waterfall with pond and more, there are two areas for the tigers as well.

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Two little boys. really into the emus below them. Later, we went down and got to be right up to them.

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Alistaire was very, very happy – giggling as the animals made lots of noise. Especially the Lemurs and Macaw birds!

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The cougars live in the center, catching your eyes as you enter the zoo. Gorgeous kitties. I love cougars – especially when I see their tracks in the snow while hiking!

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Tonight I face the difficult decision on how to stay within normal eating at a chain restaurant. Oy, even with nutritional stats online (thank you to King County, Wa for requiring chains post this!!) Looking at a menu while not hungry and looking at just how crappy the food is, is well….depressing. Ugh. I am getting used to eating every meal at home. It is hard when faced with 75% of the meals are a near days worth of calories. Yuck. and how nearly everything is white crap and or mass produced meat. I will miss my home cooking! No dessert for me 😉

~Sarah

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Little Fruit Tarts (Mama n’ Me Cooking)

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Walker saw The Children’s Step-by-step Cook Book at the library and asked to check it out. He looked at the photos and I asked what he’d like to eat. He wanted tarts, which were actually quite easy to make.

The tart recipe is open-ended. You can use whatever fruit you enjoy. We used two bananas – that we peeled and split in half for the banana shaped ones:

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Walker helped me wash a large plum and thinly slice it, drain a 15 ounce can of peaches, drain them and pat dry, then sliced most of them:

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Fruit Tarts

Ingredients:

  • 1 box puff pastry
  • Fresh fruit or fruit juice packed canned fruit
  • ¼ cup melted butter or Earth Balance Buttery stick
  • Granulated sugar
  • Apricot Preserves

Directions:

Thaw puff pastry in its box for 40 minutes on the counter.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, preheat oven to 425°.

Lightly flour work surface, lay out one sheet of puff pastry at a time and roll out to 1/8″ thick. Cut out desired shapes (whatever size you like. We used a combination of biscuit cutters, cutting around bowls and cutting around whole bananas). Transfer cut out shapes to baking sheets. You should be able to fit each sheet of puff pastry on one baking tray.

Brush the top of the pastry cut outs with melted butter, then arrange thinly sliced fruit on top. Brush again with butter, then liberally sprinkle with sugar. Bake one tray at a time, for 20 to 25 minutes, until pastry is golden.

Remove from oven and let cool.

Melt a bit of apricot preserves, liberally brush over tarts, let set before enjoying.

PS: Oddly enough they taste even better frozen and then partially thawed.

~Sarah

How My Garden Grows: Fun Seed Time

While I am not sure if Walker quite understands gardening yet, he does love the results. The ones where he gets to pick goodies fresh from the garden! And I know Alistaire will be right behind him this summer….trying to wedge in for a few berries if he can. But I can at least try to show them how it is done, so Walker joins me while I dig and plant. He got a say in what we would grow in “his” garden. Which it seems has become a set of containers in a sunny area of the yard, against one of the fences.

What got this set in motion was reading a copy of How Does My Garden Grow?, which I had seen at the library. Maybe my garden/yard could be classier but then would it be as much fun? Let kids be kids……and this book will give you so many ideas of fun projects. Like growing potatoes in burlap bags. Or using whatever you have on hand as containers….

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So we planted organic heirloom corn in a well recycled cat sand bucket (it has been a rock and weed hauler for a few years – holes drilled in bottom, small rocks on top, then potting soil). The white bucket is behind my well used planters. The pavers came with the house, I found them a few years back buried halfway in the ground, along the fence. Why the previous owner had left them there? Who knows, she had some odd things going on in her yard. If the corn takes, once it is growing, I will stake it gently to bamboo stakes.

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For our second project, we got frugal! I remembered seeing a Pin a few months back of raised gardens made with a kid’s swimming pool. I can say that yes, it works, and it is easy and cheap!

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We picked up a 4′ foot wide kiddie pool, that is about 7″ high. Using a cordless drill with a wider bit I gently did a number of drainage holes in the bottom. Then I figured out a spot to park the pool in, and leveled it as quickly as I could (it already had yard fabric and bark mulch on top, from 2011, in a bid to quash weeds). Then we added in a number of small rocks on the bottom, for better drainage. I used about 4½ cubic feet of potting soil and “garden soil”, mixed together. I would avoid heavier “topsoil”. Containers do better with lighter soil.

Cost wise? The pool was about $11. Try building a wood one for that price! The soil we can use over and over, and add in homemade compost every spring to keep it rich.

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We planted ghost (white) pumpkins, globe zucchini, finger carrots (they grow 3″ to 4″ long) and more – along with some marigolds Walker picked out today. To mark where we planted seeds, I used wooden stir sticks that I wrote on with a permanent marker.

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As summer comes closer, I am hoping the boys will get excited to watch their plants grow. Hopefully the animals don’t eat them all!

The only downside was Walker thought we were getting a swimming pool to…swim in 😉 I told him that he needed a bigger one 😉

~Sarah

How My Garden Grows: Bee Baths

If there is anything that eases my lingering post partum depression that doesn’t involve taking even more meds, it is having a garden. Maybe it is being outside, getting Vitamin D and fresh air, or maybe creating. I have had a drive this year that I can barely control – Kirk will put the boys to bed for me on nice nights, with me digging until it is so dark I cannot see. I feel so relaxed when I come in, it feels so wonderful to see my yard becoming what I had wished it would. It” never be ‘fancy-mag’ worthy, but that is OK. It is slightly messy, haphazard and it suits what I want. My little  section of land that is mine. For years going hiking filled my nature-need. I found with Walker and Alistaire that our yard offered me what I needed and even more. So instead of spending money on gas every week…I buy plants and dream at night of what will be. There is little better than listening to birds chirping, the gentle breeze and a sunny afternoon 🙂

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Kirk picked me up a subscription to FamilyFun awhile back. Unlike some parenting magazines, this one is actually fun to read, with lots of craft ideas and recipes. I got inspired by a an article in the May 2013 issue on creating a bee sanctuary for our little winged friends. When we bought our house, back in 2004, it had a pond in the backyard. All that thing did was breed blood suckers and encourage raccoons to loiter. Digging it up and putting the liner out front for free was a great thing. But..while I provide a lot of blooms, apparently a small water source is a good thing.

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I replicated the idea with Walker’s help, he helped me scour more large rocks from the area under his new playground, which we then hosed off. All you need is a large plant saucer (I used a plastic one to avoid children breaking it), add the clean rocks in a nice pile and fill with a little clean water. Walker added in his lawn find, a large marble that fell out of the sod a few weeks ago. We placed the bath in our main garden bed, near the blueberries they already love. Tucked in around are violas to entice the little hard-working bees. Just not so big I’ll have masked flea-bags loitering around, pooping everywhere.

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Feeling even more inspired I dug out an old bird bath and cleaned it up, then hung it on the fence. I know the birds will love it, and I hung up their bird house feeder as well…which I am sure the squirrels will get back into. Oh well. It is fun watching them and the boys love it. They can look out the dining room windows now and get a front row seat on all the action!

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~Sarah

PS: This spring and summer I will be doing more posts on my yard and gardens, and how I am developing it. Up next for ideas? Preserving open packets of seeds and getting your kids their own mini-garden on the cheap!

Cooking with Kids, Recipes and a bit more….

Last Friday I had opened up a copy of a new (and very cute!) cookbook, TIME for Kids Kids in the Kitchen Cookbook: Fun recipes for kids to make!:

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And planned on an evening of fun with Walker (The Toddler) in the kitchen. Well…I got a bit more than I bargained for. Oh, Walker and I still had lots of fun and made tasty food. We just ended up with an ER visit for Alistaire (The Baby) for an allergic reaction. Walker and I had made “Nutty Putty”, an edible play dough, Alistaire ate some and within minutes had facial swelling. It was either the peanuts or honey, both of which he hadn’t had before.

Ouch. Sometimes it is easy to not worry by the 3rd child if none of the others have shown any signs of allergies. Although I am glad that it happened at home, 3 miles from an emergency room, and not in the mountains, while hiking! What is he allergic to? We don’t know yet. We are waiting on blood work to come back, on if it is a peanut allergy, and for now I am carrying medication and an Epi-Pen Jr. with me . I should know by next week hopefully ..and well, we will go from there. If that comes back negative, then we will see an allergist for more.

Baby and me, relaxing after everything calmed down –

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But back to that Mommy n’ Walker cooking time. Someone was very excited and scooted his chair over and got ready. When I was little my Mom and I made a similar dough, which I loved eating. It was neat to see the recipe again. The book is full of recipes kids will have a blast making/helping with and more so, eating after! Lots of color photos, cute drawings and fun facts for them as well. A keeper of a book.

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He had a lot of fun rolling out the dough and cutting out “cookies”, that he and Daddy nibbled on.

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The Incredible Edible Nutty Putty (Page 78)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 1 cup instant nonfat dry milk
  • Decorations: Raisins, colored sugar, candy sprinkles, etc (optional)

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Directions:

Stir together peanut butter and honey in a big bowl. Add dry milk, stirring until blended.

Spoon a small amount onto a plate, or in Walker’s case, on a cutting board. Shape and decorate it by hand, anyway you wish, before gobbling it up.

Store remaining putty in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

 Walker’s notes:

A set of IKEA kitchen tools for kids is perfect for fun time with Mom! We rolled out and cut cookies and then scarfed them! Yum! Mom says Nordic Ware brand also makes mini-me tools…..check Target for those in the kitchen section.

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For breakfast after everything settled down, we tried the oatmeal recipe on page 38. It was very tasty and the oats were a neat texture – they didn’t get mushy. Yum! This was a winner of a recipe.

 

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Fun and Fruity De-lish Oatmeal (Page 38-39)

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ cup apple cider (or apple juice)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats (rolled oats)
  • ½ tsp salt (we used ¼ tsp)
  • ½ cup diced pear
  • ¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup milk (used unsweetened almond milk)

Directions:

Combine water and apple cider; bring to a boil in a large saucepan.

Stir in oats and salt; reduce heat to low, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add pear, cranberries, cinnamon, and vanilla, stirring gently to combine.

Cook 3 minutes or until oats are tender. Stir in pecans and milk.

Mom’s notes:

I used canned pears for the oats, I found small cans at our local Grocery Outlet store that have 6 mini pear halves. So for the recipe I used 2 cans. One can I chopped up, the second I used to decorate the top of the oats. Dad wanted a pinch of brown sugar on top as well 😉

~Sarah

FTC Disclaimer: We received a review copy of this book.

Baby B and His Birthday Cupcakes

It is hard for me to wrap it around my head that Alistaire turned a year old today. Everything that went so slowly with my two oldest just seemed to fly with him. Where they walked steady at a normal rate, little man tears around and barely teeters or falls, and has walked since he was 10½ months. I crossed my fingers he would fit in his 1st birthday onesie this morning, it was a tight squeeze 😉 It will be interesting to see his height and weight next week, at his 1 year checkup.

(Where does “B” come from? It was Walker’s name for the Baby, when he came home)

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He was my biggest baby, 10 lb., 7 ounces born at 38 weeks and well over 22″ long. He came out ready to take on the world….or at least it felt like that. He is my little snuggler. If I was given a gift, it was getting a baby that loves me so much.

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After going through a 3-ring circus I got all the boys together and tried to get at least one photo where they all smiled. Oh well. Two out of three is just fine. Hah….

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Alistaire (1), Ford (15), and Walker (almost 3).

Walker decided B needed balloons. Lots of them. We all know who is playing with them, right? Yes.

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Cupcakes? Of course! I took a well-tested and favorite vegan vanilla recipe of mine, and changed it up a bit, decorated in blue for my little man.

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Coconut-Vanilla Cupcakes
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1¾ cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/3 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
  • ¾ cup Coconut Palm Sugar or my favorite, Wholesome Sweeteners
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

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Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350° and line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners (used Reynolds StayBrite).
Stir the vinegar into the milk, let sit for 5 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the milk mixture, oil, sugar and vanilla together till smooth. Pour on top of the dry ingredients, whisk till combined.
Divide evenly between the prepared cupcake liners (use a disher for best results).
Bake for 20 minutes or a toothpick comes out clean – be careful they do not over bake.
Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Frost when cool.
Makes 12 cupcakes.

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Vanilla Frosting

Ingredients:

Directions:

Beat sugar through salt together with a hand mixer, till smooth. Color as desired.

Frosting will be stiff, for piping. If desired, add more milk for a creamier frosting.

Pipe frosts 12, spread on, will cover up to 24.

The finishing sugar is via Wilton (the clear is dye free).

Little man enjoying the rare winter sun….

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~Sarah

Little Feet

No recipe tonight….just a happy smile thinking about today. Kirk and I took the boys on a hike in a nearby state park. We found a lull between rain storms and set out. Walker ahead of me….like with his older brother, Ford, I have outfitted him in mini-me gear. I go by the theory my children should have as nice as gear as I do! Walker loves his backpack.
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At the trailhead, Kirk carried Alistaire today. Him and Ford set off and soon left Walker and I in their dust. Which was OK…..

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As Walker and I hiked the loop, hand in hand, I realized it was the most relaxing hike I had ever taken. Ford was always a strong hiker, and where Walker is as well, he is also curious. He asks questions about what he sees. Just him and I, slowly walking, breathing the cold air of the Cascade foothills. We looked at root balls, ferns, moss and more. We met dogs and humans. We looked down and saw we both had similar shoes on.

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Near the end, Kirk was waiting for us. Someone had to have a trekking pole suddenly!

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Alistaire riding in the backpack carrier. Kirk said he sat quietly, watching as he and Ford walked and chatted.

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I am so happy with todays stroll with Walker. It lifted my spirit so much. I hope you all had a wonderful Sunday!

~Sarah

Upcycling Baby Food Jars: An Advent Calendar

A simple truth: I get carried away with hot glue guns. What starts out as a small idea in my mind, it blossoms into a large-scale project 😉 My Advent Calendar came out of a whimsical thought – to have one big enough for all three kidlings to share. The past 4 or so years Ford, and then Walker, had a normal sized one, but it only held 2 pieces of tiny candy in each slot. It was too small now, though I am keeping it for Ford, I’ll save it for him when he is older. Or next year he can have it all to himself 😉

It all started with an idea – of recycling/upcycling baby food jars once again. 24 jars in total. Alistaire (and Walker…who loves to eat his brother’s food…) helped me get the jars ready –

And then this happened:

What started as a concept for 24 pretty jars turned into a Sarah-Creation. Because all advent calendars need a 2 foot tall flocked tree! No? Well, they should. (I should state this disclaimer: I once took a garage sale $1 bookcase, painted it luxe black, lined the shelves with crushed blue velvet, painted the interior gold and added black fringe….my taste has always been questionable – ask my husband about our 3 tier wedding cake holder decorated as a PNW forest with mini tent, backpacks and animals – and a mini lake.)

My point being that with a little work and some paint, ordinary ‘junk’ can be recycled and upcycled into something whimsical. I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, I don’t have set notions of what the holidays should be like. I had no traditions and do it for our kids more than anything – and I know Kirk enjoys it. For me…it is simply a season where I get an excuse to be crafty, to create and bake a lot of goodies and candy.

A mini tree topper completed it –

I love this shade of blue a lot (my wedding ring and earrings match it). I am still on the fence if I want to put up the big tree this year. With Alistaire furniture/wall cruising (he is now standing for up to 30 seconds without holding on!) all I could imagine was him making a mess of the tree. More so, I have no idea where to put it this year while we still have the pack n’ play downstairs. So the idea of a small tree, brightly decorated, yet above the baby’s reach sounded great. We shall see. But for once I got to pick out the colors I love (with Walker’s help of course!) A small and portable holiday scene? Perfect.

Each jar is filled with artificial dye free candy, ranging from candy-coated chocolate, peppermint candy, gum drops and chocolate coins. Walker loves to walk around the dining room table and take it all in. He happily pulls up a chair and tries to inch closer….

So how did I do it?

First I matched all the jars – I liked the shape of Safeway’s O Organics line, the stage 2 jars. Remove the labels, soak off the sticky residue in the way you like, then wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water. Let air dry overnight.

Fill the jars with candy or treats of choice. Secure the lids on, making sure they are even.

Using a small brush, paint the lids as desired, with craft acrylic paints. I used my old standby, Ceramcoat®, in Metallic Silver and 24K Gold. At $1.39 a container it is cheap and effective. I painted 2 coats total, giving them an overnight rest between coats. I painted 12 silver, 12 gold. As for how much paint? You will barely break in a bottle!

After they sat and dried fully, I applied tiny stickers I found in a scrap booking section, by Jolee’s Boutique. They are cute as can be. The ones I bought came in packs of 20, so I picked up 2.

For the tree:

Kirk had an extra shelf lying around, from an old IKEA storage shelving system. He cleaned up the edges on one of his manly tools I am scared of, then handed it over to me. I hot glued the tree’s base to the board (using a 2 foot pre-flocked/pre-lit tree that I opened up and did the branches beforehand). Once set, I draped a cheap tree skirt around it, glueing the skirt down on the edges to keep it neat.

Then I decorated the tree with mini-ornaments, I used 3 sets total. I also decorated below the tree with matching bead garland, then lined up the jars as desired.

I am not quite done, I still need to number the jars. My free-hand skills are not the greatest for painting numbers, so I need to find mini-stencils or stickers, that will take a trip to a large craft or scrapbooking store for that. If I get that done this year, great. If not, there is always next fall!

To store I am going to save a large cardboard box I can set it into, on a bed or large bubble wrap. When I think about this tree…it makes me want to not do a big tree. It is SO easy!

PS: The gingerbread house I built over the weekend is sitting in front of the tree now….and I love it!

PS2: In a Google search I saw a Pinterest Board on “Baby Food Jar Crafts” where my blog was pinned a couple of times. I had a huge smile knowing there are plenty of other weirdos out there like me 😉

PS3: How much did this project cost me? Ummmmm…..let’s not talk about that. It would have been frugal if I hadn’t bought the tree and ornaments. But hey, they were all 40% off! I paid about $16 for the tree, so it wasn’t “too” bad.

~Sarah

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