Go to the Zoo

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Now hold on; as my readers know, normally I don’t advocate taking children to zoos. There are too many sad stories of animals who are unhappy in captivity, and your money is far better spent at a sanctuary. But today, we were invited to an Easter event at a local petting zoo, and I will say that Veronika seemed delighted in this chance to see the animals. So with some hesitation, here is my post about it as a field trip.

For the most part, this place was more petting zoo than exotic zoo. That meant lots of chances to see familiar animals up close, like pigs, goats, cows, and ponies.

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The goats seemed to love Veronika! She also enjoyed seeing her brother feed them special cones filled with treats.

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As we paused by each animal enclosure, I pointed out the name and the animal’s features, and made the appropriate sounds (moo, oink, maa) to turn it into a learning experience.

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I will say, it was neat for a moment to see small primates, such as lemurs, who were kept in an enrichment environment.

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If you do find yourself at a zoo, there probably is a lot more for a young infant to look at and enjoy than just the animals. Veronika also got to see the train ride:

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Enjoy lunch time at a picnic table:

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Take in a silly chicken puppet show:

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Observe a playground with kid-sized houses:

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And so much more. She sure did look happy.

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We kept up the fun at home, going back over some of the animals we’d seen that day in her baby books.

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She seemed to especially like the fluffy bunnies that she’d seen at the special Easter event.

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You can also sing Old Macdonald Had a Farm while using a farm playset.

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It was good “review” of everything she’d seen in the afternoon!

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Weave a Bajau Mat

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This interesting craft idea from Travis’s Welcome issue of Highlights magazine not only teaches a little about an interesting culture, but was also Travis’s first introduction to weaving. Although a bit advanced for him, it was a neat activity to work through together.

For a little background on the mat, it’s technically called a banig, a mat woven from plant leaves by the Bajau people, who live in Southeast Asia. Traditionally, they have lived in wooden houses on stilts above the sea, and so the zigzag pattern on the mats resembles ocean waves. Neat! We wanted a turn.

Instead of leaves, you’ll be using poster board and cardstock. Highlights recommended using a full 11×22-inch piece of poster board, but I knew that would be too big a canvas for Travis’s attention span.

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Instead we cut a piece of poster board to about half that, at 10×11-inches. He liked doing the measuring!

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Cut the poster board into strips about 1/2-inch wide, leaving a border about 1 inch long at the top. Great scissor practice.

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Now fold two sheets of colored cardstock in half, and then in half again. Travis was my expert creaser.

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Cut these cardstock pages on the diagonal into strips, then unfold; you’ll now have a zigzag.

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Working with one strip at a time, weave into the poster board, alternating under and over. Push the first zigzag up to the top, then repeat with the remaining strips. Travis did tire out, but watched as I finished up the weaving.

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Cover the edges of the mat with duct tape to secure and voila! A beautiful homemade mat. Ours was too small to really be a floor covering, of course, but it quickly became a prop for Travis’s action figures in his games.

Natural Egg Dye

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Looking to avoid artificial colors when you dye eggs this Easter? Look no further than your own fridge to make beautiful shades, whether you plan to dye real eggs or vegan ones! Travis helped me craft this deep purple from nothing more than cabbage.

In a saucepan, combine 4 cups water, 2 cups sliced red cabbage, and 2 tablespoons white vinegar.

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Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, and discard the solids. Add your eggs to the bowl and let stand for a few hours. The longer the eggs sit, the better the color. This didn’t work great with our ceramic eggs, but the plastic ones picked up the color!

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If you want a few more color ideas, try either: 4 cups water with 2 tablespoons ground turmeric and the vinegar for a yellow; or 4 cups water with 4 cups chopped beets and the vinegar for a red.

Make Volcano Eggs

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Yesterday Travis and I tested out a few ways to dye plastic Easter eggs. We had another batch of eggs (this time more properly ceramic rocks, which are meant to be painted), so although we know the results wouldn’t show up that well, we still wanted to have fun with the process!

In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons baking soda, 10 drops food coloring, and just a bit of water until you have a thick paste.

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Dribble the paste over the eggs – I recommend using a baking sheet or other craft bin as a base, because you’re about to have a mess!

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Drizzle 1 tablespoon vinegar over each egg, and watch the colors run!

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Travis couldn’t get enough of the fizzing.

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This was so fun we mixed up a second bowl of color and repeated the process.

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Bubble bubble!

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As with our previous egg crafts, the color didn’t really set on the fake ones, but a few streaks were left behind. I’d love to hear if you have great results with real egg shell!

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Bath-time Fun!

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Two months ago, I posted about Veronika’s switch to the big girl tub (well, big baby tub anyway). Now that she’s able to sit up for short spells on her own, we can make bathtime even more fun! As always, never leave your baby unattended in the tub, even for a moment, and keep a supporting hand on a baby even once they’re able to sit; everything is slipperier in the water!

One great new toy we have is a puppet washcloth. You can find these adorable washcloths with animal heads just about anywhere (ours is from Target), and they make bathtime truly entertaining. Veronika’s little fox likes giving kisses to toes and knees and tummies!

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She also loves to pat at the bubbles in the water.

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I pat my hand in the bubbles to add to the fun. You can do this rhythmically along to a song or nursery rhyme. Row Row Row Your Boat is a go-to in our tub.

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And as always, she has her plastic tub toys to play with; she’s getting much more dexterous at holding them even with slippery hands.

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At this age, I recommend skipping any fancy battery-operated toys. As long as its plastic and watertight, it can join baby in the water.

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Happy bathing!

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Exploring Taste & Texture

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Your five month old may have just begun solids, or tasted a few purees by this point – and even if he or she is still only drinking milk, babies this age love mouthing everything. Taste is such an important way in which little ones learn about the world, and this game lets them explore with the mouth safely!

I sat Veronika comfortably in her high chair and placed a few curated objects in front of her: a wooden spoon, a rubber spatula, a frozen teether, and a few toys.

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She got to pick what came first. Hmm, the wooden spoon looked so interesting…

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…but it was hard and probably not very nice in the mouth.

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The rubber spatula came next. Aah, this was a bit softer. I talked about the texture as she gnawed, as well as its bright bold color.

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She always loves her frozen teether, and that got picked up next. This time I talked about its cold temperature, the soft nubby texture.

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If you’re supervising closely, let your baby have a piece of banana to explore. Veronika loved holding this. It smelled good too!

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She seemed very surprised when she put it in her mouth and found that it was really food. Be careful, since you don’t want a five month old biting off chunks. I did then smoosh some onto her tray for her to play with.

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Any other small toys work great for this game, too. Talk about the different textures of each as you play, and help your baby learn so much about the world!

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Easter Egg Maracas

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Here’s a great use for any extra plastic Easter eggs you have lying around this time of year! You can make the maracas after the hunt on the holiday, or set aside a few and make them beforehand; they look beautiful among other Easter decorations.

First, scoop a little rice into plastic Easter eggs. Good scooping practice!

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Place two plastic spoons around the egg, and secure with decorative washi tape. Any color will do, but I looked specifically for colors and prints that evoked springtime! Whoops – Travis thought it was funny when he taped my thumb in for a moment.

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Now continue wrapping in washi tape until the egg and the spoon handles are completely covered. This step got a big frustrating for Travis, so finishing up became a mama job.

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Turns out little sister Veronika loved the maracas, too!

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In fact, perhaps more so than Travis.

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But they were still great for shaking and grooving to music.

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Add these to your table centertop for an Easter decoration, or just enjoy them during any music play.

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Shadow Show

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I haven’t used a flashlight during play with Veronika since she was quite little, and today I wanted to put on a little show for her. To be honest, she was more into my hands than their shadowed counterpart on the wall, but either way, she was entertained!

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Set your child someplace dim, and shine a flashlight on one wall. First, I gave a simple wave to introduce her to the idea of shadows.

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Next, try making animal shapes! A butterfly was fun.

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And this was something like a barking dog.

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For each shape, you can act out a story, if your little one is captivated.

We then thought it would be fun to show her the shadow of certain toys. Big brother Travis loved helping with this part!

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So although she wasn’t as into the shadows as the whole process, Veronika sure enjoyed our show.

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Vegan Easter Eggs, Three Ways

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Every Easter since Travis was little, I’ve wanted to dye eggs, but didn’t manage to find plastic or wooden ones in time for the holiday. This year, I was prepared! Today, Travis and I tested out three neat methods of dyeing plastic Easter eggs. Did other people know these plastic ones from Paas exist? What a find!

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To be honest, none of the following three methods worked that great on the plastic – it was more about the process and the fun than the result. The colors and tricks may work better on real egg shells, if your family is not vegan.

First up was a Marble Finish version. Fill a baking sheet with a generous layer of shaving cream.

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Add drops of food coloring at 4 separate intervals. Swirl the color slightly into the shaving cream.

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Now add 1 egg to each color, rolling around slightly.

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Let sit for 10 minutes. Wipe off the excess shaving cream, and you should see a neat marbled color effect.

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Of all the methods we tested, this one worked best!

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While the eggs sat in the shaving cream, we set up the second attempt: Soap Star eggs.

Fill a small bowl with 2 tablespoons dish soap, 1 teaspoon water, and 10 drops of food coloring. Use a straw to blow bubbles in the solution (they will be big bubbles), then stir quickly until you have smaller bubbles.

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Dip an egg into the bubbly water, then let set until the bubbles dry.

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Finally, we made Bubble Fun prints! Draw with sharpie marker (or use an ink pad) on bubble wrap.

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Wrap around an egg while the ink is still wet, and press firmly. You’ll have dot marks left behind.

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As mentioned, all of our results were faint, but I was so glad my little vegan got to join in the Easter egg fun!

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Sheet Pan Sausage and Tots

Sheet Pan Sausage

I love any meal you can make on only one pan, and this one makes dinner especially exciting, since it’s a breakfast-for-dinner kind of treat, too! You can use vegan breakfast sausage links (such as Field Roast) for the recipe, but I like using the sausage patties from Hilary’s. If using the former, use 6 to 8 links, instead of 4 patties.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups frozen potato tots
  • 4 vegan breakfast sausage patties
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Black pepper to taste (optional)
  1. Arrange all of the ingredients on a baking sheet, tossing to coat in the olive oil. Bake at 425 degrees F for 25 minutes, stirring about halfway through.
  2. If desired, sprinkle with black pepper for serving.