Puffin Costume

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Our October issue of Ranger Rick Jr. featured a cover story on puffins, with information inside about these bright-beaked birds. If your child is still looking for a Halloween costume, consider putting together this DIY puffin outfit. It’s perfect for trick-or-treating… or just everyday dress up!

Because we were making the costume simply for play at home, I skirted a few corners. But you can be more exact if this will actually be the Halloween garb of choice for your child.

First, make the puffin’s head. Fold a 20 inch x 12 inch piece of white felt in half. Draw the head shape (available from the online template) onto one side of the fold and cut out.

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Add two “head top” shapes cut from black felt with fabric glue or a hot glue gun. Next cut the beak shape from orange construction paper and glue on as well. Let dry.

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We added details like eyes and feathers with a marker. Here is my very serious puffin testing out the headpiece.

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The piece of black felt I had at home was big, but not quite large enough for the suggested wings – a full 34 inch x 18 inch rectangle! So working with what I had, I traced on the wing shape from the template in chalk, and cut out. I added a ribbon to tie around Travis’s shoulders; if you are using truly large enough felt, part of the felt itself will become the tie.

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Finally, we needed puffin feet. Trace the foot shape onto orange craft foam and cut out; add details with marker.

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Poke a pipe cleaner (ideally orange) through the middle of each foot shape, and wrap around the thong of a flip flop. If you’re going all out for Halloween, make sure your pipe cleaners and flip flops are orange too! Yellow pipe cleaners and some old summer flip flops worked for us in a pinch.

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Finish a true puffin costume with a white shirt and white pants.

My little bird was happy just to fly around the apartment.

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What a cute idea this was!

Creamy Squash Pasta Bake

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This homey casserole is perfect for chilly autumn nights! This time of year, consider using 1 and 1/2 cups pureed fresh butternut squash, but the canned version will do in a pinch.


  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 and 1/2 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups shredded Daiya cheddar
  • 1 (15-ounce) can butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and return to the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently.
  4. Once at a boil, remove from heat and stir in the mustard, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cheese, stirring until melty. Stir in the squash.
  5. Toss together the squash mixture and cooked pasta, then transfer to a 13×9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the panko.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

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Early Explorers Toys & Games

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This month’s offering from Travis’s Early Explorers subscription was literally a¬†package devoted to fun – toys and games that is! One look and we knew we were sure to have a good time with this one. We received all the recurring elements, such as an activity booklet, flash cards, postcard, and stickers for Travis’s wall map and suitcase.

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Even adults can learn a lot from this one – I sure had never heard of games like turumpo, galimoto, and daruma otoshi from around the world. Then it was time to get busy with the booklet’s additional suggestions.

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Toys Craft:

We loved the craft for a homemade marble maze. To construct it, you only need a shoe-box lid and straws. Travis marked a circle in one edge for Start, and a “smiley face” in red at the bottom for Finish. I do love his slightly-glowering smiley faces these days!

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Next we cut straws to various lengths, and he helped me decide where each should go. I glued them down and we let it set overnight.

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In the morning, it was time to test our toy! Travis loved tilting and learning how to maneuver a marble among the straws.

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We had fun with suggestions in the booklet such as: timing ourselves; going backwards from Finish to Start; and testing out ways we could make the maze even harder. When the opening between two straws was narrow, this was the biggest challenge.

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You can also try making multiple mazes, or roll something through it other than a marble!

Toys Science:

The booklet challenged us to make a new toy – a STEM endeavor if ever I’ve seen one! I pulled out our craft bin and a few other odds and ends from around the house, and encouraged Travis to come up with anything he wanted.

First up was this toy wheelbarrow – a matter of attaching an empty ribbon spool between two dowels.

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Next he wanted to build with craft sticks, much as you would with building blocks. Lots of tape helped make a sturdy frame.

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The construction soon turned into a game with a goal post that we could shoot wooden craft beads through for points.

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I loved watching his creativity through this whole process, involving at various points: black dot stickers; floral wire; Velcro stickers; and more. Some “toys” worked and some didn’t, but he had a blast and it filled a morning. I’d love to hear what your child makes in the comments! What will you name your new game?

Toys Keepsake:

Travis loved the keepsake in this package, a felt tic-tac-toe pouch with x’s and o’s that handily store inside the pouch when not in use. He needed a few games right away.

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Toys Field Trip:

If you’re lucky enough to live near a toy factory of some sort – the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA perhaps, or the Vermont Teddy Bear¬†factory in Shelburne, VT – then there’s your ideal field trip to accompany this theme! Failing that, seek out local exhibits that feature a specific toy. We were lucky enough to find two such exhibits near us.

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First up, a Lego building competition at a local cultural center, where we got to see fantastic creations, vote on our favorite, and try our hand at building our own.

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Then, our local children’s museum hosted a Tinkertoy exposition, which was a fun chance to check out this classic.

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While we were there, we got to see other traditional toys too, like this decorated doll house.

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What do you find in your area?

Toys Further Activities:

We used the booklet as a jumping off point for further, well, games! I have a set of tangrams (from Melissa and Doug) so it was fun to try and recreate the patterns in the booklet (although our shapes differed from the classic Chinese version).

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But Travis loved the activity so much he spent a whole evening busy at work!

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Then we headed outside to play the French version of hopscotch, called escaragot (snail), in which the board is curved, not the traditional American line.

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We had fun experimenting with other animal forms, including a turtle and a crab!

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Then we had a tabletop board game “tournament.” Pull out all your board or card games, and make it family game night!

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The extent to which this is actually a “tournament” may depend on your kids’ ages. For Travis, we’re still just getting used to learning rules and turn-taking, but he had fun with Guess Who? Go Fish, Charades, Yeti in my Spaghetti, and more.

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Bigger kids or larger families can actually keep a scoresheet and turn it into a true tournament.

Then of course there’s good old block building. Make it special by trying to recreate buildings you’ve visited, or famous landmarks.

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Since we’d had a recent trip into the city, we tried to build skyscrapers. Keva blocks are great for this purpose, but any wooden block set (or plastic) would also work well.

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Finally, we chose to purchase the kit’s optional add-on this month, which was a Superhero game – not just dressing up like one, but training to be one. Needless to say, Travis was in heaven.

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Soon we were jumping hard enough to shake the Earth, flying around the room, leaping over targets, and more.

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Apple-Butter Bars

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It finally feels like fall, after a strange spike back into 80 degree weather, and today simply called for this apple dessert. The flavors and smells practically scream out autumn.


  • Cooking spray
  • 2 (6-oz) Gala apples
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple butter, divided
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 1 and 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  1. Coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Core and finely dice the apples, then combine in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons apple butter. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, remaining teaspoon cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and mix with your fingers until the mixture starts to clump. Stir in the oats.
  4. Press 1 and 1/2 cups of the flour mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread with the remaining 1 cup apple butter, then top with the Gala apple mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining flour mixture.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan for 2 hours before cutting into 20 squares.

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Toasty Fall Treats

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These adorable little toasts, the recipe in our October High Five magazine, make a great snack – simply vary the shape to make them appropriate throughout the entire fall!

For our first toasts, Travis chose pumpkin- and leaf-shaped cookie cutters. Adults: toast 1 slice of bread per each shape.

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Travis loved helping press the cookie cutters into the bread, and seeing the shapes pop out.

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Next came spreading them with red-pepper hummus, giving a nice autumnal hue to our snacks.

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I cut up small strips of red and yellow peppers for him to arrange on the toasts as decoration, including red color for our pumpkin’s stem.

Okay, the leaf veins were care of mama.

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Closer to Halloween, make a ghost toast! Use a ghost-shaped cookie cutter and spread with non-dairy cream cheese. Add eyes and a mouth from cut black olives.

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Once we’re into November, consider a turkey version. We plan to spread with red-pepper hummus again, and use bell pepper pieces for tail feathers and a beak.

Happy snacking!

Easy Pinecone Wreath

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We’ve had a kindness wreath up on our door for over a year now – a project that we loved, but the time now feels right for a change. We used fall nature finds to craft this easy wreath on a store-bought twig frame.

As the title of this post suggests, you’ll need pinecones of course, but feel free to add other treasures that your children bring in from nature. We added some beautiful fall foliage!

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You can use ribbons to attach the pinecones, but I worried this wouldn’t be strong enough. Instead, we wrapped floral wire around each pinecone – Travis loved this new material (under adult supervision, of course).

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I did the wire wrapping, but he selected the perfect spot on the wreath for each pinecone.

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To attach the leaves, we simply tucked in their stems.

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Is there a homemade wreath hanging on your door for this autumn? Please share in the comments!

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Twig Stars

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There is a beautiful, yuletide feel to these stars, although here we are crafting them in October! Make them now, or set the idea aside for the upcoming Christmas season.

For each star, you’ll need 5 sticks that are roughly the same thickness and length; break any to the proper size if they are too long.

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I hot glued the stars together, then set Travis up with tidbits to decorate them – berries, pine needles, a bowl of glue, and a bowl of glitter. Little pinecones would look sweet, too.

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First dunk the berries in the glue, then immediately transfer to the glitter. He loved this part!

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If you like, dunk in the tips of your pine needles, too, or any other nature finds you have to add to your stars. Let dry completely.

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The next morning, we dabbed glue all over the stick stars, and added our berries and other treasures.

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Travis got a bit impish and loved smearing glue over the leftover glitter on our work surface, too. Good thing I had things covered with a layer of foil!

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Hang the resulting stars from twine, indoors or out.

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As mentioned, these would be beautiful at Christmas, but will light up a windowsill or other area of your home any time!

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Clothespin Grasshopper

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We were invaded by an army of grasshopper this morning! Okay, perhaps not really, but you only need a few materials to make a whole batch of these buggy friends, and Travis loved having lots to play with.

First, color clothespins with green marker (or use green paint, in a pinch).

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For the legs, cut green pipe cleaners in half. Insert one half towards the front, and one half in back, then bend down to shape the legs.

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I had to wrap the back leg pipe cleaner around the clothespin to secure it in place, since it wasn’t pinched, which resulted in slightly crooked critters; cut the front pipe cleaner shorter if you want to offset this imbalance!

Travis was so eager to play with one that I drew on eyes with marker.

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For the rest of our green horde, we glued on googly eyes and let dry.

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Get hopping!

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Rattlesnake and Other “Critters”

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You can bring the “wild wild west” to life for your kids with this easy snake craft. I purchased a tie on clearance at Target for our snake, but you can also raid daddy’s closet for old ties instead of buying something new.

First, we cut a bit of length off the end where it was too narrow, then stuffed bells into the seam to be the snake’s rattle. You can also use wooden beads for this step – anything that will make a noise!

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Secure the bells or beads between two elastic bands.

For the head, stuff in two old socks. I was worried the socks would fall out, so used a safety pin to help keep them in place.

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To finish our wiggly friend, Travis glued on two googly eyes and decorated with markers.

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Squiggles from Travis, diamonds care of mama. (And yes, he insisted on wearing another pair of old socks on his hands as he worked, ha!)

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Now it was time to take our snake out for play. He can squiggle…

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…or coil up in a ball!

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As we played with the snake, we talked about other Wild West critters, like vultures and armadillos. Your kids can pretend to be the animals, curling up in a ball like the armadillo, or trotting through the Western town horseback. For more Wild West fun, see our Koala Crate from ages ago!

Milk Jug Bird Feeder

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It’s that time of year when we start thinking about our feathered friends, providing them with seeds for the colder weather ahead (even though it’s been unseasonably warm!). In the past we’ve made everything from pinecone feeders to a little cafe. I wanted to try this version because it looked nice and roomy for the birds, but it posed a bit of a vegan challenge: the base of the feeder calls for a gallon milk jug. I briefly considered reusing a relative’s milk gallon, but had a hunch the non-dairy milk bottle from Califia Farms would work. It does, but grown-ups, do take care in the step below that calls for an Xacto knife and scissors!

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First, cut a window in the front of the jug for birds to fly into. I started this with a knife, and finished the cut-out with scissors.

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You’ll also need to make a hole near the top of the bottle to thread through yarn.

Travis took great pride in painting this project, everything from selecting the color blue…

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…to mixing shades of blue…

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…to making sure every last bit was covered.

Once the paint had dried, I tied yarn through the hole in the top and we headed outside.

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Travis loved scooping in the bird seed.

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Find the perfect spot to hang your feeder, then wait for your feathered friends to arrive!

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