Star Watching Party

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The Perseid meteor shower is here!

If you’re not familiar with this annual event, here are a few key things to know: The Perseids are debris leftover from a comet, and once a year the Earth passes near their path. The best viewing time is between midnight and 4 a.m., which means kids might get a special stay-up-late treat to see them, or early birds can head out before dawn!

Thanks to some stellar space-themed ideas in Parents magazine, we set the stage for our night of meteor viewing with a few activities. First up, we needed to launch a rocket into space, using “rocket fuel” made from baking soda and vinegar of course.

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Tape four pencils around an upside-down empty bottle, which will secure it upright on its “launch pad”. Next, flip the bottle over and add 2 to 3 teaspoons baking soda. Add 1 cup vinegar, then very quickly pop in a wine cork and flip the bottle.

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Did yours soar into the sky? We were a bit slow getting the cork in, which meant the “launch” wasn’t spectacular, but all the bubbling jet fuel sure was!

Now we wanted just the right clothing for our night, with glow-in-the dark shirts made from glow fabric paint. I made a star, moon and spiral galaxy for Travis.

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Veronika had a decidedly more abstract splattering of stars on her shirt!

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The next component of our night was space-themed snacks: we cut slices of vegan cheese into stars with a cookie cutter, and apple wedges were “crescent moons”.

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Next up, we secured a sheet of red cellophane over flashlights with a rubber band, then headed out into the night. The red filter supposedly helps eyes adjust to the dark!

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Before long, though, it was time to turn off those flashlights and turn our eyes upward to the sky.

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In between watching for meteors, Travis and I checked out the other stars in the sky and came up with a few of our own constellations.

Finish all that starry fun with storytime of course. Check out Storytime from Space which features astronauts reading from – you guessed it – the International Space Station. Wow! The kids were enthralled with a read-through of Give Me Some Space by Philip Blunting.

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After all that, it turned out that probably headed out a little early (10 p.m.) and didn’t have great viewing. We intend to check out Jupiter on August 19, for our next star party!

A few things we didn’t get to this time, but that have stellar hits in the past: marshmallow constellations and tracking the moon.

Seventh Birthday Party: Ninjago Lego

It has been all things Ninjago in our house this year, so it was a no-brainer when it came time to plan Travis’s seventh birthday: Ninjago it was!

As always, a party starts with the invitation, and this year we went with a homemade card. Cut an upside-down kidney bean shape from the front of green envelopes, then insert a yellow index card to cover the opening, taping to secure on the inside. Draw the trademark Ninjago eyes with a sharpie for an instant ninja face!

I then inserted an additional yellow index card into each envelope with the party deets. Thanks to babyccinokids.com for the idea!

The birthday boy sported a Ninjago t-shirt of course.

For decoration, we turned our living room into Master Wu’s dojo. I ordered plain red pillowcases which slipped over pillows in our house for seating, and arranged these around a low coffee table. Red lanterns on the ceiling, red streamers, and red and black balloons added pops of color to the room (all from Oriental Trading).

Travis has an army’s worth of Lego Ninjago figures, which easily became decor arranged around the room.

Ninja plates, cups, and napkins came from Amazon. For food, fill clear mini Chinese takeout containers (also Oriental Trading) with green jelly beans to look like edamame!

I then added a few lollipops into each container. If you have time, you can draw the Ninjago face mask on the lollipop wrappers, too, to mimic the invitations, although I skipped that step. We rounded out the party noshes with pretzel rod “nunchucks”, cantaloupe “throwing stars”, and slices of pizza (both vegan and dairy). Use extra takeout containers as the holders for plastic forks and spoons.

Don’t forget the perfect drink for your little ninjas: fruit punch. The homemade sprinkle party cake featured a marzipan Ninjago face mask.

The guests arrived and it was time to let the activities begin! The first test for the aspiring ninjas was a round of Fortune Cookie Toss. Tape large Chinese takeout containers in a vertical row and label each for 5, 10, or 15 points. Take aim with fortune cookies!

Inside, the ninjas tackled a laser maze (to set up, simply run black yarn through a room in your house, or an area outside, until it forms a tricky web). Then each ninja was presented with an inflatable sword for target practice against half-deflated helium balloons. (Hint: fill them the night before and they’ll be perfectly hovering by party time).

Time for a round of Ninjago bingo! The kids used their jelly bean “edamame” as playing pieces on a template I found online.

The capstone of the party was watching The Lego Ninjago Movie on a projector screen.

I also provided a quieter art activity, where guests could draw themselves as a Ninja. Foam picture frames (Oriental Trading) made this the perfect keepsake to take home.

Goodie bags repeated the face mask cutout from the invitations, this time with a yellow index card taped inside red bags. Each ninja received: a ninja rubber duckie, throwing star erases, extra fortune cookies and lollipops, and a mini beach bucket, that last one because it’s summer after all!

Pop Art Popsicles

Today we made popsicles that really popped, just in time for a 90 degree day.

To start, add gummy candy to popsicle molds. Parents magazine demonstrated with Airheads, but we used vegan sour rings from Whole Foods, thinking the sour combination would pair nicely with sweet juice.

That said, don’t use too sugary a liquid, since the sour rings are still loaded with sugar. We filled half of our molds with coconut water and the other half with lime seltzer. Freeze until set. (Ours took about 8 hours).

When it came time for the big reveal, the kids were wowed by the candy circles trapped in frozen liquid!

Half the fun was looking at them but the other half was in eating them of course, unlocking each candy circle in turn before moving on to the next. What candy will you freeze for pop art pops? Please share in the comments!

Curried Lentil-Stuffed Green Peppers

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Any meal where you can eat the bowl is exciting for kids. These hearty stuffed bell peppers ensure that the “bowl” will be healthy, too, down to the last bite!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 and 1/4 cups water
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green lentils
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 4 large green bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup shredded non-dairy cheese
  1. To start, combine the rice, water, carrots, lentil, bouillon, curry powder, and olive oil in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, spoon 1/3 cup sauce into the bottom of an 8-inch baking dish; set aside.
  3. Remove the stems, seeds, and membranes from the bell peppers and place in the sauce. Divide the lentil mixture evenly among the bell peppers, then sprinkle evenly with the cheese cheese before pouring the remaining sauce on top.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes.

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Tofu Pasta Shell Casserole

I love jumbo stuffed pasta shells, but the effort of making them is wasted on my kids since I just need to cut the pasta into smaller pieces. This recipe relies on small pasta shells instead, for a kid-friendly riff on a grown-up favorite.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, shredded
  • 3 tablespoons olives oil
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 (16-ounce) package shell pasta
  • 1/2 cup minced artichoke hearts
  • 8 ounces extra-firm tofu
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and zucchini; saute for 3 minutes. Add the marinara sauce and cook for 10 minutes, until heated through; set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions; set aside.
  3. In a bowl, combine the minced artichokes, tofu, and nutritional yeast; mash with a fork until crumbly.
  4. Spoon about 1/2 cup sauce into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with the pasta, followed by the tofu mixture, and add the remaining sauce on top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Herbed Broccoli

This recipe comes together in minutes, and is a great way to dress up otherwise ho-hum vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 1 head broccoli
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  1. Cut the florets from the broccoli head and transfer to a large bowl; reserve the stems for another use.
  2. Toss the florets with the broth and the herbs. Cover and steam in the microwave for 5 minutes, until tender.

My kids love this with Gardein chick’n or pasta for an elegant meal!

Ping Pong Spinner

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Here’s a way to make a spinning top entirely from recycled materials around the house!

First, you’ll need either need a blank CD or an old one that you’re ready to part with. (Bonus points: have the kids help raid your old CD rack and watch them marvel at music from the dinosaur age).

We traced the CD on construction paper and then colored in; the more colors the better, since they will whirl together when the spinner spins. Glue onto the CD.

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The next step is a grown-up one since you’ll need hot glue. Attach a bottle cap over the top center of the CD (our glue bottle was empty just in time!) and then hot glue a ping pong ball in the center underneath.

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Time to spin! Of the various tops we’ve played with and made lately, this one spins by far the longest, with an almost effortless twist of the hand. We must have gotten the balance just right, because it just kept going and going and going…

Spoon Puppets

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I had a few old wooden spoons that never get used for cooking anymore, so today the kids turned them into puppets!

First, I invited everyone over for painting, trotting out a few bright neon colors of tempera paint for the occasion. Veronika chose a neon orange and purple, and Travis gravitated right to the neon green.

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I loved watching the kids paint side-by-side!

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Let dry completely. Now it was time to give our spoons a little personality! I set out a variety of odds and ends from the craft bin and let the kids pick what they wanted. Travis wanted wiggle eyes and a little outfit to turn his green spoon into Baby Yoda. Veronika liked buttons and pipe cleaners!

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Your kids can glue on all their crafty bits with white glue, if desired. Since my kids wanted to play with the puppets right away, I used hot glue to make quick work of it.

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These were so cute for acting out little stories! Veronika named hers Mr. Tricky, and carried him around almost the entire rest of the day.

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Pencil Holder

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This toddler craft is so easy but the result is a pencil holder that really does look (almost!) like real leather. It’s a beautiful gift and your toddler can proudly claim to have made it themselves.

To start, clean and dry a 15-ounce can. I then showed Veronika how to cover it with strips of masking tape. She loved pressing these down by herself, and I only helped to make sure they overlapped and no metal was showing.

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Now it was time to make it look like leather. First she painted it with brown paint, very studiously applying it with her brush. I later added a second coat of paint for a polished look.

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Once dry, spray with shellac. (Note: This is a grown-up-only step, and be sure to do so in a well-vented area). I also wrote her name and the date on the bottom.

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Veronika is so proud, and this will make a perfect gift for daddy on Christmas morning!

Second Birthday Party: Tractor Harvest

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Veronika is obsessed with tractors, and since her birthday is in the fall, it was a natural fit to tie the vehicle in with a farm theme for the autumn harvest.

This party was very different departure from others I’ve planned, since it was the first time an event took place off site, followed by the party finale back at home.

But as always things start with the invite! I ordered a classic green-and-yellow tractor design (from Amazon) to fill guests in on the deets.

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The birthday girl got a tractor dress to fit the theme (Etsy), and was so thrilled when I pulled it out on party day. “It’s cozy!” she told me.

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The rest of us didn’t want to overdo it on the tractor theme, but plaid prints seemed appropriate for farmers and harvest time.

Onto the decor! Yellow and green balloons matched with a set of party ware (also Amazon) including plates, napkins, paper cups, and cutlery.

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Outside, where the two-year-old guests would be playing, we set up a mini farm! Small straw hay bales (from Party City) were topped with our farm and tractor toys.

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Don’t forget a few seasonal pumpkins. A vinyl tablecloth underneath meant cleanup of all that straw was, well, a piece of cake.

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I kept food primarily to single-serve noshes to keep the party safe in the era of COVID-19.

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Packets of Cape Cod trial mix, applesauce pouches, and clementines (which looked like mini pumpkins), all fit the harvest feel, as well as veggie chips in a trio of harvest colors: orange, yellow, and green.

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Even the cake featured veggies from the earth: Carrot cake perfectly fit the bill.

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Before all of that, though, our guests gathered at a local farm for a behind-the-scenes tour. Including of course, tractors!

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Then it was back to our patio for cake and socially-distanced play outside. Entertain big kids with pumpkin bowling while the little ones play with the farm toys. If you want to organize a toddler circle time, sing classics like Old Macdonald Had a Farm or Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.

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Favors were very simple: mini bottles of farm animal bubbles to take home!

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Needless to say, this party girl had fun on the farm.

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