Tuesday, December 16, 2014

12 Days of Outdoor Christmas

What’s my family going to remember most about this Christmas?

A. the perfectly posed photo card I’m rushing to send out; 
B. the iPod under the tree that’s likely to be old news by summer; or 
C. a few hours doing something fun together when we’re all focused on the present and feeling great. I’m pretty sure the answer is C, which is why I’m going to try to put as much outdoor family time into this holiday as I can. Here’s what I have in mind:

12 Days of Outdoor Christmas
1.      Light candles outside. Maybe it will be a Menorah with our Jewish relatives, the Advent wreath or plain white votives.
2.       Go on an Evergreen Hike. Identify the pines, firs, holly and other plants still green and festive.
3.       Get close with snowflakes. Catch them on black construction paper and study with magnifying glass. Then try to draw what we see with sidewalk chalk.
4.       Stroll the neighborhood and enjoy the holiday lights.
5.       Feed the animals!  Make edible ornaments out of birdseed, fruit, fresh vegetables or cereal and hang around the yard.
6.       Visit our favorite playground – haven’t been there in a while.
7.       Look for animal tracks – Santa’s reindeer? Maybe make a plaster mold.
8.       Visit a frozen creek.
9.       Toast marshmallows over a bonfire, or at least the grill. Add crushed candy canes to the s’more recipe.
10.   Clear out old toys and trinkets by making a geocache chock full of goodies for others to find.
11.   Skate at outdoor rink.

12.   Participate in a Christmas Bird Count.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stretch out those moments outside

It can be so hard to get outside on a cold, dreary day, and even harder to stay outside. Frankly, I'm often the one rushing to get in out of the cold. Fortunately I have a very curious preschooler who always likes to take his time. The other day he wanted to play "don't step on a crack or it will break your back" on our way from the store to the car. So we did. It was just five more minutes of being outside together. But those can add up, if we let them.

Here are more oldies but goodies to help eke out a few more minutes outdoors.

1. Curb balance beam.
2. Weird walk. Stand side by side, holding onto your child. If you are on your child's left, take a wide step with your right foot placing your right leg over your child's left leg. At the same time, your child takes a wide step to the right with her right foot. Then, your child takes a wide step with her left foot placing her left leg over your right leg while you take a wide step to the left with your left foot. Get it?
3.Walk backwards.
4. Walk like a pirate.
5. Hopscotch
6. Three-legged walk. Like you're in a three-legged race, without the race and with a pretend rope holding your legs together.
7. Follow the leader.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Still warm enough for water

Now that swimming pool season is over, of course there will be scorching days in September and October. Fortunately there are lots of other fun ways to cool off with your kiddos and enjoy the water.

1. Splash pads are the best thing to show up at the playground since the wood-and-chain wobbly bridge and many are open past Labor Day. Don't need a swimsuit, swim diaper or lifeguard.

2. Natural waterfalls beat out the chlorinated kind any day. You just need to know where to find them. In Western Pennsylvania, McConnells Mill State Park features a kid-friendly fall and a solid soaking along the Hells Hollow Trail. Check out your state park agency or search the National Park Service for one near you.

3. Check out autumn foilage from the seat of a kayak or canoe. First timers and families -- hook up with a local guide for a how-to course or tour.

4. Water balloons are fun any time. We've been having a great time with a jug and pumper toy that lets the kids fill them without having to use the hose every time. Clean up after with a contest of who can find the most balloon bits -- make sure you have a motivating prize, like first dibs on chocolate cake.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Chocolate for Breakfast

Actually it’s vegetables for breakfast, but I can’t call it that and generate any excitement, can I? I’m trying hard to not waste a single thing from our CSA farm box this year. Zucchini bread is an obvious solution, but today I also wanted to use bananas. Found this recipe at howsweeteats.com www.howsweeteats.com/2012/08/whole-wheat-zucchini-banana-chocolate-chip-muffins/ for whole wheat zucchini-banana muffins with chocolate chips. I didn't have pastry flour, so I used regular whole wheat flour, which I'm always trying to figure out ways to sneak into my family's eats.  I liked the idea of chocolate, which would make even the whole wheat part taste good. Chocolate for breakfast is a sure thing with my kids.

The recipe worked out great.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Pick-Your-Own Strawberries

Give your kids a taste of local strawberries, and they'll understand the true inspiration for "strawberry" flavored candy -- Pennsylvania berries are sweet and delicious, not tart and bland like their giant cousins shipped here from California. Pluck them from the plants yourself to really appreciate them for the short time they are available. Remember water bottles and and sunblock.
Here’s a quick list of places to pick your own strawberries in the Pittsburgh area:

More listings at 




Monday, May 12, 2014

Move Minecraft Outdoors

This activity is meant for the elementary school-aged Minecraft-er; although any gamer who likes dirt and playing with Minecraft toys might dig it

My kids love Minecraft – the block-based simulated world game where characters mine for materials and making things they need for survival. My 4-year-old doesn’t even play the game yet, but he knows all about the Endermans and Herobrine from watching over his older brother’s shoulder. Although I’m often fighting against the screens and limiting my kids’ time on theirs, I actually like Minecraft. It allows a player’s imagination to drive the game and in low-stress creative mode is just about building things.
When I started seeing Minecraft toys  – like a foam diamond sword, building blocks and character figurines -- I thought, that’s great! The kids can enjoy the game in real-D, interacting with each other instead of the screen. Then I decided to go the next step and take the play outside. Here’s what we did, and even the “big” kids (tweens) got a kick out of it:

We made a “Herobrine mask” out of cardboard. This was my little guy’s idea. Taking the diamond sword outside was my idea.

Then we painted rocks gold with tempura paint. When they dried, the younger kids helped me bury the “gold” in an empty flower bed.

Let the mining begin! Now it's time to dig for gold.

*TIP FOR WINTER PLAY: SNOW MAKES GREAT MINING SOUNDS when hit with a plastic bat or toy golf club.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Five Ways to Get Your Spring On

First day of spring? Yeh right. The soundtrack to Frozen is apt, I’m not even tired of hearing it play every single day on our iPod. The temperature is in the 30s with snow flurries, an “eternal winter,” just like in the movie. The only way to enjoy being outside is to get moving, and think warm thoughts. Here’s what we’ve been doing lately to try to get our spring on.
1.       Throw a baseball. One day we hauled out lots of summer toys: baseball, lacrosse sticks, water squirters, bubble blowers, rafts for the water slide, golf balls. It’s too cold to play with the water stuff, but just seeing it has inspired great planning for a summertime water slide.
2.       Blow bubbles. We went to the Gazillion Bubble Show last year in New York City, and have been really into making ginormous bubbles with a large wand and old fashioned strings (gifts from the boys’ auntie). I’m going to try to make our own solution soon with these recipes
3.       Outdoor cleanup. This was mostly fun for me, but the kids always enjoy digging and prodding the ground for worms if not for weeds. Raking and cutting keep you moving and warm.
4.       Hunt for signs of spring. It was very exciting the other day when we found the first crocus, tulip and hyacinth sprouts peeking up from the ground. There are also buds on the trees. With a little sun, everything is going to pop.
5.       Take care of the birds. We neglected the bird feeder for a few weeks, but our beaky friends have forgiven us now that we’ve refilled. Next up is a bird house we’ll be painting and mounting. It’s also fun to leave bits of yarn and ribbon around for nest building.