fabulous autumn nature exchange

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I spent every summer of my elementary school life attending Crystal Lake Nature Day Camp. We spent all day outside at a park, learning to swim, making crafts, playing games, and singing the usual camp songs. But my favorite part of the day was right after lunch – the Trading Post. You could bring cool nature stuff you had found to the Post and trade for something else. There wasn’t a strict economic system, but you had to pick something that was generally equivalent in awesomeness to your item. Like, you couldn’t trade a cool rock for a seashell – a prized rarity in landlocked central Illinois – you’d have to bring something like an arrowhead or a fossil if you wanted the shell. I loved the Trading Post so much that when I was 10 or 11, my friend Frances and I started our own trading post. It was awesome – after pooling our resources, we had the most amazing nature collection in camp and the power to deny or approve any trade. The only drawback came at the end of summer when it was time to divvy up our spoils. It nearly came to blows, but fortunately we were able to settle the custody of the shells, rocks, sticks, seeds, and stones with a good old-fashioned fingernail gouging catfight. (Don’t worry, we hugged it out later.)

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So it is with that passion for collecting interesting natural items that I invite you to participate in The Fabulous Rainy Day Riot Autumn Nature Exchange! What is it? It’s a fun, pen pal-like exchange where you fill an egg carton with natural items from your local area, and mail them to someone far away, and then you get a carton of stuff from where they live in return! I first heard of this idea on the lovely and sadly defunct blog Rhythm of the Home. We participated in a nature exchange a couple of years ago, and we received so many cool things from a friend in northern California. Oak galls! Weird skinny California-style acorns! Palm tree seeds! My kids were so excited they seized everything out of the carton and ran off with it before I could even finish matching all the items with their identifying labels. Some were dissected and investigated, others preserved with care. The surviving items served as everything from fodder for our science table to a Thanksgiving centerpiece to characters in an elaborate storytelling game.

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Picking up interesting ephemera to save for later is a universal impulse of childhood. Just the act of collecting itself is immensely pleasurable, both for children and adults. I often have to curb my children’s desire to bring home things from a state park or nature preserve to show Papa. And whenever we take walks around our neighborhood (or often even our own yard!), we come home with all pockets full.

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The Rhythm of the Home blog post I mentioned above has some excellent tips for doing a nature exchange, such as the idea to wrap delicate items in tissue paper, don’t collect from protected areas, and be careful not to include any invasive species in your collection. I’d like to add a tip of my own for collecting: double down. Collect two of everything. Since it’s best to gather only things which are abundant in the environment, it’s usually not too hard to find another of each neat item you choose for your collection. Finding a second one of each treasure can also add a fun element of challenge to the endeavor. Best of all, you get to keep a set of all the neat things you found. It’s an especially good idea if your kids tend to get particularly attached to their finds, as mine do.

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If you’d like to participate in the nature exchange, please email me at rainydayriotblog@gmail.com with your name and address by September 30, and I’ll pair you up with somebody from a different region. Let me know in your e-mail if you’d be interested in exchanging with someone outside the US! Please keep in mind the following guidelines:

1. Each collection should contain about a dozen items. An egg carton is a good reminder of the size/quantity the collection should be, as well as good packaging for protecting it on its postal journey.

2. Gather your collection from unrestricted locations (i.e. not state parks, nature preserves, or other protected areas).

3. Be careful not to send any invasive species, and please keep your exploration of the stuff you receive indoors, just in case. If you’re sending something that might harbor bugs or larvae, such as acorns or pinecones, you can prevent hitch-hikers by treating your items to a couple of hours in a 175-degree oven, as described in this post.

4. Collections should be mailed to your exchange-pal by October 31, 2014.

5. If you’re so inclined, please share photos of your collection, or the one you receive, to the nature exchange flickr group: The Rainy Day Riot Nature Exchange.

Happy hunting!

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forest bathing in southeast vermont

woodsSo, summer’s hurtling to a close, kids are back in school, and I’m actually wearing a cardigan – A CARDIGAN, PEOPLE! – as I type this. We had so much fun exploring new places this summer that I have decided to make a weekly hike or nature walk part of our fall routine. Places we visited this summer are bound to look quite different and maybe even more beautiful come fall. I’m gonna let you in on a few of the hidden gems we have discovered here in the southeast Vermont/southwest New Hampshire/western Massachussetts area. If you’re within an hour’s drive of any of these spots, I highly recommend! There’s nothing like walking through the dappled forest light, smelling the piney fall air, and being forced by your young charges to stop and examine each and every weird mushroom along your path. Just make sure you bring your bug spray and your patience – a one-mile trail recently took us 3.5 hours to traverse, what with the snack stops, the flower-sniffing, acorn-scrutinizing pace, and the frequent detours to look for wildlife.

Speaking of wildlife, one of our most memorable summer hikes was at the wonderful Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, MA.
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Featuring five miles of trails, including the easy loop trail around this vernal pool, Arcadia is a great place to enjoy wildlife of both the flora
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and fauna variety.collage

Plus it has this cool lookout tower treehouse thing!lookout tower

Our most local hiking spot – like, we can walk to it from our house local – is Mt. Wantastiquet, just across the river in Hinsdale, NH. If you go there after a heavy rain, the waterfall near the trail entrance is even prettier than it is here:DSC03349

Wantastiquet is also a good place to spot wildlife. Researching a little for this blog post I found out that apparently, Mt. Wantastiquet is also known as Rattlesnake Mountain. Pretty sure this cute little guy is not one, but perhaps best to keep one’s distance just in case.DSC03416

If you want to get up close and personal with Mother Nature, maybe try a tree instead.DSC03428

Or a mushroom.DSC03438

We found these weird little fungus-like plants, which I later learned are commonly known as Indian Pipe. They’re actually kind of rare plants that grow on a fungus that lives near beech trees, and live totally without chlorophyll. However my three year-old daughter insisted they were a species called “Cylene oxide.” World class science BS-er, that one.DSC03466

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On the opposite side of Mt. Wantastiquet is the charming ruin known as the Madame Sherri Forest.9103893113_92098d7b21_k

Madame Sherri, the former owner of this once lavish estate, was a Parisian singer, a costume designer for Broadway, and a die-hard party girl. After her husband died, she bought this 513-acre parcel of land in Chesterfield NH and had a huge, castle-y mansion built. The woods are beautiful and full of wildflower plants like this mountain laurel.mountain laurelProbably won’t see much laurel blooming in the fall, but this is also supposed to be a terrific site for enjoying the autumn foliage.

My kiddos always love exploring aquatic habitats and there’s plenty to see here as the Anne Stokes Loop trail that goes to the castle ruin passes right by Indian Pond, where you can see frogs, dragonflies, and beaver dams, just for starters.9103889141_abcb615749_k

And it’s always fun exploring what’s left of the stone foundation.madame sherri castle

Apparently, Madame Sherri was somewhat notorious, not only for her wild parties full of *GASP* theater people, but also for her pet monkey and her habit of attiring herself in nothing but a fur coat. She’s pretty much the most flamboyant character to ever live in Brattleboro, and that’s saying a lot. That’s right, I said Brattleboro. By the 50s she had fallen on hard times, and ended up becoming a ward of the town and moving to a rest home in West Bratt. Several years later, her house in Chesterfield burned to the ground, except for the stone foundation and stairway. She died a pauper, with only six people attending her funeral. A biography of her came out a couple years ago, written by New Hampshire author Eric Stanway, and if this Keene Sentinel article is any indication, it is juicy as hey-all. Sounds like Grey Gardens meets Mae West, with a touch of Kurt Weill. Sign me up. Oh, and PS, there are also rumors that she ran a brothel out of her castle.

Somewhat annoyingly, although I guess in the spirit of the original house, the ruin seems to be a favorite spot of revelers. The last time we were there, there was a lot of broken glass and trash left on top of the ruin. My son has deemed himself a litter hero and decided that next time we come we will bring a canvas bag and remove all the garbage that other folks left behind. We have tried this on a couple other hikes we’ve gone on and it always feels good to leave things nicer than we found them, although I think it is giving my little garbage collector superhero delusions of grandeur. As we emerged from the woods with a small bag of second-hand trash, he turned to me and earnestly asked, “Are we famous now?”

On to more wholesome hiking locales, coming home from Walpole NH (home of both Alyson’s Orchard and the mouthwatering L. A. Burdick Chocolates) one day, we stumbled across the lovely Ruth C. Warwick Nature Preserve in Westmoreland. Late May was a great time to enjoy the wildflowers the Warwick preserve is known for – we stumbled across quite a bit of trilliumtrillium

and this Jack-in-the-Pulpit, which looks like something straight out of an Uncle Wiggily story (though how a rabbit could possibly hide in one is still beyond me).DSC08144

There’s also a little stream that runs down the hill, from a spring that the eponymous Ruth Warwick had cleared to provide water for the animals that live in the woods. Perfect for some light stomping and splashing in.hiking warwick nature preserve

We spent Labor Day hiking the trail around Sweet Pond State Park  in Guilford VTDSC00765

Tons of cool sensory forest experiences to be had there.DSC00768

I always love how baby pine(?) trees grow so close together they look like a miniature forest.DSC00772

The trail is a 1.3 mile almost-loop (you have to walk about a quarter mile down the road to get back to the parking area) next to what used to be an large pond. The pond was created in the 1800s when developers built a dam in the Keats Brook to power a mill, but it was recently drained due to concerns about the structural integrity and safety of the dam. Apparently there are plans to repair the dam and restore the pond eventually. For now, it’s become an 18-acre marshy wetland in the middle of the woods that has pretty much the most awesome echo I’ve ever experienced. There are several vista offshoots from the main trail, and the kids and I took one to climb out on this fallen tree and sing at the top of our lungs into the echoing meadow.DSC00859

The edge of the pond was rich with little late summer wildflowers, including these little orange lovelies that I keep seeing everywhere, including at the edge of the woods behind my son’s elementary school. Anybody know what they’re called?DSC00883

Of course, you can’t talk about hikes in and around Brattleboro without mentioning Fort Dummer and the Brattleboro Retreat Trails. Our favorite kid-friendly hike on the Retreat Trails is the path past the cemetery up to the haunted tower. Sounds deliciously spooky, doesn’t it? Perfect for a late October outing!5876515623_f3d41662aa_b

The woods are very pretty and lush, and this hike is fairly short though it gets pretty steep at the end. But I’ve taken 2 year olds on it multiple times with no trouble.9162177629_b272c219ad_k

Oh, did I mention the tower was built by patients at the Vermont Asylum for the Insane (now known as the Brattleboro Retreat)? And yes, it’s supposedly haunted.6434554585_389b11f942_b

The tower is usually locked, but if you’ve ever been curious what it looks like inside, or from the top, somebody made a video and youtubed it:

In November, we’ll do our annual Lantern Walk down the sunset trail at Fort Dummer.10769919035_007d20ef10_k

Fort Dummer originated as a British fort pre-dating the Revolutionary War by about 50 years, used in a conflict between New England and a confederacy of Native American tribes who were allied with New France, called Dummer’s War. It’s named for William Dummer, who was the governor of Massachussetts (which what’s now Vermont was then a part of) at that time. Um, yeah, that may be the most confusingly worded sentence of all time. Three tries and that’s the best I can do. Nowadays, it’s a 218-acre state park, with beautiful vistas for watching the sun set (and rise, if you’re the type of person who goes on hikes at sunrise, which I decidedly am not).10089968306_09e0d29d57_k

Fort Dummer is also a great place to visit for the petless dog lover. I’m not really a dog person but my kids so are, and it always makes them so happy to encounter dogs, as we always do, who are taking their people for a walk through the Fort Dummer park. If you decide to do a late afternoon/early evening hike, this is a great place for it but make sure to bring a flash light. Darkness falls quickly as autumn draws on, and there are a lot of roots crossing the trail for you to trip over if you’re not careful.

Happy hiking, and remember, take nothing but pictures (and trash), leave nothing but footprints!

adventures in cardboard

Ahhhh, beautiful, precious cardboard. Is there anything it can’t become? Our recycling bin is one of our most shopped sites for art materials and entertainment, in fact my son recently forbade me from throwing away any cardboard box, EVER. These kids love cardboard so much that despite having two cutely outfitted twin beds, they have recently taken to even sleeping in it.sleeping in a box

Other past cardboard ventures include fairy houses,toilet paper roll fairy houses

toilet paper roll critterstoilet paper roll bat

a viking longshipcardboard viking ship

a submarine and crewcardboard submarine

a deep sea dioramadeep sea diorama

a plethora of birthday party decorations over the years, including dinosaur lawn decorationspainting a cardboard ankylosaurus

and a great white shark beanbag tossshark beanbag toss

and hilariously, an iPad.cardboard ipad

cardboard ipad

Yes, we’re those mean parents who won’t get their kids a tablet. (I spend enough energy setting and enforcing screen time limits as it is.) They love to play games on their grandparents’ ones, and my son tries to create analog versions of his favorite apps to play back at home.

Some of his best efforts have been “Dino Maker,” a mix-n-match game that lets you select a head, front, back, and tail to create your own dinosaur species

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“Ant Squish,” where you use your fingers to squish the ants as they rotate around the tablet, and make their pipe cleaner guts spill out, but avoid touching the wasps or you lose your turnant squish cardboard ipad app

And “Medic,” where you remove construction paper tumors from the patient’s brain.cardboard ipad app - brain surgery

playing the cardboard ipad

Most readers of this blog have probably seen the amazing video Caine’s Arcade, featuring a mind-blowing game arcade created completely out of cardboard and recyclables by (then) 9-year old Caine Monroy. If you haven’t then it’s required viewing before scrolling on to the rest of this post:

I watched, and rewatched it a couple of years ago when it came out but what I didn’t realize until recently is that it had a huge impact beyond the viral popularity of the video. Donations flooded in for a college fund for Caine (currently at almost $240,000!) and the filmmaker ended up starting a foundation to promote this kind of creative play for kids. It’s called the Imagination Foundation and they also host an annual event called the Global Cardboard Challenge where kids are invited to make anything their imaginations can dream up out of cardboard and other recyclables.

We actually went to a very similar event recently, sponsored by The Play Workshop, a new non-profit organization in Northampton, MA, that is working on bringing a permanent adventure playground to the area. If you read that Atlantic article The Overprotected Kid about adventure playgrounds last spring, then you’re probably as excited about this prospect as I am! A place for kids to play independently, constructing their own play structures out of loose parts. Healthy learning about risk-taking! Self-expression! The pride and excitement of creating things for themselves! I long for my kids to have the kind of free-wheeling childhood I did, and while there were no European-style loose parts playgrounds involved, there was a heck of a lot more independent, unsupervised play than is considered normal, or even legal, today. Less helicoptering, more Roxaboxen. I have a lot to say about the trend toward constant supervision ’til high school, actually, but that’s pretty far off track from what I meant to talk about here, which is my passionate love of cardboard.

So The Play Workshop’s eventual plan is to create an adventure playground in the Pioneer Valley, but until they reach that goal, they are putting on these pop-up adventure playgrounds, where the loose parts are easily transportable stuff like, you guessed it, cardboard boxes and recyclables!pop up adventure playground 3

My kids had a great time exploring other children’s forts and joining in their play,pop up adventure playground 1

as well as making some improvements to them.pop up adventure playground 2

and making some constructions of their own.pop up adventure playground 4

They even built a teeter totter out of an old cable spool and a long board!pop up adventure playground 5

What my three year-old lacks in cardboard building skills, she more than makes up for in imagination. She adopted this scrap of box and declared it her pet tiger, carrying it around with her for a good 30 minutes.

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And both kids seemed to get as much enjoyment out of the clean-up process as they did the building and exploring part, utilizing this pile of flattened boxes as a trampoline.pop up adventure playground 8

I want to finish by sharing my favorite resource on cardboard and kids. The amazing and inspirational LiEr of Ikat Bag wrote this awesome cardboard manifesto a few years ago, and it is basically the bible of how to make stuff out of cardboard with your kids. What kind of cardboard to use for what purpose, how to cut it, how to bend it, how to fasten it, and links to a bunch of tutorials of cardboard toys she’s done, including the cool viking ship we made (above) and dozens of other great things.

Oh, and I can’t end this post without my all time best favorite movie about kids and cardboard ever:

Happy Cardboard Adventures!

it’s friday i’m in love

toadstoolsHappy Friday!! I’m starting this one off with one of my all-time favorite 80s songs. I once listened to this song 17 times in a row in a Circuit City waiting for my new car radio to be installed. And it got better every time.

The video is kind of amazing in a very Sketchbook of Patrick Nagel way. But just feel free to hit play and then scroll down and enjoy these links as you let the waves of Norwegian new wave synth pop wash over you. brownie ice cream sandwichesSo I’m a little late for National Ice Cream Sandwich Day (August 2) but Smitten Kitchen’s innovation of brownies for the cookie part of the sandwich are a genius idea that simply Must Be Tried. Preferably before the month is out. Check out this amazing Motion Silhouette pop-up book from Japanese designers Megumi Kajiwara and Tathuhiko Nijima. You use a flashlight to create moving shadows on the pages. Sooo cool. This would actually be an amazing inspiration for some paper engineering/art projects! Speaking of inspiring, how awesome is this softie convenience store in London. Artist Lucy Sparrow (of course her name is like something out of a Beatrix Potter story) recreated the entire inventory of an abandoned corner store in felt, and everything she crafted is for sale, from the packets of crisps to the till. Oooh, look at me, getting my British on. Tea and crumpets, jolly dee, carry on!

While I’m on the subject of awesome British things, here is a heartwrenching story of someone who’s an even bigger Harry Potter fan than I. (And just so you know, my husband and I spent our first wedding anniversary reading book 7 aloud to each other and drinking homemade butterbeer. NERDS IN LOVE!) Anyhow, this is a really wonderful, tear-jerking story of how the Harry Potter books were a lifeline for another boy who lived. This story is part of a project called “Call Me Ishmael,” a collection of voicemails people anonymously leave about books they’ve loved and stories they’ve lived.

In happier news, I just found out that dirt is nature’s anti-depressant. Apparently, there are microbes in soil that are released into the air and inhaled by gardeners, which can stimulate serotonin production. Finally, the science behind why we’re all happier if our lives include a little playing in the dirt. Yay for microbes, our benficent overlords!

And if all that’s not enough to boost your mood on this summer Friday, I give you BABY PUFFIN CAM.

image via awwww-cute.tumblr.com

Is there any bird cuter than a puffin??? (Answer: yes, a baby puffin.) I dare you to watch these little critters and not smile.

Have a great weekend, kids!

diy nursing necklace

natural wooden nursing-teething necklace

Happy World Breastfeeding Week! In honor of nursing mothers everywhere, here’s a tutorial to make a stylish nursing necklace. I’ll actually be helping moms make these Wednesday morning (8/6) at Windham County Breastfeeding Coalition’s World Breastfeeding Week party from 10-12 in the Tyler Conference Room at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, so if you’re local, stop on by!nursing necklace

Why would anyone need a necklace for nursing, you may ask? Well, if you’ve nursed a child past the age of about 4 months, you may have noticed that they are always looking for something to do with their hands while they nurse. Sometimes this is something as cute and cuddly as patting mama’s cheek or hugging her waist, but often it is really suuuuper annoying behaviors like pinching or even worse, the dreaded “Tune in Tokyo.” So my best solution has been to proactively give the baby something acceptable to pinch, twiddle, and squeeze, rather than say, my own body.natural wooden beads

These necklaces are especially great because they’re also completely non-toxic, made with Alexa Organics‘ natural wooden beads and rings finished with beeswax and olive oil, and naturally dyed leather cords from The Leather Cord Store on Etsy. After having two babies who loved (and still love, much to my chagrin) to explore the world by putting it all in their mouths, I think it’s important to make sure anything that’s going to be near your baby’s face is safe for them to mouth and chew on. In fact, these are great as a fashion accessory for any mother whose child likes to grab and chew on her jewelry, no matter how she’s feeding her baby.nursing necklace supplies

There are lots of ways you can assemble these materials to make a cool necklace. The simplest way is, just string a bunch of beads onto the cord, let the ring slide on over them, and knot the cord at the back.wooden beads and teething ring on leather cord

I like this version because the teething ring is big enough to side over the beads, so it makes a cool Saturn effect (well, when you are wearing the necklace in a vertical position, it’s more like Uranus), and it’s something interesting for your baby to do with the beads.

If you prefer a more static position for the ring, you can make a slip knot around itslipknot on teething ring

and then slide an equal number of beads onto each side of it before knotting at the back.knotting the ends

And there you have it! My fellow breastfeeding mamas, I salute you. May your nursing days be peaceful and rewarding, with a minimal amount of pinching and twiddling!

Oh, and PS, here’s one more diy treat for nursing mamas: my patented recipe for the tastiest ever lactation cookies! Bon appetit! (See what I did there?)

part-time princess

pondering the waterfallThis is a strange time to be raising a daughter. For a million reasons, but in this post I’m gonna stick to those relevant to the four-and-under set, as that is the only kind of daughter I have experience with so far. When I first began to have ideas about raising a daughter (years before I had one, which is the best time to be an expert on parenting, doncha know) I was so overwhelmed by the vast swaths of pink presents at a friend’s baby shower for her daughter that I swore that when I got pregnant I was going to keep the baby’s sex a secret from everyone but its father. And then I had an actual daughter and not only shared the news of her girl-ness, but happily accepted hand-me-downs from anyone and everyone and ended up with this:

pretty in pink

When you are parenting an infant (or just thinking about parenting an infant) you feel so much anxiety and excitement about shaping this little person and their whole outlook on the world that it’s easy for small things like what clothes they wear to take on looming importance. After all, an infant is basically just a lump for you to project all your hopes, dreams, gender politics, and neuroses onto. But as time passes and they grow into little people with their own ideas and desires and interests, it often turns out that our kids are not perfect reflectors of our carefully curated gender-neutral worldviews.

I was a disappointment to my own mother in this regard – as a toddler, I thoroughly ignored all the trucks and cars she kept buying me in her earnest 1970s way, and made a fast favorite of the Barbie knockoff that my babysitter, oblivious to my mom’s anti-Barbie leanings, gave me. My own daughter surprised me with her early penchant for baby dolls and shoes, though she is also passionate about monsters. It’s actually been really interesting raising a daughter who is the younger sister of a brother. His influence rounds out her interests more powerfully than I ever could. Thanks to him, at two she could identify at least two dozen dinosaur species, and by three she knew all the planets in our solar system.

Since my own childhood, we’ve made enough progress at gender equality that a lot of my beloved Free to Be You and Me now sounds strange and dated. And yet. Much has been said about the rapacious pinkification of American girlhood over the last couple of decades. And it’s not just about the ubiquitous pinkness of the “Girl” aisle in toy stores. (Which, why is that even a thing?? What could possibly be wrong with just having toys organized by type, not supposed gender of recipient?) It’s about the constant whittling away at little girls’ idea of what it means to be a girl, from dolls with unattainable body types, to hyper-gendered toy choices, to salacious children’s and doll’s clothing styles, to passive or self-sublimating female characters in countless books and movies.

Which is why it’s been so incredibly heartening to see Disney, the prolifigator of the Princess Industrial Complex famous for its conventionally beautiful, wimpy “heroines,” taking some of this criticism to heart and finally coming out with some truly admirable female protagonists. The two most recent Disney princess movies, Brave and Frozen, both feature wonderful, tough heroines who take their destinies into their own hands and have their richest, most rewarding relationships with other terrific female characters. And then I came across this little gem at our local library (picked out by my son, funnily enough):DSC03570Published in 2013 by Disney’s children’s books imprint, Disney-Hyperion, this cute book by author Deborah Underwood, with pictures by Cambria Evans, tells the story of a little girl who leads an ordinary life by day but at night turns into a kickass princess, capable of not only rescuing herself, but everybody else too.DSC03571

I loved that her royal duties include fire-fighting and dragon-taming,DSC03572

And my amphibian- and mud-loving children appreciated that she goes puddle-jumping with her mom, the queen.DSC03574

There is a royal ball, of course, and the princess quells drama by inviting the trolls to dance with her. There’s also a handsome prince there, but, you know, whatevs.DSC03575

Also did I mention that she drives a monogrammed motorcycle?DSC03576

I love this messy, brave, and fun-loving little princess, and I also love that unlike many kids’ stories, her mother was not only present throughout the story, but a total ally in fun and adventure. Role models for the whole family.

tractor baby

coming attractions

Hey guys, remember me? Sorry for the blog radio silence, life got a little crazy last week. I’ll probably be on blogging hiatus this week too, but I have so many cool things to show you when I return! Here’s a little taste of what’s coming down the docket:

Coffee Filter Jellyfish!DSC03511

DSC03566Badass Princesses!DSC03572

More forest bathing!DSC03032

Secret beaches!DSC03592Have a great week everybody and I’ll see you next week!

mango lassi ice cream

So, I’m back with another refreshing frozen summer treat for you! It’s funny cause when I had a recipe blog I used to never post on it, but now that I have a blog that’s not particularly about recipes, I can’t stop doing recipe posts. Whatever. This mango ice cream is freaking great and you should all eat it.mango lassi ice cream

I’ll never forget the first time I tasted a mango lassi. I was 21, with my friend Juliet at the newly-opened Basmati Restaurant in Champaign, Illinois. It seems crazy, considering how many Indians live there, that this was Champaign-Urbana’s first Indian restaurant. Growing up, my only experience with Indian food was from my mom’s kitchen, a white girl from suburban Chicago. Her curries were delicious (if a little unorthodox), but she never introduced me to the joys of naan, chicken masala, or glorious lassi. Though I moved away from Central Illinois a few days later, I ended up in Rogers Park in Chicago, a mere 10 minutes from Devon Avenue and Chicago’s Little India. So basically I’ve drunk like 300 mango lassis in my time and it’s a serious hardship living in a town where the only Indian restaurant went under 11 months ago (RIP India Palace).

Enter, mango lassi ice cream. I invented this last week and it is outrageously good. Basically, make a mango lassi, mix in some half and half, and put it in your ice cream maker. Refreshing Indian heaven in a bowl. By the way, do you know how to peel a mango? This was all over BuzzFeed last week, so maybe you do, but just in case,

Amazing, right? So anyway, you do that to 2 mangoes, and then purée them in your food processor.mango purée

Boy, I’m getting really good at taking photos of the inside of my cuisinart, huh? Add a cup of plain yogurtyogurt

and half a cup of half and half (half half half… that starts to look like it can’t possibly be a word. More like a sound effect. The sound of a cat working out a hairball situation. OK enough disgusting sound imagery, Self, back to semi-appetizing process photos.)making mango lassi ice cream

Then bloop in some honey and cardamomadd some cardamom

and stir until you get a nice, smooth, pale yellow, speckly mixture:
mango lassi ice cream base

Pour the whole thing into your ice cream maker bowl and let it churn until you get something that looks like this:churning mango lassi ice cream

I was explaining to my kids this morning how we used to churn ice cream when I was a kid (“In the old days,” I found myself saying. It was the 80s.) In a big wooden barrel filled with ice and salt and you had to keep cranking it around and around for a million years. I seriously can’t believe anyone ever made ice cream. BARBARIC, IT WAS. Now you just turn the thing on, wait until it’s ice cream-ish, and then toss it in the freezer to finish. It’s so easy you basically have no excuse to not make this. (Except if you don’t have an ice cream maker. But you should definitely buy one because this stuff is awesome.)mango lassi ice creamMango Lassi Ice Cream
makes about 12 servings

Ingredients
2 mangoes
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup half and half (or 1/4 cup whipping cream and 1/4 cup whole milk)
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon cardamom or rosewater

1) Slice and peel mangoes. Purée them in a food processor until smooth.
2) Transfer mango purée to a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
3) Pour mixture into ice cream maker and churn until it looks like soft serve ice cream. Transfer to a lidded container and freeze at least 3 hours.

it’s friday i’m in love

Happy Friday, kids! Here is your weekly dose of random awesome things from the internet.raspberries

1) First of all, a shout out to my friend Nils’ amazing band, Future Folk. Did you guys see the movie The History of Future Folk? If you haven’t, you should totally watch it. It has goofy but lovable aliens, banjo music, a charming romance plot, and saving the Earth. What more do you need in entertainment? The band, consisting of two helmeted, folk-music playing spacemen, are currently on a US tour, so if you have the chance, go see them play live – you won’t be sorry:

2) How cool are these little ceramic mugs by Creature Cups with a secret sea creature at the bottom? I have a birthday coming up this month for my ocean-obsessed son, and I’m thinking one of these might be just the ticket. Now to decide, shark or octopus??

3) Check out this super simple and – this is the awesome part – COLLAPSIBLE cardboard playhouse

My kids would love this, and it looks so easy to make, and to store when they’re not playing in it! Could be the perfect thing to pull out for a rainy day, and let them go to town decorating it with markers.

4) Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables.

French supermarket chain Intermarché recently launched this campaign (there called Les Fruits et Légumes Moches, but I rather love the translation “inglorious” for moche) to combat food waste. Basically instead of farmers throwing away all the produce they grow that doesn’t look like a textbook perfect specimen, Intermarché bought all the reject fruits and veggies and sold them to the public at a discounted price. Brilliant. Why doesn’t every supermarket everywhere do this. It’s unbelievable that farmers have to throw away so much unsellable food , yet there are people going hungry, or struggling to afford fresh produce. A perfect solution.

5) My Milk Toof

This insanely cute blog by California artist Inhae Lee is basically like a photo-comic that follows the adventures of two baby teeth who go around having adventures, trying on underpants, and experiencing the anxieties of modern life. I LOVE IT. There is even a picture book. Might have to get that for when my three year-old starts losing teeth, which, if she follows in her brother’s footsteps, should be in about 12 months… GULP!

6) You always hear about “the summer slide,” where kids lose their academic and reading skills over the months away from school. I’m not really worried about that right now, since my kids don’t even go to school yet, but we did sign up for our local library reading program just for fun. (Though since neither of them know how to read, perhaps we should call it our summer listening program.) One thing they both can do on their own, however, is math. I credit this 10% to the abacus my mother-in-law gave them, and 90% to Bedtime Math.

It’s this great website and app that each day posts awesome factoids and related story problems, inclusively geared toward various levels of math competence from preschoolers counting on their fingers on up to mid-elementary and beyond. The idea is to make it part of your bedtime routine and slip in a little math practice before lights out. Since I eliminated room cleaning and getting in their own beds from the routine this week, we have plenty of time for doing math. Win-win.

7) Speaking of bedtime, the wonderful Cosmic Kids Yoga posted a really sweet bedtime yoga routine for kids recently, called “Twilight the Unicorn of Dreams.”(Not to be confused with Twilight Sparkle the Unicorn of MLP) If you’re not familiar with Cosmic Kids, it’s this kooky British lady, Jaimie Brodie who makes yoga videos for young children that all involve an animal story for kids to act out through various yoga poses. My kids absolutely adore them and there is nothing more sweet and hilarious than watching them do “namaste” together at the end.

They also recently launched a meditation series for kids called Cosmic Kids Zen Den. I am so, so bad at meditating but I really aspire to work it into my life. I think these beginner meditation lessons meant for kindergarteners might be just my speed…

Namaste, guys, and have a great weekend!

how to survive solo parenting

Solo parenting can be a real slog. Singlehandedly caring for, feeding, and refereeing little kids is no easy job. It drains your patience battery at about three times the normal speed, and there’s no one but you to do all the little things that make your household run smoother, not to mention be the go-to person for every single need, wish, boo-boo, and nightmare, 24 hours a day. (I want to clarify, though, that solo parenting is not even in the same universe as single parenting. I have nothing but awe and respect for moms and dads who do this as their regular m.o., and I don’t begin to think I know what kind of tips and tricks get you through when solo parenting is just The Way Things Always Are.) Right now, my husband is on day four of a ten-day work trip, so I’m on day four of a ten-day solo parenting journey. Over nearly six years of weathering these kind of trips I have developed a survival strategy, a sort of stripped-down way of living that is not just a way to keep my head above water, but also makes it kind of a fun adventure for the kiddos. (You know, the type of adventure where you don’t clean your room for a week and eat ramen for dinner.)

1. Make the Kids Your Teammates.bowling team

I start each solo parenting stint off with a pep-talk huddle with my kiddos, reminding them that we’re a team and our number one job is to look out for each other. With two kids and only one grown-up, I let them know I need their help making sure everyone is happy and safe. My son was really captivated by the concept of bucket-filling when his teachers read a book about it at nursery school, so we talk a ton about that in our everyday life, but especially when I’m flying solo. I tell the kids the best way they can fill my bucket is by being good listeners and helpers, and being kind to me and to each other. When I write it out, this kind of sounds like No Duh stuff, but I think there is a great power in explicitly telling the kids that this is what I expect from them. I’m not saying it’s magic – there are still moments of defiance, ignoring, picking on each other, and other annoying crap that three- and five-year-olds love to do. But if I can address it by calmly reminding them we’re a team and we need to fill each other’s buckets (rather than, oh, I don’t know, irately dragging one of them out onto the back porch because he won’t stop shouting at the top of his lungs while I’m trying to work), then things flow a lot more smoothly.

2. Relax the Rules.

I’m a big family dinner person. We all have our hill to die on, and I guess this is one of mine. I’m lucky to have a husband who’s home in time to kid-wrangle while I make dinner, and I (usually) love to cook. If you hate to cook or you don’t usually do family dinners, no worries. You’re already one step ahead of me on being relaxed about expectations. When my husband’s at home, a typical family dinner might be roasted chicken and potatoes, sautéed green beans, and a salad with homemade vinaigrette. And when he’s leaving town I try to make a really nice huge meal for our last family dinner, not only as a send-off, but so we can have some semblance of a healthy dinner the next night with the leftovers. But by day six, our dinners are little more than scrambled eggs, toast, and carrot sticks. Or ramen.

Ramen is actually one of my comfort foods, having made myself many packets of Sapporo Ichiban during my latchkey childhood. But I always felt kind of disappointed that my little pot of soup bore no resemblance to the delicious illustration on the packaging. Noodles and broth were fine, but where were my peapods, scallions, chicken, bok choy, and mysterious brown things?Nowadays, I keep a bag of shrimp in my freezer, and a bunch of scallions in my crisper. Add those, a boiled egg, and whatever random veggies I have sitting around, and you’ve got yourself a nice little ramen bowl. My kids view this dinner as a particular treat because I call it “Ponyo Noodles.”

Hey, if it’s good enough for Japanese Tina Fey, it’s good enough for me. See also, nachos, grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs.

I also tend to let things slide a little with chores and housekeeping. I’m so, so spoiled by my dish-washing angel of a husband. Normally I handle most of the bedtime routine, and when I come downstairs to watch our netflix du jour, the dishwasher is running, the sink is sparkling, the countertops are clean, the floor is swept, and the garbage and recycling are taken out. So you can imagine what a drag it is when he’s gone. (I kid, I kid! I miss that crazy bastard for a million other reasons than his kitchen cleaning. But still, the clean kitchen is very nice.) Anyhow, when it’s just little old me in charge of all that clean up, plus getting the children washed, brushed, pajamaed, storied, and down to sleep, I’m a big fan of streamlining non-essential parts of this routine. For instance, the nightly putting away of toys in their room.

I just let their room be a big crazy toy wonderland hell-mess all week and turn a blind eye. I can do this and not worry about anybody maiming their instep on an errant lego in the middle of the night because nobody’s sleeping in there.

Oh yeah, my other dirty little secret. Instead of putting each kid to bed separately in their own beds, we have sleepovers in Mommy’s room for the duration. I can put them both to bed at once, and if it’s winter I don’t have to get into a cold, lonely bed when I’m ready to go to sleep. (And to be honest, this isn’t even that big a deal since most nights at least one of them wanders into our bed sometime in the wee hours of the morning anyway.) It’s one of those things I neeeeevvvvver thought I would do in the PKE. When I was in my (single, childless) 20s I had a co-worker who had a similar arrangement with her daughter when the husband worked nights, and I thought it was just soooo peculiar and was probably stunting the daughter’s emotional development. Sure is amazing what an expert I was back then! Now my main parenting philosophy is, Do What Works Until It Doesn’t Work Anymore, Then Do Something Else.

3. Keep your Kitchen Clean

This may seem contradictory to what I said above about letting things slide, but the kitchen is the one area where you’ll be really making things harder for yourself if you don’t get it tidied up. If you can manage this before kiddo bedtime, kudos! You just earned an evening of pure relaxation. If not, make this the one thing you do after putting kids to bed. It’s a drag, but at least you won’t wake up to this in the morning.dirty dishes in the kitchen sink

That’s no way to start a day, amirite? Especially if we have to go somewhere first thing in the morning, like school or swimming lessons or what have you, it’s just that much more frazzling to try and get everybody out the door when half the dishes are dirty and the kitchen is in disarray. But if you’re a lazy mom like myself, or one who has been spoiled by a dish-angel of a husband, it’s extra hard work to get yourself to do dumb boring chores at night when you’d rather be sitting around eating secret ice cream and watching Call the Midwife. This is where rule number 4 comes in.

4. Reward Yourself

Have a stash of little treats saved up to get you through the solo parenting stretch. These can be books you’ve been wanting to read, movies or TV shows you can never get your husband to watch with you (I’m looking at you, Big Love, Barbra Streisand Special, and Real Housewives of New York), fancy chocolate, pints of Ben & Jerry’s, or some good vino. Preferably all of the above. And for god’s sake, MAKE SURE THE CHILDREN DON’T FIND OUT ABOUT YOUR ICE CREAM AND CHOCOLATES. Then, promise yourself you can settle down with a glass of pinot, some truffles, and an episode of Downton Abbey as soon as you get that kitchen in order. That’s right, I have to bribe myself to do basic sanitation in my home. Alfie Kohn is somewhere shaking his head at me.

5. Have a Mommy Havenmommy haven

Even if tidying up falls by the wayside during your solo parenting stint, there’s one other area besides the kitchen that it’s important to keep nice. This is your Haven. It can be anywhere in your home that you can go to escape the chaos of young children. For me, it’s my bedroom. Whenever I’m feeling my patience running thin, or just tired and need a few minutes to regroup, I go in my room for a bit. If you have kids who are too little to play unsupervised, you can do this during naptime. Just lying on my bed and not looking at messy stacks of children’s reptile encyclopedias and five doll sweaters and a heap of matchbox cars does wonders for my inner reserves. If you can manage a few cleansing breaths, even better. I read this amazing book recently about cultivating mindfulness with children, Planting Seeds, and one of the basic tenets was that if you’re not at peace you can’t teach your children to be peaceful. So having a place where you can be calm and restore your inner peace is crucial.

By the way, I know my bedroom is pitifully austere. Isn’t it a rule of decorating that the very last place in your home that you get around to doing anything with is your own bedroom? Sad, but true. One day she’ll get a fresh coat of paint and some art on the walls, and we’ll replace that godforsaken Ikea bedside table, I swear it!

6. Call In Reinforcements.Grandparent Babywrangling

Even the supermommest, tidiest, patientest parent is going to find their reserves low after a week of solo parenting. So this is where you need to enlist the help of other grown people. Whether it’s other moms to vent and laugh with while your kids entertain each other at playdates, or a grandparent or kindly neighbor to look after the kiddos while you get to go run errands alone (the heavenly glory!!), or a girlfriend – the good kind, who doesn’t care about your messy bathrooms and unwashed hair – to come over and drink wine and gossip with you after the kids are asleep, having some adult companionship and/or assistance is a total necessity.

7. Know that this too shall pass.

If you get cranky, fed up, and overwhelmed, as you surely will at some point, remember that you and your kids just have to survive these 10 (or howevermany) days and then your favorite person will come home and help right the ship. You’ll cook dinner in peace while your husband plays with the kids, and you’ll come down after bedtime to a magically clean kitchen and your best friend waiting for you on the couch. And all will be right with the world.home at last