Saturday, February 27, 2010

CULTURE: Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center

My friend Kristyn and I recently took our girls to the City of Boise's new WaterShed Environmental Educational Center for an afternoon. They've created a really cool museum, of sorts, at the waste treatment plant off of Chinden Blvd. out near HP. Their mission is to teach people of all ages about water conservation in our region. We called ahead and asked for a tour and had the whole place to ourselves that quiet Thursday afternoon.

Our guide was a graduate student in biology from BSU and was sweet, entertaining, and tolerant of our wily girls. He showed us the huge wall mural of the Boise region and explained to us all how our local watershed works, and what types of things might damage our resources, like garbage, animal feces, etc.
The place is full of hands-on computer games and exhibits aimed toward helping us learn about water and how we use it, both in appropriate and inappropriate means. Our favorite was one that had a map of Boise on a computer where you can click on your house and see how long it takes your toilet waste to get from your house to the treatment plant. Surprisingly, we learned it takes our poop 7 hours and 10 miles to get to its final destination from our home on the Bench.

This little dollhouse-like set up was another of the girls' favorites. You can push buttons in different rooms in the house and see how much water all of our various household activities, like doing laundry and taking baths, uses. Not surprisingly, watering your yard is outrageously wasteful of water. We're lucky up here on our part of the Bench to have a neighborhood irrigation system courtesy of the New York Canal.

They also have a few of these large concrete sewage pipes to climb around in and see how and where they are buried in our city. The guide put on a cute video for the girls with dancing raindrops and catchy tunes all about poop and other important stuff. This, of course, was a huge hit with the kindergarten crowd, as "poop" and "pee" seem to be among their favorite vocabulary words. The women at the front desk were also great, and gave us this great list of 101 Things to Do Outside put together by the Be Outside! statewide campaign to get children in the outdoors more often. They also gave the kids stickers to put on their bathroom mirror, reminding them to conserve water by turning the faucet off when brushing their teeth. In the library there were coloring pages, books about weather and free maps of the Boise WaterShed. It was such a great, educational experience for all (including us mamas!) that we plan to go back for one of their free educational Saturdays soon and take a tour of the whole plant. There is also a great little outdoor patio that would be a nice place to have a snack when the weather warms up. The place also boasts some of the most stellar public artwork by local artists in the city. How could a free educational center focused on poop not be good, solid family fun? Get there!

Friday, February 19, 2010

AMY & REE: Comfort Meatballs (week 7)

So, The Pioneer Woman's cooking is all about comfort food, which is probably why I love it. I decided to give her Comfort Meatballs a try this week. I paired them with mashed red potatoes, and it was a nice, hearty meal on a gray February night. They meatballs themselves were yummy, and I especially likes the moist texture the quick oats provide. Neither Eric or I were a huge fan of the homemade BBQ-like sauce that covers them. It's primary ingredient is ketchup, and was a little too strong and overpowering for me. We both found them to be great leftovers the next day, as the sauce was less potent. They kind of taste like mini meatloaf bites, so I'd recommend trying them if you are a meatloaf lover.

CRAFTY: Handmade Kids Toys

Since we were still operating on The Compact this past Christmas, all of our gifts were either handmade or purchased second hand. I thought I'd highlight a few of the gifts for our girls that we made, as they turned out to be very cute and some of their new favorite things. They are certainly gifts that would be ideal to give at any time of year, especially for birthdays.

I found the idea for these adorable and easy handmade stilts on one of my favorite mama craft blogs, She has a whole slew of darling kiddie crafts and other ideas that I've also used. I decided to use coffee cans for Lucy's stilts, as they are a bit larger and more study. I covered them with some scraps of vintage Contac paper I got at a thrift shop. Eric drilled small holes in the sides to loop some rope through and voila, they were done in like 20 minutes. They are great for indoor and outdoor fun and her friends have come to love them as well.
I got the idea for this dolls-sized log table and stools from this cute website for green, recycled kids craft ideas. "Santa's elves," also known as Eric and his brother Dominic, took some of our firewood into Dom's shop and fashioned this little set for Alice's Santa gift. They are rustic and are also great for imaginative play both indoors and out. I found the stuffed creatures and tableware are a variety of antique and thrift shops for super cheap. The best part, however, are the handsewn felt cookies I found from local Boise Etsy seller, Vivian, who owns and makes the best culinary creations on Time To Play. They were around $10 for 6 cookies, and I got to pick the "flavor" and frosting colors. The cookies are really well made and SO DANG CUTE I can't even tell you. Her work is stellar and I can't recommend purchasing from her enough.

Santa brought Lucy a similar set up, but her wooden table and chairs were an amazing thrift shop find. Her ballerina dolls also came from thrift shops, and both girls' table linens came from my mother and grandmother's collections.

Lucy and Alice were thrilled with these gifts, and they have really sparked their imagination with play. The cookies are a constant hit, and the table settings have already hosted a number of tea parties for other stuffed pets and Barbie friends. I find these simple toys to often be the most interesting in the long run. They may not be the fanciest or the flashiest, but they are heartfelt gifts that kids are sure to love.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

FOODIE: Handmade Valentine Goodies

My dear friend Kristyn invited the girls and I to join in on her tradition of making homemade chocolate candies for Valentines Day treats. I was thrilled, as I don't have a lot of experience with making candy and was excited about the possibilities. She bought the ingredients and provided the expertise and the kitchen, and I brought my girls and some crafty supplies for making cute recycled containers for the candies to go in.

Being a southern belle herself, Kristyn has grown up eating and making Food Network chef Paula Deen's goodies. On the menu were Deen's Almond Chocolate Balls, her peanut butter Buckeye Balls, and some mini red velvet cupcakes (these were from the box because, seriously, we're amateur chefs and mothers, not crazy).

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pics of the candy creating process, as it was a bit chaotic in Kristyn's kitchen with two demanding babies under our feet and two kindergartners asking for more glitter and sprinkles. Also, candy making is a bit of a time consuming process, especially melting the chocolate in a double boiler and dipping each one quickly. Anyhow, when you click on the above links for the recipes and tutorials, you'll notice immediately that my Buckeyes look not near as nice and polished as hers. Clearly, my Almond Chocolate Balls above, which basically taste just like Almond Joy bars, are not ball-y at all. Have you been reading this blog a while? I'm CLEARLY not a perfectionist.

I was surprised how easy the candies were to make, and how few ingredients they required. Additionally, we came up with some really darling containers, handmade by our children, to box up the candies in. The silver painted container is a baby formula can with the label stripped off (the lid is also cute with pink paint and tons of glitter, but is currently lost somewhere in my girls' playroom). The red containers formerly held sliced deli meat and are decorated with felt, glitter and stickers. A cream cheese container is covered with Contac paper, gingham fabric hearts and glitter (in the foreground).

We lined all the containers with valentine themed cupcake papers and stacked the candies inside. Here you can see we used individual apple sauce containers covered with plastic wrap and ties with pretty satin bows. These sweet little packages were valentines for Lucy's three teachers.
Valentines Day can be a sweet holiday when filled with heart-felt lovely surprises. All our candies are accompanied by hand-colored cards that Lucy made for our family members. I have to say, it is way less stressful to make homemade candy on a holiday other than Christmas. It's made these gifts much more special to make, give, and receive thus far. And my two little cupids have a few more deliveries to go.

AMY & REE: Edna Mae's Sour Cream Pancakes (week 6)

It was Super Bowl Sunday morning, and we were planning on lounging in our 'jamas all day, taking in some good eats and a little football. (I was wishfully thinking it would be a little football, but it turned into an entire day devoted to football.) We started off the morning perfectly with this recipe from The Pioneer Woman's grandma-in-law, Edna Mae. These homemade pancakes' secret ingredient is sour cream. That, combined with the eggs, make these pancakes YUM-O. They end up tasting a bit like french toast in pancake form which, according to Eric, makes them PERFECT. These are his new favorite pancakes ever, he says. Actually, the girls loved them, too, and with a side of bacon, this may actually be perfection on a plate in breakfast form. And we all know that I love breakfast more than any meal of the day, and plan on making these again soon. Hopefully for dinner, if Eric will allow it. You can find the entire recipe here on this girl's lovely noshing site.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

AMY & REE: Lasagna (week 5)

So, this week I was totally organized in my shopping, had all ingredients on hand and spent one entire afternoon crafting The Pioneer Woman's homemade lasagna. The one thing I was NOT organized about was remember to take a photo, so I apologize for this little post with no images to look at. (Click on the link above to the recipe on PW's blog and her much more amazing photography skills.) Anyhow, the recipe was a bit time-consuming and makes a HUGE pan of lasagna so, instead, I split it into two 8x8" pans and froze one for later. My girls both loved this basic lasagna and Eric thought it was delicious. I thought it was just okay, but I'm a sucker for lots of fancies and veggies in my lasagna, which would be easy enough to add next time around. Also, it made for great leftovers, which is very important in my book.

Monday, February 1, 2010

KIDDOS: Robot-o-Mania

One of our fun weekly playdates for our Sun and Fun Playgroup last month was a robot-themed party at my house. I stole the idea to make robots from this blog and started collecting materials, both from the garbage and the tool shed.

I set up the supply station in my garage. We used a variety of cans, from old pie tins, pots, baby formula cans, and soup cans for the bodies. The accessory parts were displayed in an old game box tray as well as my muffin tins and included things like buttons, bolts, Monopoly game pieces, bottle caps, plastic bread clips, bobby pins, paper clips, wire, magnets, and beads. There were also Sharpie markers, pipe cleaners and stickers.

The kids had a blast picking out their bodies and crafting their versions of robots, aliens, and UFOs.
The parents had a station set up with hot glue guns and applied the items as directed by the kids. We had so many supplies and such fun creating, that the kids each made 2 or 3 robots a piece. In fact, I made 2 or 3 myself. And Eric made one that night when he got home from work. We now have a whole heard of recycled sci-fi characters lining our fireplace mantel.

While the kids created, the parents ate and ate and ate and talked the afternoon away. After the robot making, we made popcorn and watched the movie WALL-E, which happens to be one of my favorite kid films of late. It was a really fun, creative afternoon and a great way to get kids experimenting with found materials in an unusual way. The whole event cost nothing to put together but a little time and imagination and turned out to be one of our most memorable January days.