Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mini Cake from a Regular Sized Oven

See recipe for mini chocolate cake below
My youngest creative little heart is always throwing birthday bashes for his stuffed animals.  He makes decorations, plans games for all their stuffed animal friends and makes and wraps gifts for them.  He often uses play food or builds a cake out of paper or legos, but this week he heard wind of a thing that his friend got: Easy Bake Oven.  I’m sure my easy bake oven is still in my parent’s basement.  I remember it with mixed feelings, the idea is so appealing, but the light bulb that heats it never really did that stellar of a job at cooking the miniature cakes and cookies and when the kit ran out of tiny mixes, the honeymoon was officially over.  I cook with my kids all the time with our boring old regular sized oven, but most recipes make a large cake or a dozen or so cupcakes which isn’t really what we need when mouse or a beany baby is celebrating.  Yesterday was decidedly Om Nom’s birthday.  If you aren’t familiar with the little green monster from the game “Cut the Rope” he is a cute friendly green monster that munches candy.  A small peppermint candy (or doughnut – there are optional settings for this) is tied by a rope and dangles out of reach.  The object of the puzzle game is to figure out how to get the treat into Om Nom’s mouth.  I found some ceramic ramekins adapted a recipe to make the perfect cake for Om Nom.   Below is the recipe so you can also help your little creative one bake a miniature cake for a pretend tea party or birthday bash for their favorite stuffed animal.  Have fun letting your creative little heart celebrate.

Mini Chocolate Cake makes two 3 ½ inch cakes

1/3 c. flour
1/8 tsp corn starch
3 Tb granulated sugar
2 Tb unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 Tb vegetable oil
¼ tsp vanilla
¼ c. milk
1 tsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
spray ramekins with baker’s non-stick spray with flour
whisk together dry ingredients pour in wet and stir
Bake 20-24 min
Cool 15 minutes on a rack

Buttercream Frosting:
4 Tb butter
½ tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1 c. powdered sugar
1-2 Tb milk
Beat together
divide into small bowls and add food coloring to make different colors
frost cooled cake


Monday, September 26, 2016

Tips and Tricks for Painting a Map on Pavement

This weekend I had the opportunity to work with a group of volunteers in painting a large map on the paved portion of the playground behind the local elementary school.  I struggled to find helpful resources online for such an endeavor and so I’m writing this to help communities that want to do a similar project. 

Below you will find my ideal timeline for planning and executing my project.  I ran into a little kink the day of my project because you have to prep your painting area (which takes one person with a leaf blower). It also only takes a few people to place the template and mark it with spray paint.  If you don’t want to have eleven people watching one person use the leaf blower, designate someone to do that ahead of time, have a handful of people place and mark the template and then schedule the rest of your painters to come.

Pro Tip: Schedule people to come when you need them so fewer people are standing around with nothing to do.

Sample schedule for the morning of the painting project:
8:00 am:               Two people unload and organize supplies and leaf blow painting area
8:30 am:               Two additional people come help layout template and mark it with spray paint
9:00 am:               Additional painters arrive to paint the map.

Pro Tips for using a map template:
  1. Take off your shoes before walking on the template.
  2. Unroll one strip at a time and tape it down as you go.  The slightest breeze will blow the template and possibly mangle it!
  3. Hold down the edges with orange traffic cones
  4. Consider how you want to place Hawaii and Alaska before you start marking with spray paint
  5. Use contrasting color marking spray paint to mark the template onto the pavement (orange or a neon color work best)

The next kink was that the pavement we were painting on is not new.  Even thought I had in my head that we were painting on black top, it is not black…it’s light gray with white flecks.  So the white marking paint I’d purchased didn’t show up.  We were able have a couple people from the neighborhood run to their garages and find a variety of spray paint to try, and we found some that worked.  But this delayed the project a bit. 

Pro Tip: be hospitable.  Bring bottled water or coffee and donuts, if you run into a kink and someone has to run to the hardware store you can keep your painting crew from turning into an angry mob by offering baked goods.  Thankfully our principal covered the hospitality part of our project for us!

I split my workers into pairs and small groups.  Each group was assigned a color.  Several copies of a color map on clipboards were distributed for people to refer to in order to decipher the template borders that were more complex. 

Pro Tip: Have one person who isn’t painting who can walk around checking borders as painters are working.  It is sometimes hard to see mistakes when you are up close to the map you are painting. 

Having someone stand back to see the big picture can help.  Choose someone who can kindly point out where adjustments need to be made.

We set up a drop cloth on a level place where people can pour paint into their trays.  Drips and spills, while they are good to avoid will inevitably happen no matter how careful people are.  Keep some rags and paper towels handy.  The problem with painting on pavement is that it is usually not smooth.  We had one particularly bad spill by the Great Lakes.  We discussed making the lakes larger and greater or attempting to clean it up…one super helpful dad was willing to run to his house to get a wire brush to scrub the spot clean. 

Pro Tip: Have a wire brush on hand.  If someone spills, sop up the excess paint, dilute with water and scrub with a wire brush. 

It was great to have a variety of sizes of brushes and rollers on hand.  I would recommend having people outline their state or area with a small brush and then fill in with a large brush or small roller.  Rollers speed up the process of filling in shapes.

Pro Tip: ask volunteers to bring a foam pad that can be found in the gardening section of the hardware store, or an old towel folded up, to sit on or cushion their knees.

Be sure to take before, in progress and after photos to document your project.  It’s a great way to share with the community the improvements you’ve made.  Also, take time to thank your volunteers and others who helped fund or otherwise made your project possible.

Here is my ideal timeline for coordinating a project like this. 

Six months ahead: have the school contact appropriate people to approve the project. 
Several months ahead: ask for funds for the project, allow more time if fundraising will have to be done. 
Eight to six weeks ahead: set a date and raindate for the project and recruit volunteers.
And order a map template.
A week or two before the project: collect materials and put in an order for paint. 
A day or two ahead: hose off area to be painted.  Morning of painting project (or the evening before) use a leaf blower to remove loose gravel, dust, dirt, leaves etc from the area. 
Set up template spray paint the perforations in the template with a contrasting color.
Day of painting project: Have your team assemble to paint.  Plan on 3-5 hours to paint the map depending on how many volunteers you have.

How much paint do I need?
The directions that came with my map template recommended one gallon per color to paint the USA map.  The age and quality of the pavement you are painting will matter.  The paint store where I asked said 1 gallon would cover 100 – 400 square feet…so not real helpful… we used a gallon of each of the five colors (to have no two touching states be the same color) and a qt. of blue for the great lakes.
What kind of paint should I use?
The map template I used recommended using a water based acrylic paint.  There are a variety of masonry and cement paints available but don’t necessarily come in a variety of bright colors that appeal to the students.  There are some traffic paints or striping paints available that come in basic colors (white, yellow, red, blue) Call your local paint store and ask what they recommend.
How many volunteers do I need?
I had scheduled two shifts of about a dozen people at each shift.  If you have many more people than that it gets tricky trying to fit everyone on the map at once while coordinating placing paint etc.  I would recommend no more than 12 at one time.
How long will it take to paint it?
It took a dozen people four hours to paint a USA map during our painting project.
How long does the paint take to dry?
Read the instructions on your paint can, but the paint typically dries quickly if the weather is nice and if there is sunshine and a nice breeze.  The paint takes longer to cure so avoid walking on it and definitely driving on it for at least 24 hours.
How many coats does it take?
It depends on the color and how thickly your painters are applying paint.  We found that the red required two coats and the yellow could also use a second coat. 
Does the pavement need to be primed?
We did not prime our pavement but added a second coat if necessary.
Do you need to prep the surface before painting?
Yes, it is ideal to be able to hose or pressure wash the surface a day or two ahead of time.  If that is not possible at least use a leaf blower to remove loose gravel, dust, dirt and leaves.  Sweeping wasn’t recommended because it can just drive dirt deeper onto crevices.
Should we add abbreviations, labels, state capitals etc?
It’s up to you, but there are lots of activities kids can do with chalk or props on your map mural.  I’d recommend making a platform for their imaginations leaving room for their own creativity.

What supplies do I need?
Acrylic Enamel Paint
Paint Brushes of a variety of sizes
Small Rollers
Large Rollers
Wire Brush
Paper towels
Wet Wipes
Garbage bag/can
Plastic Shopping Bags (wrap brushes and rollers when they are not in use to keep them from drying out)
Paint Trays and Liners
Drop Cloth
Old Towel or Foam Knee Pads
Scraps of Cardboard (to put under paint cans)
Paint Can Openers
Paint Stir Sticks
Painter’s Tape
Masking Tape
Color copies of the map you are painting on clipboards so they don’t blow away

If you have any questions about my community’s project or your own project please feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to help you out!  Good luck on your project, your creative little hearts will surely enjoy playing and learning on the colorful map you paint!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Make and Take: Stamped Orchard Landscapes

I recently facilitated a “make and take” craft at a local orchard.  When looking for an idea I start with the theme of the event and look for something that would have a high success rate with a range of ages (in this case: preschoolers through elementary school and maybe a few middle schoolers) .  I also prioritize how messy the craft will be.  I prefer something that they can walk away from the table with.  Something that will go directly into their car and the interior won’t end up smeared with wet paint or glue.  So that limits me some, but the simplicity is really important to how successful the craft is and how the parents will remember it. 
                So this weekend I was at an apple festival.  The most obvious craft: apple printing…but paint is messy, maybe we could use some sort of stamp pad?  But also most kids have done apple printing in preschool or kindergarten.  So I moved on.  Many of the crafts I came across would require collecting massive amounts of soda bottles or cardboard tubes.  Another requirement for my craft is minimal preparation.  If I don’t have to spend hours searching for supplies or cutting out things all the better!  After all for this event I’m planning for 150 kids.

                I had access to crayons and markers (both washable and met my less mess requirement.)  I am going to be on a working farm with 300 acres of orchard trees and veggies growing.  This particular Saturday there will be hay rides, face painting and the corn maze will be open.  Most kids get excited about tractors.  I had a tractor stamp from a birthday party I did for my kids a handful of years ago.  That’s when it came to me: stamped orchard landscapes. 
                When I went to the craft store to buy paper I checked out their stamps and on an end cap I found some Halloween themed rubber stamps.  There was one with a gnarled tree silhouette.  Without leaves it was a spooky tree you’d see in the front lawn of a haunted house but I could imagine adding leaves and apples with crayons and markers and it became a friendly little apple tree.  Sweet!
As the kids arrived I had them either stamp a bunch of trees and then add the ground or start with the horizon line and then stamp a row of trees across it.  Then most kids added the tractor or two.  Some drew hay wagons behind the tractor, one was a double decker wagon and the kids on the top could reach out and pick apples during the ride.  Some of the littlest kids went stamp happy, some landscapes turned into patterns resembling wall paper designs.  No two pictures came out exactly alike.  That’s also something I enjoy about doing art with kids, there may be a few starting points but the kids add their creative take on it, I prefer if there is some wiggle room and the project is not completely planned out.
                The craft was successful.  I had 135 kids to test it.  They came in waves of about 16 at the most.  I had two long folding tables with markers and crayons spread on each.  If possible I would recommend having a tree and tractor stamp on each table.  But we managed pretty well by sharing the stamp back and forth between the tables.  It was a great day at the orchard and I may volunteer to take it to my son’s fall classroom party next month.  Hope this gives you some tips for your next classroom party make and take craft. 

                            White construction paper (1 per child)
                Washable Markers
                Tree rubber stamp
                Tractor rubber stamp

                Washable stamp pads (I used black, red and green)
                Wet wipes (for cleaning hands and rubber stamps)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Signs of Spring Photo Walk

This morning I wanted to snap some pictures of the fruit blossoms at our local orchard.  Since my youngest creative little heart doesn't have school until the afternoon he had to tag along.  To make it more interesting for him I let him use one of our old digital cameras.  I showed him the basic functions along with some simple rules like don’t touch the lens, always keep the strap around your wrist, and don't look through the viewfinder while you are walking.  Then we headed out to the orchard to find signs of spring!

What started out as a way to keep him occupied (and from getting whiny) ended up putting some other skills to good use.  He was able to read the label on the on/off button and count down the number of pictures he had left.  He learned the terms zoom, focus and point of view.  There was a beautiful clear sunny sky today, but the temperature was unseasonable chilly.  Even though our walk was somewhat short we ended up with some nice photos.  

If you have an old camera or cell phone with a camera feature lying around, put it good use by letting your little creative hearts snap some photos with it. They will be so proud of the pictures they take!

Here's what my creative little heart came up with.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Making vs Buying Valentines

Ah, it’s time for Valentine ’s Day parties in the elementary school again.  Getting my kindergartener to get Valentines ready for his classmates made me think about what it was like a few short years ago when my oldest had to do it.  Getting my oldest son to write his name 24 times when he was in kindergarten was grueling.  Seriously painful.  He hated it.  It took us days.  I tried to make it more fun for him by letting him pick out any store bought kit he wanted.  He ended up with a popular cartoon character that boasted free temporary tattoos.  I rationed them out over several days so he only had to do a few at a time.  In the end I was able to appreciate how his handwriting improved and how it had gotten easier.  (He was just glad they were done and that he got to keep the extra tattoos.)  Last year he was into rainbow loom bracelets so he made them for the whole class and I taught him how to use publisher to layout a card to go with them.  There are so many cute ideas out there on Pinterest, but I resisted the urge to take over and follow the latest trend this year.  I really want the valentines to be their own, something that they are excited to give their friends and classmates. I left it totally open to them.  

One child chose to buy his valentines, the other was super excited to make his.  My husband and I overheard them talking about their valentines.  Each child thought that what they were doing was better.  That’s when my husband brilliantly interjected that they should use “I statements”.  For example, instead of saying: “Making your own valentines is better than buying them!”  Try saying: “I enjoy making my own valentines because I like to draw.”  Or instead of saying: “My valentines are cooler.” Say: “I think my friends are going to like getting the valentines I picked out for them.”  It worked amazingly well! 
Working on fine motor and organizational skills here!

Saturday each boy set up a spot to work on their valentines.  My youngest stuck with it and made a unique card for each member of his class.  I did lay some ground rules.  He chose colored construction paper which I cut in half on the paper cutter so each card was the same size.  He then could cut, glue and draw to his heart’s content as long as each one had his name and his classmates name on it.  It was great for his cutting skills, I was pretty impressed with the hearts he was cutting out by himself by the end!  He also kept track of who he made valentines for and crossed them off his list as he went.  It was pretty exciting to see these organizational skills come together!

My oldest resisted the task of completing the valentines so early in the week at first, but once he got started he said it was actually fun to do.  (And I don’t have to worry about him staying up late the night before while he completes them last minute.)  He went to the store with his dad and chose a cute kit with a scratch off heart that concealed the message on the card. He carefully taped a penny to each one so that his classmates could scratch off the heart on their card right away.

In the end both kids were excited to give away their valentines and I hope learned valuable organizational and people skills in the process.  Using “I” language instantly changed their attitude, making positive statements that expressed their opinions instead of nasty comparisons that put others down.  I think more adults should put this into practice.  What do you think?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dynamic Frames: review of Lil' Davinci Art Gallery

I’ve been on a quest to find an easy attractive way to display my kid’s artwork.  I’ve used a clothes line and clothes pins, which was cute in their toy room, but it didn’t give the clean look I wanted.  I tried putting up traditional frames and changing their artwork in them as they came home from school, but messing with traditional frames and glass was so cumbersome that I never ended up changing the artwork.  Last year I took a tour of Hershey Medical Center with the coordinator of artistic improvement.  Part of her job is to enhance the environment in the hospital.  She does this by painting murals and hanging artwork.  In some of the patient rooms they had built frames that they could easily switch out the artwork.  They even had a collection of art prints and patients were able to look through the collection on an ipad and choose the picture that would hang at the foot of their bed.  They got to choose what they looked at during their hospital stay!  She painted ceiling tiles with whimsical outdoor themes in the children’s hospital to give bed ridden young patients something to look at.  In one hallway she showed me some frames from Dynamic Frames that were hinged on one side.  They swing open allowing you to press in a new piece of art and store old pieces.  It was so easy and the spring loaded mechanism kept the image pressed neatly to the mat and glass.  It was neat, clean and easy. Plus it can hold up to 50 pieces of art!  It was the solution I had been looking for in my home!  I asked for a set of these last Christmas and love them!  They were easy to hang and can be hung horizontally or vertically.  Adding new artwork literally takes seconds and doesn't require any tools.   I wish I had these in the school office when I was an art teacher.  It would be an ideal way to change out seasonal art throughout the year at a school or office!

Note: Do be careful when the frame on a vertically hung art cabinet is open all the way the weight of it can tip the whole thing off it's hanger.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Family Tree Photo Gallery

I’ve had this idea for a while: to create a family photo gallery on top of a silhouette of a tree.  First I collected all the photos that I wanted to use.  I found black frames for them with white mats.  The frames vary in size and design.  Some hold two or three photos.  Some were plain and smooth while others have a slight tapering angle to them or grooves that add some dimension and interest. 

I started by cutting out pieces of white butcher paper to match the sized frames I had.  I stuck them on the wall with blue painter’s tape that could be easily removed and repositioned on the wall without removing any paint.  I started with one large photo that would serve as a focal point, an anchor with all the other photos and elements radiating from that one.  I established a few lines within the layout to keep the photos looking organized.  I wanted an asymmetrical layout without it looking haphazard.  I thought about taking similarly sized photos and placing them on opposite sides of my imaginary horizontal and vertical lines that I’d created. 

Once my design was finalized and I had all the templates taped on the wall I used a pencil to outline the silhouette of the tree.  Then I removed the templates and painted the silhouette using paint that was one shade darker than my wall color and one finish shinier.  I was able to make my silhouette using a sample size from the paint counter.  It was a little tricky to paint because one shade darker matches the wall color when wet.  I felt like I was using invisible paint!  I painted along the pencil line, covering the pencil as I went.  As it dried it darkened a bit revealing the subtle look I was going for.
The next day, when the tree was dry I marked where the hanger needed to be for each frame and taped the paper templates back on the wall.  I hammered the picture hangers right through the paper template and then ripped the paper from the nail/hanger. 

I’m very pleased with the results and hope you can use these tips to make a personalized family photo gallery in your home!