Activities Featured on 4 at 9NEWS

Dad's Day Desk Decorations!

Lots of Dads spend plenty of time sitting at their desk, either at the office or at home. Here are some ideas to spruce up Dad's desk with some homemade decorations that make great Father's Day Gifts!

Popsicle stick desk set: You can make a memo pad/sticky note holder, a business card holder and a pen caddy using just craft sticks. Just start out with a line of glue along two sticks. Carefully lay more sticks, perpendicular to these sticks, all along the length of the first sticks. This is the base piece. Then build up the containers "lincoln log style" - alternating where sticks are placed. For the memo holder, just go about 4 layers high. For the business card holder, add another stick in the middle (making two seperate areas) and going about 10 layers high. Paint the containers or decorate with stickers, buttons, or whatever embellishments you wish. 

Leather look desk set: Carefully clean and dry several empty cans. Then tear small pieces of masking tape and cover the can completely with overlapping pieces. Then spread brown shoe polish all over the taped can. Let the polish dry and then spray with a clear acrylic top coat. You can do pens and pencils to match too!

Candy jar: Decorate a clear jar with stickers or ribbons. You can decorate the lid by adding a salt dough topper. Simply mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt and 3/4 cup warm water. Mold the dough onto the metal top of a jar. Let dry several days or in the over at 200 degrees for 2 hours. Paint as desired. 

Magnets: Use a golf ball to mold a piece of aluminum foil into a half circle. Fill with plaster of paris. While soft set, place a magnet into the plaster (on the flat side). When dry, remove foil and paint as desired. 

Decorated desk accessories: Paint letter trays, photo frames and coffee mugs (use a kit with mugs treated with Permacoat and special markers -- available at craft stores). 

Birthday Treats Outside the (cake mix) Box

You've sent out invitations, planned entertainment and games, decorated the house and now it is time to work on the birthday cake! Save time and effort by thinking outside the box - the box of cake mix that is! You can make some creative and tasty birthday treats if you look beyond the old standard box of cake mix. Check out these ideas for easy birthday goodies that will be sure to impress guests of all ages!

Pound cake creations: Frozen pound cake is easy to cut and sculpt into sophisticated shapes. It is dense and works really well if you are trying to create a 3-D type cake. Make trains, trucks or teddy bears easily! Cut the cake while it is still frozen and frost immediately too.

Layer Cookie: Kids love the fancy 2 (or more!) layer cakes with frosting in the middle. Well, how about a 2 (or more!) layer cookie instead? Just bake two large cookies (about 8 inch diameter). Place one cookie bottom up on a cake board. Spread frosting on the cookie and then top with the other cookie. Decorate as desired and slice into wedges when serving.

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake: Place ice cream sandwiches into an 8x8 or 9x13 pan. Cover with sliced strawberries and then whipped topping. Decorate as desired. Place in freezer until ready to serve. YUM!

CupBROWNIES: Instead of cupCAKES, try cupBROWNIES. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray and fill cups with your favorite brownie mix or recipe. Gently press the mixture up the sides of the cup. When cool, top each cup with vanilla ice cream and sprinkles.

Lunch Box Treat Creations: Get creative with donuts, Twinkies, Cup Cakes and Ding Dongs. Craft flowers, caterpillars, butterflies or whatever you wish using all the goodies from the grocery store treat aisle. No bake, little mess and big smiles from happy guests.

Turn Trash into Toys!

Happy Earth Day! Earth Day, April 22, is a day to celebrate our planet and all the ways we can recycle, reduce and reuse our consumption of the earth's resources. Even though there aren't costumes, candy or gifts, kids can still get into the spirit of this special day for our Earth. In addition to discussing how we can make better decisions to protect our planet, try turning TRASH into TOYS! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Soda bottle bowling pins: Empty and wash soda bottles of any size. Remove wrappers and decorate with stickers, colored electric tape or whatever you wish. Line them up on the driveway "alley" and bowl with any ball.

Laundry bottle ball toss: Empty and wash laundry detergent containers. Have an adult carefully cut a large opening at the top of the container. Make sure there are no sharp edges. Decorate as desired. Toss a ball and try to catch it with the container.

Cereal box Barbie couch: Cut a cereal box in thirds. Use the top third as the front of the couch. Use the bottom third as the back of the couch. Cut a piece out of the front of this piece that is as high as the box is deep. Slide the front of the couch into the back. Cover with fabric or pretty wrapping paper if desired.

Plastic bag kite: Tie kite string onto the handles of a plastic grocery bag (the thinner the bag the better). Then tie the strings together onto the kite string spool. These simple kites REALLY FLY!

Egg carton Mancala: Paint an empty egg carton any way you wish. Also paint 48 small rocks. Cut the top of the egg carton in half and use as the Mancala spots for the game.

Drink mix container bank: Empty and wash a powdered drink mix container. Paint and decorate the container as you wish: as a pirate, a puppy or maybe a pig! Cut a slit into the top of the container, wide enough to fit coins through.

Earth Pie: Mix instant pudding and fill a graham cracker pie crust. Top with crushed cookies and gummy worms.

Pie Plate tambourine: Use the pie tin from the Earth Pie to make this tambourine. Wash and dry the pie plate. Carefully poke small holes around the side of the tin. Thread yarn through the holes and then through a washer.

April Fools Fun

Warning: Sunday is April 1 - the day that pranks and practical jokes rule! April Fool's Day is the one time when kids can get away with tricking their parents -- but watch out because it is also fair game for the parents to trick the kids!! Here are some fun ideas for family pranks:

Before trying out any of these pranks, keep a few things in mind:

  • Consider your victim before pulling a prank: If that person doesn't have a very good sense of humor or if they have the authority to 'ground' you or give you a detention, choose your joke carefully and be ready to suffer the consequence.

  • Turn around is fair play: If you pull a prank on someone, remember that they have the right to get you back!

  • Safety first: No pranks should ever be dangerous or overly cruel.

Fun With Food: Here are several pranks all involving food (or at least what looks like food)!

  • Take a piece of foam that is about 2 inches thick and cut it into a 9 inch by 13 inch rectangle. Place the foam on a cake platter and frost it with chocolate frosting. Leave the "cake" along with a knife for your victim to find. After the first victim cuts into the fake cake, let them join in the fun by just re-frosting it and waiting for the next hungry person to try it out!

  • Cut a dark cookie dough (such as ginger snaps) into very small pieces (about the size of a pea). Roll them in graham cracker crumbs and bake at a low temperature. The resulting cookie bits will look a lot like dog food! Purchase a clean dog food bowl and while Fido is outside, put the cookie bits in the bowl and set it on the ground. When your mom or a friend walk into the room mention that you want a snack and go grab a handful of the kibble!

  • Before your family pours their milk into their cereal or cup of coffee, add a few drops of green food coloring to the carton. Surprise!

  • Mom can serve up a meal of meatloaf and "mashed potatoes" -- but only she knows that the potatoes are vanilla ice cream, the gravy is caramel sauce and the butter is a yellow Starburst candy.

Bathroom Jokes: Create some craziness in the bathroom with these pranks!

  • Carefully pour conditioner into the shampoo bottle and shampoo in the conditioner bottle!

  • If you have a white pasty toothpaste, fill it with vanilla frosting instead! Invest in a new tube after the prank!

  • Watch out, this one could get you in trouble with dad!! Cut off a piece of a white stick deodorant and replace it with cream cheese!

Around the house:

  • Fill the toes of someone's shoes with tissues or cotton balls. They won't understand why they don't fit!

  • Pop the key covers off of the M and N keys on the computer keyboard. Folks that peak at their fingers won't understand why the wrong letters are being typed.

  • Place a rubber band around the kitchen sprayer. Color the rubber band black. When someone turns on the sink, the sprayer will come on and they'll get a shower

Garden Decorations

Spring is here and the kids are ready to tip toe through the tulips in the garden! Now is a great time to get together some fun garden decorations. This is a good pre-planting activity that will bring some color to your yard before things start blooming and keep things looking good for the whole season to come!

Fabric Flutter-Bys: Paint some clothes pins with outdoor paint (water/weather proof). Add antennae to the clothes pin by wrapping a piece of floral wire around the end. Cut a 6 inch by 6 inch square from a colorful piece of fabric. Gather the fabric in the middle and hold with the clothespin. Spray fabric with Fabric Stiffener and let dry. Attach to garden stakes or tree branches.

Rock Art: Nothing could be easier than painting rocks for the garden. Search for the perfect rock and then write a greeting or turn it into a garden critter. Use outdoor paint for best results.

Mosaic Stones: Create some custom stepping stones using cement and colorful tiles, rocks or glass beads. For best results, mix the concrete to the consistency of wet sand. To make clean up easier, mix the concrete and water in a plastic bag that can be thrown away. Pour/scoop the mixture into a plastic mold or use a shallow bowl covered with plastic wrap. Set embellishments into the wet concrete and let dry several days.

Painted Pots: Add color and pizzazz to the patio by painting some terra cotta pots with outdoor paint. If desired, turn the pot over and add the saucer to the top to create a bird bath instead.

Bird House Builders: Sure traditional bird houses are cute and whimsical, but feathered friends rarely occupy them for real. Instead, bundle together some real nest making materials and maybe your garden will become home to a real bird residence. Gather sticks, grass, yarn, cotton, and even some dryer lint into a ball. Loosely tie the materials together and hang the ball from a tree. The birds will stop by to pick what they need for their nest construction.

Creating a Young Writer

As parents, we are familiar with lots of ways to inspire kids to be readers and there is a lot of encouragement to build children's literacy. But, writing skills are just as important and there are lots of (fun) things that you can do with your kids to encourage them to be a young writer.

From stories to shopping lists:

Kids can learn from writing anything. Let the little ones write the grocery list and messages on greeting cards. They’ll start small and soon be authoring stories and maybe even a book. Suggest writing in different genres including: comic books, newspapers, poetry, fables or fairy tales, non-fiction and mystery. After they’ve completed their work, bring it to a copy store and have it ‘published’ by being bound like a book.

Correspond with family and friends:

It is great fun for kids to get a ‘real’ letter in the mail box. Turn a special piece of their own artwork into stationery and have them write letters to family, friends or even a faraway pen pal.

Dear Diary:

What today’s parents called a diary is now called journaling. It is a great way for kids to practice writing and express their feelings and thoughts. Whether you choose one with a lock, just a spiral notebook or a guided journal with prompts, it will be a precious keepsake of their youth.

Tools of the trade:

Education stores are a great place to shop for journals, writing prompts, games and other items of inspiration for young writers. Check out Knowledge Adventure’s Books By You software that features John Lithgow leading kids through the process of writing and publishing their own chapter book. Remember Mad Libs from when you were young? These are a great way for kids to learn parts of speech and have fun completing their own unique story.

Research Writers:

Check out some books about authors from the library. It is fun to know how favorite children’s authors found their inspiration and got their start as writers.

Make a Writing Prompt Game:

Help the kids come up with six types of characters, six actions or events and six settings. Number each set one through six and group them under the headings of WHO, WHAT and WHERE. Then roll a dice three times—the first to determine WHO the story is about, the second to decide WHAT happens and the third time to pick WHERE the story takes place.

Craft Kits

If you’ve created everything you can think of out of egg cartons and toilet paper rolls and you feel like you’re at the end of your creative rope, check out some of the fun projects offered as complete craft kits. Here are some ideas and tips for crafting with kits:

Look for projects that are open ended. Kids can really express their creativity if they are given a project that doesn’t have to look exactly like a model or a picture on a box.

Choose a project that matches the skills that your child already has. This will help reduce the frustration level of your child. It is also ok to try a kit that teaches a new skill (such as latchhooking or knitting) but be sure that you are willing to participate in the activity with the child and offer help figuring things out.

Pay attention to suggested age guidelines.

Make sure projects and pieces are safe and non-toxic.

Make sure that the price fits the project. If you can teach your child to crochet, skip the kit that may cost 5 times what a skein of yarn would cost.

When choosing a kit consider the value of making something that your child can play with (such as bouncy balls), that will decorate their room, or that they can give as gifts.

Part of the value of a craft kit is the idea that it supplies. Choose a project that is unique and that you can duplicate with your own materials if your child enjoys the project.

Don’t forget the boys! There are lots of kits that would appeal to boys – check out bug baking, wood burning and the old standbys of model cars and rockets.

Craft kits are great to have on hand for sick days, snowy Saturdays, play dates and birthday party activities or favors.

Handmade Valentine Flowers

Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
These blooms never fade,
Like my love for you!

It’s the season of hearts, love, chocolate, and of course flowers for your sweetheart! Kids will enjoy making and sharing these beautiful flowers that will last a lifetime. Make a bunch to gather into a bouquet or present in a vase; the recipient will cherish them long after real roses have wilted and you will have spent a bundle less money than at the florist.

Tissue Paper Blooms:

- Cut several sheets of colored tissue paper into a 7 inch by 7 inch square. Ten sheets of tissue paper make a nice, full, flower. You can use all one color or several shades of different colors. Also, your flower can be bigger or smaller depending on the size of the square you cut.

  • Layer ALL the sheets together and accordion fold the whole bunch, just creasing the middle of the square (leave the ends uncreased).

  • Twist a pipe cleaner around the center where you have folded the paper, pinching the center tightly.

  • Starting in the middle, fan out the tissue paper on each side. Work out so all of the layers are spread out.

  • You can spray your flower lightly with perfume to give it a floral scent!

Felt Flowers:

  • Cut 2 pieces of felt (same or coordinating colors) into the shape of a 5-6 inch dog bone (two heart tops connected by a long straight middle).

  • Next cut an ‘x’ shaped set of leaves from green felt. Also cut a small slit in the middle of the ‘x.’

  • Push the middle of the bone shapes through the slit in the leaf piece.

  • Snip the bone shapes in the middle and attach to a straw or stick with florist tape or ribbon.

  • These flowers can also be made into adorable napkin holders. Just make the middle of the bone shape longer (10-11 inches) and when you snip it in the middle, just tie it around a napkin.

Edible Blossoms:

  • Make a simple edible flower using gumdrops and any cookie with a hole in the middle. Begin by pushing a lollipop stick through the top of a gumdrop and out the bottom. Next, place the cookie on top of the gumdrop. Finish by pushing the stick into the bottom of another gumdrop, but stop before the stick pokes out of the top.

  • Another sweet valentine flower treat can be made by just cutting flower shapes from craft foam and then sticking a lollipop through the center.

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Homemade Gifts

Kids like to get in on the giving during the holiday season. With limited budgets, children can make the most of their artistic talents by making some of these frugal handmade gifts for the important people in their lives.

Artwork calendar: Help your child gather up artwork that they have completed throughout the year. Look for seasonal images: pumpkins, turkeys, etc... A great place to start is with school projects that have accumulated. If you can't come up with 12 good pieces, have your child draw some pictures. If you would like to make more than one calendar, have the artwork color copied at a printing store. Purchase or draw 12 blank calendar pages. Blank calendars can be purchased at craft, hobby and scrapbook stores. If you are making your calendar pages, they can be spiral bound for a few dollars at a printing store. Kids can write the months, days of the week and numbers of the days on the pages. Make sure they have a 2004 calendar to look at so that each month starts on the right day. Add family birthdays and special occasions if desired. Then add the personal artwork for each month. Crafty moms can mount the artwork on specialty pa pers f or an added touch.

Envelope Sachet: Make a sweet smelling sachet using an envelope. Start by sealing a 4x6 inch envelope. Cut the envelope from bottom to top about one third of the way across the length. Have the kids decorate each piece of the envelope, front and back. Take the small piece of the envelope and cut a slit on the fold, right in the middle. Pour potpourri or other fragrant material into the larger envelope piece. Place the small envelope piece on top of the large piece and thread a ribbon around the large envelope and through the slits in the small envelope. Tie a bow and you are done! Rubber stamps can also be used to decorate the sachets.

Photo Cube Puzzle: Start by finding 6 (or more) photos. It is best to print them on light weight copy paper or have them color copied onto regular paper. Cut each photo into a 3 inch by 3 inch square. Then carefully mark off lines to divide the pictures into four, equal 1 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 squares. Cut the pictures along these lines. Place eight 1 1/2 inch wood cubes together to form one big cube. Start with one side and use Modge Podge to attach 4 picture pieces to the 4 cube faces on that side. Then move to the next face and repeat with the next picture. When using the Modge Podge, first paint the cube suface and then paint over the entire surface of the picture, making sure there are no wrinkles and no unglued corners. When all the faces of the cube are covered, your photo puzzle is complete. Or, if you want a trickier project (and harder puzzle!) use the interior cube faces as well. Decorate a box to keep the cube in!

Handmade & Homemade Christmas Ornaments

It’s time to trim the tree! Looking at a family’s Christmas tree is like looking at their family history. Through the years ornaments are added that means something special. This year, make some ornaments using some unique materials and then enjoy the memories for years to come.

Salt Dough Ornaments:

Mix 1 cup salt and 2 cups flour. Add in half cup water, then gradually add another half cup water. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes.

For flat dough ornaments roll out the dough. You can also be creative and make odd shapes and wreaths (takes longer to bake.) Use cookie cutters, cut-out templates, or just use your hands. on't forget to use a straw or toothpick to make a hole so you can hang the ornament. The baking time varies based on thickness of ornament. Start with about 1 ½ hours at 325°F or until dry. Let cool and then paint with acrylic paints. Glue on beads, buttons, or any fun accessory. Coat with acrylic varnish when everything is dry.

Reindeer Hats:

These aren’t hats for reindeer, they are reindeer made out of hats! Purchase some small straw hats (at craft stores in the doll section). Poke one end of a brown pipe cleaner up through the back of the hat and the other end up through the bottom, about a half inch over. Twist another small piece of pipe cleaner around each end of the first pipe cleaner to make antlers. Add googly eyes and a red nose. If you want, add a ribbon and jingle bell and a greeting or the year the ornament was made with paint.

Shivering Snowmen: Keep your snowman warm with cute ear muffs!

Take a round glass ornament and remove the top hanger piece. Fill it with shredded white paper and replace top. Cut a 3 inch piece of pipe cleaner and use glue or glue dots to attach it to either side of the ball so that it forms an arch around the top. Add a pom-pom to each end of the pipe cleaner to finish the ear muffs. Add black craft foam coal eyes and mouth and an orange carrot nose.

Notebook Ring Wreath:

Cut about 10 – 12 pieces of ribbon into 6 inch lengths. Take a 2 inch notebook ring and tie the ribbons all around. Suspend a photo in the middle of the wreath.

Thanksgiving Fun

Whether they sit at the kids table or with the grownups, all kids like the Thanksgiving table to look fun and festive. Here are some ideas for decorations the whole family can make together and a simple dessert recipe that might make the perfect addition to your feast!
Bean Candle Holders:
Clean and dry an empty plastic container; small yogurt containers or margarine tubs work well. Pour an assortment of dry beans into the container. Cover the beans with white glue. Stir the beans and glue until all of the beans are covered. Before the glue dries, press the bottom of a 12 inch taper candle into the middle of the bean mixture. Let the candle and beans dry several hours or overnight. When dry, loosen the beans from the edge of the container and remove the molded mean candle base. 
Light Bulb Turkeys:
Find a standard size light bulb. If desired, paint the bulb brown. Add feathers to the bulb using thick craft glue, stick glue dots or a low-temp glue gun. At the bottom of the light bulb (which is the top of the turkey) add beans for eyes, a red felt gobbler and folded orange construction paper beak. Add some feet made from craft foam to the bottom of the turkey (top of the light bulb) and then glue the feet to a block of some sort so that the turkey will stand up. (Remember, light bulbs are fragile and breakable - so look but don't touch is the rule for the little ones.)

Pumpkin Pudding:
Mix one cup pumpkin, one cup marshmallow crème and one half cup whipped topping. Add one teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and mix until blended. Serve in small bowls or in individual graham cracker pie crusts.

Learning All Around!

For children, education happens everywhere. There are many things that parents can do at home with their children to complement the learning that occurs in school.

Here are some ideas of ways to find teachable moments at home with your children:

Use the toys you have in new, interactive ways: Take out that alphabet puzzle and play some games! Start by tracing the letters in a simple word or your child's name on an index card. See if he or she can find the letters to match the ones on the card.

Walk the line: Use masking tape or duct tape to make a line on the carpet. Write numbers 0 to 10 on the line and then have the kids walk the number line. See how many steps it takes to get from 1 to 3 to practice addition and subtraction.

Make some games: Parents can easily make simple games with teaching components.

  • BINGO is an easy game to make. Print out several grids (4 boxes by 4 boxes) and fill the boxes with different color shapes (make each grid different). Then make call out cards with all the possible shape/color combinations. Shuffle the call out cards and play a game of BINGO by having your child cover the corresponding shape on their card if it is called.

  • MEMORY cards can also be easily made. Print out two sets of pictures (something like letters, numbers or clocks showing the hour) and place them face down on a table. Pick two and if they match, keep the pair. Continue until all the pairs are found.

  • NUMBER CHALLENGE is a great game for school-age children to play and at the same time practice their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Begin by having each player write the numbers 1-18 on a piece of paper. Each player should also have 18 pennies. The first player rolls three dice. They must use any combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to come up with one of the numbers on the paper. When they have performed the arithmetic for the group, they use one penny to cover the number that was the sum of their equation. The next player does the same thing and so on. The game is over when a play has covered all their numbers.

Practice Sequencing and Patterns: Make a picture sequence game activity by having your child color a picture from a coloring book or web printout. Then mount the picture onto a piece of sturdy cardboard. Slice the picture into up to 10 vertical segments. Number the segments from 1 to 10 and then have the child put the picture back together by sequencing the numbers. This activity is self checking.

Recognizing patterns is an important pre-reading skill. Paint some craft sticks in primary colors. Then take some index cards and draw lines in the same colors in different patterns. Let the child try to duplicate the pattern from the card with the sticks.

Letter Labeling: Write upper and lower case letters on a set of clothespins. Let your child walk around the house finding things that start with each letter and clipping a clothespin to that thing.

Beginning, Middle and End: Sequencing and re-telling are important skills for building reading comprehension. Find simple pictures of events showing a beginning, middle and end. Have your child sequence the cards and describe what happens.

If you are a parent looking for more information about the educational resources and opportunities for children in the Denver metro area, plan to attend Colorado Parent's Education Fair. The event will be held at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Seawell Ballroom on Sunday, November 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. For more information visit or call 303-320-1000.

Painted pots for Halloween
Featured October 12

It is the time of year when every house in the neighborhood turns haunted – or at least is decorated for Halloween! Here are some easy Halloween decorations to make with the kids. These projects are easy and inexpensive; making them great ideas for classroom parties or neighborhood get-togethers. In small sizes, they can be great table centerpieces. Or, supersize the materials and make some spooky stuff for outside your house.

The basic materials here are terra cotta pots and saucers. They come in all shapes and sizes and are inexpensive. Put together in different ways, they can be decorated to look like almost any Halloween creature! Use a thick acrylic paint when painting the pots. The paint is easy to clean up from brushes and surfaces, but will stain clothing. If kids use big brushes or foam sponges, they are able to cover the pots easily. Let the paint dry before adding embellishments such as eyes, wings, hair or stems. Details can be painted on or glued on.

    rdana size=2>Pumpkin: paint two pots of the same size orange. Glue on face features. Pull brown tissue paper and a green pipe cleaner through the hole of the top pot. Place the bottom pot right side up and the top one upside down to make a pumpkin shape.
    rdana size=2>Bat: paint one pot black. Place pot upside down and add eyes and fangs – with glow in the dark paint if desired! Cut two wings out of felt and glue to sides of pot. Knot a string inside the top hole of the pot if you would like to suspend your bat.

  • Ghost: paint one pot white. Place pot upside down and add eyes and mouth. Knot a white handkerchief or bandana and pull through the hole in the top of the pot, leaving the knot hidden inside the pot.

  • Witch: Paint a pot and saucer black for a hat. Paint another pot green for the face. Glue orange yarn to the inside of the saucer for the hair. Place the green side right side up and add face features. Top the green pot with the black saucer upside down and then the black pot upside down.

  • Candy corn platter: Paint a pot with yellow at the top, orange in the middle and white on the bottom. Turn this pot upside down to make a candy corn. Paint a saucer any color and decorate it as you wish. Put the saucer on the candy corn. Place a plate or bowl on the saucer before filling with candy.

Once you have the paints out, why not paint some pumpkins for early in the season decorations?  The acrylic paint can be washed off if you want to carve the pumpkins closer to Halloween.

Featured October 5

Fun Fall Projects

Autumn is nature’s magic show for children. One day in late September someone says Abra-ca-dabra and all the leaves start turning yellow, orange, red and brown and then fall from the trees! In addition to jumping in piles and crunching the leaves under your feet, gather some up and use them as nature’s (free) craft materials in these fun fall projects!

Leaf Hunt Bag: Start by making a bag to gather your leaves in. Take a brown lunch sack and fold the top over a few times. Staple a strip of construction paper to the top of the bag to make a handle. Decorate the bag as desired and then head out on a walk around the neighborhood looking for beautiful fall leaves to gather. The best ones for crafting are the ones that have just fallen and are not too crunchy yet. Next, take some of your favorite leaves and press them flat inside a big book. Wait several hours or overnight for the leaves to flatten.

Leaf Rubbings: Instead of pressing a few leaves, tape some to a piece of paper with the vein side facing out. Peel the paper from a crayon. Then, place another piece of paper over the leaves and rub the crayon over it. Presto! Leaves appear!

Leaf Sorting: Practice some school skills by taking your leaf collection and sorting them by shape, color and size. Make comparisons to increase vocabulary and observation skills.

Make leaf creatures: Pick some interesting shaped leaves and glue them to paper in the shape of leaf creatures: animals, people and objects all made out of leaves.

Leaf decoupage: Preserve your leaf treasures with decoupage! Lay a pretty leaf on a painted wooden frame or paper box and cover with an even layer Modge Podge. Or, just paint the leaves with the Modge Podge, and when they are dry use them to make a leaf wreath on a paper plate (with the center cut out).

Featured September 28
Family Organization and Time Saving Tips

What mom hasn't wished for a few extra hours in every day just to stay on top of all the family activities, events and goings on? Add in multiple kids and/or a job and you have a mom stretched to the limits! Most moms know all about the madness of morning when everyone has to be ready for school, work or day care and out the door on time. Here are some tips to help ease the morning madness and start everyone's day right!
Pay Up Front, At Night: As good as the couch looks at 9 p.m., spend a few minutes getting ready for the next day before turning in. If toys are picked up when the kids wake in the morning, they won't be tempted to start playing and lose focus on getting ready to go.
Skip the Tube: Grab a few minutes of morning news before the kids wake up and then switch to music for morning entertainment. Make a CD of Mom's Morning Mix - all great songs to keep everyone moving!
Empty the Drawers: Instead of laying out clothes the night before, layout a whole week's worth of clothes only once. Skip drawers all together and keep kids clothes in a divided cubby with outfits completely put together down to the undies and socks!
Feed an Army: Don't spend time every day or night making lunches - spend one day a month pre-packing lunch kits with all the non-perishable lunchbox stuffers. Then just add a quick sandwich and you are ready to go.
Watch the Clock: Set a timer and help the kids be aware as time ticks down to launch - the time that everyone has to be ready to go.
3-2-1 Launch: Set up an area by the door with a place for everyones backpacks, shoes, coats and whatever else they need for the day. Keep a list near the launch area for last minute reminders.
A few more tips for busy moms:

Color coding works: assign each child a color and list all the child's activities on the calendar in that color. Take things further by keeping backpacks, school supplies and papers filed in the same color.
Use the timer for mom too: if your time gets eaten away while on the phone or the computer, set a timer and only allow a set time for these activities.

Touch papers only once: take action right away on whatever is passing through your hands and home. Transfer dates to a calendar, sign permission slips or throw it away!
Keep lists: Hide washable memo boards made from self-stick memo board paper in cabinets so everyone can keep track of what's needed from the store, messages or other important reminders.
Tag of the day: Young kids usually don't have a day planner with them to remind them of the day's schedule and activities. Help little ones remember what to do during the day by attaching a photo in a name badge holder to their backpack or lunch box. This is especially helpful to children of working parents who may need to remember what to do after school: go to daycare, ride bus home, etc...

Featured September 7
Reasons to Make a Fun Pizza with Your Family Today:

1) Kids love anything called pizza and might even eat some things that they would normally turn away!

2) All these pizzas are easy to make in a jiffy and we are all so busy around meal times!

3) Pizza can be served any time of day! Try our breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert pizza ideas!

Breakfast Pizza:

Begin by unrolling refrigerator biscuits or crescent rolls and pressing them together in a greased pizza pan or cake pan. Sprinkle chopped cooked ham grated pizza cheese (mozzerella, provolone, a blend or whatever you like) on dough. In a bowl, beat 3 eggs, 1/4 cup milk, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over dough. Sprinkle additional ham and cheese on top and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until egg is set. Let stand before serving.

Cheeseburger Pizza for lunch:

Brown some ground beef and drain fat. Mix 1/4 cup ketchup, 1/8 cup mustard, and 1/8 cup mayonnaise to make the sauce for the pizza. Spread sauce on pre-baked pizza crust. Sprinkle cooked ground beef and grated cheddar cheese on top of sauce. Bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Top with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and pickles. If you like, add diced red onion and crumbled bacon!

Chicken Divan Pizza for dinner:

Unroll refrigerator pizza crust into pizza pan or 9 x 13 cake pan. Pre bake crust for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Spread alfredo sauce over crust. Sprinkle cooked cubed chicken and cooked broccoli florets on crust. Top with shredded colby-jack cheese. Bake an additional 10 minutes.

Dessert Pizza:

Slice refrigerator sugar cookie dough about 1/4 inch thick. Place rounds onto a pizza pan and press together to form one circle. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes or until golden. Let cool. Warm 1/4 cup strawberry preserves in microwave 1 minute or until thin. Spread warm preserves on cool crust. Grate a white chocolate square on a cheese grater. Sprinkle onto preserve covered crust. Top with additional candies, chips, marshmallows or sprinkles.

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Featured September 7
Food Allergies in Children: Cooking Allergen-free

Cooking allergen-free can be fun and unique. Do not be offended if some parents of allergic children will not allow them to eat any food prepared outside the home. If you are very careful and discuss your efforts in advance, an allergen free baked treat can be a great addition to a play date, class party or birthday party. Here is a recipe that can be made to contain none of the 8 most common allergens.

Magic Cake

Mix: 1 3/4 cup gluten free flour blend (available with natural foods), 1 tsp xantham gum (also available with natural foods), 3 Tbsp cocoa powder (make sure no nuts), 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt. Separately mix 1 Tbsp vinegar, 5 Tbsp oil, 1 tsp gluten free vanilla and 1 cup water. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together and pour into a greased (with a gluten free spray) 8 x 8 square pan. Bake at 350 about 35 minutes.

For more food allergies, see page 10 of our September eBook

Featured August 31
Decorate your denim

Everyone likes to look hip and fashionable, especially when heading back to school. Instead of spending a fortune on the latest embellished denim, try making your own creations with your child's creative input. Moms can also help their little ones look stylish by recycling some old jeans into cool capris. Here's some tips on how to decorate your denim:

Bleached designs:

Start with any denim garment (pants, shorts, overalls, jackets). Darker denim works best. Draw a design on paper to practice or choose a stencil with a design that you like. Insert several sheets of newspaper between the pant legs or under the garment so the design does not seep through to the back side. Use the fine tip of a bleach pen to draw your design on the denim. If using a stencil, tape it firmly to the denim so that the bleach gel doesn't seep under the plastic. Let the gel dry on the denim for at least 30 minutes. Carefully brush off and rinse the bleach off with cool water. Wash separately for first washing.

Ribbon embellishments:
If you have some jeans that are a bit too short but still in good condition, try making some stylish capris with ribbon embellishments. Carefully cut the pant legs to the same mid-calf length. Next, measure a piece of ribbon (at least one inch wide) to fit around the pant leg. Use a heat and bond strip or fabric glue to attach the ribbon to the pant leg, leaving the ribbon a bit longer than the pant leg to hide the cut end. Add additional ribbon embellishments to the back pockets, a coordinating top or handbag accessory.

Rhinestones, studs and iron-ons:
There are lots of other choices for denim decorations. Check out the craft store for iron-on crystal or funky designs and letters. A stud-setter (like the BeDazzler) is also good for adding embellishments and designs.

Add some color:
Dimensional fabric paints, brush on fabric paint, fabric markers or fabric crayons can also be used to add flare and color to your denim creation.

Featured August 3rd
Cool treats for hot days

You scream! I scream! We all scream for ice cream - and other frozen treats on hot summer days! Here are some ideas for cool summer treats that you can make at home and enjoy with friends during the dog days of summer.

Frozen Chocolate Bananas:

Begin by cutting 4 bananas in half. Carefully insert a craft/Popsicle stick into the cut end of the banana. Then peel the banana. Place all bananas with sticks on a sheet of wax paper and then into the freezer for at least ½ hour. Meanwhile, melt 1-cup milk chocolate morsels and 1-tablespoon vegetable oil (either in the microwave for about 1 minute or in a double boiler). Stir chocolate until smooth. Take frozen bananas from freezer and dip into melted chocolate. Spoon chocolate over banana to coat evenly. If desired, roll 'wet' banana in chopped nuts, candy sprinkles or dry cereal. Wrap each individual covered banana in foil and freeze.

Ice Cream Sandwiches:

You can make your own ice cream sandwich by layering some softened ice cream in between any two cookies. But, to get the authentic taste of the traditional sandwich treat, follow this recipe. Mix a box of chocolate cake mix with 1/3-cup vegetable oil and 2 eggs. The mixture will be very stiff. Place rounded tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten the dough slightly with the bottom of a juice glass. Bake at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes. Cool completely and then place softened ice cream on the bottom (flat) side of one cookie and top with the bottom of another cookie. Roll the edges in sprinkles if desired. Wrap individual sandwiches in foil and freeze.

Ice Cream Pie:

Make an easy treat that tastes great and is a festive end to a summer meal! An easy ice cream pie can be made with a preformed cracker or cookie crust, ice cream and your favorite candy bars. Chop up several of your favorite candy bars and sprinkle some of the pieces on the bottom of a piecrust. Next, spoon in some softened ice cream. Sprinkle more candy; add more ice cream and top the pie with more candy pieces and some frozen whipped topping if desired. Freeze and serve! If desired, you can add a simple sauce to the candy layers: just mix 1 package of butterscotch instant pudding, ¼ cup water, 2 tablespoons melted butter and ½ cup light corn syrup. Drizzle the sauce throughout the ice cream layers. Yum!

Chocolate covered cones:

Make your ice cream cones extra special and tasty by dipping the end in melted chocolate and rolling them in sprinkles or nuts.

Featured July 20th
Birthday Cakes

The highlight of many birthday parties is when guests gather around the birthday boy or girl and sing Happy Birthday as the child blows out the candles on their cake. As a centerpiece of this tradition, the cake gets plenty of attention - right before it is devoured! Parents don't have to spend a lot of money on something that is reduced to crumbs so quickly. You can make fabulous birthday cakes using just the bake ware that you already have in your kitchen and a little ingenuity.

First consider the cake itself. Since you'll be spending some time decorating the cake, you don't have to go overboard with a fancy from-scratch recipe. Use a basic box of cake mix and follow directions completely for the best results. Sneak in some extra nutrition by adding grated zucchini to chocolate cake or a jar of baby food bananas to yellow cake mix. After the cake is done baking, set a timer for 10 minutes and then remove the cake from the pan. Even a plain 9 by 13 rectangle cake looks better when it is out of the pan and on a cake board or platter.

Round cake pans can be used to make a number of different party cakes. One simple suggestion is to remove the center two inches from the circle and join the cut edges together to form an oval shape. This shape can be decorated to look like a football, cute and cuddly Elmo, a fish or many other possibilities. Invest in a few cake-decorating tips to make festive effects on the cake such as Elmo's furry face. Also, when tinting icing, use paste food color instead of liquid so that the frosting doesn't become too runny.

A bundt cake pan can also be used to make fun birthday cakes. After removing the cake from the pan, cut it in fourths. Place the pieces cut end-to-end to make a serpentine shape. This can be a snake/worm/caterpillar creature or even a track for trains or race cars.

Cupcake pans are a great option for birthdays as well. Parents will avoid the "I want Elmo's eye!" barrage of pleas from party guests because everyone's cake is the same. Think of the cupcake as a mini round cake and use your creativity to make it into whatever will fit with the party theme. Going bananas with a monkey party? Frost the cupcake with chocolate frosting. Then add mini round cookies to the sides for ears. Add a larger round cookie cut in half for the nose and mouth (piped on with decorating gel) and candies for eyes. You can make a penguin using round chocolate covered mint cookies. Just cut two cookies in half. Use two halves for the penguin wings and one more for the head. Add snipped pieces of dried apricots for a beak and feet and candy eyes.

Need a clever candle holder to finish off your edible masterpiece? Try round candies (hard or gummy type) to hold candles, catch wax and add a cute look to your cake.

Visit to view our eBook and find other great ideas for birthday parties and other activities for families.

Featured June22nd
Start a Summer Book Club

Don't wait until August to remind the kids to do some reading to keep their school skills sharp over the summer! Start a Summer Book Club and keep them reading (and writing and having fun!) all summer long! Here are some tips to get you started:

What is a book club?

Any group (and even just two can be a group) that agrees to read either the same book, the same genre or the same author and then discuss the material that was read.

Who can be in a book club?

Anyone! From toddlers to teens, neighbors to friends or relations.

How does a book club work?

Get some friends together and decide what book or type of books you all enjoy reading. Maybe your club will read all mysteries or all the books in a series or a few books by one favorite author. Check at your local library or ask a teacher for some age/reading level appropriate ideas. You can also