Jelly Belly!

  

Yes, I bought the commemorative photo. I never do that, but c’mon, that’s hilarious. Looking forward to our 5-day Sonoma trip, my children were probably most excited about the prospect of visiting a candy factory. Jelly belly is every child’s dream come true(and every dental hygienist’s nightmare, but I won’t be a killjoy). The whole place smelled like vanilla marshmallows and everything was candy-colored and cheerful 

    
 Unfortunately they are redoing the tour lanes so the the tour was self-guided and pretty disappointing -the TV screens giving the schpiel were hard to see and hear over the sound of the machinery, and while I think with the guided tour you get jelly beans at each station, they just handed out a small pack of jelly belly candy corn at the end of the tour. That said, we all loved peering down onto the factory floor and seeing the drying trays FULL of jelly beans, like a dragon’s hoard of little sugary jewels. The highlight for me was the rows of cement-mixer like tumblers that they use to smooth and glaze the beans. It was like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When we were there they were glazing lemon beans with huge pitchers of bright yellow syrup, and the scent wafted right up through the floor. I don’t really even like jelly beans (I’m a chocolate person),and it was still a pretty magical experience.

For the children, the sample bar and gift shop were the highlights. 

   

They got regular jelly beans, of course, but I think they had the most fun with these Bean Boozled packets 

   
Get the idea? Two jelly beans, the same color, one good, one utterly VILE. No way of telling until you bite down. 

 That’s a face that got skunk spray instead of licorice. I’m here to tell you that skunk spray tastes EXACTLY like it smells. As does canned dog food. Revolting and awesome at the same time.

We opted not to eat at the jelly belly cafeteria, but we did play one of the fun coin operated jelly bean games before we left.

 And we took one last picture! 

 

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Spring Break: Mrs. Grossman’s Stickers

I grew up going somewhere every school break. My parents loved to travel and I was always thrilled to join them(even into adulthood). The logistics of traveling long distances with 4 children are complex, but that doesn’t mean we stay home! One of the great things about California is how many diverse destinations there are within mini van distance. This year we’re visiting Sonoma, without going to a single vineyard. Our first stop? Mrs. Grossman’s sticker factory in Petaluma. Andrea Grossman was one of the pioneers of decorative stickers, and her company is the last one to continue manufacturing their stickers in the USA- basically your only shot at seeing how stickers are made firsthand without leaving the country. The tours are reservation only, and they hand out SO many free stickers as you go! 

 Here we are standing in front of 6 month supply rolls of stickers. My insane sticker-collecting 8 year old self would have probably fainted at this point. They gave out a little sticker project at the end 

 But we still had to visit the gift shop, right? The biggest hits with the kids were their sticker grab boxes and something I hadn’t seen before called Peel and Play– sturdy vinyl stickers and scenes. My middle daughter is the storyteller and had so much fun playing “story hour” with her Noah’s Ark set.

   She’s also a big organizer, and enjoyed laying alllll of her stickers out to put them in order.

 Of course we couldn’t keep all the sticker goodness to ourselves! Each child packed up little envelopes of fun to send to friends back home. 

 

What’s up next? The Jelly Belly jelly bean factory in Fairfield. Stay tuned…

Strawberry Rhubarb Galette

 I have mentioned before my abiding love of rhubarb. Of course when some juicy red and green stalks showed up in my local produce market, I had to buy them. But I wasn’t in the mood to make cake. Or crumble. So… Galettes? Sold. A batch of Martha’s pate brisee and the filling from this recipe(without the lavender sugar-bleah, no flowers in my food, please) later…  

All rolled out, folded around filling, dotted with butter and sprinkled with sugar

Baked at 400 until crisp, and golden brown in spots- they were probably in there for 45-50 minutes    

A close up- perfectly buttery and tart/sweet. The kids like whipped cream on theirs, I like it plain. It totally counts as breakfast too, especially if you were to put creme fraiche or plain yogurt on top!
 

Butterflies

I always liked the (apparently apocryphal) story of an English king with a stutter accidentally calling what was previously known as a “flutter by” a “butterfly”, and everyone else following suit so as not to embarrass the monarch. Based on some googling, it appears they’ve actually been called butterflies for some mysterious reason that reaches far back into the murky parts of language history. But I’ll stick with my stuttering king. Whatever you call them, I never get tired of the magic of metamorphosis, and as such I’m on the mailing list of Insect Lore, whose live insect kits are my absolute favorites. We’ve raised many caterpillars (both purchased and found) into butterflies in our butterfly garden, not to mention the generations of spotted lovelies who’ve come through our ladybug land. So when I got an email that it was caterpillar weather and painted ladies were on 2 for 1 special, I got on it. Two cups of teeny caterpillars arrived promptly 

 We put them in a warm spot by the gecko’s tank and they grew prodigiously 

 Within a few short weeks they were hanging in J’s from the lid of their cups 

 And soon after they had developed their beautiful golden chrysalises 

 My daughter carefully pinned the paper holding the pupae into the butterfly garden and we settled in to wait a bit more 

 One morning when the kids were at school, I noticed something exciting! 

 Almost all hatched on the same day. We enjoyed their fluttering for a few days, then released them into our garden

   

 Now what I’ve looked at their website for the links above, I see they have a praying mantis kit… Now I know what’s next!

 

Write On

  

Have you heard about Write_on? It was started in 2014 by a couple of letterpress companies and joined by Sakura USA, an excellent maker of art supplies(like the koi watercolors I mentioned last time). You can click over there for the full story, but basically everyone who takes part writes a letter a day for the month of April. So far I’ve managed to stick with it, and I even got my son to send a letter to my mother after he saw me writing. The kids are curious who I’m writing to and what I’m writing about, plus they love putting the letters in the mailbox and raising the flag. I used to be an avid letter writer, sharing stories, collages, and mix tapes with friends across the country and the world. Some of those friends I’ve lost touch with in the shuffle of adult life, so I’ve done a bit of Google stalking to find addresses for them to send them letters and let them know I still think of them often. Who would you write to in a month of letters?  

 

Watercolors on the Go

I can’t tell you where(see yesterday’s post on sleep deprivation and brain function), but the minute I saw these Sakura Koi travel watercolor sets and brushes I knew we needed at least one. I got one for my purse(for art emergencies), and one just for my oldest daughter on her birthday. Today at the park, my middle daughter and my son took turns using my set on a little block of watercolor paper I brought with me 

   
I was pretty impressed with the loveliness of the colors, ease of use, and the art the children made, and honored when my daughter presented me with her mini masterwork 

 I will be framing it, and probably getting a set, or at least one of the neat water-filled brushes, for each child.

Energy Efficiency

Juuuust when I thought I was getting the hang of this 4-child thing and was even squeaking in a little creative time, the baby decided to have a massive sleep regression. She won’t nap in her crib during the day, or sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time at night- aye yi yi! Of course this is what I’ve signed up for being a parent of 4, and I know from experience that nothing lasts forever, even though sleep deprivation feels like it is here to stay. I miss the quiet-house down time to create more than I miss the sleep at this point(but talk to me in a week).

With that gripe out of the way, I’ll share that if I’ve learned nothing else from parenting, I’ve learned to be flexible and work with the time and energy I’m given. So, baby won’t nap in bed? We take a nice long walk in the spring sunshine-I get some exercise, and she gets a little rest. I even bring my knitting in case there’s time to stop and sit for a bit 

 

We stop by the local market for some produce and come home for a diaper change, milk, and a wiggle on the baby gym before picking up the big kids. And I keep crossing my fingers for her to find her sleep groove again so I have time for all of the creative ideas whirling around in my head!

Birthday Party Food

I get tired of takeout pizza. Don’t get me wrong, it is easy, delicious, and a crowd pleaser. You can bet I never turn down a piece at a party. But when we throw a party I usually opt for something different. My eight-year-old was very happy to be involved in meal planning for her own party. She chose cheese fondue, macaroni & cheese, and mini ham sandwiches for savouries 

   For dessert she requested cheesecake bites, and our family standard birthday cake, vanilla with vanilla Magnolia buttercream frosting. The cheesecake bites were so much easier and prettier than the full sized cheesecake I made for her real birthday! I used this recipe, but substituted a sleeve of crushed graham crackers mixed with 6T butter instead of the Nilla wafers for the crust. 

    
 My daughter put the cherries on top once the mini cheesecakes had chilled in the fridge.    

 True to form, the official birthday cake’s ugliness defied the laws of baking physics  

  To quote a friend of mine, “no cake in the history of the world ever folded over on itself in the pan like that.” Probably true. Thankfully a giant coat of icing and some candles disguised most of the cake’s deficiencies.
   
  

Hard Working Bunny

The Easter bunny works hard at our house! Marking Easter eggs with everyone’s initials, filling them with treats, hiding them all over the garden. Not to mention putting together exciting Easter baskets for 4 children.  

    
 This year the, ahem, Easter bunny stayed up way past her bedtime to sew a stuffed patchwork bunny for the baby, because she can’t hunt for eggs and her Easter basket was so sad and bare without the candy and chokey toys the big kids got . 

   
The good news is, she really liked it, and the happy smiles of little children make the Easter bunny’s late nights worth it(as long as someone leaves the bunny some coffee in the kitchen) 

    
 

Nanobug Party!

Though my oldest daughter’s birthday was a few weeks ago, I didn’t manage to pull together a school friend birthday party until this weekend. Thankfully my daughter is happy with having just her 3 closest friends as guests, and those friends were all free! She requested a hexbug party, so I gathered a 5-pack of bugs and materials for DIY bug  mazes.  

 It was an excuse to go to my favorite art store Artist and Craftsman, and buy one of my favorite open-ended craft supplies- a Casey’s Wood Products bag of odds and ends.  

 These things are THE BEST for just chucking in the middle of the table with some glue, string, wire, pipe cleaners, etc. and seeing what the kids come up with. I also got a six-pack of wood frames to act as the base for the mazes, and poster tack for sticking the wood pieces down 

 As all the bugs were different colors, I made a blind grab box to avoid fighting over who got what.  

  

 They all ended up trading but at least it was fair!

Everyone had fun sticking different pieces in the frames and seeing how the bugs interacted with their environments 

  

  
 I had fun buildings a little maze too! 

I also made mini cheesecake bites that were so much easier than a big cheesecake and totally delicious. More on that tomorrow…