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! 

 

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…

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!

 

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…

Getting Eggy With It

Dyeing Easter eggs is one of my favorite spring traditions. This year is the first that I felt the children were big enough to try blowing out some of the eggs before dyeing. Following various internet tutorials, we used my older daughter’s Fiskar’s hand drill to make the holes. 

 We broke a few, but overall the drill worked much better than any method I’ve tried before. We poked a toothpick in the hole to scramble the yolk and then got blowing. I was surprised to see that all three big kids had the lung power to do it!  

 I saved all the egg innards and made a peculiar pancake/Dutch baby for breakfast.  

Peculiar Pancake

  1. 4 eggs
  2. 1/2 cup flour
  3. 1/2 cup milk
  4. 4 T butter 
  5. Powdered sugar and/or lemon juice for serving

Heat oven to 400. Melt butter in a cast iron pan. Beat the other ingredients until well-blended and foamy (except sugar/lemon juice). Pour into buttery pan. Place in oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, until huge, puffy and golden. Shake powdered sugar over and eat!

  

   

 
 It went fast!

As you can see from my daughter’s tray, we dyed some eggs before breakfast. I have a hankering to try natural dye methods sometime soon, but for this morning we went with the old faithful, Paas dye kits made with vinegar and water. I buy three basic kits, plus a set of color cups and use three dye tablets in each cup to make for vibrant colors 

    
 My kids don’t love eating eggs, but the oldest and youngest were inspired by the pretty colors to eat a hard boiled egg each. 

   

I call that a win! Fair warning this may not be the last egg-related post this week…

Leprechaun Day

 We celebrate as often as possible. And while our heritage is mostly mutt, a good chunk of mine is Irish, so St Patrick’s Day is a personal favorite. The kids build traps to catch those tricky leprechauns, and get so close! 

   This year the children caught a shoe in one trap and a belt in the other.

   

 But they are good natured little fellows, who leave golden coins for the kids in the garden despite our attempts to trap them.     

I also attempt Irish brown bread or soda bread every year, and usually it is gross and no one wants to eat it(including me). This year’s recipe was a total winner, though!  I was going to bring a loaf to my son’s preschool, but my older daughters objected because they want it for breakfast tomorrow. I didn’t have wheat bran so I substituted rolled oats which worked just fine.

 Hope the leprechauns are good to you today!

  

Rocket Man!

My little fella is fascinated by space- astronauts and rocket ships in particular. He made a space ship out of cardboard boxes and wanted the baby and me to come in, but it was a little small. So I added a baby pod to his rocket

 But he still wanted me to come in, so I asked him if I could break down the boxes and try putting them together another way to make a biiiig space ship. He agreed, provided he could make himself a rocket man space costume. One roll of duct tape and every cardboard box in the house later and we have a deep space pod that fits the whole gang 

    
   

While I was breaking down and taping boxes together, he was making and testing his rocket man outfit. 

    
 When the big girls got home from school, they got in on the space fun too!