Become a Naturalist

Ah Summer! There is so much about this time of year that brings out poetry, curiosity and a sense that anything is possible. When the kids get restless and itchy, take a break from video games and household routines and explore the natural world. To make it a more interesting adventure, become Naturalists and record the days observations and sightings. You can do this and still be faithful to social distancing and keeping one another safe. All you need is the following, all of which will fit in a backpack:

1. A pair of binoculars for zooming in on birds or other elusive wildlife. A magnifying glass for closeups of insects and plant life.

2. A Field Guide of insects and birds of North America.  There are many excellent ones you can borrow from a local library or download onto your Kindle or iphone. You can track and input what birds you see on Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.   http://www.birds.cornell.edu  or by downloading the eBird app. 

3. A journal or notebook will help you record sights, sounds, names of animals and plants you discover, and details to use in writing a story or drawing a picture when you get back home.

4. A camera.

5. Comfortable shoes, water, snacks.

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Try an outing at different times of day. What is awake in the early morning hours may be totally different from what is active mid day or at sunset. If you’re having difficulty finding “critters”, be still and listen to the sounds of nature. This stillness often leads to amazing discoveries. It will definitely bring you peace and calm your stress. If you’re near water, turn over some rocks at the water’s edge. There are many hatching insects under them to marvel at.

And, like every good naturalist, remember to leave only footprints, and take only pictures and memories, and bring back any trash left behind by the human animal, so we can enjoy the natural world for years to come. footprints

Summer Fun: Crafts For Kids of All Ages.

Summer vacation is here!  While your children enjoy a break from school, you still want to make sure they are active and spending time in constructive pursuits instead of vegging out in front of the TV or computer.  Trips to parks and playgrounds, lakes and beaches, are a great way to enjoy the outdoors.  For days when it is too hot to go outside, or for times when quiet activity is preferred, there are some great sites for summer crafts.

The Long Thread offers 50 Summer Crafts for kids of all ages including Stone Dolls, Recycled Crayons, and Fairy Wings.

http://thelongthread.com/?p=4054

Try the awesome crafts for kids of all ages and abilities on the HAPPINESS IS HOMEMADE  site. No special skills or tools are required.

https://www.happinessishomemade.net/easy-summer-kids-crafts-that-anyone-can-make/

Finally,  check out the RED TED site for videos on some amazing crafts that will keep your children entertained all summer long.  http://www.redtedart.com

Happy Summer!

Got Burgers? Celebrate National Hamburger Day with Marilyn Ostermiller.

Firing up the grill for the first burgers of the season is a time-honored Memorial Day Weekend tradition. This year, National Hamburger Day, May 28, falls on the first day of the holiday weekend.

Americans devour nearly 50 billion burgers each year, according to food industry sources. The origin of modern hamburgers can be traced to 19th century Germany where beef from Hamburg cows was minced. combined with garlic, salt and pepper and formed into patties. Buns were introduced later, when hamburgers became a popular food cart offering in the streets of New York and Chicago.

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A major factor in their popularity is that burgers are inexpensive. It helps that they also are easy to prepare. Grab about a quarter pound of ground beef, shape it into a ball, flatten it and fry it quickly in a skillet on the stove, broil or grill it.

For the most flavorful burgers, Food Network Chef Bobby Flay recommends 80/20 ground chuck, seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in a cast iron skillet with a splash of canola oil.

Looking for a leaner burger?  A four-ounce cooked sirloin burger has  about 225 calories, 12 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat and 27 grams of protein. Nutritionally speaking, it’s an excellent source of niacin, vitamin B 12, zinc and selenium. It’s also a good source of vitamin B 6. Iron and phosphorus.

burgers

Turkey burgers are an option for people who want to avoid beef, or want a flavor change. A four-ounce cooked turkey burger, made from a combination of dark and light meat, has about 200 calories, but is leaner than beef. Suggested seasonings include a tablespoon of dried bread crumbs, grated onion, salt and pepper, a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of white wine vinegar. Cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Whether burgers are made at home or eaten on the go, they also appeal because the meat is easy to chew, according to http://www.epicurious.com.

For some folks, the toppings make the burger. Nearly three out of four people surveyed said they typically use cheese as a burger topping. Other popular enhancements include ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and mustard. At least, one in five surveyed say they also like bacon, mayo or aioli, mushrooms and fries on their burgers.

The best burger buns are soft and slightly sweet, but strong enough to soak up the juices.

How do you like your burgers?

Cookbooks for kids can help children discover their role in the kitchen.

Kid Chef: The Foodie Kids Cookbook written by Melina Hammer, is designed to introduce 5- to 11-year olds to the mysteries of cooking. It includes 75 recipes with simple directions.  kid chef book

The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs: 100+ Recipes that You’ll Love to Cook and Eat, produced by America’s Test Kitchen Kids, is geared for 8-11 year olds. Alongside the recipes are lots of basic cooking information. kid cook book

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Marilyn Ostermiller is long-time journalist who also writes stories for children.

In Celebration Of the Pretzel by Marilyn Ostermiller

There’s no need to get tied up in knots deciding how to celebrate National Pretzel Day which happens to be tomorrow, April 26. While hard pretzels are a popular snack, the pretzel celebrated this month is the soft, chewy cousin to baked bread that is enjoyed hot, often with mustard.

soft pretzels

Soft pretzels are served at restaurants, bars, sports arenas and Auntie Annie’s retail outlets. Their humble beginnings have been traced to a monastery in northern Italy about 610 A.D., according to “The History of Science and Technology,” by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellmans.

Tradition credits the first pretzels to a young Italian monk, who was preparing unleavened bread for Lent, the 40-day period of fasting before Easter. Using a glob of leftover dough, legend has it he formed the first pretzel shape. To the priest’s eye, the shape resembled how Christians prayed, with their arms folded across their chests, each hand on the opposite shoulder. The priest treated the children he taught to a pretzel as reward for saying their prayers. Pretzels grew in popularity as they were introduced in monasteries over the Alps into Austria and Germany.

The circular pretzel may also be related to a communion bread used in Greece a thousand years ago. In the Catholic Church, pretzels had a religious significance for both ingredients and shape. The loops in pretzels may have served a practical purpose; bakers could hang them on sticks.

Soft pretzels were introduced in America by Dutch immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1800s. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania, traces its roots back to 1861, when Sturgis purchased a house on Main Street and opened the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. sturgis house

Factory tours are available by appointment. Visitors get a hands-on pretzel twisting lesson and can observe bakers twisting pretzels by hand. 

making pretzels

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For information visit:  juliussturgis.com. Popular flavor combos include hot cheese sauce, honey mustard, chocolate sauce, caramel and icing.

Among the children’s books that tell of the origins of the pretzel is “Pretzels by the Dozen: Truth and Inspiration with a Heart-Shaped Twist,” by Angela Hunt and William Dodge.

If you’d like to try your hand at making your own soft pretzels, here is an easy, fool-proof recipe from Darlene. She used it in her classroom every year and the results were delicious. Don’t worry about trying to shape the pretzels in the traditional way. Have the kids shape them into their initials so they are guaranteed to eat the ones they make. I doubt there will be any leftovers.

SOFT PRETZELS:

INGREDIENTS:

1 PK YEAST,  4 C FLOUR,  1 1/2 C WARM WATER,  1 EGG BEATEN FOR GLAZE,  1 T SUGAR,   1 T SALT, PARCHMENT PAPER FOR LINING COOKIE SHEETS

MIX TOGETHER YEAST, WATER, SUGAR AND SALT. STIR IN FLOUR. KNEAD DOUGH UNTIL SMOOTH. SPRINKLE FLOUR ON YOUR HANDS AND SHAPE PIECES OF DOUGH INTO DESIRED LETTER, CIRCLES, EVEN BREAD STICK SHAPES. BRUSH WITH BEATEN EGG AND SPRINKLE WITH YOUR FAVORITE TOPPING. SESAME SEEDS, POPPY SEEDS, COARSE SALT, CINNAMON/SUGAR MIX, ALL WORK WELL.

BAKE ON PARCHMENT LINED COOKIE SHEETS AT 425F FOR 15 MINUTES OR UNTIL BROWN. THEY HAVE THE CONSISTENCY OF BAGELS AND ARE ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS.

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Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist, who also writes stories for children.

52 Ways to Celebrate the 52nd Earth Day.

Today is the 52nd Anniversary of the first Earth Day held in 1970. While the idea of and complex issues of Global Warming seem daunting, there are many ways to care for, celebrate, and honor our collective home, planet earth. Here are 50.

1. The single most important thing you can do is PLANT A TREE. If the world’s people planted 3 billion trees in all the available open spaces (not taking away any farmland), we would eliminate global warming. Learn more about tree planting in your community at  http://www.arborday.org

2. Make your garden POLLINATOR FRIENDLY by planting native bushes and flowering plants to attract bees, butterflies and insects. Find the right blooms for your yard at: http://www.xerces.org

3. Find out how you can help endangered species in your community: http://www.fws.gov/endangered

4. If you see litter, pick it up.

5-9. Collect rainwater for landscaping, compost vegetable scraps, plant a vegetable garden, buy organic, stop using pesticides on your lawn.   lids

10-14. Buy in bulk to use less packaging, stop using single-use plastic bags (reusable and machine-washable ones are available online. (see photo below)  I use them every time I go to the store. You can store the vegetables in them as well. Pack lunches in reusable containers, recycle as often and as much as you can, stop using plastic wrap for food storage. Check out the reusable silicon lids in 6 sizes to fit over every bowl you own. The number one recycler of plastic bags? http://www.trex.com/recycling  lists drop-off stations in your area.

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15. Find uses for old things.

16. Turn off lights when you leave a room.

17. Eat more veggies, especially those grown locally.

18. Get a library card.

19. Leave only footprints when you travel.

20-25. Wash clothes in cold water, don’t let the sink run when you brush teeth or wash dishes, turn off the dishwasher’s drying cycle and let them air dry, use concentrated soaps/cleaners that use less packaging,use unscented products, Use greener cleaners like baking soda and white vinegar.

26-30. Ride your bike, skip the elevator and take stairs, buy things that will last, try to fix things that break instead of tossing them, eat what’s in season.

31. Buy products made from recycled materials, and gently-used second hand clothing.

32. Use a push lawn mower.

33. Buy Fair Trade: http://www.fairtrade.org

34. Carpool

35-39. Unplug electronics when you aren’t using them, shut your computer down when you leave work, print on both sides of paper, reuse blank paper as scrap paper for notes, use shredded paper for packing instead of styrafoam peanuts.

40. When you finish baking, turn off the oven and leave oven door open to heat the home.

41. Eat sustainably harvested fish to protect the ocean : http://www.oceansalive.org

42-45. Give your car a tune-up so it drives more efficiently, drive a hybrid, keep tires inflated to proper pressure for better fuel efficiency, driving under 60MPH saves gas. Consider an electric vehicle.

46-47. Buy shade grown coffee, switch to reusable coffee filters.

48. Use rechargeable batteries.

49. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to eat local: visit  http://www.localharvest.com

50. Use cloth napkins and towels.

51. Switch to a search engine that plants trees. Ecosia plants a tree every time you search the web using it’s search engine: https://www.ecosia.org

52. HUG A TREE… these amazing plants are the reason we are alive on planet earth.

The earth is home for us all. Every little thing we do to honor our home counts.

Stay Safe and have a HAPPY EARTH DAY!

The Joy and Magic of…CRAYONS.

Close your eyes and take a trip back to your childhood. No matter what age you are, wasn’t there a time when getting a brand new box of 64 colors Crayola crayons rocked your world? The smell of new crayons, fresh from the box, the array of colors begging to be used, awaiting your creativity. It is hard to find someone who hasn’t used, enjoyed, or created something special with crayons.

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Today is NATIONAL CRAYON DAY. To celebrate, I thought I’d share a few fun things about these magic wands of creativity.

THE FIRST BOX OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS MADE IN 1903 COST ONLY A NICKEL AND INCLUDED THE COLORS RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, VIOLET, BROWN, AND BLACK. When I bought my first box of crayons, this 8 Pack cost a quarter.

IT’S BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN THAT THE SMELL OF A CRAYON IS UNIVERSAL. A study done by Yale on the 20 most recognizable scents ranked crayons number 18.

THE AVERAGE CHILD WEARS DOWN 720 CRAYONS BY THEIR TENTH BIRTHDAY. Talk about creativity…I’m willing to bet many of those crayons were used to make “I LOVE YOU” cards for parents.

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CRAYOLA MAKES 3 BILLION CRAYONS A YEAR. That’s enough crayons to circle the world six times!

AMERICA’S FAVORITE CRAYON COLOR IS BLUE. We like it so much that the top ten favorites included these other shades of blue: cerulean, midnight blue, aquamarine, periwinkle, denim and blizzard blue.  

Big Blue is the world’s largest crayon.
Big Blue

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The giant was made from 123,000 leftover blue crayons collected from kids around the nation. It weighs a whopping 1,500 pounds and is almost 16 feet long!

Crayons are so popular, books have been written about them:

For ideas on how to enjoy the magic of crayons, visit: https://www.crayolaexperience.com/

THREE CHEERS FOR CRAYONS... Long may they continue to inspire creativity.

Irish Soda Bread…AGAIN…Because it’s Delicious!

I first ran this recipe in 2014 but everywhere I go, people comment on the moistness and light sweetness of this bread, so here it is…in time for ST. PATRICK’S DAY.

This recipe for Soda Bread is more moist than many thanks to the buttermilk.  If you can’t find buttermilk, use regular plain yogurt (NOT Greek).

Irish Soda Bread

4 C flour (I use 1C whole wheat)       ½ C sugar       1 T baking powder

1 t salt               1 t baking soda         1 C. raisins plumped (see note)

 4 T melted butter        1 ½ C buttermilk      1 lg. egg

  1. Preheat oven to 375.  Grease and flour a round pan or cookie sheet.
  2. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, powder and salt.
  3. Pour melted butter into dry ingredients and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in raisins.
  4. In a separate bowl beat buttermilk, egg and baking soda.  Add to flour mix until blended.
  5. Turn dough onto floured surface, and knead until smooth – about 1 minute.  If dough is sticky, flour your hands as you knead.  Shape dough into two round loaves.  soda bread 1
  6. Place dough in prepared pan. With a sharp knife, make 2 crisscross slits in dough.
  7. Bake for 45-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.  Let rest for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.
  8. Serve sliced with butter or jam.  Bet you can’t eat just one piece!

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NOTE: Pour boiling water over the raisins and let them stand for 5 minutes to soften.  Drain and pat dry.

 

Easy and Fun Crafts For St. Patrick’s Day

Easy St Patrick’s Day Crafts for Kids

Many of you who follow this blog know how much I enjoy posting about easy, fun crafts for kids. One of my favorite sites for this is RED TED ART. Check out all the fun crafts for any holiday, season, or just for fun. Everything from paper crafting, origami, painting, clay, puppets, weaving…this site has it all.

Enjoy a bit of extra “luck of the Irish” and get busy with the kids making some easy and fun shamrocks and other decorations.

You can also get into the spirit of the holiday with some fun reading: leprecaun book

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

Almost Spring Easy and Tasty Banana Muffins.

After the dog days of winter, I am anxious to get outside and participate in the rebirth that is SPRING. Despite the calendar saying it is officially spring on 3-21, we all know it usually comes of its own accord.

And, we know March is a month where anything can happen. So, while you and your kids await the days when we can go outside with just a jacket on, why not gather them together for an easy baking session? Instead of throwing out those over-ripe bananas, make up a batch of BANANA MUFFINS or BANANA BREAD.Just mash three bananas with a fork as shown below:

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Then follow my well-worn and foolproof recipe. I used chopped walnuts, but you can try almonds also. You can even throw in some mini chocolate morsels.

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The recipe makes 2 loaves or 18 muffins. Serve them up with your favorite beverage and the wait for spring will be a delicious one.

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Celebrate National Peanut Butter Day + Free Pancakes… by Marilyn Ostermiller

Today, March 1 marks the National Day for peanut butter lovers.

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Picture a regular size jar of peanut butter. Either creamy or crunchy. Now, guess how many peanuts were crushed to fill that jar. (More about that later.)

Legend has it that a doctor whipped up the first batch of peanut butter in the early 1890s for his patients who had difficulty chewing. His name has been lost to history, but that tasty spread has stuck around ever since. 

National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day was designated as March 1 in 1990 on the 100th anniversary of the day peanut butter made its commercial debut in the United States.

Subsequently, peanut butter was introduced to a broader audience at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. It caught on quickly. Entrepreneur C.H. Sumner had sales of $705 for the new treat at his concession stand. Its popularity has grown to an estimated $800 million a year in sales in the U.S. alone.

Peanut butter is best know for the company it keeps.

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Chocolate, for example. Reese’s Peanut Cup candy, chocolate covered portions of peanut butter, was introduced in 1928.

And, jelly. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are classic, but other nutty sandwich combos are limited only by imagination. Elvis Presley was known to enjoy peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  similar-image

According to the National Peanut Board, it takes 540 peanuts to make a 12 ounce jar of peanut butter. It’s also possible to make it at home in a food processor with two cups of dry roasted peanuts, a couple of tablespoons of honey or sugar and salt to taste. Visit the Pinch of Yum blog for specifics.

https://pinchofyum.com/5-minute-homemade-peanut-butter#tasty-recipes-41113-jump-target

 Here is an easy and nutritious recipe for PEANUT BUTTER DIP  that is perfect for snacks and potlucks. Kids can make it since there is no cooking required.

SAVORY PEANUT BUTTER DIP

1/4 C creamy peanut butter, 3 oz. cream cheese, 1 to 2 T of apple or orange juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 to 1/4 C unsweetened applesauce.

  • Combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth.
  • Add applesauce, little by little, to bring to the desired consistency for the dip.
  • Chill before serving with fresh fruits, veggies, graham cracker sticks, crackers.

Makes 8 servings. From: http://www.peanutbutterlovers.com

Kids love to eat peanut butter, but they also may like to read about it. Among the related children’s books, is “Peanut Butter & Cupcake!” written by Terry Border. The hero is a peanut butter-covered slice of white bread, that wanders around his new neighborhood trying to make a friend.

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National Pancake Day, sponsored by IHOP, also will be celebrated on March 1 this year. Since 2006, IHOP restaurants have offered a free short stack of their Original Buttermilk Pancakes between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on that day. Guests are asked to consider leaving a donation — and they have. Since the first annual event, nearly $30 million has been raised for charities on National Pancake Day. http://www.ihoppancakeday.com

For the ULTIMATE CELEBRATION, how about peanut butter pancakes? Makes me hungry just writing about it…

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Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist, who also writes stories for children.