A 19th Century Autumn Harvest Festival

October 20, 2008

On Saturday, my family and I went to an Autumn Harvest Festival at Meadow Farm Park. Meadow Farm is a historical park centered around an 1860 living historical farm and museum in Richmond, Virginia.

The corn going into the sheller.

The corn going into the sheller.

Because of the historical nature of the park, a lot the activities during the festival are actual chores that would have been done on the farm during the 19th century and all new things to a 21st century family.

First my kids got to try out a corn shelling machine.  They each got to put in an ear of corn, then turn the wheel to shell the corn.  I’m not quite sure they understood what they were doing or why, but they sure had fun turning that wheel.  The man working the machine offered to let them keep their shelled ear of corn, but they just looked at it like what am I suppose to do with this.  I told them it was okay to throw it away.

The sorham press

The sorham press

Next door was the Sorghum Press.  With a little help the costumed interpreter, the twins pressed sorghum actually grown on the property. Normally their part is done by a horse, but today the kids turned the press.  They even got to try some molasses made from sorghum.  My son declined with a polite “no, thanks.”  However, my daughter was finally coaxed into sampling some.  But one taste and she was spitting out the cracker.  Daddy had to eat the rest of their sample.

We also got to see the Tobacco barn, sheep out to pasture, a blacksmithing demonstration and some woodworking before we found another hands out demonstration.

The Blacksmith

The Blacksmith

My daughter got to turn a piece of flax into a bracelet.  For some reason my son didn’t feel the need for a bracelet, so he watched.  First she had to break the flax.  It’s rough and looks a bit like straw.  Then she had to soften it on scutching board with a wooden knife.  Then she put the flax through the hackle to take off the rough parts before it was put on the flax wheel and spun into linen.  Then the lady there helped her tie into a bracelet.  Afterwards we saw where the ladies would take then linen and dye it.

We also got to see a bee keeper demonstration.  He didn’t have any real bees with him, but there were plenty out there visiting the festival.

The Flax Wheel.

The Flax Wheel.

Next the kids got to see samples of a cobbler’s shoe making skills.  Then they got to test out their own leathering skills by adding an imprint to a piece of leather and then stringing it into a necklace.  My daughter added a butterfly to her piece of leather.  My son enjoyed adding a worm to his leather piece, but didn’t care for a necklace.  So Mommy wore it.

After that, the kids moved on to rope making.  They each picked out a color of yarn – my daughter purple and my son yellow.  Then Daddy and the costumed interpreter helped them make it into a piece of rope.  My daughter used her piece of rope as a bracelet.  My son gave his to Mommy to use tie on my purse as a souvenir.

The apple press

The apple press

Then it was time for Apple Stringing.  What’s that, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like, you string pieces of apples. My daughter was stringing her applies faster than I could get them out of the bowl and my son and husband teamed up to make nice long apples string.  But what do you do with it now, I asked?  You hang them in the kitchen until they dry out and then it acts as potpourri.

The kids were starting to get a little hungry so we just watched the cornhusk doll and scarecrow making before heading over to the apple cider press for a sample.  Mmmmm, nothing better than fresh apple cider.  My only complaint, given the nip in the air that day, is that the cider wasn’t hot.

We stopped for Daddy’s favorite snack – kettle corn.  The whole family munched down on it while we waited in line for pony rides.  My daughter couldn’t wait to get on a horse again.  She’s been trying to coax us into riding lessons all summer – she’s three. She rode Oreo around like a champ while my husband and son cheered her on from the sidelines.

For anyone of you that think I’m brave running around with three-year-old twins, I had nothing on the lady in front of us in line.  She had one older daughter (12-14ish), triplet girls about three and infant boy/girl twins!

The Natural Dye Demonstration

The Natural Dye Demonstration

Anyway, next up for us was a little decorating.  First the kids decorated faces on mini pumpkins.  Then my daughter got her own face painted like a cat.  She had been asking since we got to the festival – before any of us even knew there was face painting – if she could get her face painted like a cat.

Later, we got to try something I’d never done – candle dipping.  Each of the kids got a stick with a piece of string on it.  Then we made a line.  We went up one side dipping our string in the big kettle full of wax over an open flame and then came back on the other side for another dip.  After about four dips, the twins had had enough.  So Daddy took them to see the sheep while Mommy finished the candles.

Finally, with our hands full of hand-made goodies, our bellies full of kettle corn and apple cider and two tired kids in tow, we headed back to the car.

I love festivals where we get to do lots of hands off crafts and I would say the twins did too.  And it doesn’t hurt that the festival and most of the activities were free.

They still aren’t quite old enough to understand why they were doing some of these activities, but that’s okay, we’ll be back next year.

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TLC Would Like to Make Your Real Life, Real Simple

October 15, 2008

Think about your day so far – you had to get the kids up and off to school, you’ve got more deadlines than time at work, there are dishes and laundry piling up at home and let’s not even talk about what you are going to fix for dinner tonight.  You’re lucky you found a spare moment to read this article. 

Wouldn’t you like more time for your favorite hobby?  How about some time to do something fun with family and friends?  What would you be willing to do to get make your life simpler?

Well TLC has some answers for you and all you have to do is spend an hour relaxing in front on the television on Friday night. 

So pour yourself a glass of wine, put the kids to bed (or better yet send them to a friends or Grandma’s for a sleep over), curl up on the couch and turn the channel to TLC at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Because this Friday TLC partners with Real Simple to premiere its brand new hour-long show – Real Simple. Real Life.  – that promises to find solutions to make life easier.

And who doesn’t want an easier life?  Count me in!

Think of the show as a realistic makeover for the average busy woman – or man.  Instead of promises of perfection, Real Simple.  Real Life. is offering simple solutions and tips for everyday folks.

People today have lives full of demands and expectations. I know my list of to dos start when I get up and is often still clogging up my list at the end of the day.

Real Simple. Real Life will help people like you and me identify the frustrations that zap our time and keep our plates full.  The show then offers personalized tips to end the chaos and give us back more fun time.

“Each week we’ll feature a comprehensive, 360-degree lifestyle makeover, using best-in-class experts in a variety of areas to help our real women identify with their day-to-day challenges, and offer realistic solutions and ‘aha’ tips to help them live an even better life.  Viewers at home will identify with these women and be impacted by the makeovers” Executive Producer Jude Weng said.  “We embrace the reality that it’s not about making the perfect meal or having the most organized closet; we’re working with them to make time-saving changes that will let them ad more of the fun ‘me’ time they’re craving back into their lives.”

Obviously the show’s target audience is women.  But these are issues that everyone deals with – men and women – anyone who runs a home, has a job, raises kids or keeps a busy schedule.  I know that my husband spends just as much time on the house and with the kids as I do (and sometimes more).  So these solutions are for everyone.

Expect solutions to cover everything from smart organization tips to ideas for quick and simple dinners to decoration ideas to fun ways to make entertaining easier.

The show will also include a website – realsimplereallife.com – to go into more detail on the solutions offered in the weekly show.  The show and its tips will also be featured in the monthly magazine Real Simple.

I know that I am always in a state of disorganization so I’m really looking forward to seeing what tips the show can offer to get me organized and give me more time to spend with my kids.

So I have reserved my seat on the couch for Friday night at 8 p.m. My bottle of wine is already chilling.  Let the help start.

What area do you need the most help?  What tip/solution did some give you that made your life easier?


Get Lost for Some Fall Fun

October 9, 2008

It seems like just yesterday we were playing around in the pool in the hot sun.  But alas, the dog days of summer are behind us, school has started and fall is here.

But just because the days are getting shorter and temperatures are starting to drop doesn’t mean that the outdoor fun has to stop.

One great way to enjoy the autumn weather and expend some energy is to get lost.

What? 

I’m not suggesting you wander aimlessly.  Instead take in a maze.  You can find them everywhere if you know where to look.  They come in all shapes and sizes.

My twins taking on a hay maze.

My twins taking on a hay maze.

Hay Mazes

 

My kids started as toddlers playing in a hay maze the vegetable stand near our house puts up every fall.  You can also find hay mazes at festivals and neighborhood events.

I went through the maze with the twins the first couple of times.  But it wasn’t long before they were taking on the maze solo.

Hay mazes are great for younger kids for several reasons.  They are usually small enough that the children don’t get discouraged trying to find the exit.

The hay is also often stacked short enough that as a parent you can look over the top of it and feel comfortable letting your child go through alone, but still tall enough for it to be a challenge for the kids.

But what I like most about hay mazes is when the kids come to a crossroads in the path, watching them make a decision about which path to take.  Can’t you just hear Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” being recited in the background?

What’s even more interesting is watching their reaction when they come to a dead end.  How do they react?  Do they retrace their steps?  Can they find the right path?  I’m always amazed to watch their reasoning skills in action.

Corn Mazes

An aerial view of Cherry Crest Farm the year I went through it.

An aerial view of Cherry Crest Farm the year I went through it.

But if you and your family are looking for more of a challenger, I recommend trying a corn maze.

My first experience with a corn maze was at Cherry Crest Farm in Pennsylvania.  To truly appreciate this maze you have to see an aerial view.  But the real fun is when you try to manipulate your way through the stalks.

We also frequent the maze at the Chesterfield Berry Farm in Virginia.  Among the corn your challenge doubles.  You must not only find your way out, but you must also find certain checkpoints along the way (and they aren’t necessarily on the direct exit route) and get your ticket punched.  If you get your card punched at every station you get a prize at the end.

And for those of you more adventuresome, hit the maze after dark (where allowed) and try your luck among the stalks by flashlight.  My twins very first maze experience when they were still in carriers was at the West Nursery at night with only a flashlight to guide us.  At this maze, to help us along the way, at critical intersections were trivia questions about the area’s history.  It’s very help if you know your history.

Other Mazes

But the maze fun doesn’t have to end with Halloween.  A maze of lights is the perfect addition to your Christmas light tour.  Lewis Botanical Gardens in Virginia adds two light mazes (of varying levels) to their Garden of Lights.  And let me tell you that the lights add a degree of difficulty I didn’t expect.

But like the hay mazes, light mazes are usually low enough for parents to allow children to test out their skills solo.

You can find local corn mazes by going to www.cornmazedir.com, www.americanmaze.com or www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org.  Be on the lookout for hay and other mazes at local festivals and fairs.

So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and get lost.


Looney Tunes Gets Bloody, Is it Too Much for Kids?

October 8, 2008

I just read about a new art exhibit called “Splatter” where Looney Tunes characters are taken to the next violent level – complete with blood and guts.

jCauty&SON copyright out of control 2008, courtesy of THE AQUARIUM

Artist James Cauty created the controversial exhibition with his 15-year-old son Harry Photo: jCauty&SON copyright out of control 2008, courtesy of THE AQUARIUM

According to the Telegraph, the exhibit claims to show your favorite Looney Tune characters in “unrelenting acts of blood and discomfort never previously witnessed on the Cartoon Network.”

The exhibit itself doesn’t bother me.  I’m all for free expression.  I don’t think my kids are mature enough to see that kind of thing yet, so I simply won’t take them.  Others are free to see the exhibit if it interests them.  The gallery even attached a parental advisory to the exhibit.  I’m fine with that.

What did upset me was a statement by artist James Cauty.

“I’m a parent myself, and if I saw pictures like that I would think of something kids would really love, because it’s no holds-barred violence.”

I find the statement terribly disturbing.  I’m a parent and I don’t want my young kids to be getting that excited about “no holds-barred violence.”

We should be teaching our children about limits, not “no holds-barred.”  We should be stressing the importance of right and wrong, not the bloodier the better.

What does it say about our society that we are encouraging our kids to get excited about violence, that blood and guts are “fun.”

I currently limit the amount of Looney Tunes cartoons my kids can watch.  They are extremely violent as is.  We have discussion after watching them about what is right and what is wrong.

I watched Looney Tunes growing up and I turned out ok.  But I was raised with a strong moral foundation.  Even so there’s a big difference between watching an anvil drop on coyote’s head and watching Jerry mutilate Tom.

There’s no way I’d let my kids into that exhibit until they were much, much older.  They need to be mature enough to understand what is “entertainment” only.  They should know why it’s really not fun when people get hurt.

But the idea that our kids are getting excited about extreme violence, that they find blood and mutilation fun, scares me.  Because too many kids are mature enough to distinguish between reality and entertainment and too many aren’t getting the moral discussions to distinguish between right and wrong.

What do you think are we as society doing too much to encourage this trend among our children that the more, bloodier violence is a good thing?  Are we setting up our children for trouble in the future?


Should Children’s Books Have a Rating System?

September 27, 2008

A recent article has me wondering if we should be taking a closer look at what we qualify as “children’s books.”

A recent article said that a bookstore in Shanghai is pulling the children’s book “Book of Bunny Suicides:  Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore’ after a rash of suicides by children and teens.

I had mixed emotions when I read this article.  In general, I’m against book banning.  Authors should be free to express their opinions.

And I don’t really believe that a normal, healthy kid read this book and then suddenly wanted to commit suicide.  I’m not even sure it even really gives a kid ideas for how to commit suicide since some of these illustrations are unrealistic — head in a DVD player for instance.

But what I am wondering is how this book got classified as a children’s book.  It’s definitely not age appropriate for young kids.

Suicide is a very sensitive subject that kids – and many adults, myself included – don’t entirely understand.  I can understand why there might be a book in the children’s section explaining to a child how to deal with it when a friend, family member or other loved one commits suicide.

But why would a book mocking suicide be considered a children’s book?  Because it has cute little bunnies in it?  If that’s the qualification, then we really need to look at how a book gets classified as a children’s book.

I recently read The Golden Compass.  When I went to buy the book, I found it in the children’s section.  Sure the story deals with the adventure of a little girl, but the book itself is a fantasy that deals with some pretty dark themes. 

While I wouldn’t call the book scary, I did have some very gloomy dreams when I read it.  And I wondered how it would affect a young reader.

After reading this book, I wouldn’t let my child read this book until they were well into their teens.  How did this book get classified in the children’s section?

So my question is do we need to be more diligently in accurately classifying books (i.e just because it had cute little bunnies in it doesn’t mean it’s meant for children) or do we need to take it a step further? Do we need a rating system (like we have for movies, video games, music) for children’s books?


How to Build a Better Mouse Trap – I Mean Pirate Ship

September 22, 2008

Saturday my three-year-old twins were in a community parade with their preschool.  But to be in the parade you needed a float.  Here’s where mom duty becomes real challenging.

The red wagon before we started.

Before: The red wagon before we started.

My kids are very, very into pirates.  Last year they took a pirate class (think art class with pirate theme).  My son even likes to talk like a pirate.  I’ll ask him to do something and he’ll respond with “aye, aye captain.”  When he flushes the toilet he hollers “fire in the hole.”

The twins even pretend to be pirates when they play.  One day they lined up all their chairs in the living room to make a pirate ship.  My son used his sister’s princess keys to “start” the ship and when she asked to get in, he said sure, but make sure you put your seat belt on!  What can I say, at least they are safe pirates.

Needless to say when it came time to come up with ideas for a float, one idea stood out – Pirates!  But then the real dilemma started – how to turn a red wagon into a pirate ship?

Well this mommy’s no dummy.  The first thing I did was recruit help from my mother and her two foster daughters.

The wagon transformed.

After: The wagon transformed.

So the Saturday before the parade we set out to work.  My twins were on hand to supervise.  Three trips to the craft store and 10 hours later, we finally had a pirate ship.

We used cardboard boxes for the aft and bow.  We spray painted Styrofoam brown and then wrapped it in burlap to create wooded sides. 

We topped the boxes with Styrofoam wrapped in brown duct tape to create front and rear decks.

We added cannons with cannon balls, an anchor and a mast and voila!

And now I can add pirate ship builder to my resume.


New Trend Not About How Much, But What TV Children Watch

September 16, 2008

I have long been a proponent for television.  While the party line has been that it will rot your brain, I have always thought that it could be a useful tool in childhood development when applied correctly.  Finally, the experts have come around to my way of thinking.

The recent New York Times article “Limiting, and Watching, What Children Watch” talks about the vast media smorgasboard available to children today.

Is there any hope for a balanced meal?

Yes, say experts on children and the media, as long as parents teach children to make good choices. Instead of talking only about time limits – the pediatricians’ academy recommends limiting screen time to one to two hours a day – researchers are zeroing in on trouble spots and taking content into account. New guidelines are taking shape: Keep the television and computer out of the child’s bedroom, don’t be afraid to set limits, pay attention to what appears on screen and how different ages respond to it, and encourage children to think critically about what they see.

I couldn’t have said it better. I have long argued it’s not how much TV children watch, but watch they watches and what else they do.

As a big TV addict myself, I’ve never been good at limiting the number of hours my kids watch TV.

Instead I’m a strict about what they watch – educational television.  They spend most of their TV time on shows on Disney Playhouse and Noggin.  

We have lots of discussions and activities around their favorite shows.  If it’s a show with questionable content or a delicate issue (we watch one show about the race riots in the 60s), we watch it together and then talk about the issue. 

Here’s an article I wrote how you can reinforce what these shows teach with additional activities and conversations.  And how these actions also teach your children there is more to their world of interest that what’s on the television.

And finally we balance our TV time with lots of other activities that don’t involve the TV at all like gym class, art class, play dates and field trips.

The same can be said of the Internet.  Don’t be afraid to let your children get on it.  Instead teach the how useful it can be and monitor their usage.  Sites like Disney, PBS and others offer educational games. 

I recently discovered a website called Kids Off the Couch that incorporates television and the Internet with educational activities.

So instead of banning television or the net, use it to your advantage.