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Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Valentine's Day is coming so jump into this activity to be ready. And have fun along the way.

During the Victorian Age, Valentine’s Day cards became works of art and action cards became popular.  Here are step-by-step instructions for making some that are historic favorites--and some that are sure to make history.  

Window To My Heart  

Who doesn't love a surprise. Here are two that are easy to do and lots of fun to receive.

PEEK-A-BOO Card: To make this card, first cut a heart out of folded paper so it's hinged. Have a child glue their photo inside. Then mark the spot where the eyes will be when the heart card is closed. On the side that will be the outside of the card when it's closed, poke holes with a hole punch or a sharp pencil.  Finally have the child add a "Guess Who Loves You?" message on the face of the card. And a "It's me, love note" inside.

I LOVE YOU THIS MUCH Card: Making this card offers kids a chance to share measuring how far they can stretch. Have the child lay on the paper and draw around their hands. Have them print H-U-G in between. Print a Happy Valentine's Wish on the back. Then fold up or roll up and send. Sure to be a Valentine Card grandparents will keep-forever!

Both of these cards are courtesy of G Is For Gift.

Sweet Scent Of Love
 Potpourri was extremely popular in Victorian homes so Valentine’s cards often included sweet scented sachets. Here's a kid-friendly recipe for making potpourri. Once that's done, have kids cut twin hearts and carefully print a message on one. Next staple the edges together (with the message out and visible) except for the top. Tuck some potpourri inside and then finish stapling. 

Potpourri Recipes

Apple Potpourri Recipe
1 Cup dried apple slices
2 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 Cup whole allspice berries
10 (2") cinnamon sticks
2 Tablespoon whole cloves
1/4 Cup sumac, canella or nandina berries
10 small pine cones
7 drops cinnamon essential oil
Combine all ingredients and place in a tight jar or tin. Shake every few days. Cinnamon oil has an extremely strong scent that intensifies as it is absorbed. Add additional oil if needed. The red sumac berries that grow wild can be used dried as a stabilizer for potpourri (in other recipes it takes the place of orris root which is very expensive).

Simple Spice Potpourri Recipe
1 oz. can cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
1 (1.12 oz.) can whole cloves
1 (1.25 oz.) can whole allspice
dried orange peels
Combine all ingredients. Place 1 heaping teaspoon and 1/2 cup of water in simmer pot and heat.

Rose Potpourri
Lay rose petals out to dry on a flat surface for several days. You will need about 6 cups.
3 cinnamon sticks
A few drops of essential oil
Mix together and place in a jar. Shake every few days and let sit for 7-10 days. Then package and give away in potpourri pillows or gift bags.

Recipes courtesy of Kids Cooking Activities.

Kids could also simply glue the potpourri onto paper hearts.

For longer lasting Valentine hearts, make them out of felt or other cloth and stitch them together.

In case you were wondering, Potpourri is the French word for "rotten pot". In fact, it refers to flower petals, leaves, herbs and spices which are dried to keep them from rotting. They were frequently used in Victorian times to improve how homes smelled.

Magic Message  

Send a card that looks blank but comes with a set of instructions. This Valentine card idea is courtesy of The Magic Onions.

It is a tradition in South Africa to never sign your Valentine’s Day card with your name… it is so much fun. All cards come from secret admirers and you are never quite sure who the card was from. You can guess (and, sometimes, hope) but the sender never reveals his true identity. I received a few Valentine’s cards in my younger years and I must tell you, the intrigue was wonderful!

So, when K wanted to make Valentine’s Day cards for her friends, I suggested she make ‘Secret Admirer’ cards… the ‘secret’ part had her hooked and she eagerly agreed to my idea.
As it was raining outside, I set up her art table looking out at the rain. She needed white card paper, a white candle, water color paints and a paintbrush.
Secret Valentine's Day CardShe began by folding the paper in half to make a card.
Then, on the outside of each card, she used the white candle to draw designs on the white paper. She needed to press rather hard with the candle as the thicker the wax on the paper, the better the result.
Drawing with a candle was a wonderfully imaginative experience for her as she had to picture her drawing in her mind. She couldn’t see it on the paper and she found this quite amazing… as if she was creating an invisible letter!
At last it was time for painting.
She couldn’t quite believe that her drawings would magically appear when she painted over them.
‘Look, MOM!!’ she exclaimed with excitement as each stroke revealed her secret design!
When her cards had dried, she once again used the candle to draw on the inside of the card. She discovered that if she held her card just so in the sun, the wax shined her writing back to her.
This page will be left, unpainted, for the recipient of her Valentine to paint themselves… K’s design will magically appear before their eyes… ooh, how amazed they’ll be!
Blessing and magic.

Or use a science trick to send a valentine card with a secret message revealed by holding it close to the heat of lit lightbulb.  The directions will include the secret of invisible ink and why heat works like magic.

Try this activity now, courtesy of Playdough to Plato

Bloomin’ Hearts
This card has a packet of flower seeds tucked into a slot in a paper flowerpot.  It’s a card that keeps on giving as the seeds sprout and the young plants grow.

Directions are courtesy of Faithfullyfree

This tutorial is for Seed Packet Valentines, you can view my other Valentine’s Day projects here.
This year I am focusing on giving candy-free valentines. Don’t get me wrong, I love candy as much as the next person, but with four kids, the last thing I need is a house full of candy! We literally had four Walmart bags full of candy over Halloween. That’s just TOO MUCH candy! My first candy-free valentine is the DIY Seed Packet Valentines. My kids would love receiving these because they love to plant, well just about anything, and then watch it grow. The coolest thing about giving seeds is that they last much longer than candy, and will leave the recipient thinking of you every time they see them. This year the kids are going to take in some of these seed packet valentines, as well as some other pretty cool cards I’ve been working on (I’m going to try to get those up this weekend) so stay tuned!
These are so easy to put together, and I’m even including a free flower pot valentine printable for those of you who may not have the time to create your own! You can get your free printable below.
Materials for Seed Packet Valentines: 
– White Cardstock
– Razor Blade or X-Acto Knife
– Spray Adhesive
– Tape
– Glitter
– Seed Packets
-Pencils (optional)
You can grab your free Flower Pot Printable Valentine here. These only print two per page because they have to be big enough to fit the seed packet.
After your print the flower pot, simply cut it out, and then using a razor blade or X-acto knife cut a slit across the top of the pot (keep the cut within the outline of the pot to avoid ripping the card).
Using a spray adhesive, lightly spray the cardstock and sprinkle with glitter. You can also use liquid glue, but I find the spray easier to use.
Insert seed packets into valentines and affix the bottom of the packet with tape.
Attach a pencil with tape as well, and you’re done! You can skip the pencil if you want to make a less expensive card.
Seed Packet Valentines

Or just follow the idea shared by ABCs & Garden Peas to wrap and give a seed packet. Perfect for growing friendships.

Pop-Up Card  

Open this card and get a big surprise.  Step-by-step instructions make it easy to create a card with a pop-up action figure.
This idea is courtesy of  Make and Takes

Want to send a Valentine card that really POPs?! Try this fun technique for helping your card stand out from the crowd. Because “Valentine, you make my heart POP!”
Supplies for Heart Pop Up Cards:
  • 1 sheet of paper, any size
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • 1 sheet of cardstock paper, larger than your first paper
  • small cut out shape of a heart
  • crayons, markers, or stickers to decorate
1. Fold your smaller paper in half. With your pencil, draw 2 lines on the edge of a folded card about 2 inches apart and 1 inch in. You can make your lines large or small, fat or skinny. It all depends on what you are planning to have pop out on the inside.
2. Cut along the pencil lines with your scissors.
3. Fold back the cut out area to make a good crease in the fold.
4. Open up the card and bend the new fold forward, making it pop out.
Now you can glue anything you want to the space that pops out. Make sure not to put glue on the top of the step, just the front edge. We added our large 2-3 inch heart.

Glue on your cardstock piece of paper to the back. Then write some fun words to your Valentine. I wrote “You make my heart POP!” for a fun Valentines day card. This card is ready to give your loved one this Valentines!

Or kids can do a foldable card to send their love with this template courtesy of Martha Stewart.

Now you're all set to make this Valentine's Day fun for everyone!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


It's SNOW LEOPARD CUBS, of course! You can visit and see what happens in my book Snow School.

Snow School was inspired by my love of cats, especially wild cats. There are none more fascinating than snow leopards.  These wild cats are so rare there are believed to be as few as 3,500 left in the entire world.  

As always, when I want to learn more about a wild animal I go exploring. That’s how I came to spend a winter in Antarctica, the experience that inspired me to write A Mother’s Journey, a story about what female emperor penguins do while the males hatch out the eggs. 

Dr. Tom McCarthy with snow leopard cub
(courtesy of Panthera Snow Leopard Trust)
Sometimes, though, I just can’t get to the places I need to go to explore firsthand.  Then I track down experts who have been able to go to those places and studied the wild animals I want to write about.  That was the case with Snow School.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tom McCarthy who has spent many years climbing the high, rugged mountains of Pakistan in order to learn about the life and behavior of snow leopards.  

To see where snow leopards live and the story of Snow School takes place, go on-line to find out about Pakistan (in red on the globe).  Also search for information about the Hindu Kush Mountains, the setting for the story.  This habitat is one of the harshest on earth and requires the cats to be able to chase fast prey downhill over 
very rocky terrain.

Even during his many years studying snow leopards Dr. McCarthy shared that he only had a chance to watch a few downhill chases as snow leopards caught prey.  He said, “Once, I was lucky enough to see a mother have two cubs with her while she hunted.”  

Dr. McCarthy guessed these cubs were in training.  Snow leopard cubs spend two years with their mothers learning to survive on their own.  That inspired me to wonder what lessons snow leopard cubs need to learn in order to be successful in the extreme conditions of their home habitat.  

For one thing, as soon as they’re big enough, snow leopard cubs travel with their mother. That way they get a close look at the features of their environment.  And they learn the shortest, safest routes to take. 

To get a feel for what the snow leopard cubs are learning, go to your local park or playground with a parent or adult partner.  Take along a pencil and a notepad.  Draw a map of the area.  Use symbols to mark any key landmarks, like fountains or statues, big trees, or benches.  Next, study the map with your partner and plan the fastest, safest path to use to travel across the mapped area.  Then use a watch to time how long it takes you to run across the area following your chosen path.  Afterwards, revisit the map and decide if another way might be easier or safer.  Time your new route.

The snow leopard’s habitat is really a high desert with very steep terrain.  When these cats hunt, they have to chase down prey animals, like ibex, capable of running down steep, rocky slopes without falling.  And they have to pounce at just the right moment to stop their prey without going over a cliff.

Snow leopards do have some natural built-in advantages. One is a very long tail.  Dr. McCarthy reports that a snow leopard’s tail is all muscle and that it’s heavy. He said, “It must even be heavy for the snow leopard.  In snow, I’d see a mark where  a cat would start to drag its tail after every two or three steps.  So holding up its long tail must be tiring.”

Having such a long tail is worth the effort, though, when the snow leopard starts to run.  It swings its tail back and forth and that helps it stay balance while twisting and turning.  To get a feel for how its tail helps a snow leopard stay balanced, try this.  Stand on one foot with your hands at your sides.  Then repeat standing on one foot but this time stretch out your arms and move them forward and backward.  

Snow leopards also have big feet that act like snowshoes, helping them walk on top of fluffy snow.  In fact, Dr. McCarthy reported a snow leopard’s feet leave very round footprints because their feet are about as wide as they are long (about four to five inches in both directions.) Measure the length and width of one of your feet.  How much longer is your foot that it is wide?  And, just for fun, figure out how much longer your foot is than a snow leopard’s.

These cats also have a lot of fur around their toes and the pads of their feet to shield them from the ice and snow.  Like housecats, snow leopards have retractable claws.  They put these out to help them climb and to stop themselves from skidding.

Dr. McCarthy reported that once a snow leopard catches prey it needs a safe place to eat—safer than on a steep mountainside.  Dr. McCarthy said, “I’ve watched a snow leopard drag a big goat that weighs as much, if not slightly more, than the cat does.  And it drags this prey uphill.”   

Imagine pulling something that weighs as much as you do.  Now, imagine doing it the way a snow leopard does.  This cat bites to grab its prey.  Then it drags this weight between its legs.  This is another behavior snow leopard cubs learn by being copycats, doing what their mother does.

 From an early age, the cubs learn the smell of what’s good to hunt because their mother brings home prey.  See if you’ve learned to identify your food by its scent.  Have an adult partner blindfold you. Then have them hold each of the following five food items, one at a time, under your nose for you to sniff.  Test your scent IQ on the following: peanut butter, orange juice, mustard, cheese, and ketchup. 

You might be surprised to learn that snow leopards usually only get a chance to catch big prey about once a week.  So when it does, the cat is likely to stay by its prey and eat as much as 25 pounds of meat a day for two to three days.  How much is that.  Weigh a plate.  Then put the food you’re going to eat for dinner on that plate and weigh it again. Subtract the weight of the plate to see how much your meal weighs.  How many of those meals would you have to eat to equal what a snow leopard eats when food is available?

Can you guess what snow leopards do after such big meals?  You’re right!  They sleep.  Like lions, tigers, and housecats, snow leopards sleep most of the day to save their energy for hunting.  

I hope you enjoy reading Snow School.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Some animals can't wait for it to snow.

And some can't wait for there to be lots of ice.

So those animals would think you're lucky to have cold winter weather.

You definitely can have a special kind of winter fun.  These activities will give you ideas for ways you can make the most out of living where winter is--well--wintery!

Go On A Scavenger Hunt

You might find maple seeds like these.

Try to find:

  • Something older than you are
  • Something younger than you are
  • A seed
  • Something rough
  • Something smooth
  • Something that will change in the spring
  • A bird feather

How wet is the snow? 

 Find out. In an average snowfall, ten inches (25 cm) of snow melts down to one inch (2.5 cm) of water. How much drier or wetter is your current snowfall.

You'll need a can at least ten inches (25 centimeters) tall with straight sides. Try to collect your snow sample shortly after the snow stops falling. Fill your sampling can, but don't pack the snow.

Next, take the can indoors and let the water melt.

Try keeping a record of each new snowfall for the rest of the winter. Which months had the wettest snow? If you keep your tracking going, find out how one year's snowfalls compare to another.

By the way, I spent one winter at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. I'd always heard that, if temperatures were below -60F (-51C) boiling water thrown into the air would freeze before it hit the ground. I had a chance to test it because that winter the temperatures dropped as low as -129F. The boiling water immediately turned into tiny sparkling ice crystals.

This is a great winter time read--don't miss it.

The Winter of the Blue Snow

Have you ever heard of Paul Bunyan? He was a giant of a man--and I mean a real giant, so the stories go. There are tales about the lumber camp he ran in the far North. 
One of those is about the winter of the blue snow.

Nobody knew why the snow was blue that winter. Some say it was because it was so terribly cold. How cold was it? It was too cold for thermometers to measure. The men each had sixteen blankets to sleep under, but they still couldn't keep warm. Shot Gunderson, the head woodchopper, slept under forty-two blankets one extra cold night. There were so many blankets he got lost trying to find his way out from under that huge pile. In fact, it took him three whole days to uncover himself. The poor fellow nearly starved to death before he made it to the cook shake.

Not that eating was easy once you got to the table. When Hot Biscuit Slim, the cook, set coffee out to cool, the steaming brew froze so fast that the ice was hot. The men had to eat with their mittens on because the hot biscuits froze solid before they went the distance from plate to mouth.

Conversations around the bunkhouse were slowed down mightily that super-cold winter. Words froze as fast as they were spoken. Piles of icy words had to be heaped behind the stove because nobody could tell what had been said until the words thawed out.

About the time summer was due, the weather got even colder and the blue snow kept on falling. Snowdrifts piled up two hundred feet (60 meters) deep. Elevators were built just to carry the men from the bunkhouse to the surface. To log the trees, Paul had to scoop out holes and lower his men down to the forest.

What you don't believe this wintery tale? 
Make up one of your own packed full of all the things that might happen if it was super cold and the snow was super deep.

One of the most famous blizzards ever recorded was during the winter of 1888. Thirty to forty inches (75-100 cm) of snow and ice was dump on the Northeastern United States. That was before snowplows and entire cities were helpless for weeks. Before the blizzard was over four hundred people had died.

Collect Snowflakes

While no two snowflakes are ever exactly alike (as far as anyone knows), they are all hexagone--six-sided crystals. Snowflakes take several main shapes.

If you want to catch some snowflakes, chill a clean glass slide or a small mirror in the refrigerator. Take the cold glass outside and allow a few flakes to collect on it. You may need a magnifying glass to see the snowflakes if they are very small.

To preserve snowflakes so you can even take them inside with you you'll need a can of plastic spray--the kind artists use on chalk drawings.

Chill the spray along with the clean glass slide. Carry the glass slide outside on a piece of cardboard. This keeps your body heat from warming the glass. Spray the glass lightly with the plastic coating. Let snowflakes collect on the glass. Take the preserved snowflakes inside and let the plastic coating completely dry (about fifteen minutes).

Check out this book about Wilson Bentley.
His photos of snowflakes became world famous.

Now you can examine the snowflakes with a magnifying glass or a microscope if you have one. No need to rush. These snowflakes will stay crystal-clear forever.

Go Tracking

Duck Tracks

Rabbit Tracks

When the ground's covered with snow, it's the perfect time to collect animal tracks like these.

Take along an adult partner and a digital camera. Snap photos of any animal tracks you find. Back home, look on-line to match the prints you found to the animal. Google images is one good source to check out.

While you're at it try to decide what the animal might have been doing at the time it left its tracks. Was it running or walking? How do you think you could tell? Try making tracks of your own running and walking and observe the difference. It's even more fun if you find overlapping sets of tracks from different animals. Now, make up a story for what might have happened. Was one animal there first? Was one animal chasing the other? There's a new story in every set of snow tracks you find--even if they're people footprints.

Treat The Birds

You can get a good look at birds that spend the winter in your neighborhood, if you invite them to dinner. An easy treat to make is a peanut butter pinecone. Loop a string around the top of a pine cone and tie a knot. Next, smear peanut butter on the cone and roll the cone in birdseed. Then have an adult partner hang the pinecone where birds will be able to perch and eat. 

Now, keep watch. Use bird books and search on-line to help you identify the birds visiting your bird diner. Also, answer these questions:
1. What time of day do the birds come to eat? 
2. Do the birds come more on stormy or sunny days?
3. Do the birds take turns and feed one at a time? Or do they compete to eat?
4. Which birds usually chase other birds away?

Create a colorful bar graph to share the data you collect about your dinner guests.

Remember, to replace your pinecone with a fresh treat from time-to-time to keep the dinners coming back for more.