Mardi Gras

Celebrating holidays with kids is so much fun.  It is so important to learn about other cultures and other places, even within our own country.  In the north, we typically don't celebrate Mardi Gras so we decided to spice things up and start enjoying this fun tradition of our neighbors to the south.  We celebrate on Fat Tuesday (which is the literal translation from the french Mardi Gras) to add a little fun to our week.

We decorate the house a bit with beads that we have on hand and created a New Orleans Jazz station on Pandora.  It's so festive!

 Around noon I throw some simple ingredients into our slow cooker so that we can enjoy a New Orleans staple, red beans and rice, for dinner.


Last year, I printed out two different word searches (the easier one for my five year old and a little harder one for my eight year old) for them to work on while I put the finishing touches on dinner.  There were so many interesting words (mostly different types of food! yum!) on the trickier one that I printed out for my daughter.  It's amazing how many different dishes are served in New Orleans.  

My husband and I had taken a trip to New Orleans not to long ago and brought back masks for our children.  They found these at the bottom of their dress up basket and had their own parade.  Your kids could even make their own masks.  Print and cut out a mask from a template, tape a craft stick or punch holes and thread ribbon tie around their head and decorate using feathers, beads, markers and whatever else you have on hand.  The crazier the better!

We started reading Today is Monday in Louisiana and the title page picture of the beans in the shape of boot caught my daughter's eye.  We pulled up a map on my iPad of Louisiana and got into a conversation about the geography of the Louisiana.  It was short lived, but I'll take it!

No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a King Cake.  It's fun to serve huge pieces to see if anyone gets the little plastic baby that is baked inside.  So strange, I know.  I didn't grow up with this tradition but it's so silly that it's really fun for everyone.  Our local Whole Foods has a ton of King Cakes for sale right now in preparation for Fat Tuesday so it's easy to get your hands on one.

This year, Fat Tuesday is coming right up on February  28.  This is such a great holiday to bring a little diversity into your home.  We had so much fun learning about and celebrating alongside our southern neighbors.  Do you celebrate Mardi Gras?

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Who Was Louis Armstrong?
By Yona Zeldis McDonough
Jazz Baby
By Lisa Wheeler

Cheddar Scones

Every year, I print out a resolution sheet for my children to fill out.  It's fun to see what goals are in their little minds and find out how they feel about the past year of their life.  This year, when asked what's the one thing you'd like to get better at, my daughter wrote cooking.  I can absolutely follow her lead on that goal and so we have made more time to cook together as well as more time for her to experiment independently in the kitchen.

There are so many great cookbooks for kids that both inspire and teach our children about all things in the kitchen.  My daughter especially likes "Baking with Kids" by Leah Brooks and decided to try the Spring Onion Scones all on her own.


I highly recommend that they have their very own apron.  She received this one as a gift from her cousin, whom she adores, which made it all the more special for her to wear.  We even own a chef hat that she puts on when serving her treats to the family.  Dressing up makes cooking fun!  

This is my daughter's own photo of her scones.  She was so proud of them!  Her brother loved them and kept asking for more.  Is there a better compliment?  I don't think so.

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Chocolate Love

Happy Snow Day!!  We are in the Valentine's spirit today making valentines for friends and teachers.

Last weekend, when I asked my kids what Valentine's Day makes them think of they said "Hearts, red, pink, love and chocolate."  It just so happens that the Museum of Science (so clever of them!) has on display an awesome exhibit on chocolate.  We have explored the world of chocolate in Bringing Books to Life when we visited the Taza Factory in Somerville.  Now, we were able to learn a little about how chocolate itself is made and it's history.  


The entrance is awesome.  We felt like we were walking into a chocolate bar!  The exhibit even smells like chocolate.  

It's truly amazing how cocoa has traveled the world.  It is grown near the equator, mostly in Central America and has made it's way, over time, to every corner of the globe.  


We were able to check out some dried pods, smell roasted beans and learn how they are turned into the chocolate we eat today.


We came home and had to have cup of hot chocolate.  I put on one of our favorite scenes from I Love Lucy where she is working at a chocolate factory.  It never fails to make all of us laugh. 

And, this Saturday at the Whole Foods on Harrison Ave, there is a chocolate festival from 11am-2pm which features a chocolate tasting.  Yum!

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A Person's a Person No Matter How Small

Dr. Seuss said so much with that quote from "Horton Hears a Who!" and we've been thinking about it a lot these days.  The Women's March on Washington that morphed into marches all over the world representing kindness, compassion, and love is on our radar.  We teach our kids to be kind to others, to think before they speak, to be respectful to others, and to include everyone.  It's only fitting that we allow them to participate in this movement that represents all of these values.  When we heard about 10 Actions 100 Days, which is sponsored by the Women's March, we thought this would be the perfect place to include our children in promoting kindness, inclusion, and good.  Activism is such a positive way to teach them about our government and the ideals of our country, and to let them to know that even though they are only one, (and small!) their voice matters. In fact, they can use their voice to stand up for others, which feels more important now than ever. 

As we parents are still processing what's happening in our country, it's hard to know where to start with our children. We are taking small steps each day, often through books which can be a great spark to introduce concepts and open conversations. We are also involving them in effecting change. When horrific acts happen in children's worlds, we sometimes hear the phrase "look for the helpers." We want to do that, and we also want to BE the helpers. Here's where we've begun...

One Green Apple
By Eve Bunting
The Journey
Flying Eye Books

One Green Apple is beautiful book telling the story of a class trip to an orchard through the voice of a Muslim who has immigrated to the US. Most classmates show empathy and warmth towards her, and we as readers can feel her fears and hopes. This initiated wonderful conversations with our children. 

The Journey is a fantastic entry into understanding the refugee experience. This book is truly enlightening, heartbreaking, and again - a rich and ongoing conversation has been going for days. 

We have many, many more books on our list for our next visits to the library:

Books about the Immigrant Experience

Books with Muslim Kids as Heroes

Books for Young Activists

Books on Diversity, Inclusion, Compassion

Books about Kindness

Please share what you've read! We'd love to hear what's been helpful in your families as we band together to show our children that love and kindness will always win. 

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Harvard Museum of Natural History

Our last museum post for this month is all about the Harvard Museum of Natural History.  Kids love exploring this museum and learn so much by just wandering around and checking out the animal exhibits.  And, it's free for Massachusetts residents if you enter between the hours of 9am and 12 pm on Sundays!

It takes some effort to bundle the kids and get them out of the house, but it's worth it. If your kids are up early like mine, stop in Harvard Square at the Crema Cafe for some breakfast before wandering over to the museum.  Once you're there, you can follow your kids around, winding through the maze of animals.  It's such warm and cozy museum that's it's actually a very relaxing family activity (and how many places can claim that?).

My son is really into tigers these days so he spent quite a while checking these guys out and examining their every detail.  I don't often get to tell my kids to take all the time they need, but I did that morning and it felt great.

There are dinosaurs, bugs, mammals, human many interesting things to look at that guaranteed, something will spark your child's interest.  The museum also has a great little store that stocks really thoughtful items.  The books and toys are fun yet educational and are a wonderful place to grab a gift for an upcoming birthday party or just to remember your (hopefully) peaceful morning.

Also, check out the museum's special program offerings when you visit.  We happened to be there near the Chinese New Year and were able to learn about the different animals represented.  This year, the Chinese New Year is this coming Saturday, January 28th, so they might have a similar program for your kids to enjoy.  If you were able to get to the Greenway this summer to check out the sculptures of the zodiac heads, it would be fun to build on that by celebrating the new year.


Once you having finished exploring the museum, make your way through the Earth Sciences room to the Peabody Museum which is a whole other amazing museum that is part of your admission.  You enter through a really small door with a small sign, but I promise it's allowed!  I think my kids love the adventure of finding our way around more the museum itself, and I love that we are out of the house, spending time together and maybe even doing a little learning on a weekend.

Let us know if you go! And, if you've been, we'd love any recommendations.

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Spaces for Designing and Engineering

For our next installment on museums to enjoy in January, we are recommending two - The Museum of Science in Boston (particularly the Engineering and Design Workshop), and Einstein's Workshop (actually more of a studio space than a museum) in Burlington, for hands-on tinkering opportunities. 

Our kids have been really interested in engineering. We highly recommend a stop at the Engineering and Design Workshop at the Museum of Science next time you're there. They offer a rotation of hands-on activities that involve creating, testing, and redesigning. We've designed boats, simple machines, windmills, and trampolines. 

Recently we went to Einstein's Workshop in Burlington. They offer drop-in hours, and for a flat fee children can use Legos, Knex, all types of wooden blocks, and puzzles. 

When classes are not in session, families can use the computers and software program connected to the 3D printer. My son could not get enough of watching the printer in action!

Do you know of other spaces in the Boston area to explore engineering? Please share with us!

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Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Happy New Year!  This month we are doing a series on local museums. We hope we can inspire you to visit a new museum with your family or revisit one you've been to before to check out a new exhibit.

On a recent rainy day we decided to check out the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum.  After my son accidentally set off the alarm by opening an emergency exit door to let my husband into the museum (all part of the family fun!), we set off to explore.  We were excited to find that there were family guides for much of the art.  These guides were wonderful for my daughter to read and wander a little more independently, but also fun for my husband and I to engage with our son, who is younger, and learn about the art together.


Near the entrance to the museum is the Living Room.  My kids enjoyed watching this beautiful yellow bird that lives in this room.  This is also where we found the family guides.

The courtyard is stunning and feels like a summer day no matter how gloomy it is outside.  It was fun to go through the museum and look out every window to get a different view of it. 


Each room has map that explains which piece of art is hung where and a small little note about the art.  We didn't come close to reading about every piece but it was fun to as least locate them all based on the map.  It was a little scavenger hunt that kept my kids newly engaged in each room.

Before we left, we brought the family guides back to the Living Room and my daughter noticed a large shelf of wonderful children's books. There were also many art books for my husband and I to flip through.  All four of us found this room to be a great place to put our feet up for a few minutes after wandering through the museum.

We hope you decide to go!  And, if you are an MFA member, you get a small discount off of the entrance fee.

Gift idea #4-Ice Skating

Our last idea is to give the gift of ice skating.  Give a pair of skates and gift certificate for a lesson or  even just a note that says you have a day of ice skating planned.  The Boston Common Frog Pond is ideal for an iconic day of skating.  They also offer group, semi-private and private lessons as well as rental skates.

We had lunch in Beacon Hill before skating and then walked over.  Let us know if you go!

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K2 Sports (Ice Skate)
Roller Derby

Gift idea #2-Knitting

Our next idea is to present your child with a knitting class.  I have always wanted to knit. Despite many attempts to learn, I have accepted that it may not be the craft for me. My hope is that by exposing my daughter young, she can get the hang of it and pursue it if she wishes! 

Finger knitting is a wonderful way to start out, and once she mastered that, we took a lesson at Bead and Fiber in the South End. The instructor was warm and patient and the store itself is an inspiration! 

We learned how to knit our own scarves.  It took focus and concentration but was fun and we were easily able to get the hang of it!

My daughter put in a lot of effort and was able to accomplish a good amount in the store.

We bought some of our own knitting needles and some yarn and practice at home every once in awhile when we have some down time.

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Gift idea #1-Fencing

It's December once again!  We are doing another series of posts about giving our kids experiences instead of things this holiday season.  It's fun to give a little something with the experience but the best part is that the gift isn't over when it's unwrapped!  When you give an experience, you are also giving your kids something fun to look forward to after the holidays.

Our first idea is the gift of a fencing lesson.  My son loves all things Ninja so we had a Ninja themed birthday for him a few months ago.  A fencing lesson was given to him by my mom, his grandma.  She knew that Ninjas and swords are an interest of his and extended it by letting him experience it for himself. It couldn't have been a bigger hit!  She presented him with a toy fencing foil (the fancy fencing term for sword) and took him to Olympia Fencing Center.  He had a blast and decided to take more lessons.

Stay tuned for more ideas all this month...

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Stone Soup

Fall is a great time to cook with kids.  We are staying indoors more and need more activities inside our homes.  Soup is especially manageable because it's simple for kids to chop vegetables and toss the pieces into the pot.  An easy, fun activity that my kids love to do is make Stone Soup.  


My son read the ingredients from the book Stone Soup.  The characters didn't use measurements so we didn't either.  It was fun to add in as much or as little as we felt would taste the best.  We always add a stone that we picked up (and washed a million times) a few years ago.  

While our soup cooked, we played the cooperative game Stone Soup.  We first played it with Cady's family and loved the idea of working together as a family to beat the game instead of working against each other to win individually.  

Our soup was delicious and my kids gobbled it up.  If you want more ideas for making soup with your kids, check out our earlier post, Soup's On!

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Shakespeare at the Central Library

The Children's Library at the Central Library in Copley Square is hosting a lot of events in the next few months to teach our kids about Shakespeare.  Two events that are coming up in the following week are a scenery workshop which is on Saturday, November 12 at 3pm where children of all ages get to create the scenery for the play of their choice and a book club, for children age 8 and older on Friday, November 18 where the children will discuss the book Hoot which is a book inspired by Shakespeare.  Both sound really interesting and fun!

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By Carl Hiaasen

Fall in the Public Garden

We are so lucky to have the Public Garden.  It is lovely in every season, but especially in the Fall.  Taking a stroll through it these days, you can hear all types of instruments - yesterday it was a fife that echoed beautifully to every corner and see the amazing and vibrant colors of the changing leaves.   


If you look up, you might see a Falcon perched on a branch.  My daughter spotted this one watching a squirrel.  A few people gathered around to gaze at it and then it took flight.  

What is your favorite part of the Public Garden?

Historic Home Tours: Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm

Our last historic home is the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury.  The grounds, the farm and the grandeur of the home all make it worth the drive north.  We packed a picnic and spent two hours on the property.  We took a tour of the home, went on a short hike, pet the farm animals, played soccer, jumped rope and played frisbee.  It was the most relaxing day in a beautiful historic setting.


All of the animals on the farm were rescued and now are living out the remainder of their lives on the farm.  The farm works together with a nearby animal rescue facility to care for and provide and a wonderful home for these animals.  There are so many different types of farm animals all living peacefully together.  We couldn't get enough of them all and will definitely go back to visit.

My daughter participated in a horseback riding camp over the summer and so she really got along with the older horse.  My son really took to a little black goat who he named "Batman" while we were there.  We also met a sheep, a donkey and a couple of huge pigs.

The house tour was really low key (we were the only ones there) and so we went at our own pace and got to check out some cool artifacts like an old phone.

The gorgeous tree-lined driveway was the perfect place to jump rope.  And, next to driveway was an enormous field which was perfect for playing frisbee.

Plum Island is minutes from the house and has the most beautiful beaches.  Also, if you have time stop in Newburyport.  We love going because it's such a quaint little town.  Check out our earlier post before you go: Getaway to Newburyport.

We'd love to hear from you if you get there!

Historic Home Tours: Longfellow House

We recently visited the Longfellow House near Harvard Square in Cambridge.  My son is enthralled with George Washington and since he stayed in the house during the Revolutionary War, we thought it might be fun to learn about his stay.  There is really no parking near the house, so we parked in Harvard Square and walked over through the beautiful neighborhood. 


The house is breathtaking from the outside and my son was eager to check it out!  And, did I mention that the tours are free?  

There are express tours which are only a half hour long.  These are great for kids because with such a short duration,  the guide needs to focus on a small aspect of the house.  Our guide asked my kids why they wanted to see the house and they replied that they were interested in the fact that George Washington stayed in the home for a few months.  We then went through learning how the house would have looked when Washington was there and some cool facts about his stay.


Even though our tour was based on George Washington, our guide had to mention the small stand-up writing the desk in the corner of this room.  It was where Longfellow wrote "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

The garden was a big hit with my kids who spent awhile running through the quaint pathways.  I was able to sit on a bench and relax for a bit.


The Longfellow House is open until October 30 for tours.  If you can't get there this Fall, take a tour when they reopen in the Spring.  And, let us know if you go!

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Historic Home Tours: Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

When my daughter had just finished reading "Little Women," we happened to find a playhouse featuring the musical. It was a wonderful book to theater experience, and she fell in love with the story. Fortunately, much of the book is set nearby in Concord, MA, and Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House offers many tours each week. 

We had a great time together on the tour, and it was her first introduction to historical fiction that really came to life. After the tour, we watched the movie of Little Women, and had a great conversation about similarities and differences in the play, book, movie, and Louisa May Alcott's real life. 

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Little Women (Puffin in Bloom)
By Louisa May Alcott

Historic Home Tours: Nichols House Museum

Living in New England, we are so used to history surrounding us during our daily lives.  Our next few posts will be dedicated to a few of the amazing historical homes in the Boston area. There is so much for kids to learn from these homes about the history of our city.   Not only do they get a sense of the daily lives of the people who lived in them but they can also connect these homes to larger historical events.  My kids learn so much from these experiences and it's fun to see their reactions when they are immersed in history.

My daughter and I went to the Nichols House Museum last Spring after school one day.  Rose Nichols is a fantastic role model because she truly created her own path.

Rose Nichols was a master at embroidery.  Since my daughter had shown interest in sewing and weaving (you can check out those earlier posts here: sewing, weaving), we thought it would be interesting to look more into embroidery.  We were planning to just look at the famous bed cover, but the museum had set up a chance for visitors to try their own hand at the art of needlework.


The latest Improper Bostonian has an article about the Nichols House called Working The Room that has pictures of the rooms with small descriptions.  It was fun for my daughter to see after she had been to the house.