Get Here Quick! North Carolina Botanical Garden

School’s out for the summer! Translation: I’m making a long list of fun activities, projects and field trips to keep Gemma and I busy when we’re not traveling or running to local camps over the next few months. With Kindergarten starting in late August, I’m hoping to make the most of these last few months of freedom.

We kicked off the first day of summer break last Friday with a trip to the NC Botanical Garden. We’re so lucky it’s just a few miles down the road and offers up an afternoon of fun and exploration for kids and adults.

NC botanical garden sign

We’ve been to the Garden before but this time I challenged Gemma to a scavenger hunt!  After finding our shady parking spot, we set off through the mountain terrain, on the lookout for the “not so obvious”. She had to find two butterflies (each of a different color/family), one dragonfly, one bee, a tadpole and a turtle. Within the first 5 minutes she’d spotted all but the tadpole and turtle; these two beings proved a bit harder to spot.

g leading the way  g and a pond

g kissing the man in stone  selfie at gardens

turtle

The Garden is alive with blooming flowers, including pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants. This particular collection is one of the best in the Southeast, so we spent quite a while checking out the Venus flytrap, orchids and other rare species. These flowers are STUNNING and well worth the trip!

pitcher plants red  g at gardens

pitcher plants in bloom  pitcher plant bloom sihouette

pitcher plant blooms

There are several different gardens and habitats to explore including a garden, mountain and Piedmont terrains, display gardens, fern collection and water plant exhibits. You can easily spend a few hours wandering through and sighting various plants, insects and water features. And aside from the main Garden property, there are kid-friendly trails, part of the Piedmont Natural Trails system, you can access through back gates located behind the Education Center. The Botanical Garden also manages Battle Park Pedestrian Trails, Coker Arboretum and Forest Theater, all on or near the UNC Chapel Hill campus.

Here are a few more findings from our afternoon adventures:

pink flowers  red flower

red and yellow bloom  lily pad with drops  white speckled flowers  purple flower

creamy roses  herb gardenlotus and water lily pads  irisespretty pink blooms

g and big leaves

Special Notes:

  • Visit the NC Botanical Garden website to learn more about what’s in bloom seasonally, and plan your visit. The center also offers a variety of adult and youth classes, demonstrations and storytime, as well as summer camps (which unfortunately are on a wait list at this point).
  • There is no admission fee, however the foundation gladly accepts donations to further their mission and maintain the grounds.
  • The main building also houses a very nice Garden Shop. Be sure to stop in if you’re on the hunt for a unique gift item, including live plants, botanical prints, gardner’s books and outdoor embellishments.

 

 

 

Pickin’ Berries

As promised, I took Gemma to pick strawberries Friday morning. It was shaping up to be a lovely day…72 degrees with blue skies, perfectly fluffy clouds and almost no humidity.

We set off mid-morning to Phillips Farms in Cary, NC (about 12 miles from our house). We had hoped to hit up Jean’s Berry Patch, where we grabbed our flat of berries earlier this week for our strawberry pies; however, we learned their fields were hit by a gang of rogue deer, and they suspended self-picking for the season! Bummer!

phillips farms strawberry sign cary, nc

When we arrived and began searching for the best row for pickin’, we noticed the fields were full of plump, red strawberries! To our disappointment, we learned Thursday night’s storms and heavy rains left at least half of their ripe berries in a state of mush. Luckily, we were able to weed out a full basket of their best fruits and look forward to bingeing on strawberries all weekend!!

picking berries

sneaking a bite of strawberry

basket of strawberries

Pre-K Graduation and a Refreshing Teacher Gift

Where does the time go? The end of the school year is upon us! Gemma graduated from Pre-K today, and I was a bit teary-eyed as she performed her last preschool show and walked to get her certificate before shaking hands with her teachers.

pre k grad certificate medal

family pic pre k grad day

We have been very blessed to have such a warm, engaging preschool environment at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Preschool for the last three years. Gemma’s teachers over the years were always such a joy, offering their kind souls, encouragement, guidance, patience and smiling faces every day in each classroom. If you live in the Durham/Chapel Hill area and are searching for a wonderful preschool, I highly encourage you to check out St. Stephens!

To honor the Pre-K teachers at the end of this school year, the parents got together to give our three classroom teachers, a music teacher and the preschool director a fresh, practical gift they and their families can use throughout the year, especially during our warm summer months.

water infuser, citrus fruit and mint plant

We gifted each teacher with a water infuser/pitcher (Crate and Barrel) filled with lemons, limes and a sprig of fresh mint plus their own potted mint plant (Home Depot). We included a recipe for Citrus-Mint Infused Water, and the kids all autographed a special card.

Citrus-Mint Water

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 4-6 mint leaves
  • 1 half-gallon of cold water

Cut citrus into thin slices and remove seeds. Insert citrus slices and mint leaves into infuser insert. Fill pitcher with cold water. Insert infuser into pitcher. Chill in refrigerator. Sip and enjoy!!!

I also love these four recipes from Lauren Conrad (orange-lemon-lime; lemon-raspberry-mint;  lemon-cucumber-mint; and blackberry-cherry-lime). If you get bored with plain ice water, as I do, an infuser is a great way to offer your body nourishment with a wonderful flavor!

infusers and citrus fruits

citrus mint water recipe

teacher card

mint plant

gemma and teacher gifts

Special Notes:

  • Recycle those paper bags from grocery or retail purchases! Don’t want the Whole Foods logo emblazoned on a gift bag? Just use colorful paper (or some of your child’s drawings on paper) to mask the logo and create a fun, colorful bag appropriate for gifting!

recycled gift bag

  • When gifting a potted plant, be thoughtful of your recipient’s ability to transport (if it’s not going to their home directly). I made sure to drain as much water from the pot base before placing the pot on a stack of coffee filters (to help absorb moisture) and then wrapped the base of the pot in a plastic bag to catch additional leaks. You can then use ribbon or a bow to decorate the bag or pot and give it some flair.

mint plant prep

my love is…

I’m so excited to share this latest art project, entitled “my love is…”, which Gemma and I created for her bedroom. I wish I could share a fun story of how the theme came to be but honestly it was one of those “huh, that might be cute” ideas which slowly formed one afternoon as I watched Gemma paint randomness on a cold, winter day.

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She took great care creating a night sky, an underwater world, and a rainbow. So, after the paint dried, we embellished each one with glitter, sequins and foil, then stenciled some creative text onto each of the corresponding mats (included with the frames we bought). The main text is “my love is…” and the three art images read:

  • deeper than the ocean“,
  • brighter than the stars“,
  • beautiful as a rainbow“.

She loves seeing her artwork adorn her walls, and knowing we created this together makes me smile each time to walk into her room. This project is super easy, and the best part is your child’s artwork makes each piece unique!

Here’s a brief tutorial to help you create your own “my love is…” art installation. Great for a child’s nursery/bedroom or playroom.

Materials:

  • 4 –  12″ x 12″ (with 8″ x 8″ matte/window) picture frames
  • letter-sized card stock printer paper
  • paints, brushes, glitter, foil, glue (and any other materials you wish to create the art…like googly eyes!)
  • printer
  • nails, hammer, tissue paper, tape, level

Step 1. Let your child create three basic landscapes. If they’re on the younger side, you can embellish the art or feel free to leave it as-is.

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Step 2. While they paint, you create the text graphic “my love is…” in a Word doc (or freehand or let your child write it in their own handwriting!) and print on your 8.5″x11″ card stock paper. Trim paper down and affix in one of your frames.

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Step 2.  Insert each piece into the matching frames, including the “my love is…” text graphic. This is also a good time to write/stencil the corresponding text onto each mat board, as well (…”deeper than the ocean, etc.).

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Step 3. To ensure the frames are hung straight, here’s a little trick you can use. Cut tissue paper to the size of the frames (see above tissue peeking out from behind frames) and use a pen to mark the placement of the sawtooth hanger/hook on each sheet of tissue. Using a level, “hang”/tape the tissue to the wall where you wish to hang the frames. Hammer your nails through the tissue at the hook/hanger mark and hang the frames to ensure they are where you want them. Don’t forget to remove the tissue when you’ve got perfect placement.

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Hope you enjoy some creative time with your little one and cherish this art your child’s special space!

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Special Delivery: Gift Cards

This year the families from Gemma’s preschool class combined forces to get the teachers gift cards to their favorite stores and restaurants for Christmas. Here’s an idea for how to package those cards and give the teachers a little something extra for all care and guidance they give our kids!

gift card boxwood planters

Materials:

  • Boxwood or other potted plant (We found mini boxwoods in wood planters at Trader Joe’s.)
  • Gift cards
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Drinking straws
  • Scissors
  • Optional: colorful tinsel garland, small ornament(s)

Step 1. Wrap your gift cards in pipe cleaners to resemble bows on a present. Wrap your gift card vertically with one pipe cleaner, leaving a long end to thread through a drinking straw. Wrap a second pipe cleaner horizontally from behind, twisting or making a bow with the ends on the front.

Step 2. Insert straw in dirt of potted plant; you may wish to cut your straws to create varied heights for the “presents”. Insert your pipe cleaner/gift card into a straw.

Step 3. (Optional) Tuck some tree garland around the base and add a few ornaments (we used a foam craft gingerbread ornament which Gemma made at home).

gift card boxwood planter

This is a fun way to package gift card presents for anyone on your wish list!!

Norwegian Krumkake

The holiday season is the best time to celebrate traditions and feed your soul. My celebration couldn’t be complete without some good old-fashioned baked goods, and this year I’m including a family favorite which represents my Scandinavian heritage. Krumkake (krmk), is best described as a fancy waffle cookie and simply translates to curved cake in Norwegian.

Krumkake recipe

krumkake

My mother and grandmothers made this delicate treat each holiday season, and as a child I’ll admit it wasn’t the first item I chose from the dessert tray. No, I lunged for anything with sprinkles, chocolate or caramel. However, as an adult, I have come to love this crispy, sweet-tasting cookie and decided to make a batch myself. Lucky for you, I’m sharing my recipe (a slight variation from the one pictured above) and some tips you can use to make your own krumkake.

To make krumkake, you will need a special krumkake iron, available online from Villa Ware through Amazon or other specialty retailers (~$100). I received mine as a gift from my mother, who incidentally uses a traditional stove-top iron vs. my electric, non-stick iron. Your iron will come with a wooden cone to roll/shape the cookies. You’ll need a large cooking space, a timer, and a spatula to remove the cookie from the hot iron once it’s done. As you can see below, I wasn’t sure what type of spatula would work best. The slotted, stiff spatula did the trick.

krumkake_materials

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened to room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons milk

Step 1. Preheat krumkake iron. Grease iron with cooking spray or shortening.

krumkake_iron

Step 2. Beat eggs with a hand mixer or Kitchen Aid mixer.

krumkake_eggs

Step 3. Add sugar, butter, vanilla and cardamom and mix well.

krumkake_sugar krumkake_butter

krumkake_vanilla krumkake_cardamom

Step 4. Add flour and milk, alternating a little of each and mixing well as you go. The batter should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

krumkake_flour krumkake_milk

Step 5. Spoon a tablespoon-sized dollop of batter in the center of each krumkake plate and close the iron. Let the batter bake for 30-45 seconds.

krumkake_batter

Step 6. Open the iron and use a spatula to remove the cookie from the plate and set on a towel/countertop. Use the wooden mold to roll the cookie into a cone shape. Allow cookie to set a few seconds before transferring to a cooling rack. The cookie will be soft when you remove it from the oven and will crisp up as it cools. Repeat until you’ve used all the dough.

krumkake_baked krumkake_baked spatula krumkake_roller krumkake_rolled

Step 7. You may wish to sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar for additional sweetness, or serve with berries, jam, whipped cream or Nutella. Be sure to store krumkake in a covered cake pan or other airtight container (to avoid humidity as they will stale quickly otherwise).

I love the traditional krumkake cone however I also love waffle cones with my fro-yo and ice cream. After making about half the batch, I decided to experiment a bit using some nesting bowls to create some krumkake bowls for my frozen delights. I was pleasantly surprised to see these turn out so well!

Instead of rolling the cookie on the cone, I simply placed the warm cookie over top of the smaller glass bowl, then cupped the larger glass bowl over the top to mold it into a bowl shape. I let each one cool for 30 seconds before transferring to a cooling rack, placing them upside down to keep their shape until they cool completely.

krumkake_glass nesting bowls

krumkake_bowl mold

YUMMO!!!

krumkake_fro-yo

Yield: 24

Special Notes:

Tea Time

Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to! I am never going back there again! Said no 4-year-old little girl ever!

Last week, Gemma hosted five of her classmates at a special tea party playdate complete with mommy’s fine china and lots of sugar cubes. Oh, and an hour of dress-up time pre-tea!

From the moment she hopped out of bed, Gemma was a ball of energy. She happily downed breakfast, helped me prep the table, and hopped into her leotard with no foul or fuss to await her friends’ arrival.

waiting for her tea party

Aside from the girls in her class, we also had the pleasure to visit with a few younger siblings and a group of great mama’s and grandma’s. It was wonderfully packed house as the girls tried on dresses and fairy wings and loads of jewels from the treasure chest. Gemma was a good host, letting her guests choose their accessories first, and finally settled on her chef uniform for her attire. There were puzzles, ponies and dolls strewn throughout the house, as the girls explored the playroom and kept busy entertaining themselves. However,  it wasn’t long until the tea table, filled with cookies and fruits, beckoned them. So to the table we went!

tea party guests

The girls got to select their tea flavor – either Passion Fruit or Baked Apple Cinnamon – and judging by their request for refills, I’d say their apple cinnamon choice was a hit…or maybe the sugar cubes kept their thirst alive! The girls were perfectly polite and it brought me great joy to see Gemma engage with her peers throughout the morning.

As the adult host, I must admit I was amused overhearing the conversations between mothers and daughters as the elders asked the little ones to be very careful with the fine china tea cups and saucers. I had to admit to them I was not worried…considering I spent the night before taking price tags off of all but five settings. Needless to say, the cups and saucers were part of our wedding china set (we got hitched in 2005) and most had never been used before. Over the years I’ve adopted a rule to use it if we’ve got it…and in this case if I haven’t used them for my adult friends, Gemma might as well get some enjoyment out of them.

It’s safe to say every little girl deserves a tea party with her best girls. And if you’re thinking of hosting a tea party yourself, I’ll share a few tips to help you prepare a fun, colorful and inexpensive partyscape for your special occasion.

Tissue Paper Poms

I’ve always wanted to make tissue paper poms and this tea party was the perfect excuse. I love the simplicity of the tutorial from Bramblewood Fashion blog. The author, Ashley, offers clear pics and instructions for fool-proof poms in just five easy steps. G and I chose red, pink and turquoise to compliment the holiday decorations we already have throughout the house.

tissue paper garland for tea party 1

tissue paper garland for tea party 2

Easy-peasy Placemats

The easiest items of our crafty tablescape were the placemats. We simply placed paper doilies on sheets of scrapbook paper. Voila! The scrapbook paper lets you create any theme, color scheme or mood for your party. And if you don’t want the frill of a doily, place a smaller, solid-colored square of paper on top of the larger, patterned scrapbook sheet, and you have a modern alternative.  Next time we plan a tea party, I’ll be sure to laminate these babies so we can reuse them.

tea party placemat partyscape

I’ll also give a shout out here to my grandmother, Lorraine (Weigelt) Schossow Black, who crocheted the white tablecloth I layered on my green cloth. She passed away in 2011, and I’m fortunate to have several pieces of her handiwork throughout my home. She was the original crafter in our family; she made cloths and doilies year-round and sold them at festivals and shows throughout eastern North Dakota. I have great childhood memories watching her work in her rocking chair and seeing her stretch the pieces on a large board to keep them taut for starching. This craft, along with many of her other talents (knitting afghans, playing the organ, making lefse and canning foods, are almost lost arts these days.

Coffee Filter Garland

The last element of our DIY tea party decor was the coffee filter garland I hung in the window. My only regret was not making more to fill the windows.

coffee filter garland

Coffee filters are great for party garland since they’re easy to find (probably in your kitchen now), inexpensive (in case they’re not in your kitchen now), and are built to withstand water (which makes for easy dyeing). The only con is they don’t absorb colors strongly…i.e. the colors are muted or pastel (perfect for baby or wedding showers), so keep that in mind if you try this at home.

Here are 5 steps to create your own coffee filter garland.

What you need:

coffee filter garland materials

  • Coffee filters (I used the smaller size filters since that’s what I had in the house)
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Cake pan (one for each color; or wash same pan between each dye job)
  • Baking sheet/jelly pan
  • Paper towels
  • Sewing machine/thread

Step 1.  Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Place 2 cups of water in shallow baking pan/dish and add 8-10 drops of food coloring. Make a pan for each color you desire. (or plan to reuse same container and dye each filter set individually).

Step 2.  Separate coffee filters and set each filter into colored water one at a time. Separate each filter from one another and add them individually; this will help you separate them later when you need to take them out and lay them to dry. Let the filters soak for 5-10 minutes until they absorb the level of color you desire. You may wish to add more food coloring to deepen the color; be sure to mix in thoroughly the additional color so your filters absorb the same color evenly.

coffee filter garland dye job

Step 3.  Set a paper towel on counter, remove filters one at a time and lie them flat on your paper towel to allow excess water to drain from filter. I was able to lie four filters on each paper towel sheet with only a slight overlap at center edges. Repeat this step by placing a new paper towel on top of your previously removed coffee filters and keep stacking your filters between sheets of paper towels. I recommend starting a new stack for each color to avoid cross-color-contamination (lesson learned the hard way as my pink filters absorbed some of my turquoise color).

coffee filter garland drying 1

Step 4.  Place your paper towel/coffee filter stacks on a cookie sheet and place in oven for 8 minutes. The heat will help speed up the drying process. Remove cookie sheet from oven and remove filters from between paper towels. Lie filters on dry surface (I used my island countertop but a dining table would work, too). Allow filters to dry for 30 minutes.

coffee filter garland dry 1

Step 5.  Thread your sewing machine and place it on a straight-stitch setting. Let out 10-12 inches of thread before placing your centering your first filter under the needle; this thread can be used to tie your garland to a curtain rod or hook later. Sew straight across the center of your first filter then place your next filter (and each thereafter) as close as possible to the end of your previous filter and sew them together.

While the filters seem fragile, the paper fibers are strong hold up well to sewing. I had no issues with tearing or the presser foot bunching the filters on the feed dogs; if you have trouble with this you may try to adjust your tension slightly. If you are hanging your garland (as I did above), you should measure the length you’ll need to ensure your garland is long enough/not too long (mine was too long but I didn’t mind it wisping on the floor). Since this garland is likely for one-time use, you need not worry about closing your last stitch (as that process might just be too much for the filter to withstand anyhow).

coffee filter garland sewing1

coffee filter garland sewing2

coffee filter garland sewing3

coffee filter garland
For more tea party ideas, click here…..whatever did we do before Pinterest?!