Mar 202015

make your own canvas beach windbreak

Last summer we had a marvelous two week beach vacation planned at one of my very favorite spots to visit – Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s a dreamy beach, miles long and extra wide so there’s plenty of room for walking, running, flying kites or building sandcastles. The only drawback is that it can get windy like most beaches, so before we went I made a large canvas beach windbreak to use while we were there. It worked great at blocking the wind, and also helped to add a boundary and a bit of flair to our beach ‘compound’ (we were there with lots of family members for a reunion and had a lot of chairs and gear that we actually left on the beach each evening – well above the high-tide line of course).

It might seem like summer is ages away, but spring is a great time to get a few projects done to help you have a great time at the beach this year. It’s a perfect project for the lull between Easter and Memorial Day. The whole project cost about $20 – much lower than the average beach windbreak costs retail (here’s one on Amazon) and I got to customize it myself.

canvas beach windbreak using canvas dropcloth To start, I purchased a canvas dropcloth from my local hardware store – look for the hallway runner size (mine was 4′ x 15′). The beauty of a hallway runner is that the edges are already hemmed so that saves a few steps. You could wash and dry it first, but since I knew I wasn’t planning on washing my completed windbreak I skipped that step. If you do think you’ll wash it sometime you’ll need to preshrink it now to prevent problems later.

Next I laid out the dropcloth on my front lawn so I’d have plenty of room to work (and because it was a beautiful sunny day) and figured out where the pockets for the posts would go. I decided on a post at each end of the windbreak and three in between for support.

make your own canvas beach windbreak

clockwise from left: (1) Lay out all of your support posts on the canvas, (2) Fold the edge over to make a pocket, (3) Pin the pocket closed with safety pins and then stitch the pocket closed for a durable finish.

I folded over each end and pinned it shut along the length to make a pocket to slide the post in, and folded over three more pockets equally spaced along the windbreak. I pinned the canvas using large safety pins just to make sure the pins wouldn’t slide out as I was moving the windbreak around and stitching up the seams. Make sure when you do this that the pockets are wide enough to hold whichever size post you use. I was using thick bamboo stalks because they were free from my yard (and because black bamboo just looks cool too) but you could use heavy dowels or lathe pieces from the hardware store as well.

A note about your supports: make sure they are long enough to fully support the windbreak PLUS have enough extra to go deep into the sand. For my 4′ high windbreak I used bamboo that was about 6′ long.

Next I stitched up each pocket using a sewing machine with a heavy-duty needle and heavy-duty thread designed for sewing canvas. You could probably skip the sewing portion if you used enough strong safety pins but I wanted to make sure that my windbreak was durable. I also stitched across the top of each pocket to make sure the beach windbreak didn’t slide down along the supports. Once the canvas is sewn, the windbreak is ready to use.

canvas beach windbreak with hand painted stripes

After I finished I wanted to add some paint detailing to mine.  I picked out a few paint colors and had samples of exterior house paint mixed up to paint some horizontal stripes.

Confession time: I can never get masking tape to work correctly when I’m painting straight lines (it always gets under the tape or smears) so I just traced lines in pencil using a 2’x4′ as a guide and then carefully filled in the lines freehand. There were a few mistakes but that just added to the charm I say.

make your own canvas beach windbreak

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Jun 082014
summer travel roundup collage square

clockwise from top right: find-it jars, road trip tips, airplane snacks, travel journals, air travel tips, restaurant activity kits, route maps, scavenger hunt pages, car bingo, travel trays, color matching activity.

Since summertime is right around the corner and a lot of families will be doing a lot of summer travel with kids I thought I’d put together a little roundup of the travel related posts I’ve written over the years. I hope having all of this information in one spot is helpful on your journeys this summer!

Travel Tips and Tricks

20 Tips, Tricks and Activities for Little Kids on Airplane Tricks

24 Tips and Tricks for Surviving Road Trips with Kids

Bringing Food on Airplanes: 20 Easy Healthy Choices for Kids {and Their Grownups}

Travel Crafts and Kits

Travel Trays (to use on road trips)

Find-it Jars

Restaurant Activity Kit

Travel Journals and Activities

Color Matching Game

Travel Journals

Travel Scavenger Hunt

Kids Route Map

Preschool Car Bingo

summer travel roundup Collage


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 Posted by at 4:54 pm

Asparagus Tamales at Los Hernandez Tamales

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May 282014

a collage of pictures of Los Hernandez Tamales shop

This past weekend we loaded up the kids and dogs into the ol’ family truckster and headed east toward Union Gap and the land of sunny skies and desert vistas in search of asparagus tamales. Union Gap is in the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington (one of the premier asparagus growing regions in the US) and the season for asparagus is a short one – it can be just six weeks long. Earlier this winter I saw a blurb in the AAA magazine for the asparagus tamales at Los Hernandez Tamales. I love tamales in general, and asparagus too, so I pinned up the article to save for springtime.

When we got there there was a steady stream of customers, and all of the seats in the small restaurant were full. I had a brief moment of panic when the counter woman said the asparagus tamales were sold out, but it turned out she just meant the frozen ones. We ordered a dozen asaparagus, plus two pork and two chicken tamales for the kids.

asparagus and pork tamales from Los Hernandez Tamales

The tamales were delicious – stuffed with chunks of fat asparagus spears and subtly spicy pepper jack cheese. We ate our picnic lunch at a shady table near the playground at the lovely Yakima Greenway and then took a leisurely drive home via Chinook Pass, where there was still a good 10 feet of snow on the sides of the road.  Who knows how much longer the season will go this year, but we’re sure happy we got a chance to sample the tamales!

Mar 182013

As anyone with young kids knows, eating out can be hit or miss, especially if you’d like to go somewhere a step up from fast food! I came up with a way to ease the pain of dining out by bringing along a restaurant kit when we go out (and since it lives in the diaper bag it does double duty as a busy bag when necessary).

Here’s what I put in our restaurant kit for kids:

1. Start with the bag. A small cosmetics bag would work great – I used a bag with a clear front so that I could see inside easily, and its heavy duty material lets me clean it off.

2. Little blank notebooks for each of the kids – fun for drawing, tic tac toe, or pretending to be the waiter.

3. Extra plastic utensils – just in case (sometimes the restaurant only has large heavy utensils which are unweildy for little kids, and sometimes the fork is on the floor with no replacement in sight).

4. Assorted little toys – I tried to pick things that both kids would enjoy and that could spark some imaginative play.

5. Extra straws. Sometimes restaurants don’t have straws, or they’re only giant straws. I have some thin straws in our kit, and I also cut down some straws so that they fit kid-sized glasses better.

6. Little card games. I printed these ones out from and used wide tape to ‘laminate’ them – one is a memory match game and one is an easy number game.

7. Crayons. I put them in ziplock bags which hold up better than the little cardboard boxes and I have a baggie for each kid.

8. Little books. We have a Velveteen Rabbit set which breaks the story up into 6 little books, but any little books would work.

9. Sticker books or stickers. The reusable sticker books are great for a restaurant kit because then you know that the stickers won’t permanently bond to the table, chairs or floor of the restaurant!

10. Printable coloring pages from Of course you can also find coloring and activity pages at a lot of other sites as well. I’ve found on some printers you can adjust the print settings to print 4 pages on one, which shrinks the images down to a smaller size – great for going in the kit and for coloring on the table without taking up a ton of space.

Of course, a phone with some kid-friendly apps works well too, but I try to avoid the electronic crutch when possible. What are some things you use to entertain your kids at restaurants?

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Tips for Surviving Airplane Travel with Kids

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Jan 212013
tips and tricks for airplane travel with kids

Traveling by plane with kids is stressful – there’s no way around it. You’re all trapped in a little metal tube for hours on end with hundreds of strangers and no way to escape. There are a few major differences between traveling by air and traveling by car with kids. By far, the  most important one is that traveling by car, your kids can only drive YOU crazy – as opposed to the entire plane full of passengers. The best way to ensure that your family has a successful flight is to realize that your number one job is to entertain the kids, which means you probably won’t have time to read much of that novel or magazine or trade journal, or catch up on movies. With that in mind you must know that most of these suggestions will involve you to one degree or another.

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1. Airplane travel is a time to make a few key adjustments to your family rules re: behavior. When we fly, we get more strict about our children adhering to our rules for public behavior (things that affect others) ie. use your indoor voice, no throwing things, no roughhousing, try to keep the nose-picking to a minimum. . . you get the idea. On the other hand, we relax some of our other rules for this special time, so there are no limits on media use, they are allowed to eat more ‘junk food’ or treats, we’re more tolerant of special requests, and we are much more likely to give in to whiny requests than we otherwise would be. No one wins by trying to make a point to a three-year-old 5 hours into a 10-hour flight. Once we were stuck waiting out a lengthy delay in the departure lounge at the beginning of an overseas flight. We bought our little ones a treat of some ice-cream bonbons, and at the end of the box our son started to get into a first class freak-out that he hadn’t gotten his fair share. Normally he would’ve been out of luck, but in that special case we just went and bought another box.

2. Research your destination and layover airports ahead of time – our local airport (SeaTac – SEA in Seattle) has an indoor playground where the kids can safely run around and blow off steam, with large family bathrooms located right beside it. Chicago O’Hare (ORD), San Francisco (SFO), Boston (BOS), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Portland (PDX) all have great playgrounds as well – some more than one. Other airports offer special tours for kids, airport based exhibits from the area’s museums and areas with kid friendly food vendors. It pays to take a few minutes before your trip to see what the airports you’re traveling through have to offer, and make a note of where the attractions are, because they’re sometimes tucked away in a spot you might not pass otherwise.

3. Read books and talk about air travel with your kids ahead of time – my kids really like ‘Going on a Plane‘ and ‘A Day at the Airport‘. These are especially useful to get your kids used to some of the more unusual parts of plane travel, especially the security screening and flight attendant interaction. Talk with them about what the airport and the flight will be like, including how long it will be and what will happen – will you eat dinner, then sleep and wake up and eat breakfast? Maybe just eat lunch and then have a nap? Gently reinforce your expectations in the days or weeks before the trip so that they’re not surprised during the actual flight.

4. Bring spare clothes; more than you normally would for a day trip. Pro-tip – pack each change in its own gallon ziplock bag (you can squish the extra air out to conserve space). If you need the spare on the trip, its likely you’ll be glad to have the empty bag to contain the dirty clothes.  This includes for yourself – we always bring at a minimum an extra shirt for each adult too since there’s a good chance if your child gets grossly dirty you might be too.

5. Think about strategies to alleviate ear pain on takeoff and landing. The most important thing is to keep your child swallowing periodically to equalize the pressure in their ears. Juice boxes, milk boxes, gum, or lollypops can all help. We haven’t had any problems going through airport security taking two small juice boxes per kid per flight inside the US; I just bag them in a ziplock bag and send them through the x-ray scanner along with the toiletries. Consider packing enough for the return flight in your checked luggage (especially if you are traveling to an unfamiliar area that might not have the brands/flavors your child usually has – we drink/eat whatever is available at our destination during our trip, but again, the flight is not really the time to have a standoff about how the local beverages taste). If you don’t want to deal with beverages you can offer a lollypop at takeoff and landing – that can be effective especially if its a kind of special treat for your child.

6. Bring lots of snacks and make sure there are more than just sugary treats. These days its rare to get free food on a flight, and snacks serve a couple of purposes: 1) they stave off the hungry crankies, 2) they’re a good distraction, and 3) they can serve as a bribe if necessary. When we travel we bring snacks that our kids don’t usually get at home – our kids especially love to get their hands on handisnacks (with the crackers and “cheese” and a little stick for spreading) which they never get any other time. Other good snack options are granola bars, cheese sticks, crackers or chips and fruit.

7. Introduce your family to the Travel Fairy. The Travel Fairy stops by on every trip our family takes, to make sure the kids aren’t bored and are well behaved. She gives them little gifts and treats, and most importantly, everything she gives is wrapped up in paper. We wrap up everything the kids will have on the flight, even things they already have (like books for their Tag reader pens, or crayons), even sometimes their snacks. We try to dole out Travel Fairy gifts infrequently, and make sure that we’ve saved some for the return flight.

8. Drawing utensils for writing or coloring. This could be an aqua- or magna-doodle for a toddler, or crayons or markers for an older child. Square or triangular crayons are useful for littler kids so that they don’t roll off the tray so easily, and markers whose lids snap on the end easily are good for older kids, for the same reason.

9. Electronic learning activity toys make for good distractions. We are a Leapfrog family, but V-Tech also makes nice toys with learning activities. Its a good idea to bring along a set of headphones (I like these noise-limiting headphones for small kids) to avoid disturbing those around you, although I’ve found that using toys or electronics with the volume low works since the ambient plane/engine noise is so loud.

10. Bring along a few new thin paperback books to read to your children. Most kids love story-time, and new books will hold their attention longer than ones they’ve read a lot. Of course, if there are a few books that your child could read over and over every day, by all means bring those!

11. Felt boards for storytelling and imaginative play. These are lightweight and can be either purchased or easily made. I put cardboard backing on the boards I made, but you could go without and have an even lighter and smaller activity.

12. Pipe cleaners or Wiki Sticks make for crafty, quiet entertainment. For very young children you’ll need to be the one crafting them into shapes that can then be used for imaginative play – older kids can work more independently but might still need some help to see how sticks can be joined together. Our kids have made (or played with) horses, dogs and other animals, flower bouquets, crowns, jewelery and shapes.

13. There are tons of blog posts around that give ideas for toddler busy boxes/bags – peruse them to choose ideas that might entertain your little ones while still being quiet, light and easy to pack. I especially liked this one, this one, and this one.

14. Sticker books with reusable stickers are lightweight and easy to pack – you could get one that relates to your destination or one more travel-centric (what you can see at the airport).

15. Sticking with the same sticker theme (see what I did there?) – dollar stores and the $1 area of Target often have sticker packs with either seasonal themes or others like construction vehicles or farm animals that your kids can use to make their own scenes. I like to prompt my younger child by drawing a simple scene on a piece of paper than he can then add stickers to, like drawing a town layout with a few roads where he can add car and truck stickers.

16. iPad, iPod, iPhone or the like can be a lifesaver – load it up with games and videos. We use two iPod Touches which belong to my husband and me but for the duration of travel are claimed by our kids. For our last trip we also brought these rechargeable external batteries, which helped for a long flight. I made sure that each iPod had different games and videos so that the kids could trade and have more things to do and watch.

17. Printable activities of your child’s favorite TV shows/characters. Nickelodeon, PBS, Sprout and Disney all have websites where you can download and print activity pages. I usually put them into a report folder to keep them contained and organized. I like to do this instead of bringing one coloring book per kid because they can have more of a variety that way.

18. Travel journals with fun activities about your trip. I make travel journals for my kids before long trips using cheap blank notebooks and embellishing them with route maps, travel games and printed out puzzles and mazes. Then the kids use them throughout the trip as their notepad / coloring paper and afterwards to add in stickers and postcards and other little paper souvenirs from the trip.

19. Quiet card games to play – a regular deck of cards works for older kids, and younger kids would love to play with a Go Fish or Old Maid deck, or a small set of memory match cards. You can even make your own version of Memory if you like – either printing a set off the internet or drawing your own pictures. You can also make variations on Memory than can be great learning tools, like sight word matching or matching numbers with a picture of that many objects,

20. Word games and finger plays. It helps to have an arsenal of word games and other little activities ready that don’t need anything but yourselves to play. Some of our favorites are “I Spy” (“I spy with my little eye something brown” and then people take turns guessing what it is), the “Story Game” (where each member of the family adds onto a story sentence by sentence and the last player has to add their ending and then recite the whole story) and the “Alphabet Game” (where each member of the family thinks of a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet).

I hope this list helps on your next trip – do you have any tips to share?

Jan 142013

I started making travel journals for the kids when we went to Montana last summer, and then in the fall I made journals again for our trip to Germany. The little guy is still a bit young to fully appreciate it, but I do think that the maps help to explain where we are on the trip and help stave off a bit of the ‘are we there yet’ syndrome.

I got this journal for free in the swag bag of a kid’s music festival we go to every year

I used colored dot stickers to make a pattern matching game on one page and stuck in a page of extra dots as well.
I drew a map of our trip from the US to Germany and divided it up into hour-long segments. The older one colored her segments in.
I did the same thing for the ride home.

I also made a map for each way of the road trip we took during the vacation.

Along with the activities I made up, I also pasted in some activities printed out from various kids’ websites.

Color Matching Game for Kids

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Jan 112013

I saw an idea for a color matching game on Pinterest (searching through many many unattributed pins on that site led me to find this post which seems original although not the one I saw). I made a set for each child and brought them along on our trip overseas to have as a surprise activity.

 It was very easy to make – I got some paint samples from my friendly local hardware store and a handful of wooden clothespins from Dollar Tree. I cut each paint sample in half and used one half as the base of the match and cut circles from the other half. I happen to have a 3/4″ circle punch which made this easy; without the punch I would have just cut rectangles the same width as the clothespins. Then I glued the circles to the end of the clothespins and they were ready to go.

I made this set for my 3-year-old. For my 5-year-old I used paint chips that had more colors so she would have to work harder to match the gradients. Both kids enjoyed this activity and it was light enough to take on the airplane, and they’ve played with them occasionally afterwards.

Felt Boards for Kids

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Jan 112013

Over the next few days I’m going to post some of the projects I did during my ‘hiatus’ from the site.

Way back in August I started on a project to make felt boards for the kids, mainly for our trip to Germany to use on the airplane and during a long car trip. I started by painting white felt with watercolors and then mounting it onto cardboard after it dried. I made two scenes – day and night.

A daytime landscape

A nighttime landscape

Next I put together some stories and songs to use on the boards. I put together the images on my computer, then printed them out and used iron-on transfers to add them to white felt, and then cut them out.

Here are the felt cutouts for Five Speckled Frogs – I used clip-art for these.

Here is the set for Five Little Pumpkins (Sittin’ on a Gate). I drew these freehand and then scanned them in and colored them on the computer.

Here’s Mr. Bones for the song “Dem Bones”.

Here’s the set for the story of Stone Soup.

We also had a felt board set from “The Hungry Caterpillar” that we brought along. The kids liked them alright – they still play with them some and it did use up some airplane time.