Friday, May 31, 2013

Keep It Local: Treasure Hunt at The Mansion on O Street

We do a lot of "out of the box" kids activities, but nothing quite prepared us for our visit to The Mansion on O Street. Part "spooky" mansion, part treasure hunt, part bookstore and antique store, part art gallery and a whole lot of random, the Mansion provided HOURS of entertainment for us. I literally cried when mom said we had to leave.

The Mansion consists of five interconnected townhouses and includes over 100 rooms and 32 secret doors. It's hard to count up the number of events and activities offered there -- it's a hotel, a museum, musical venue, etc. -- but it wasn't difficult for us to figure out what we wanted to do: a treasure hunt for the 32 secret doors (the treasure hunt tour). We went one afternoon after school and had an absolute blast. At the end of several hours, we had found 4. Turns out that's pretty good. On average, people find 2. We MIGHT have had just a little bit of help --although she didn't identify herself as such, we had the luck and pleasure to be greeted by the Mansion's founder, H.H. Leonards, who just may have taken mercy on us and given us a few hints (apparently her own children still haven't found all the doors!).

Along the way, we played chess in a bathroom, tried on fabulous clothes, played pool, perused books and tchotchkes, and admired art and musical instruments. Pretty much everything you see in the Mansion is for sale, including some really amazing music memorabilia. Mom's lucky she got out with just buying us a bottle of water.

There are a variety of tours offered at the Mansion -- you can check them all out and purchase tickets  through this link. It doesn't say online, but children under 5 are free -- just put in the notes on your purchase that you are bringing X number of kids under that age. The bar at the Mansion is also open to the public during weekday evenings for happy hour. If you go, keep your eyes peeled for mom and dad. Like us, they can never give up on a good treasure hunt. I've already requested to have my next birthday there.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Grub It Up: Chicken Couscous Salad

Vegas loves couscous night in our house. Because we both shovel it down so fast, half of it inevitably ends up on the floor. Needless to say, we were all big fans of Cooking Light's chicken couscous salad. Mom loved that she could set some of the items aside for us first and then mix up the salad for the 'rents. According to her, the radishes and pine nuts gave it a nice crunch and the dressing was delish. Would work nicely with rotisserie or leftover grilled chicken too.

- 1 1/4 cups fat free, less sodium chicken broth
- 1 (5.7 ounce) box uncooked couscous
- 1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (about 6 ounces)
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
- 1/2 cup diced radishes (about 3 large)
- 1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tbls pine nuts, toasted

- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 tbl extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 glove garlic, minced

To prepare salad, bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Spoon couscous into a large bowl; cool slightly. Add chicken, onions, radishes, cucumber, parsley, and pine nuts; toss gently to combine.

To prepare dressing, combine vinegar and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss to combine.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fly Away: Memorial Day Weekend at the Jersey Shore

Summer took its time getting to D.C., but when we had a few hot days last week, we couldn't wait to get to our beach. We spend lots of time at our Nona's house in the summer (well, the two of us, mom and vegas do. dad spends it working in the hot city. poor daddy) and Memorial Day always signals the true return to our most favorite place in the world: the Jersey Shore. All JWow jokes aside, our barrier island home away from home is the best of the best. As Nona is fond of saying: "if you are lucky enough to be at the beach, you're lucky enough." True that.

Now of course as soon as we showed up "down the Shore" (technically its "up the Shore" for us, but we like to roll Philly-style), the weather turned cold and rainy. Didn't stop us much, though. We hit up the beach for at least a little bit every day. The water temperatures hovered right around the low 50s, but Kane and I were unstoppable -- even in our clothes the first day, we both went right in the drink. Kane and Veg took to fanatical digging and I fostered a new love of jumping the waves (thanks Grandpa D-Rock!). And we built epic sandcastle knight fortresses and prisons and dug grottos filled with sand crabs. The new outdoor shower (thanks, Sandy) was tops and everyone fought over a turn in the sunfiltered steambath wonderfulness of an after-the-beach shower.

We got down to Wildwood Crest to see our cousins, Green's Bikes and hit up the Wildwood boardwalk (even some rides this time!) like it was going out of style. Mack's pizza, quality cousin time and a surrey ride. Can't beat that. And to send our Jersey gastronomical adventures into overdrive, we celebrated Memorial Day at the Brigantine Elks Clam Bake -- steamers, crab cakes, corn on the cob. Funnel cake of course. Top all that off with some live honkey tonk, an Elvis impersonator, and the Philly Fanatic?! No contest.

It was a fabulous (albeit slightly chilly and rainy) way to get the summer started!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Go Shorty, It's Your Birthday: A Pop Art Balloon Dog Birthday

Technically, this is our blog. We take turns sharing our adventures and art projects. Miscellaneous madness. Etc. You know the drill. But every now and then, we throw mom a bone. She's been doing some more party styling and graphic design lately and seeing as we're both refusing to wear our knockoff summer water shoes (how dare she!), we figured we'd try and help mom supplement our footwear fund and let her share a super cute party she just did for a few buddies of ours. If for some reason she starts trying to hog our domain, you can bet we'll kick her on over to a separate party blog. But, for now, party animal on. 

Mom's friend Jill asked for some help in putting together a joint birthday party for her two kiddos. Jill had already booked some fabulous entertainment (a balloon artist and our "movement" teacher from school) and secured a party room at one of our local rec centers. It's a great space. But it's a big empty box, essentially. With high ceilings to boot. They kicked around some ideas for an animal themed party, but when Jill decided on a super cute electronic invite with balloon dogs, they knew they had to go with that. Incidentally, mom has been eyeing up a mini gold Jeff Koons balloon dog statue for Cam for a while, so this was a temporary fix for that obsession too. 

They decided to do a backdrop for the main food table as the focal point, including color coordinating streamers, oversized tasseled balloons (mom came up with that idea, but Jill executed it flawlessly and now mom has an additional obsession with tasseled balloons), and a sweet birthday banner mom made incorporating a really fabulous pop art balloon dog print. Jill handled all of the food (mom made a few food labels) and made super cute balloon cookies for a simple "goody," which she put in glassine bags closed with a coordinating dog sticker mom made. And they scattered several more oversized tasseled balloons around the room, which helped decorate some of the otherwise unreachable empty space (they couldn't hang anything from the ceilings). 

Mom loved it all so much, she decided to make a coordinating invitation. Doneskis. The invitation, banners and food labels are all up in her Etsy shop. Now if she could only persuade one of us to have a balloon dog party ....

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Keep It Local: Strawberry Picking at Shlagel Farms

As we've both started spending longer days in school, and our weekends have started to fill up with scheduled activities, we have had less time to venture out for full-day jaunts. So we were all quite happy to take advantage of a recent day off of school to hit the fields for strawberry picking. At that time, Shlagel Farms was the only spot with berries, so that's where we headed to meet up with some school buddies.

It was an overcast day and it started to rain on the drive there. And we were both cranky. But we didn't care at all about the spitting sky when we got out hands on a berry basket. We picked $30 of berries in about 10 minutes. And the rain eventually hit the road, giving us some great time to play on the playground and sand pile. We took a little break to visit some chickens and have our picnic lunch (plenty of picnic tables are available), and then resumed our reign over the sand pile (there were a few turf wars with other kiddos, but all in all, we kept it together).

We've had strawberries at almost every meal since: strawberry smoothies, strawberries and goat cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread (drizzle a little balsamic, yum), chocolate covered strawberries, strawberries on cereal, strawberry salad, and on and on. And we've got a nice frozen stash too.

Shlagel Farms was perfect picking for us -- low key with a few extra activities available. If you're jonesin for berries, you might also want to check out KidFriendly DC's in-depth coverage of the 2013 strawberry picking season.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Grub It Up: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

We don't need a good reason to bake goodies in our house, but when we have one, we jump on it. So, to show a small token of thanks to our teachers during Teacher Appreciation week, we baked these SUPER yummy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and gave one each to our teachers in a little bag with a sweet sticker mom made. Of course we ate a bunch ourselves as well. These are definitely worth baking and don't bother to ask what's in Crisco Butter -- it doesn't matter. It makes these ridiculously delicious.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Redhead Can Decorate's recipe)

- 1 cup butter flavored Crisco
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 cups uncooked oats
- 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. Mix Crisco, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. Add flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Mix well. Add oats and chocolate chips, mix well. Form 1 inch balls onto cooking sprayed or parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake about 20 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Keep It Local: Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes at the National Gallery of Art

I've been after mom to let me take ballet lessons, so she knew that I'd be way into the new Ballets Russes exhibit at the National Gallery. We headed down there on a recent girls morning and were seriously blown away. The exhibit is a true multimedia installation of costumes, set designs, paintings, sculptures, print and drawings, photographs, posters, music and choreography visuals. And its ginormous.

Diaghilev founded the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909 and brought together some of the most creative artists of that time, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Coco Chanel. The costumes were unbelievable and I loved getting to sit and watch some of the pieces being performed on screen. My most favorite was probably the costumes from the undersea fairytale Sadko -- I could have used a seahorse ballet costume at my mermaid birthday party. Just saying.

The lifesized costume art and small snippets of visual choregraphy make this a great exhibit for kids. There is plenty of room for littles to toddle around, but keep in mind that some of the costumes are right out in the open, so if your kiddo is still learning to "look, but not touch," you'll have to keep an eye on them. I should also note that if you have an overly skittish kiddo (i.e., one easily scared of moody music and dark lighting), there are a few parts you might wish to move through on the quick -- there were some sections I told mom were scary for those reasons. No biggie. I perked right up when we came to Coco Chanel's wool knit swimwear costumes for the ballet set in Monte Carlo. Swoon.

Diaghilev and The Ballets Russes will be at the National Gallery until September 2nd. Put it on your list!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Miscellaneous Madness: Hieroglyphics

My name means "hard headed" in Gaelic and I'm nothing if not true to my namesake. I can pick up and recall random concepts at will, but if there's something I don't want to learn, good luck getting me to do it. And even though I love books, mom has had a heck of a time getting me to sit down and practice letters. So when I took up an interest in all things Egyptian (I just love me some gods and goddeses), mom recalled a fantastic hieroglyphics stamp set she had when she was little and thought it might do the trick. The newer version (she just found the one she had on ebay and wished she bought that instead -- it was sturdier and had a better inkpad) has a nice book explaining the history of hieroglyphs and how Egyptians used them in practice. Turns out that it's a bit tricker than just your "A, B, Cs," -- we only have to learn 26 letters; Egyptian kids had to learn over 250 before they were considered literate. Yowsers.

We read through the stamp book and this basic hieroglyphics book as well (which also comes with a stencil) and then took to trying it out ourselves. Today is my shabbat day at school and I wanted mom to read some of my books on Egypt to the class, so she thought it would be nice if I made each of my friends a bookmark with their name in hieroglyphs. Mom cut bright strips of paper and then wrote each of my friends' names on a piece (top to bottom, like the Egyptians wrote). There are all kinds of tricky rules for translating English to hieroglyphics, but mom decided to keep it simple and do one stamp for every letter (ignoring some of the vowel and sounds rules of hieroglyphics). She asked me to identify each English letter and find it in the stamp book along with the appropriate hieroglyphic. I picked it up quickly and after a while, I didn't need to say the English letter, I'd just say "that's one reed leaf,"  "water," etc.

You know I still pretended I didn't know how to spell my own name in English, but what fun would it be if I didn't give mom a hard time? We've also enjoyed reading National Geographic's book on Ancient Egypt and this fun "travel journal style" book about the search for Osiris' tomb. And it was The Magic Treehouse "Mummies in the Morning" that got me on this Egypt kick in the first place. Mom promised we could make our own papyrus soon, so stay tuned!