Welcome ROCmommas, ROCpoppas, and Friends!

Have fun with your kids - that's what it's all about. If you're looking for fun places to go in Rochester, NY (ROC), awesome
crafts to make, and yummy treats to bake with your kids - as well as some ideas for Date Nights - then you've come to the
right place. Welcome to ROCmomma. Happy reading, and please share your comments. Thank you!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Family Fun Hot Spots This Weekend

Wondering what to do with the kids this weekend in Rochester, NY? There are Easter egg hunts, model trains, and Berenstain Bears, oh my!

Family Fun Friday: Easter Egg Hunt at Southeast Family YMCA
Friday, March 30 ~ 4:30 - 10 p.m.
111 E. Jefferson Road, Pittsford, NY
4:30 - 9:00 p.m. - Adventure Center is open
5:45 - ?              - Pizza, $1/slice (Lobby)
6:00 - ?              - Easter Craft (Lobby)
6:30 - 7:30 p.m. - FREE Healthy Snack (Lobby)
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. - Games, crafts & Easter Egg Hunt (Gym)
7:05 - 10:00 p.m.- Family Swim (Pool)

Easter Egg Hunt at Camp Arrowhead
Saturday, March 31 ~ 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
20 Arrowhead Road, Pittsford, NY
An event for the whole family! The event includes a pancake breakfast, 2 separate Egg Hunts (for ages 5 & under and ages 6-12), arts & crafts, games, entertainment, door prizes, Alpine Tower (ages 8+), sandbox, playground, and much more. Find the golden egg and win a free week of camp. Register by 4 p.m. on March 30th to save on registration; day-of registration is a bit more.

Easter Egg Hunt at Castle Creek Farms
Saturday, March 31 ~ 11:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
3760 Rush Mendon Road, Mendon, NY
The Easter Bunny has hidden over 500 eggs all over the farm for children to find. The event features pony rides, hay rides, and a petting zoo. There is a fee for children; adults are free.

Edgerton Model Railroad Open House
Saturday, March 31 ~ 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Edgerton Recreation Center, 41 Backus Street, Rochester, NY
Take a free "tour" of historical Rochester through the four seasons: summer in the city, fall in Letchworth State Park, winter in the mountains, and spring in the countryside. These four model railroad layouts were created in 1950 and are only open on the last Saturday of each month.

Literature Live: Sister Bear at The Strong National Museum of Play
Saturday, March 31 ~ 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sunday, April 1 ~ 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
1 Manhattan Square, Rochester, NY
Do your kids love the Berenstain Bears books? Then they will love the chance to meet Sister Bear and take a picture with her. Included with general admission.

Opening Day & Free Ice Cream at Wickham Farms
Sunday, April 1 ~ 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
1821 Fairport Nine Mile Road, Penfield, NY
Be sure to Like them on Facebook, and you'll be able to print out the coupon for your free ice cream, or just show it on your smartphone. Besides ice cream, enjoy miniature golf, batting cages, a jumping pillow, large sandbox (bring your own sand toys, or rent them in the barn), slide & play set, and farm animals.

April Fools' with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
Sunday, April 1 at 2 p.m.
Performance Hall at Hochstein, 50 North Plymouth Avenue, Rochester, NY
Have the whole family enjoy a program of fun pranks, musical jokes, and a good time with great music performed by the RPO. Purchase tickets online or at any Rochester-area Wegmans.

Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry's 
Tuesday, April 3 ~ 12 - 8 p.m.
5 South Main St, Pittsford, NY or RIT, 139 Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, NY
Stop in for a free scoop of your favorite flavor!

I hope this helps you plan your weekend. Don't forget to mark your calendar for some ice cream onTuesday, too. If you know of any other fun events this weekend, please post them in the Comments section. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Beat the Rainy Day Blahs

Last week's weather here in Rochester, NY was such a tease! We wore t-shirts and shorts. We opened the sandbox and played on the swing set. We went to the park. We spent hours in the glorious sunshine (protected by sunblock and hats, of course). And best of all, it made the kids so exhausted that they slept incredibly well last week.

Not so much, this week.

Playing indoors seems like double torture this week, after tasting that sweet warmth just days ago. Going back to long sleeves, pants, and jackets is disappointing, to say the least. So far this week, I've softened the blow with a trip to the library, Strong National Museum of Play, and a stop at Petco to pick out two new goldfish. But today we are stuck indoors so we are beating the Rainy Day Blahs with a couple of sure-to-make-'em-smile activities.

ROCmomma's Rainy Day Blah-Beater Activity #1: The Obstacle Course

We've done a few variations of this activity. Sometimes I scatter couch cushions around the floor, and we are bunnies hopping through the garden; if we hit a cushion, we fall down the rabbit hole. A fellow ROCpoppa pointed out that this is a variation of the Hot Lava game. There was even a Tosh 2.0 clip on YouTube where he talked about playing this as a kid; unfortunately that video has been deleted. It was funny. Oh well.

Indoor obstacle courses are fun and can be altered after playing for a while, to keep them occupied even longer. It doesn't matter how much or how little space you have; it will still be fun. Try to find things that the kids can go OVER, UNDER, AROUND, or THROUGH. If you have cardboard boxes or those colorful cardboard "bricks" you can even build a wall for them to smash. Grab a mixing bowl or soup pot and some kiddie spoons for a tossing-game obstacle. Be creative!

We started in front of the fireplace:

  1. Crawl OVER the ottoman
  2. Crawl UNDER the tall chair
  3. Go AROUND the bean bag chair
  4. BALL TOSS - get one squishy ball into any hole

5. BEAN BAG TOSS - three bean bags in each bowl; get one into the bucket to proceed

      6. Jump OVER the tiger, jump OVER puppy 1, and jump OVER puppy 2
      7. Crawl THROUGH the tunnel

      8. EGG TOSS - get one plastic Easter egg into the basket
      9. Cross the Finish Line - Hooray!!!
    10. Do it again!     

This lasted for about 45 minutes, with no variations. I just had to replace the squishy balls, bean bags, and eggs every so often. In between, I washed the dishes, swept the floor, and even read a magazine article. Woo hoo!

ROCmomma's Rainy Day Blah-Beater Activity #2: Baby Chick Eggs

For this craft project you'll need:

  • Plastic Easter eggs, any size
  • Google eyes (or cut out white circles and color the pupils in yourself)
  • Orange foam sheets or cardstock
  • Glue sticks, plus white craft glue or glue dots, and perhaps some masking tape
  • Assorted feathers, pom poms, and/or tissue paper
  • Scissors
  1. Cut heart shapes from the orange foam or card stock, then trim the two curved tops of the heart with some zig zig snips to make webbed feet. This is all free-hand; just eyeball it.
  2. If you're using glue dots, put a glue dot in the center of each set of feet, with some of the backing paper still on top. Otherwise, leave as is for now.
  3. Cut small triangles from the orange foam or card stock.
  4. Set up stations for each child with eggs, google eyes, feet, noses, a glue stick, and any decorative touches (feathers, pom poms, tissue paper, etc.)

      5. Kids can remove the backing paper from the glue dot on the feet and attach to the bottom of the egg, or attach with craft glue.

       6. Kids can attach eyes with glue dots or craft glue (I started running low on glue dots, and craft glue was actually taking too long to dry...so I rolled up strips of masking tape and we used those!)
       7. Kids can attach nose and decorations with glue sticks

      8. Perch the baby chicks around the house, or place a few in a basket filled with crinkle paper/ basket-fill. Enjoy your sweet creations!

ROCmomma's Other Random Rainy Day Blah Beaters

  • Play Doh and any plastic cookie-cutters you have in your collection; or an assortment of plastic cups, spoons, forks, and container lids.
  • Silly String (officially, it's "Unique Wacky String") - I've found it in the party aisles at both Target and Michaels in a variety of colors; just shake well & often, and avoid carpets and furniture; otherwise it cleans up easily. 
  • Boat Races in the bathtub - for this one, we don't actually get in the bath tub; either fill the tub part way or pull the infant tub out of the attic and place on a few towels on the kitchen floor; add a few toy boats or other water toys; be sure to STAY WITH KIDS AT ALL TIMES WHEN WATER IS INVOLVED. Please, and thank you.
  • Indoor Sandbox - First, cover the table with a tablecloth or other protection. Next, fill a large shallow container or bowl with anything you've had in the cupboard for a while and won't need anytime soon: unpopped popcorn, oatmeal, raw rice, uncooked pasta, dried beans, Cheerios, or even flour. Give your kids some spoons, measuring cups, small plastic containers, even a small plastic shovel or truck. Super ROCmommas and Super ROCpoppas can even add a few small dinosaurs, army men, or Littlest Pet Shop creatures and tell the kids they're digging for treasure.
  • Or check out these ideas to "Beat Cabin Fever" on Kiwi magazine's website.
Good luck to everyone stuck indoors with kids. I hope these ideas help you battle the blahs, and that your kids love the activities so much that they'll tell you what a great ROCmomma or ROCpoppa you are! Thanks for reading, and please post your own great ideas - or your success stories with these activities - in the Comments section.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Get Free Stuff. Really.

About a year ago, I may have become a bit obsessed with freebies. I started paying attention to the mom blogs and bargain sites that awakened me to a bright new world filled with free packets of instant coffee, free Disney travel promotional DVDs, and free dollops of wrinkle cream. Full disclosure: I don't drink anything with caffeine, my family is not planning a trip to Disney World any time soon, and I am lucky enough to not yet worry about wrinkles. None of that stopped me.

I also subscribed to freebie sites that awarded points for answering surveys, watching online videos, and conducting Internet searches. That sounded wonderful; I could do all of those things on my smartphone while playing outside with the kids. I would amass points in exchange for gift cards to retail stores, restaurants, and more. I could shop for myself and not feel guilty! Sound too good to be true?...

It only took me six months of surveys, commercials, and searches to earn enough points for a $15 Macy's gift card. By then, the points required for a $15 gift card had gone up and Macy's was no longer an option; I set my sights on a Target card instead. Two months after that I finally had the revised number of points, but Target was no longer an option. I estimated spending at least an hour a week for 32 weeks,   for $15 toward iTunes. That's like earning one song for every two hours I wasted. So. Not. Worth it.  

My philosophy at the time was blind-siding me: companies are willing to give this stuff away for free, so why shouldn't I benefit? Then I started to realize the obvious; I was bordering on becoming an intervention candidate.

I've since pared down on the freebie sources. And lucky for you, I compiled the highlights! You really can get free stuff, but be sure it's stuff you'll use (or donate) and that it's worth your time.

ROCmomma's Seven Wonders of the Freebie World

1. Does your family eat Kashi cereals? (If not, skip to number 2.) If so, check out Recyclebank.

  • Create a username and password, then enter the codes from Kashi cereal boxes and earn 50 points per box. 
  • Every week or so, they add new ways to earn points on the site - quizzes, videos, pledging to do eco-friendly things, "Liking" eco-minded companies on Facebook, etc. Yes, it will take up some time...but minutes here and there; never hours.
  • I've already redeemed a free subscription to Whole Living magazine; I'm really close to a $10 Gap gift card.

2. Do you buy Disney DVDs, or do you have a ton in your cabinet? If so, check out Disney Movie Rewards.

  • Create a username and password, then enter the codes from the DVDs and earn about 100 points per movie.
  • I entered the codes from all the movies we already had - including grown up movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. We had enough to redeem a youth-size Phineas & Ferb cap, 3 puzzles (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, and My Friends Tigger & Pooh), a Treasure Buddies plush, and we donated a couple of plush toys to KIDS (Kids In Distressed Situations). I still had points leftover, and my next target is a free photo book.

3. Would you like to receive free samples of shampoo, cereal, and laundry detergent? If so, check out the random samples featured on Freeflys or Free Samples 2 Fill Up Your Mailbox.

  • Freeflys - you'll need to sign up and create a username and password; review a list of Featured, Food, Beauty, Children, Health, and Miscellaneous freebies.
  • Free Samples 2 Fill Up Your Mailbox - on the right side of the page, click to "Like" it on Facebook, and/or enter your email address to receive email updates once daily; you'll be in the know about the latest freebies.
  • NOTE: Sometimes you'll need to "Like" a company on Facebook in order to receive the free sample these sites feature. 

4. Want to be the first to hear about and try new foods, beauty products, games, and more? Then try House Party.

  • Create an account, then fill out a detailed profile about your interests, social media habits, etc. 
  • House Party allows you to apply to host various parties - if selected for a particular party, you'll receive a party kit and the chance to invite some friends over to try the new item with you.
  • I was selected for a Breakstone's flavored sour cream House Party last summer. My party kit included coupons for free sour cream, a chip & dip bowl, and a spatula all for the party; I also received the following for each of my guests: coupons, recipe books, and cutting mats.
  • Current parties include Kinect Rush: Disney Pixar Adventure, Because I Am A Girl, and Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom to Indulge (my fingers are crossed for the Kinect party!).

5. How do you feel about contests? Try Self or Lucky magazines' web sites.

  • Each month these sites are updated with tons of free contests for jewelry, clothes, cosmetics, and more.
  • I won a bunch of lip glosses from Soft Lips through Lucky magazine last year.
  • I also was selected as a test-panel member for Self in December and got to try out (and keep!) four full-size moisturizers.
  • TIP: be sure to uncheck all items that indicate any kind of interest in receiving email updates from the sponsoring companies when entering these contests.

6. Would you like to hear about a freebie every day of the week? Check out All You magazine's Daily Free Sample Calendar.

  • Enter your email address to sign up for a Free Sample daily email alert.

7. Would you like some special freebies on your birthday? All of the following offer a fun birthday perk!

  • Dunkin Donuts - get a free medium beverage on your big day
  • Maggie Moo's - sign up for their email listing & get a free cone on your bday
  • Bruegger's - sign up & get a free cookie on your day
  • Ben & Jerry's - sign up for their Chunk Mail and get a free scoop for your birthday
  • Moe's Southwest Grill - sign up for Moe's e-world get a free surprise on your day
  • Sephora - sign up to be a Beauty Insider and receive free birthday gift (last year it was a Philosophy "Happy Birthday Baby" vanilla shower gel/shampoo; looks like this year is a Fresh Sugar Kisses Mini Lip Duo)
  • Barnes & Noble - sign up for the free Kids' Club and your kid receives a free cupcake or cookie on his or her birthday
So, welcome to the wonderful world of free crap - er, stuff! I hope you enjoy the ride. If you have any other fun freebie tips, please post them in the Comments section. And thanks for reading!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Making Dinner When You're Starving, Exhausted, and the Kids Are Driving You Nuts

A few months ago, my cousin had her second baby and asked me how in the world I got dinner on the table with two kids hanging on me. It was so much easier to manage with one child, plus day care. I used to work from home most days, so I could do a little prep work during my lunch break or just before I picked up my son from day care.

Now with two kids and no real break, it's a bit more challenging. But there is hope! Whether you have one child, or you take up every seat in your minivan, you can do it.

The big secret? Be your own SOUS CHEF.

By doing some of the work ahead of time, it's easier to get a meal on the table once crunch time hits. You know, crunch time? That point in the day when you need to get food in the oven (or on the stove top) and at the exact same time one child wants to be held, another child is getting frustrated with a Lego tower and wants your help, the cat is meowing at her empty food bowl while giving you stink-eye, and the phone is ringing. Good times.

Battle crunch time with ROCmomma's Tried & True Secret Dinner Strategy:

  1. Find a meal-prep time that works best for you - kids' nap time, in the morning before you leave for work/school, or even the night before once the kids are in bed.
  2. Place the recipe in a convenient location - tape the page to a cabinet door, stand the cookbook in a holder, or set your smartphone in a stand on the counter.
  3. Chop veggies and place in storage containers in the fridge. If you have time sauté or roast as indicated in the recipe, and then store in the fridge. TIP: Invest in a few varied sizes of storage containers (plastic, glass, or steel; whatever makes you most comfortable). Also, keep chopped onions and garlic separate from other veggies to minimize the odor.
  4. Assemble all dry ingredients, utensils, and cutting boards on your counter or work surface. Don't forget a can opener, garlic press, et cetera.
  5. Measure spices and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
  6. Take out all pots and pans as needed and place on the stove top. If needed, place a colander next to the sink, et cetera.
  7. Move frozen ingredients to the front of the freezer, so it's easy to grab them later. Move all cold ingredients to the front of the fridge, or group them together on a refrigerator shelf.
If your children are old enough (probably 2+) they can help measure, pour, and mix as long as it's not near the hot stove. They can also help put the containers into the fridge for you.

Now when crunch time hits, it's like a clever army of sous-chef elves have visited your kitchen and left you wonderful presents. Almost all of your ingredients are either prepared or they are within easy reach. All of the gadgets you need are out and ready for you. YOU CAN MAKE DINNER!

You have the know-how...do you need some culinary inspiration? The weather has turned back on the chilly side, so how about Butternut Squash Pizza (adapted from Real Simple, March 2010, p. 206) and Creamy Broccoli Soup (adapted from Real Simple, February 2011, p. 154)?

Butternut Squash Pizza
1 lb. store-bought pizza dough (thawed if frozen) or 1 Boboli whole wheat thin crust pizza shell
1 lb. butternut squash (pre-cut is fine)
1/2 red onion
1/4 c. pine nuts
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp. dried thyme)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar
Cornmeal, for dusting

During Prep Time:

  1. Peel, seed, and slice butternut squash 1/4 inch thick. If using pre-cut squash, just slice the chunks 1/4-inch thick and store in a container in the fridge. 
  2. Thinly slice red onion; store in container in the fridge. NOTE: If using a Boboli crust, roast the red onion and butternut squash slices, with a light spray or drizzle of olive oil, at 400 F for 20 minutes before storing.
  3. Grate the Cheddar; store in container in the fridge.
  4. Measure thyme, salt, and pepper into container; store on the counter.
  5. Place pizza stone or large baking sheet, a mixing bowl, a mixing spoon, a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon, and cornmeal on the counter.
During Crunch Time:

  1. Heat oven to 400 F. 
  2. Gather the storage containers and the dough (or Boboli) from the fridge.
  3. Shape dough and place on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the squash, onion, pine nuts, thyme, salt, and pepper with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Scatter over the dough and sprinkle with cheese.
  5. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 25-30 minutes for dough, or according to package instructions for Boboli. Enjoy!
Creamy Broccoli Soup
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
2 c. low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch broccoli
2 large russet potatoes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 c. water
2 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar
Bagel chips, for serving (optional)

During Prep Time:

  1. Chop onion. If time, sauté in a large saucepan over medium heat with olive oil and crushed red pepper. Saute 4-6 minutes, until soft, then store in container and place in the refrigerator.
  2. Roughly chop broccoli florets; peel and slice stems. Store in container, in the fridge.
  3. Peeling the potatoes is optional; cut potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces and store in the fridge.
  4. Measure salt & pepper; store in a container on the counter.
  5. Grate Cheddar and store in a container in the fridge.
  6. Place a large saucepan or soup pot on the stove top with its lid. You'll also need a measuring cup (2 cups), a blender or handheld immersion blender, carton of broth, and bagel chips.
During Crunch Time:

  1. If using fresh dough for the pizza, make that first and then start the soup once the pizza is in the oven. If using Boboli, start with the soup and then make the pizza while the soup is simmering.
  2. Gather storage containers from the fridge.
  3. In large pot/pan over medium heat, add the sautéed onion, broth, broccoli, potato, water, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very tender, 20-25 minutes.
  4. In a blender, working in batches, puree the soup until smooth (alternatively, use an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot). 
  5. Top with bagel chips and cheddar before serving.
If you utilize the ROCmomma Tried & True Secret Dinner Strategy (prep time), then each of these recipes has about 5 minutes of hands-on time and about 25 minutes of cooking/baking time. So good, you can almost taste it! Plus, you'll be able to hold the little one while making a Lego tower, answering the phone, and unceremoniously dropping a big dollop of canned food into the pesky feline's bowl.

I hope this strategy works for you; it's honestly the only way I can put food on our table...other than running out to Wegman's for their $6 meals. And believe me, that is so tempting. But I'm a bit of a control freak and I like to know what goes into our food the majority of the time.

Be sure to let me know how the Secret Dinner Strategy works for you, and if you have any other time-saving, sanity-saving tips in the Comments section. Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Top 5 Events For Kids This Weekend

One of the best things about raising a family in Rochester, NY is the abundance of kid-friendly museums, attractions, and events. There is almost always something going on to entertain the kids. This weekend is no exception with maple syrup, vehicles, the Emerald City, animals, and science experiments taking center stage.

If you're looking for some family fun, check out what's going on:

Maple Weekend
March 24-25, 2012 ~ 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
You can visit the Maple Weekend website to find a demonstration near you. The Cummings Nature Center in Naples and Genesee Country Village in Mumford are both participating. There will be maple syrup demonstrations and tastings, a pancake breakfast (9 a.m. - 1 p.m.), crafts, and other activities for kids and families. Admission fees vary.

Things That Go
March 24-25, 2012 ~ 12 - 4 p.m.
What little kid can resist cars and trucks?! Visit the Rochester Museum & Science Center for some hands-on activities and an up-close look at an electric car (Saturday only), motorcycle, pink loader, hovercraft, and an antique fire truck. Included with general admission.

Wizard of Oz Weekend
March 24-25, 2012 ~ 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
There's no place like home, and there's no place like the Strong National Museum of Play! (we visit about once a week) There will be performances by the Bubble Man and by The College at Brockport Xylophone Ensemble, you can meet Glinda the Good Witch, create Oz-themed works of art, and more. Plus, if you haven't seen the Wizard of Oz exhibit yet, it's definitely worth a visit! Included with general admission.

Critter Challege
March 24, 2012 ~ 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Stations around the Seneca Park Zoo will feature games and hands-on activities led by zoo docents to teach kids how animals survive in the wild. Could you spot your dinner from a mile away? Stand on one foot while you sleep? The Critter Challenge will give kids a better understanding of how animals live. All stations will be indoors, in the various zoo buildings. Included with general admission.

Family Science Day
March 24, 2012 ~ 10:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Families with young children will want to stop by the Winton Branch Library for some hands-on experiments with professional scientists. The first 30 families to register will receive a family science activity kit [(585) 428-8204]. Admission is free; registration is required.

I think I'm leaning toward Genesee Country Village for Maple Weekend. Besides all the typical maple goodness, their flyer tells me that Grieve's Brewery is demonstrating how beer can be made with maple syrup. Yum! That, and they have maple fudge. The kids won't get a vote; we're going. Because momma said so.

Have fun with your family this weekend, and be sure to let me know if you visited any of these events. If you have any other good ideas for the Rochester area this coming weekend, please post them in the Comments section. Thank you!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hop To It & Make Some Easter Decorations

Yes, it's beautiful outside, but sometimes the kids need a break from running around the yard. And with the St. Patrick's Day decorations down, it's looking a little bare in our house. SOLUTION: time to make some Easter decorations. Why spend full price on holiday decorations when you can make some now, and then get the nicer stuff for 50% off later in the season (sometimes 75%!) to save for next year? Added bonus: making your own decorations is a preemptive strike against the "I'm bored" whining of children.

I'm a big fan of creating three afternoons of activities around every holiday:

  1. Make the decorations (this may be done over the course of a few days, or until the kids are sick of the same tube of foam stickers)
  2. Decorate the house with your new creations, plus anything else from your attic, garage, basement, closet, clown car, etc. Have the kids pick out the "perfect spot" for each (most) decoration.
  3. After the holiday, take down the decorations and pack them up for next year*

Today we began Day One of the "Make The Decorations" step. We looked through our craft supply bin and found lots of goodies to use! Even if you don't have a craft supply bin, you probably have more supplies than you realize around the house to make some super-cute bunnies, baskets, and more. Check out these ideas for household items:

Random Craft Supplies #1 & 2: Paper Plates and Cereal Boxes

  1. Cut a semi-circle from the center of the plates and give them to the kids to decorate, along with any assortment of crayons, markers, glitter glue pens, stickers, pom poms, feathers, you name it.
  2. Draw a large egg on the inside of a cereal box and cut it out. Use it as a template to outline more eggs and cut those out. Let the kids have at them.
  3. Use tape or glue to adhere the eggs to the back of the baskets. 
  4. Hang up your Easter Baskets!
Random Craft Supply #3: Toilet Paper and Paper Towel Rolls

Add some paint, pom pom noses and tails, construction paper ears and bow ties, and draw on the eyes, whiskers, and mouth with a permanent marker...and you have yourself an Easter Bunny Family. Check out a photo and the complete instructions on Crafts by Amanda.

Random Craft Supply #4: Lollipops

Okay, this one may require a trip to the craft store for more supplies, but they are so cute! Turn the lollipop upside down and adhere a wooden or foam heart for feet; add white pom poms for the head, arms, and tail; and use a pipe cleaner for the ears on your Bunny Lollipop. Definitely too sweet to eat. You can find photos and complete instructions on The Mother Huddle.

Random Craft Supply #5: Yarn

Once upon a time, I thought I'd take up knitting. Unfortunately, knitting didn't accept my Friend Request so there is a bag of yarn in my closet just waiting to become...Easter Baskets! Yup, just some white craft glue, plastic wrap, and plastic bowls and we're ready to sing "A Tisket, A Tasket."

For this one, just turn the bowl upside down and cover with plastic wrap. Soak the yarn (cut into arm's length strands) in the glue and then apply one strand at a time over the plastic wrap until it's covered. Let it dry overnight, then remove the plastic wrap and you have yourself a funky Easter basket. The complete directions and photos are on Eighteen 25.

If you make any of these crafts, or if you have other ideas you'd like to share, please post them in the Comments section. Thank you, and have fun decorating!

*One more thing: after Easter, when you're getting ready for the Take-Down-Decorations Day, there are a few things to keep in mind so that you're organized for next year. These tips will eliminate the, "Oh crap! I know I bought ______ last year; where IS IT?!?!?" moments. Or hours.

  • Stop by Michael's, Target, and any other favorite stores to check out their clearance inventory. Pay special attention to craft supplies as well as decorations. Last year I found Easter-themed foam sticker sets for 75% off at Michael's. We'll be using those this week!
  • Pack up the bargain treasures along with the other decorations so you'll know where they are next year.
  • Gather any magazine articles, print outs from web searches, recipes, et cetera, and pack those in with the decorations, too.
  • LABEL THE BOX. Yes, it seems like this is a tip from Captain Obvious but even the most organized people can forget this step...and it makes you want to pull out your hair. Yes, I'm speaking from experience.
Once again, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy these ideas for Easter decorations!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We're Going to the Zoo Zoo Zoo, How About You You You?

My little sisters loved Raffi, so whenever I take my kids to the zoo I sing that song...

On this first day of Spring, we have the most wonderful weather in Rochester, NY. It's in the low 70s and it feels perfect. As my four-year-old said this morning, "It's no-jacket weather!" So we packed up our lunch, hats, and sunscreen to go to the Seneca Park Zoo zoo zoo, how about you you you?!

The Seneca Park Zoo is perfect for younger kids (and I know the big kids like it too!). It's a short ride, parking is free and rarely a problem, and we can get through the entire zoo and back again in about two hours. I grew up in downstate NY and we used to go to the Bronx Zoo a few times a year. It took about an hour or more to get there, my parents had to fight the crazy city traffic on the way, we paid for parking, and the zoo is so large that most visitors use the monorail and/or skyline to see the whole thing. Inevitably one of my three siblings would need a nap or a third outfit change when we were on the side of the zoo that was the complete opposite of our parking lot. Don't get me wrong, the Bronx Zoo is amazing and I still love visiting (my kids have been there a few times already), but it's truly an ordeal that requires much effort. The Seneca Park Zoo, on the other hand, is much more manageable with little ones.

We started off our day visiting the orangutans playing outside. They have such great personalities; it's always fun to watch them. Today, the smaller orangutan was playing with a stick and the bigger one kept taking it away. It got my boys laughing. Next we said hello to the rhinos. There was a big pile of poop in the middle of their section, so that's always hilarious too. We saw the hyenas getting their water trough filled, the wolves got some treats (fish! go figure), and the tiger was napping. Then we moved on to their favorite spots.

Favorite Spot #1: The Cougar
There are two tunnels by the cougar exhibit that lead to a viewing area. My boys would go in and out for about an hour if I let them. Only my four-year-old is tall enough to actually see through the windows, but they both love it anyway.

Favorite Spot #2: The Construction Site
Today my two-year-old kept asking to see the mighty machines. The new "Step Into Africa" exhibit will be open in May but my boys have enjoyed the renovation process - especially the construction vehicles. Unfortunately, the big trucks all seem to be gone now, and the fence is covered so we can't sneak a good peek. I guess this is now a former member of the favorite spots? But they were good sports about it, and we moved on to...

Favorite Spot #3: The Sea Lions
Who doesn't love to sit by the water watching the sea lions swim around, jump up on the rocks, bark at each other, and occasionally play with toys? Today we sat and ate our snacks there, but last time we visited was truly amazing. We happened to arrive at the Rocky Coast exhibit just as the sea lions were getting their meal. The zoo keepers placed fish inside watering cans and other toys, then tossed them all into the water. Even when all the fish were in their bellies, the sea lions kept playing with the toys - tugging at the watering cans, flipping super-sized whiffle balls around, and probably looking for more fish. But it was incredible to see!

Favorite Spot #4: The Z.O.T. (Zoologists of Tomorrow) Zone
We could spend hours in this indoor section. My boys love to take the stuffed animals out of the carriers and pretend to be veterinarians. They use stethoscopes, bulb syringes, toy bottles, and bandages to give the toy animals an "exam" and to help them feel better. There's even an incubator and other sophisticated looking instruments (none of them are in working order, of course) so they really feel like they're in a veterinary hospital.

Favorite Spot #5: The Playground
After we make all the toy animals feel better, we usually end our visit at the playground. They love climbing the "mountain," racing each other down the slides, and crawling through the log tunnel. My four-year-old usually attempts to climb the giant spider web but he hasn't conquered it yet. Later in the season, there is water in the little man-made creek near the playground. On hot days, we bring swim suits, a swim diaper for my little guy, towels, and water sandals and they'll spend most of the afternoon just wading in the creek, walking across the rocks, and splashing each other.

Then it's usually time to head home!
Sometimes, on the rare occasion that we're not pooped and it's not too hot out, we'll turn left out of the parking lot and pull into the next lot near the other playground. I'll load the boys in the wagon again and we'll head across the street to walk down a path that leads to a bridge over the Genesee River. It's a fun walk with great views, plus you can almost taste the Genny Cream Ale in the air. (ha)

Thanks for reading! Please use the comments section - what's your favorite part of the Zoo? Any tips for spending the day there with your kids?...

Monday, March 19, 2012

#1 Sane-Parent Tip: Join the Y

I can't speak for all YMCA branches in the country, but if you have pre-school or school-age kids in the Rochester area, you must join the Y. The exercise classes, the child watch room, and the programs will make the monthly fee well worth it. We belong to the Southeast Branch but we've also utilized the facilities at Eastside as well as Camp Arrowhead.

What's In It For Mom & Dad? (or Mom & Mom, or Dad & Dad, or Baby Momma & Baby Daddy...)

With the warm weather finally here, many of us are dreading squeezing back into last year's shorts and swim suits. The Y can help! Around this time last year, I lost 16 post-postpartum pounds at the Y after I started going to step aerobics on Tuesdays and kickboxing on Thursdays. That was enough to finally start dropping the baby weight. This year I'm still going to step aerobics every week, but due to a scheduling conflict I replaced kickboxing with Body Combat and added a session on the treadmill once a week. Now I'm almost at my pre-first-baby weight.

There are so many great classes offered at all hours. If you prefer a solo routine, the indoor pool and the wellness center (treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, etc.) are excellent. Plus, the child watch and infant rooms are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays at the Southeast Branch; you might want to check the web site of your local facility for details. The child care service is included with family membership, and can be utilized for two hours per day per child. The staff members are wonderful with children; they will soothe the criers, read stories, play games, and even initiate sing-alongs to keep everyone happy. Your child(ren) will be in great hands while you workout.

In addition to your new sexy body, you can also gain a little me-time beyond your workouts. Our branch offers a Drop & Shop program where those with a family membership can reserve a time to drop off their kids at child watch and leave the facility for an hourly fee. The current rate is $7 per hour per child. This has made it so much easier for me to schedule appointments for me - doctor, dentist, hair cut, etc. When I was working, my oldest son attended child care and so I made those appointments for my lunch hour and didn't have to worry about him. When I became a stay-at-home mom, it was a struggle to schedule things for myself before I discovered the wonderful joy of Drop & Shop. I keep meaning to reserve a Drop & Shop time so I can actually shop or do something fun...but that's another story.

What's In It For the Kids?

The Y definitely fosters the development of social skills. When I first started bringing my youngest son to the child watch room, he was eight weeks old and didn't fuss. Several months later, he began crying every time I left him. It broke my heart, but I'd peek in the window after a few minutes to see him smiling and crawling toward some toys. Little stinker! Now he's two and I refer to him as the Mayor of Child Watch. He knows the names of the other regulars, he knows the names of the staff members, he knows which toy belong to which child. When we walk into the building, staff will greet him by name and he usually knows who they are as well. It cracks me up.

My four-year-old attends pre-school at the Y three days a week and he loves it. His teachers are wonderful; he gets so excited to see them each school day. They are so patient and have an endless supply of energy and creativity. This week he happens to be the VIP - the line leader in the hall, first to do activities, and the teachers will read to the class a book all about him that we filled out. The classes have a swim lesson one day a week, plus play time in the gym and in the Adventure Center so there's plenty of activity in addition to learning.

On nice days, we stay at the Y after school to play outside. It's like a social event for the kids and the parents. There is a playground in the back, but most of the time my boys want to play on the little slide, balance beams, and hop-scotch stones out front because that's where the most children are playing. Or we'll head to the side of the building where there are two trees that are perfect for climbing, and that also attract a crowd of kids. I pretty much have to bribe them to get them to leave, or wait until their little tummies are grumbling for lunch.

When it's rainy, snowy, or too hot to play outside, we head to the Adventure Center at the Y. It's basically a padded room where the kids can literally bounce off the walls. There are over-sized blocks to make towers and forts, there are slides, and even a tunnel. We go there to "get the sillies out" before dinner time.

During the summer, we utilize the outdoor pool and spray ground at Camp Arrowhead. They're open in the late afternoon during the week and a fellow ROCmomma had a great idea - she brings her two kids on Friday afternoons, and her husband picks up a pizza after work and meets them there to eat dinner and play.

Yes, it's a terrible photo but I couldn't bring myself to publicly post my husband or me in a swim suit. Above is the spray ground; the rainbow in the background has water showering down from each arc, and my husband is carrying our son through a spray coming up from the ground. There are all kinds of structures that get you soaked, but zero depth so you don't have to worry about little ones in a pool. Personally, I prefer spray grounds to pools any day of the summer.

What's In It For the Family?

The programming at the Y rocks. There are Family Fun Fridays with pizza for $1 per slice, free healthy snacks, crafts to make, family swim time in the pool, the Adventure Center is open, and a different activity in the gym every week. This month the activities have been rollerskating, fast fitness stations, family Zumba, and there's still movie night and an Easter egg hunt to come.

In December there is a candy cane hunt and in the Spring there is an Easter egg hunt at Camp Arrowhead. Both start with a pancake breakfast, followed by some crafts and indoor activities (December) or outdoor activities such as a bounce house (Spring). Then there is the hunt in the woods. We've been to both and had so much fun! Below is last year's candy cane hunt, followed by the Easter egg hunt (even my brother and his girlfriend joined the festivities). We'll be heading out for some pancakes and Easter eggs again on March 31st at Camp Arrowhead.

So if you live in the Rochester area, you have kids, and you want a little more sanity, my number one tip is: join the Y.

Thanks for reading! Please utilize the comments section - what do you like best about the Y? What's your #1 tip for staying sane? What do you do to be a fit & healthy ROCmomma or ROCpoppa?...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Getting Our Irish On!

No, I'm not Irish...but I'm a sucker for holidays. I love making decorations with my kids. I love cooking and baking. I even love dressing up. Especially when there is a theme. For the past few weeks, my boys and I have been decorating shamrocks and hanging them around the house. We've been amassing St. Patrick's Day gear to wear to the parade tomorrow. And I've been saving up some calories for Irish Soda Bread. Mmmmmm...it's baking right now.

Are you looking for some last-minute crafts for your kiddos? How about a scavenger hunt around the house for a rainbow of colors left behind by your friendly neighborhood leprechaun - a red button, an orange sticker, a yellow feather, etc. Then, use the rainbow items along with a glue stick to decorate shamrocks. Green construction paper, foam sheets, even the inside of cereal boxes painted/colored green will do.

As I mentioned, my family is not Irish. But, my mom received this delicious, simple recipe from her Irish friend, Sally Ann. So it's legit. My four-year-old son and I just whipped up a batch this afternoon to bring to a St. Patty's Day party tomorrow.

Sally Ann's Irish Soda Bread

1. Mix together:     4 c. flour (I used whole wheat)
                              1 tsp. baking powder
                              1 tsp. salt
                              5 Tbsp. sugar (I used Sucanat)
                              Cut in 1 stick butter or margarine; set aside

2. In a separate bowl, mix:
                              1 1/3 c. buttermilk*
                              1 tsp. baking soda
                              1 egg + 1 egg yolk (reserve white)
                              1 c. raisins (optional)

3. Combine both bowls; knead dough until all dry ingredients are incorporated

4. Place dough in greased pie plate; brush top with reserved egg white

5. Bake at 350 F for 55 minutes. 

* If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can substitute sour milk. To make 1 1/3 cups of sour milk, pour 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar into a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1 1/3 cups total liquid; stir. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes before using.

Oh, I don't know if this loaf will make it untouched until tomorrow. Will power, where art thou?

If you're looking for something to do in the Rochester area tomorrow, show your green spirit at the St. Patrick's Day Parade! The parade runs along East Avenue (beginning at Alexander Street) and Main Street (ending at Plymouth). The parade starts at 12:30 p.m. and the surrounding roads are blocked at 11:30 a.m. Depending on the weather, our plan is to arrive around 10:30 a.m. with our lawn chairs, blankets, snacks, and things for the kids to do. My boys are two- and four-years-old, so I'm thinking some green Play Doh, a few trucks and trains, coloring books with a few crayons and sticker sheets, and our iPhone apps as a last resort. Of course, we'll be wearing green along with some funky green hats, oversized green bow ties, green beads, St. Patrick's Day buttons, shamrock glow sticks, and a leprechaun headband for me. 

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading my debut post on ROCmomma! 

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