Pumpkin Pie Playdough

Lizzie Homemaker easy homemade pumpkin pie playdough made with pumpkin pie spice
We’ve been celebrating the season with this festive pumpkin pie playdough.

The kids went nuts when they saw this little playdough pumpkin pie.  I set it out for them when they got home from school.  They immediately dove into the activity using their social skills and math skills to negotiate how to divide up the pie.  They cut, counted and distributed the pieces then they smooshed it up to create new things.  Playdough is a great toy – and even when it’s presented as something specific (like a pie in this case) – it still ends up in open-ended play.

Pumpkin Pie Playdough Recipe

The warm scent of pumpkin pie spice is so cozy and relaxing. Perfect for chilly fall days.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp of pumpkin spice
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • add orange food colouring for pumpkin pie filling, leave it out for the crust colour

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for about 3-5 minutes.  The dough will start to pull away from the sides of the pan and should no longer be sticky to the touch.  (If it’s still sticky cook a little longer until it’s not.)
  3. Remove the dough from the pot.  Allow to cool slightly and knead.
  4. Form into a pie or play with as is.

Store dough in an air-tight container.

 

Best Homemade Playdough Recipe

I make playdough all the time.  And I strongly prefer cooked playdough.  It has a nice texture and keeps well so it can be enjoyed for months.

My kids love it and I love knowing that it supports their learning and development.

Playdough is an open-ended toy that promotes creative and imaginative play as well as a child’s social and emotional development.   It helps improve hand-eye coordination and strengthens those fine motor skills used in hand-writing.

It’s more than just a fun activity that keeps them busy (but I like that about it, too).

lizzie homemaker hydrangea inspired playdough
This hydrangea inspired playdough was a big hit with the littles. To create a relaxing floral scent I added a couple drops of geranium rose essential oil to the dough.

Best Homemade Playdough Recipe

Making playdough is easier than you think and the possibilities are endless. Switch up the colours and add scents to match the seasons or complement current interests.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • food colouring

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for about 3-5 minutes.  The dough will start to pull away from the sides of the pan and should no longer be sticky to the touch.  (If it’s still sticky cook a little longer until it’s not.)
  3. Remove the dough from the pot.  Allow to cool slightly and knead.

Store dough in an air-tight container.

I like icing gel colours.  They are vivid and come in a greater variety of colours than liquid food colouring.

Essential oils and glitter can be kneaded into the dough at the end to add scent and sparkle.

Raising Mason Bees

Lizzie Homemaker mason bee cocoons
The kids examine our mason bee cocoons before we put them out to hatch.

Our family is keeping mason bees this year and we’re all very excited.

We decided to raise mason bees for a few reasons.

First off, it’s easy.  Unlike the social honey bee, mason bees are solitary bees so they don’t live in a hive that you’d have to manage – they require almost no effort.

Secondly, it’s a great hands-on educational project for the kids.  In case you’re wondering, I’m not worried about the kids getting stung.  Mason bees are extremely gentle creatures – they have no colony or queen to protect and male bees don’t even have stingers.

Lastly, pollinators are on the decline and we need to help them flourish so that we can flourish!  Since our visit last fall to the Museum of Science in Buffalo, NY, my daughter has regularly reminded me that nature doesn’t need us, we need nature: this is our little way of giving nature a helping hand.

Keeping mason bees is simple.   It requires three things:  a home for the bees, a garden for the bees, and, of course, bees.

#1 – A Home for the Bees

You can buy mason bee homes online or you can make one.  Place the house at eye level on a south or south-east facing wall that will receive morning sunlight and not blazing afternoon heat. Make sure the house is at eye level so you can watch the action unfold!

# 2 – A Garden for the Bees

Mason bees need a garden with spring flowering plants because they are only active for about 6 weeks in the spring.  They’ll need a steady supply of nectar and pollen during this time and some mud and/or exposed dirt for their nests.  By June they’re done foraging and the larvae are sealed off to become cocoons for next spring. Pesticide use is strongly discouraged since its primary purpose is to kill pests.

# 3 – Mason Bees

If you keep a garden you may already have mason bees but if you don’t, or if you want to watch these amazing insects from the cocoon stage onwards, you can simply purchase them online.  Google where to buy mason bees.

I ordered cocoons and they came in the mail.  I’ve been storing them the fridge, patiently waiting for the good spring weather to come – and now it’s time to put them out to hatch!

Place the bees outside in or near their house when temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius/50 Fahrenheit.  You should have spring flowers blooming in the garden.  You can stagger the release of the bees and put them out in a couple batches but be sure to put out a mix of males and females.  You can identify gender by the size of cocoons as the males are smaller than the females.

Watch the video above to learn more and enjoy!  It’s really that easy.

Rainy Day Things-To-Do

Lizzie Homemaker kids finger painting with chocolate pudding on a rainy day
Finger painting with chocolate pudding is something the kids adore doing and it requires little effort.  I keep a stash of pudding cups in the pantry specifically for this rainy day activity.

This spring embrace rainy days at home by creating a fun things-to-do list for the kids.

Last week it was pouring rain and my kids couldn’t have been any happier.  We’ve found the best rainy days are slow ones where we enjoy spending time together with options but no specific plans.  We go with the flow and it’s lovely.

Our strategy is to create a list of fun activities.  We brainstorm ideas on the chalkboard in our dining room and leave the list up during those rainy weeks in the early spring, checking off activities as we go.  You could just as easily write a list on a piece of paper and post it anywhere in your house, allowing the littles to enjoy a self-guided tour through the day. They may ask for help to set up activities but will spend long stretches playing freely.

25 Things To Do on a Rainy Day:

  1. Finger painting with chocolate pudding
  2. Take a bubble bath
  3. Bake something
  4. Have a tea party or indoor picnic
  5. Play dress up
  6. Take a family portrait
  7. Paint/draw portraits of each other
  8. Go outside and splash in puddles
  9. Dig for worms
  10. Build a fort
  11. Make playdough
  12. Build a bee house
  13. Snuggle up and read books together
  14. Write a letter to someone
  15. Make popcorn
  16. Watch a movie
  17. Ice and water play
  18. Look at family photos
  19. Play freeze dance
  20. Have an indoor scavenger hunt
  21. Play hide-and-seek
  22. Make paper airplanes
  23. Make jewelry
  24. Build an obstacle course
  25. Make a fruit salad

Having options but no plans is the best way to spend a rainy day at home with kids.

Playing with Ice

Sticky Ice Cube Magic Trick

kids science experiment playing with salt and ice

My five-year-old loves science experiments and she loves magic so this activity was a huge hit with her.  It can be a little finicky – too much salt or not enough contact can cause the experiment to fail but my science-minded child appreciated that.  She had to find the sweet spot.  We started the experiment with plain little ice cubes then progressed on to using coloured ice that I made in muffin tins.

You will need:

  • two ice cubes
  • salt

Directions

  1.   Sprinkle salt on top of one ice cube.
  2.   Place second ice cube on top and wait about 15 or 20 seconds.
  3.   Lift the top ice cube and see what happens.

The ice cubes should stick together – the surfaces that touch need to make solid contact with each other so put the two flat sides together.

If you put too much salt on the ice then the cubes just continue melting. All you want is for the ice cubes to melt slightly then refreeze in order to stick together.

Creating Ice Sculptures

Ice sculpture made by Lizzie Homemaker's child
The ice sculptures made by the kids were really beautiful. My 5-year-old made this one.

This ice activity was a fun one to continue with after the Sticky Ice Cube Magic Trick. We started with plain little ice cubes then progressed to making ice sculptures using coloured ice that I made in muffin tins and a variety of empty plastic containers.

You will need:

  • a large tray or plastic bin that can contain ice and water
  • various blocks of ice (directions below)
  • salt (I provided table salt and epson salt)

Directions

  1.   Freeze water in empty yogurt containers, muffin tins, ice cube trays and random plastic containers to create ice in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Add food colouring if you wish to have coloured ice.
  2.   Show the kids how to “stick” two pieces of ice together by adding a little salt to one piece of ice and placing another on top.
  3.   Let them play, experiment and be creative.

When the kids were generous with the salt, the ice didn’t stick but it would mold and form complimentary divots allowing for the sculpture building to continue.

I also extended this activity by giving them a couple of containers with water and some turkey basters to suction up the water and squirt it on top of their sculptures.

Salt Dough Ornaments

salt dough ornaments lizzie homemaker
The salt dough ornaments are left to dry after acrylic paint and glitter glue are applied.

We make homemade salt dough ornaments every Christmas.  It’s a lovely tradition that we look forward to every year.

If you have never made them and want to, it is incredibly easy.  Simply mix 2 cups of flour with 1 cup of salt, then mix in 1 cup of warm water. Roll out dough, cut out shapes, poke a hole in the top with a straw, then bake at the lowest temperature that your oven allows until the dough is completely dry. This can take several hours depending on the temperature and the thickness of the dough. Allow the ornaments to completely cool, paint, and add glitter glue if inclined. Lastly, thread a ribbon or string through the hole and tie for hanging.  Done!

ballerina salt dough ornament lizzie homemaker
Lizzie Homemaker’s five-year-old daughter making a ballerina salt dough ornament.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup warm water

Directions

  1. In a bowl, combine flour and salt.
  2. Add water and mix together.
  3. Remove dough from bowl and place on counter, shape into ball, and knead with your hands until thoroughly combined.
  4. With rolling pin, roll out dough.
  5. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes.  Using a straw, poke a hole in the top of the ornament.  Continue to combine dough scraps into a ball and re-roll out until dough is used up.
  6. Place ornaments on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  7. Bake ornaments at 200F or the lowest temperature that your oven allows until the ornaments are completely dry.  This can take about 2-3 hours depending on the temperature of your oven and the thickness of the dough.  Allow to cool completely.
  8. Paint – we use acrylic paints.  Add glitter glue (if desired).  Allow to dry.
  9. Thread a ribbon or string through hole and tie for hanging.

The ornaments puff up at higher temperatures which is why I recommend the lowest temperature possible.  My old oven could be set to 200 F but my new one only goes as low as 250 F.  A dehydrator can also be used and gives very consistent results.

If the dough mixture is a little dry simply add a tbsp of water at a time until it comes together.  If the dough is too sticky simply sprinkle and knead in a tbsp of flour at time until the dough is no longer sticky.

Visiting Rochester and the Suffragette Icon Susan B. Anthony’s grave site

Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Suffrage Movement

Tombstone of suffragette Susan B. Anthony with I voted stickers left during the 2016 US presidential election
Grave site of suffrage icon Susan B. Anthony in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. Many people placed “I Voted” stickers on the tombstone after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

We traveled with our three daughters to Rochester, NY, less than a week after the 2016 U.S. Election. The idea had been that, upon the historic election of the first woman president, the girls would visit Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Mount Hope Cemetery, where people from across the United States had made the pilgrimage to honour her struggle for women’s suffrage. Initially we were disappointed with the outcome of the election because we had imagined that years later our daughters would look back upon this childhood trip as a symbolic moment in a struggle for equality, but we came around to the more important lesson that, had a woman won the election, it would not have meant the struggle was over. Frederick Douglass’ grave in the same cemetery is a stark reminder of that.

The girls were disappointed to have to get out of the car again; we had taken them for a walk in the lovely and accessible Mendon Ponds Park only an hour before, so the idea that we had to go for another walk seemed like unusual punishment. This didn’t set up well for this Little Lesson for the Littles, but we pushed forward. After all, what would Susan B. Anthony have done?

We explained to the girls (ages five and three) that at one time only men could vote. We asked what the girls thought of this. The three year old twins were too busy contemplating the cobblestone road we hiked to hear us, but our eldest responded simply and accurately, “That’s not fair.”

We took this cue to explain Susan B. Anthony’s contribution to the suffrage movement and that, thanks to her among others, men and women are equal under the law, which includes the right to vote. Further research shows that in Rochester in 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting. This underscores the perceived threat she represented to the establishment of the time but my first thought was someone had to provide her with a ballot and a box in order to cast that vote … and it turns out the election inspectors were complicit … and the conspiracy theory begins.

We followed the various groups of people that were travelling to her grave. As we had seen on the news, her grave, a humble stone, was peppered with “I Voted” stickers. We spent a couple of minutes at her grave, took some photos, and headed into Rochester proper for dinner. Over some legit barbecue we carried on the conversation to see what the girls had gained from the experience.

The twins, as expected, were too busy with pulled pork and apple sauce to hear us. Again though, our five year old was sufficiently worldly to consider the impact of what Susan B. Anthony’s work had on our lives today. We asked her what, if anything, she took away from our visit to the cemetery and Anthony’s grave. She replied, simply, “I remember that people who voted came to put stickers on her gravestone.”

When the girls were tucked into their hotel beds that night, we talked about what they actually took away from the visit. We agreed that the brief history lesson we provided was abstract; girls are now equal to boys (although in our home, boys are seriously outnumbered) but what resonated was the contemporary and concrete result: that people who had voted came to see Susan B. Anthony to let her know. We hope to instill in our girls that social justice is not an option; that fighting for what is right – for yourself and others – is an invaluable way to contribute. The fact that our eldest only recalled that people took the time to travel to Mount Hope Cemetery, stickers in hand, to commemorate their right to vote was enough: she saw the impact one person can have on an entire country.

A Strategy for Dealing with Too Much Halloween Candy

Lizzie Homemaker's 5 year old child making a witches brew with hydrangea and bubbly pink water to celebrate Halloween.
Lizzie Homemaker’s daughter making a witches brew.

Parents are often concerned with their children having too much Halloween candy.  The Switch Witch strategy is both a trick and a treat!

My 5-year-old daughter has a friend with Type 1 Diabetes.  He is incredibly sweet and seems to have accepted that he simply can’t have that piece of cake at a birthday party or that popsicle that some parent had kindly brought for the kids at the park.   He is so good-natured and so mature about this but sometimes I can’t help but think he must be disappointed or feel left out.  As much as Halloween is about dressing up in costumes and parading about – for my little ones it seems like the candy tops the list of reasons to celebrate this holiday.

I have always shelled out a mix of play dough and candy on Halloween in an effort to cut back on the candy a little.  I allow my kids to binge and then I reduce and hide the remaining candy in an attempt to make them eat less and/or forget about it.  I am hopeful they are left feeling satisfied with the outcome of the event.  But what if I had a kid with juvenile diabetes and he or she simply couldn’t have any candy?  It would suck.  Or would it?  When I saw the boy’s mother I asked “what are you going to do?”  Her answer “Switch Witch!”

The Switch Witch is brilliant!

My daughter and her friends are so excited about the idea of handing over their candy on Halloween!

The basic concept is that the Switch Witch will switch out or trade a child’s Halloween candy for a toy.  I know this could be negotiated with your child in a boring parental way but by incorporating the Switch Witch idea it keeps the holiday feeling a little more magical.  And for that kid with diabetes – he feels very, very special because it’s not fun for that kid (or any kid) to always have to choose responsibility over fun.  It’s so easy to use this concept and adapt it in whatever way best suits your family.

Tonight my daughter has said she wants to eat some candy tonight (some can mean anything) and then she wants to write a letter to the Switch Witch asking if she can switch her candy for a toy (not sure of what she’ll ask for).  She asked me if that was okay.  I said “YEEESSSSSSSSSSS!”  And then I did a somersault and a back flip (in my head).   It’s all about balance.

Happy Halloween!

 

Easy Plum Crisp

This fuss-free recipe has simple measurements, basic techniques and is extremely forgiving.

A quick and easy homemade plant-based plum crisp on antique plate with crossed stiched cloth napkin. Recipe by Lizzie Homemaker.
An easy and delicious plant-based plum crisp.

I love to bake with my kids and we do it often.  We picked up some lovely blue plums from a local fruit and veg stand and put together an easy plum oatmeal crisp.  I like to keep my recipes really simple when I can.  In this instance it couldn’t be any easier – it’s a great one to make with kids.

I set up shop on my kids’ little table to create a kid-friendly work space.  I sliced the plums down the center while my 3-year-old twins removed the pits.  Then they did a mix of eating the fresh plums and putting them in an oven proof vessel.  With this recipe the quantity of plums can be casual – whatever makes it in.  Then we made the topping.  We used one measuring cup, taking turns to scoop this and that into a mixing bowl, added a spoonful of cinnamon and a generous pinch salt, mixed and then mashed in some coconut oil.  You can use forks, a pastry blender, or your hands to do the mashing.  We placed the crumple mixture on top, popped it into the oven and celebrated 45 minutes later.  They loved this dessert.  It was an easy and relaxed one to make with them and they were so very proud of their accomplishment.

A toddler's hand patting down pitted blue plums in a white baking dish. Background is a floral tablecloth. Recipe from lizziehomemaker.com.
Making a plum crisp with my 3-year-old daughters was so easy and they absolutely loved it.

I am always trying to make my recipes healthier than the classics I grew up on.  This dessert is whole grain and coconut oil has replaced the butter.

RECIPE

Easy Plum Crisp

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs of plums (more or less will work fine)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Slice plums in half, remove pits.
  3. Place plums in ovenproof dish.
  4. Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add the coconut oil to the dry mixture and use a pastry blender, fork or your hands (my preference), and simply mash the coconut oil into pea sized chunks.  This recipe is forgiving so don’t stress about getting it perfect.
  5. Top the plums with the crumble mixture.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes.

Health Canada recommends that at least half of your daily grains are whole grains.

Whole grains are a good source of fibre and are usually low in fat.  Fibre rich foods leave you feeling fuller and may also help reduce the risk of heart disease.