Create Your Own Heart-shaped Crayons for Valentine's Day

February 3, 2014

Heart shaped crayonsCreating these beautiful custom crayons is a project I've wanted to try for a long time, and we finally got a chance to make these this past weekend. The results really exceeded our expectations!

These crayons look amazing and professional and are so easy to make. Plus, if you have kids, you probably have the materials to make them lying around the house already. These make a fun and pretty gift for Valentine's Day, as well as neat party favors. They even look great as decorations around the house.

To make these, the first thing you need to do is round up all the old crayons in your house. If you're like us, this should not be very difficult. Of course you can also go out and buy a box of crayons to make this craft, since they're not that expensive. (Once you make a batch of these, you'll find that you're always careful to bring home the leftover crayons that restaurants give you with the kids' menu.)

Chef Daddy Cooks Food Your Kids Will Eat: Beef Bourguignon

February 3, 2014

Beef BourguignonNow that it seems that it finally wants rain once and a while this winter, it's time to make some stick-to-your-ribs comfort food classics. One of my family's favorites is beef bourguignon.

This timeless dish of beef braised with red wine and vegetables is easy to make and I have yet to find anyone who doesn't love it. It's one of my dinner party staples, since you can throw it all together in the early afternoon and just let it go on the stove so you can socialize instead of slave away in the kitchen.

One of the other great things about beef bourguignon is that you can make it from an inexpensive cut of meat like chuck, which the long braising time renders tender and delicious. I like to buy locally raised grass-fed beef from Marin County producers like Stemple Creek Ranch and Marin Sun Farms when I can, and this is a great way to prepare a quality ingredient without breaking the bank.

Top Tips to Help Kids Get Organized (and Stay That Way)

February 2, 2014

Maggie Heaps LaufferMarin Mommies presents a guest post by Maggie Heaps Lauffer, director and tutor at Sage Educators. Sage Educators is a Marin-based customized tutoring and test-prep center, with offices located in both Mill Valley and Larkspur.

With the new year comes a new opportunity for students to get organized! Here are a few tips to avoid TBS (Tornado Backpack Syndrome) and stay on top of schoolwork in 2014:

  1. Toss the monster Trapper Keepers. For the student who has a hard time staying organized, an oversized binder can quickly become a black hole, swallowing handouts and homework assignments never to be seen again. Instead, use a separate binder of a smaller size (1” to 1.5”) for each class.
  2. Create a “Homework” folder. For some students, remembering to turn in homework is harder than completing it. Help them by making a folder that keeps daily homework away from everything else. Use a simple, brightly colored file folder and label it “Homework.” It will hold homework assignments that need to be completed as well as those that need to be turned in. All homework worksheets go into the folder during the school day; at the end of each night’s homework session, all completed assignments go back into the folder to be handed in. Place the homework folder at the front of the backpack so that the student can easily find and take it out during every class throughout the day.

Groundhog Day Results: Winter is Still Here for a While

February 2, 2014

Ground HogThis just in: Famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, meaning that we're in for six more weeks of winter. I think that we possibly used up spring back in January with all our wonderful (if sadly rainless) weather. Maybe he knows we need the rain out here on the West Coast.

Alternate and less noteworthy groundhog General Beauregard Lee has disagreed, however, predicting that we're in for an early spring. Let's hope that this means lots of spring showers.

Groundhog Day has always been America's most underappreciated holiday, but not in our house! Our kids saw it on the calendar and have been eagerly anticipating the great day for weeks. We're extra lucky this year in that Groundhog Day coincides with that other unofficial American holiday—the Super Bowl.

Paper Lantern Craft for Chinese New Year

February 1, 2014

Paper lanternsChinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, started on January 31. We always decorate the house with some Chinese New Year crafts, like these cute lanterns. They're easy and fun to make, and make great playdate, school, or scout group activities. They'll also be perfect to have on hand while you watch the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade on February 15.

Here's what you'll need to make your paper lanterns:

  • Construction or other heavy colored paper (red is a traditional color for Chinese New Year)
  • Scissors
  • A ruler
  • A pencil
  • Tape
  • A stapler
  • Glue, glitter, stickers, markers, paint, sequins, and other things to decorate your lantern

Make Chocolate Dipped Pretzels for Valentine's Day

January 31, 2014

When Valentine's Day rolls around, I'm always on the lookout for easy and fun treats for my kids to make to accompany their Valentine's cards, and for playdate activities, too. This sweet treat is not only fun for the kids to make, but tastes delicious too. The salty, savory taste of the pretzel goes really well with the rich chocolate, and you can decorate and garnish them any way you like. These chocolate-dipped pretzels look beautiful when wrapped in cellophane bags and tied with a ribbon, and make perfect gifts not only for Valentine's Day, but for any occasion.

This is what you need:

  • 1 bag of pretzel rods
  • 1 12-ounce bag of dark, milk, or white chocolate chips
  • Toppings like pink, red, and white Valentine's Day candy sprinkles, crushed nuts, and coconut flakes
  • A microwave safe bowl

Wonton Party for Chinese New Year

January 31, 2014

Fried wontonsToday marks the beginning of the celebrations for Chinese New Year: the Year of the Horse. It's a tradition in our house to make wontons, as dumplings are traditionally associated with the holiday. Wontons are easy to make, tasty, kid-friendly, and you can get everything you need at your local grocery store. Furthermore, they're something children can help make with minimal effort, and they even have a lot of fun folding the things.

So, pick up a pack of pre-made wonton wrappers and other ingredients and get ready to start your Chinese New Year wonton party! Our recipe is for chicken wontons, although you can use pork, shrimp, or other fillings, depending on what you like or happen to have on hand. Wontons can be prepared in a number of different ways, including steaming, boiling, frying, and can even be served in soup (our favorite).


The wontons

  • 1-1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into pieces
  • 1 package square wonton wrappers

Marin Weekend Family Fun for February 1 & 2

January 30, 2014
Kite flying

Here are our picks for great events and activities for children and families this weekend. Find more events for the whole week in Marin and beyond in our Family Events Calendar.

Saturday, February 1

  • Museums on Us
    Saturday & Sunday
    Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card holders get free general admission on the first full weekend of every month. Present your card and a photo ID for admission (one free general admission per cardholder). Get full details here. Participating museums include the de Young Museum, the Legion of Honor, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
  • Whale Watching at Point Reyes Lighthouse
    Point Reyes National Seashore
    Weekends, 9 am–3:30 pm

    Go see the whales out at the Point Reyes Light House and Chimney Rock. Shuttle buses leave Drakes Beach every 15–20 minutes. The cost is $5 per person. Children under 16 are free. No cars allowed at Point Reyes Light House during the weekends. For more info, visit their website.
  • Yoga in the Park
    McNears Beach Park, San Rafael
    Saturday, 10 am–2 pm
    This is a Healthy Parks, Healthy People event. Start with a two-hour service project that will spruce up McNear’s Beach Park, then switch gears and enjoy a 45 minute yoga class on a flat grassy area beside the bay. The class will be led by professional yoga teacher Daniel Rauck and will be suitable for all ages and ability levels. Lunch will be served at 1:15 pm. Park staff will provide a limited number of extra yoga mats. Questions or to RSVP: contact Volunteer Coordinator Kirk Schroeder at (415) 473-2823 or For more information, visit their website.
  • KNBR Giants Fan Fest
    AT&T Park, San Francisco
    Saturday, 10 am–3 pm

    Come to the 2014 Giants Fan Fest for pre-season baseball fun! Walk the field or play catch, view Giants memorabilia and World Series trophies, watch highlights from past seasons, and get hands-on in the Kids Zone. Of course you'll also have a chance to meet and get free autographs from players including Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence, and others. This event is free, although lines to meet players can be long, so get there early. For more information, visit their website.
  • The Scoop on Poop!
    San Francisco Zoo
    Saturday–Sunday, 10 am–4 pm

    Come take this fun, scientific look at a fascinating topic we all have in common. The Scoop on Poop! is the zoo's latest special exhibition on view in the Pachyderm Building. Based on a popular children’s book by the same name by Dr. Wayne Lynch, The Scoop on Poop! leads visitors on an investigation of what poop is and how animals and humans use it. Location: 1 Zoo Road In the Pachyderm Building, San Francisco. General admission applies. For more info, call (415) 753-7080 or visit their website.
  • Kids Love to Cook! Hands On Cooking Demonstration
    Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Saturday, 10:30–11:30 am

    DirectionFive is back at the Marin Country Mart Farmers' Market on Saturday. Kids and parents will enjoy a cooking demonstration and tasting with hands-on participation (appropriate for children of all ages). The demonstrations and tastings will take place under the big farmers’ market tent. There will be two 30-minute teaching sessions, the first from 10:30–11 am and the second session will be from 11–11:30 am. Location: 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Children’s Theatre Association of San Francisco: Cinderella
    Palace of Fine Arts Theater, San Francisco
    Saturday, 10:30 am & 1 pm

    The Children's Theatre Association of San Francisco presents the musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale. Suitable for the entire family. Tickets: $12. For more info, call (415) 248-2677 or visit their website.
  • World on Stage: Kariktan Dance Company
    Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
    Saturday, 11 am

    Kariktan is a Tagalog word that means beauty, brilliance, and splendor. The Kariktan Dance Company shares the rich culture and diverse heritage of the Philippines through music, dance and song from its northern, central and southern regions. Cost: members $7; general $18 (includes museum admission). Location: 557 McReynolds Rd Fort Baker, Sausalito. For more info, visit their website.
  • Chinese Lion Dancers
    San Anselmo Library
    Saturday, 11 am–noon

    Welcome the Lunar New Year with the famous Lion Dancers of the Marin Chinese Cultural Association. Chinese Lion Dance is an important part of the rich cultural heritage of the Chinese people all over the world. The Lion Dance is thought to cleanse darkness and bring good luck, prosperity, and happiness. Free. Location: 110 Tunstead Avenue, in the Council Chambers, San Anselmo. For more info, visit their website.
  • Chinese New Year at Olompali
    Olompali State Historic Park, Novato
    Saturday, 11 am–2 pm

    Celebrate the Year of the Horse at Olompali State Historic Park! Learn about Sam Yaw and other Chinese who lived at Olompali over a century ago. An interpretive walk at 1 pm with Olompali People docent Diane Einstein will highlight structures built by the men of Gold Mountain. Children’s craft activities, a tangram puzzle contest, and traditional foods will be offered all day. Free; parking fee $8. For more info, see attached flyer or visit their website.

Classes for New & Expectant Parents at Marin General Hospital

January 29, 2014

Both my children were born at Marin General Hospital. Overall, it was a great experience—their staff is awesome and they’re a great resource for new parents. Not only were we well taken care of, but we were also able to take advantage of the wide variety of classes offered by MGH to help smooth things along for new and expectant parents. These classes are offered to the public.

Some of the classes available at Marin General include prenatal and postnatal instruction classes for expectant parents, infant care, CPR, breastfeeding help, a father class, a free mom’s support group, and help for siblings adjusting to a new brother or sister.

They also offer a childbirth and infant-care “value package” for $200 per couple. This seven-class series covers pretty much everything you need to know about bringing home a new baby, and includes topics like breastfeeding, post partum expectations and realities, care of your newborn, and home and car safety. Classes are two hours each, and the first three classes can be taken as a single one-day childbirth class. Programs take place in MGH’s convenient location at 250 Bon Air Road in Greenbrae.

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