Construction party!

I tossed around a few ideas for Alex’s 3rd birthday party but ended up choosing a construction theme. We have a small army of vehicles in the house already, so it made sense. 

I was originally going to have a local bakery make a cake for us – the last time I made a cake from scratch, it was nearly rock-hard and tasted about as good as a rock-hard cake can taste. That was at least six years ago, so clearly I had some baking scars from the experience. I found a few cakes I liked on Pinterest, and most people seemed to be able to assemble them DIY-style, so I decided it was time to face my fears. I went with a recipe that used a box mix as the base, which seemed more fool-proof. It was a little more dense that I might have liked, but you could put a fork through it, so I’m going to count this one as a success. People seemed to like the chocolate buttercream frosting, but I think I’d try a different recipe next time. I wish I went with my gut and used the one with Crisco. For some reason Crisco is synonymous with delicious frosting. 

I kept things pretty simple by just using a rectangular pan. (I’m not ready for layers yet.) We used little constuction vehicles I bought at Target awhile back, and I added a “dirt” path of sprinkles and took a scoop out of the corner of the cake to enhance the work-site effect. This was also a handy way to make sure the cake didn’t taste gross.

Chocolate Digger Cake

I wanted to create a play construction site, so I cleaned out our water table and got some little rocks from the floral section at Michaels, plus a bag of play sand. I knew the sand would be risky business, but I figured we’d only be using a small amount. I put down a shower curtain to collect whatever might end up on the ground. 

Construction sand table

I think it went well overall, but my shower curtain idea was something of a funny joke since we had sand all over the house. If you try this, make sure you have a decent vacuum. And perhaps not surprisingly, my texture-loving 13-month-old not only managed to get a mouthful of sand, but also found at least two tiny rocks around the house and popped them in his mouth. I think I’d get the bigger rocks next time around.

 For additional construction-fun, I put our road play mat upstairs in the nursery (in the event any small people in attendance got partied-out and needed a break), plus I picked up a rock-making Play Dough set (affiliate link).

Play mat and Play Dough

I got party cups, napkins and a garland from my favorite party supply company, Meri Meri. Naturally, we went with pieces from their Big Rig collection. I also highly recommend their alphabet buntings. We did one last year with Alex’s name and it was adorable! It’s great to hang up in the bedroom after the party. 

Possibly my favorite party detail was Alex’s “Wild & Three” t-shirt, which I found on Pinterest and tracked back to Etsy seller Purple Possum. It’s available in a bunch of colors so it’s perfect for wild children of any gender. 

Wild & Three shirt

 

Toddler-Friendly Dipped Marshmallows

Growing up we had lots of sweets available to us around the holidays – rugelach, spritz cookies and an assortment of powdered-sugar coated confections. Many thanks to my mom and aunts, all accomplished bakers, for these delicious memories. I wanted to share this sweet experience with Alex and have him help with the preparation, but at (almost) 3-years-old, it has to be pretty simple. I thought about having him decorate sugar cookies, but I’m lazy and don’t like frosting things. So, I did what I usually do and wasted an evening on Pinterest looking for ideas. I found precisely what I was looking for: dipped marshmallows.

Dipped Marshmallows

Here’s my toddler-adjusted version. We bought a bag of Jet-Puffed marshmallows and a container 0f Baker’s dipping chocolate (you can also make your own dipping chocolate by melting 16 ozs. of milk chocolate chips with 2 tbsp. of shortening. But then you’d have more dishes to wash). I bought lollipop sticks from the craft store, and Alex stopped sprinting around Jo-Ann Fabrics long enough to select bright pink sugar crystals and daisy candy sprinkles. I love that he supports having pink in our boy-centric house. I also got some mini chocolate chips.

Dipped Marshmallow Ingredients

I used ramekins to pour our various dipping options into, then prepped some marshmallows by putting them on the lollipop stick. I put everything on a sheet of parchment paper so we would have a non-stick place for the chocolate to dry. Heating the chocolate took about two minutes total, and I was pleased to note that the container was not too hot to handle (the contents, however, are quite warm, so I wouldn’t try this unless your kid is hip to the concept of hot things).

Parchment paper is the best!

Alex was a fan of the marshmallow on a stick concept, and started eating them immediately.

Alex vs. the marshmallow

Once he got that out of his system, he seemed to enjoy the dipping concept. Ed and Charlie came over to watch, and Ed dipped a few himself at Alex’s request, so consider this an excellent family activity (bonus!). Next time I think I would wait a few minutes for the chocolate to cool a bit — we had lots of chocolate goop co-mingling with the sprinkles and I think the chocolate just needed to firm up a bit. We managed to dip about 10 marshmallows before Alex moved on to other things, so it was not super successful in terms of focus, but I still think he liked it. 

While setup took about as long as the execution, this was easy-peasy clean-up since everything stayed on the parchment paper. Our hardest-working family member (the Roomba) took care of the spilled mini M&Ms under the table. At least the ones that weren’t stuck to Charlie’s pants or in his mouth. There are benefits to being small and floor-bound.

Charlie continues to approve of his experience with solid foods to date.

Charlie continues to approve of his experience with solid foods to date.

 

Truck Wash Time!

I spend a lot of time perusing the internet for activities to keep Alex busy. Generally, somewhere in the description, the blogger will go on about how her kids played with their homemade marble ramp or gluten-free slime for hours or all afternoon. I call foul. I promote honesty in my blogging, so I promise to report truthful times in which my kid was distracted from emptying the toy box or watching another episode of Fireman Sam.

This activity is super easy to set up, and is one of Alex’s favorites. It’s one of my favorites because he’s pretty happy to entertain himself with it. I present you with the illustrious truck wash!

Easy peasy truck wash

All you need are trucks – preferably ones without electronic components, of course – a bowl of soapy water (I use Dawn dish soap but bath bubbles work, too) and one bowl of clean water for rinsing. I set this up on our deck and let Alex go to town. I can usually count on a good 15 minutes of Alex washing his trucks, which is like a goldmine of free time for me. It’s a good opportunity to get the house back to livable conditions without someone asking for a snack every 30 seconds.

Alex is nothing if not thorough in his truck rinsing.

Alex is nothing if not thorough in his truck rinsing.

This could also work well indoors. We are fans of bringing in the water table during the winter months – adding bubbles and trucks to the water table mix would be even more fun. Something absorbent to put under the water table is highly recommended, unless you think your homeowner’s insurance would cover water damage by a toddler.

In the event you don’t already have a million and one cars and trucks in your toy collection, this set gets the most use at our house. Each of the trucks have some type of moving part, which adds to the truck appeal.

We interrupt this truck wash for a phone call from daddy.

We interrupt this truck wash for a phone call from daddy.

DIY Bath Paint: Vat style

DIY Bath Paint - Bulk Recipe!

Alex has always enjoyed painting, so when I saw bath paint at Target, it practically leapt into my cart (a frequent occurrence at Target). The kit came complete with a fish sponge and a little hand-shaped palette. I doled out the paint portions and Alex went to town. Well, sort of. The paint was rather gel-like, so it was translucent in appearance. And within about two minutes, Alex got some in his eye and was in tears. While increasing his misery by rubbing his eyes with a wet wash-cloth, I wondered how on earth any company could make bath paint for children that would cause eye irritation. Haven’t they heard of tearless formulas?

We also had less-than-stellar experiences with bath crayon quality, so I threw up my hands and did what any desperate mother would do: I turned to Pinterest. In no time at all I had a decent-sounding recipe for bath paint. Just body wash, corn starch, water and food coloring. Easy peasy. And quite a bit cheaper than the bath paint kit I purchased. I mixed up paint for Alex several times over the course of a few weeks, but it was kind of time consuming to do in small batches, so I decided to modify the recipe for bulk proportions. This recipe will yield 7 cups of bath-time fun. If you have covered containers, it should keep for a few weeks.

Bath Paint Ingredients

I used a 24 oz. container of Dove sensitive skin body wash for my eczema-prone children, though the original recipe said any body wash would do. I think you will have better results with a creamy formula (to avoid the aforementioned gel-based translucence). Squeeze out the entire bottle into a bowl, and add the contents of a 16 oz. canister of corn starch. Add 1 cup of water.

Start stirring. You may see some alarming-looking froth, but persevere with your mixing. Before long, you will have a bowl of fluffy goodness.

Ed said if he didn’t know what I was doing, he would have thought it was frosting. I tell you this so that you can make the decision to tell your loved ones what you’re making, or just leave it a mystery. The latter option could be useful if you have a dough-eating sneak in the family.

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The consistency should be on the goopy side. If you’d prefer a more thinned out version, you can add more water. I found that Alex adds extra water on his own, so I prefer a thicker paint.

I highly recommend using paint cups to store your homemade paint. We got ours from Discount School Supply. Most school supply stores have them. (If you’re in the market for paint brushes, we like the Melissa & Doug version. The bristles keep their shape, even with all the toddler abuse.)

Spoon about one cup of the mixture into a paint cup, then food coloring. I used Wilton paste food coloring. These produce vibrant colors, but are kind of a pain to get out of the container (try a toothpick). McCormick food coloring is handy because you can more easily control the color mixing since you’re dealing with drops, but the colors are lighter. Just use whatever food coloring floats your boat.

Paint cup and food coloring

Use a spoon or mini spatula to mix in the color. Once evenly distributed, put on the lid, and move on to the next paint cup.

In the end, I had 6 cups of paint. If you don’t have a total failure attempt at making purple, you will have 7 cups of paint. Certainly enough to keep your tiny-Monet happy for a while.These wash off both your kid and the tub surround easily, and nobody’s skin was inadvertently dyed (bonus!). Alex requests these for just about every bath, and Charlie handles being a human canvas quite well.

Little brother problems.

Little brother problems.