Some Sensory Fun

I’m so grateful for the bountiful rain we’ve been getting here in drought stricken California. What a difference a couple months of normal rainfall make. The sound of water rushing through our seasonal creek is absolute music to my ears! When we have little ones spend a day at our home during these cold, wet months we still have plenty of outside time, wearing rain boots and coats. There are puddles to be splashed in and the creek to wade through, lots of running and exploring still to do, but of course, we spend much more time indoors than out. Here are some simple recipes to make for some indoor sensory fun with children.

My play dough recipe is the same one I used when my own boys were young and the one I made when I taught young children. There are many great recipes for play dough, but I prefer this one, perhaps for sentimental reasons.

Play dough

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

1 cup water

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/3 cup salt

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

food coloring

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Directions: Measure all ingredients and place in a saucepan on medium heat. I use a wooden spoon that I’ve designated just for play dough (It will get stained from the food color) and stir the ingredients together until a ball forms.IMG_7623This is the play dough straight out of the pan  and cooling on parchment paper. Once cool enough to handle, begin kneading.IMG_7624 I added 4 – 5 drops of essential oil and kneaded it a minute or two longer once the dough was cool to touch.IMG_7625And here it is, so pliable and smooth, silky and soft. Just perfect for little hands.IMG_7626On this occasion I placed it in a Rubbermaid tub, along with pinecones, seed pods, sticks and other bits of nature and just let the magic happen.IMG_7696

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Cloud Dough

Ingredients:

Four measures of all purpose flour to one measure of oil. Baby oil adds a lovely scent, but vegetable oil works well if your little one might be tempted to taste. Grate in chalk if you’d like to add color.IMG_7299No cooking and so easy, just mix the ingredients together. Add a drop or two of essential oil if desired (I used lavender). The texture is like pastry.IMG_7301IMG_7303Playing with the dough with our hands felt quite therapeutic as we squished and crumbled and raked it with our fingers. Add child sized rolling pins, small kitchen utensils, cookie cutters or small toys. And as soon as you can, get back outside again!

Store each of these doughs in ziplock bags and each will keep for a few weeks.

Out for a Stroll

I’m not sure how it came to be that my husband and I won the grandparent jackpot, but we did! Yes indeed, it’s true! These two little loves definitely have our hearts. Fortunately, they live only a half hour away from us and we have ample opportunities to spend time with them. We’ve found grandparenthood to be one of the greatest blessings in life. Knowing how fleeting these precious early childhood years are, we want to take full advantage of this time with them and build strong connections, so that, soon enough, when they’re in school and participating in other activities, they might still want to spend time with us now and then.

On this day we gathered up our darlings and loaded their Radio Flyer bikes/strollers into the car for an outing to the lake and nature preserve at El Dorado Hills Town Center. Easy to walk, it’s about a half mile loop along wide sidewalks with scenic views.

Here we go. See their little strollers…er… excuse me, bikes? The children actually pedal along while we steer from the handle in the back. Don’t call it a stroller in front of Evan. “No Grandma Sara, it’s a bike!”IMG_7526Here’s one of the beautiful fountains in the lake, and visible in the background are some of the shops and great restaurants.IMG_7520We pull over to do a little bird watching at this spot.
IMG_7533A couple of noisy Canadian geese entertain us with their swimming and diving antics.IMG_7534Here’s Heidi, happy as can be, and taking in all the sights as we stroll along.IMG_7507Picturesque views are all around us. You’ll find plenty of comfortable park benches surrounding the loop and many outdoor tables and chairs for dining al fresco. Most of these sat empty while dog walkers, joggers, walkers and others with strollers were plentiful on this warm afternoon in between storms.IMG_7502IMG_7519IMG_7518We manage two laps around the loop, stopping to investigate and discover here and there, and then it’s time for snacks and hot chocolate at a nearby cafe. What fun! Yep, this grandparent gig…we’re all in!

Starbucks Lemon Loaf

IMG_7589I get wonderful gifts of citrus fruit from my dad almost every time I see him this time of year. He’s got orange, grapefruit, lemon and tangelo trees in his yard. The harvest this year is quite abundant, and he’s always generous. We share with family members, and use the fruits for cooking, baking, and snacking. I’d like to share a recipe for a tasty lemon loaf with you. I don’t know if this truly is the recipe Starbucks uses, but it’s what the recipe is called, and it’s awfully good!

Starbucks Lemon Loaf

Loaf Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1/3 cup lemon juice

zest from one lemon

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used coconut oil with great results)

Icing Ingredients:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons whole milk or cream

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Directions:

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl and set aside.IMG_7590Use mixer to blend eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, lemon extract, and lemon juice.IMG_7592Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix. Add oil and mix well. Pour batter into well greased 9×5 loaf pan.IMG_7593Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.IMG_7595Combine icing ingredients and blend. Pour over cooled loaf and let icing set up before slicing.IMG_7597The recipe is from Just a Pinch. Bon Appetite!IMG_7598

Crystal Hermitage Garden

IMG_4085IMG_4146IMG_4134IMG_4127IMG_4135 I’m not one to rush seasons. There’s so much I do love about winter, but spring will be here before we know it, and, if you’re in the area, I don’t want you to miss this display that shouts SPRINGTIME! These photos were taken last April when my husband and I visited this jewel of a garden during their Springtime at Ananda weekends. Ananda Village is a spiritual community and retreat center outside of Nevada City in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. Within the Ananda Village is Crystal Hermitage Gardens, usually a peaceful sanctuary with paths to meander, graceful trees, stunning views, and terraced gardens. During two consecutive weekends in spring, when the gardens reach their peak of glory, Ananda Village hosts an event called Tulip Days. Last year over 6,000 visitors came to behold all of this beauty, hear music, and have a picnic lunch or tea and scones in Crystal Hermitage Gardens. It’s not a large garden, but every inch is planted with approximately 15,000 Dutch tulip bulbs annually. The weekend dates this year will be April 2-3, and April 9-10. Cost is $5. and children 12 and younger are free.

IMG_4119IMG_4101IMG_4094IMG_4138Last year was when we discovered this special place. It was a highlight of springtime for us, and we plan to make it back each year. Might you be there too?

“A garden is evidence of faith. It links us with all the misty figures of the past who also planted and were nourished by the fruits of their planting.” ~ Gladys Taber

Buck’s Creek Trail

Along Silva Valley Parkway in the El Dorado Hill’s Serrano neighborhood is a lovely, scenic trail within a nature preserve. It’s a surprising breath of fresh air in the midst of busy Silva Valley Road and Serrano Parkway. I found the trail to be well maintained with clear paths, markers, and foot bridges. Parking spots were plentiful at the El Dorado Hills library right across the street. My dog, Gemma, and I had the trails mostly to ourselves on this gray January afternoon as we walked along, discovering ponds, small waterfalls, wild life and many birds.IMG_7381IMG_7385IMG_7388IMG_7390IMG_7396The photo below shows the reflection of the tree’s branches in the pond water.
IMG_7398I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the stately, magnificent oaks. I would have loved to climb this one and sit reading a book all afternoon. See all the low swooping branches? Some of them nearly touch the ground. 
IMG_7391IMG_7404IMG_7414Here’s another gorgeous old oak that I admired.IMG_7405As I approached the tree I noticed something special in the bark!IMG_7393Someone’s been making a tree fort in this one.IMG_7412IMG_7420 And yep, here it is…even a heart rock along the trail! What fun!IMG_7411“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~ Aristotle

River Walking

With family members still in town the day after Christmas, we took advantage of a chilly but beautiful day to go birding along the American River trails. Well, we called it birding, but really it was a nature walk and we noticed not only birds, but majestic trees, brilliant blue skies, interesting bark, rocks and so much more. Come along with us.IMG_7082Can you make out the silhouettes of about ten vultures in this tree?
IMG_7079Oh yes, we had a few heart rock finds!IMG_7073IMG_7070IMG_7074Hard to see, but in the photo below, a white heron is hiding at the base of the tree on the left. You have to take my word for it!IMG_7081A tangle of branches.IMG_7080A nest, safely cradled!IMG_7076Along with many varieties of woodpeckers and water birds, we noticed lots of chickadees, and a deer couple bounding gracefully through the scenery (too quickly for me to capture with my camera).

Another fun find was a natural heart shape in the bark of this treeIMG_7098And speaking of hearts, mine was full with the blessing of a lovely morning out in nature with my dad, my brothers, Jim and Tom, and my dad’s dog, Keeley.IMG_7092“Keep close to nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

~John Muir

Fifteen Minutes

IMG_7219Perhaps it was because we didn’t have the opportunity to go snowshoeing last year because of the drought, or even much the year before, but to celebrate New Year’s Day we had planned to go. Without checking to see just how low the temperatures where we were headed would be, we excitedly dusted off and packed up our snowshoeing gear, layered ourselves up and headed to Hope Valley for a day in the snow. Well, we knew it would be cold. We just didn’t know how cold.IMG_7215As we approached Tahoe, the temperature gage in the car was reading fifteen degrees. We acknowledged the temperature dropping to each other as we were driving on Luther Pass to Hope Valley in Alpine county. Thirteen degrees. Twelve degrees. “Um… are we gonna be alright?” Now nine degrees. Pulling in the parking lot, eight degrees. Uh huh…eight. We sat in the car watching ice crystals whipping around, blown by the wind. “What are we doing?” “Are we out of our minds?” “We’re here. Let’s try it, even for a short time.” Out of the car, we put on our boots, hooked on our snowshoes, added more layering, and grabbed our poles. Hands were already numb. “Okay, we’re doing this, but only for fifteen minutes!”IMG_7184IMG_7185IMG_7190IMG_7216Our faces were stung by the freezing winds, noses were running from the cold, my hands were numb (I was the one taking pictures), but it was exhilarating and worth the drive! We’ll be back when it’s not quite as cold!

On to the cafe at Sorensen’s Resort, we warmed ourselves with hot drinks and vegetable beef soup, and then braved the cold once again just to trudge through the grounds ever so quickly, before getting back to the car and blasting the heater to head home.IMG_7212IMG_7220IMG_7217IMG_7238So much winter beauty to behold!