Top 10 Things About Strawberries

top ten tuesday Top 10 Things About StrawberriesStrawberries are almost here! I know this, because I obsessively check the farm’s website starting around Easter, and the latest harvest estimate is June 12. Since I have strawberries on the brain, let me share some information you’ll be glad you don’t have to live another day without.

  1. Earlier is better.  The first crop is the sweetest. I don’t know why, that’s what the lady at the Strawberry Farm told me. Perhaps it is a marketing technique, (“buy early! buy often!”) but I am not messing with it.
  2. I really want to try this recipe for Fresh Strawberry Limeade Slush from Amy’s Finer Things.  It looks like something you’d find on a cruise ship.
  3. There are over 200 seeds on every strawberry.
  4. Apparently, they are not a berry after all.  They are a fruit.
  5. This is an absolutely amazing resource about where to find a strawberry (or any berry. or fruit. or whatever) farm near you.
  6. I know Megan in real life, and sincerely hope she finds an occasion to make this Strawberry Cake where I will be in attendance.
  7. You can dip strawberries in all kinds of things; not just chocolate. For the record, I am not against dipping them in chocolate. Not at all.
  8. I try to have the best of both worlds with this picking-from-the-field stuff.  I let my kids pick a few quarts, but order up a couple of flats already picked too.  I would grow old and die right there in the field before my kids got enough berries for me.
  9. I still have a few quarts of strawberries in the freezer from last year. Oops. I just didn’t want to run out. Way to live on the edge.
  10. I also make jam, and can it. It’s crazy good. Four cups of sugar will do that to anything, though.

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You have a baby! In a BASKET!

This has nothing to do with Moses, although I can understand why you would thing that from the title. No, it’s about making your kids wear bike helmets. You have to do it. You have to. Every time. Even short rides can pose danger, but mostly it’s just easier to make them get used to it so there is no struggle. My husband has really been the driving force in our family for bike safety, but I am not without my own good reason for wanting to make sure those little heads are protected.

When I was not quite two, my parents borrowed my grandparents’ tandem bike.  The bike had a basket in the front which, apparently, was the perfect size for a not quite two year old girl.  Mom hopped on, Dad hopped on, I was in the basket, and away we went! A cute little family on a bike, tooling around the town of Warren, Michigan.  I picture lots of smiling, warm sunshine, and a nice breeze, although I really have no idea. Then:   WHAM. They hit a bump. I flew out of the basket and – this is the part that makes me laugh so hard I can’t talk - my parents ran over me.

My family gets mad at me when we talk about it because I go into hysterics and those who can remember insist that IT’S NOT FUNNY. No, no it’s not. It’s hilarious.

It was the 70′s.

But this is now, and it’s no longer OK to put babies in baskets. My husband wouldn’t even put our kids in the Burley until they were two, and even then it was with little toddler helmets that made them look like bobble-heads.  It’s OK though, because this is where what we need to do and what we want to do converge. You know we love us some Griffins Hockey around here. One of the reasons we can afford to see so many games is the Put A Lid On It program. 

If your child promises to wear a helmet EVERY TIME, the Grand Rapids Griffins will send them a voucher for two free tickets to use during the upcoming season.  It’s a great way to talk to your kids about bike safety, and a reassurance to ours at least that yes, hockey season will come back someday.

While you’re at it, hop over to the Active Kids page to see if there are any bike races your kids can participate in.  It’s being updated all the time, so check back as the summer goes on.

So to recap: no babies in baskets, make your kids wear helmets, and score some Griffins tickets. Good stuff, I tell you.

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Summer Reading Programs

TILT Summer Reading ProgramsHave you seen the Vacation Bible School listing? It’s HUGE – and growing daily! Thank you so much for sending your church’s information in; we are going to have the holiest kids in the country. I’ve added a few races to Active Kids, too, and somehow managed to leave off the entire city of Grandville from the Parks & Rec  post. Oops. Sorry, G’ville. You’re on there now.

This next part in Big Binder’s “Summer In The City” series is probably my favorite. 

Probably schmobably. It straight up is my favorite.  I am wholly consumed with summer reading programs.  There are good reasons, too. There are a bunch of studies that say kids lose ground over the summer, and have to make up for lost time when the start school. But really, we are good about reading to or with our kids, and I know you are too. I mean, usually. Unless it’s kind of a bad day. Or sometimes a bad couple of days. But mostly; your kids would read or be read to without these programs. So why do we do it? Swag, baby.

Most of these programs don’t start for a few weeks, but you need time to develop your strategy.  First, make sure you get the reading logs or forms early so as to obtain maximum program completion prizes. For example, if reading 15 books = a coupon somewhere, start early so you can get lots of coupons. I mean, your child. So your child can get lots of coupons. Kids love coupons.

Second, have a centralized location for the logs and forms.  Big shocker, I have a folder next to the refrigerator for each kid. 

Third, put all the completion dates on your calendar.  You don’t want to miss turning in the forms after you have worked so hard filling them out. Reading is its own reward, yeah yeah, but still. Get the goodies.

Fourth, count any stories read to your children (if they are pre-readers) on the logs. Story time TOTALLY counts.  It doesn’t have to be books that you personally read to them.

Fifth, and this is the biggest time saver; each night write down the books on all the logs. You will never, ever remember and you will feel guilty if you just make it up later.  Since you have followed step two and put the forms in one place, just knock it all out at once.

Ok, ready? Not all of them are Grand Rapids exclusives. I’m nice like that.  If you are one of “The Others”, check your local library. In order of start date, the summer reading programs are:

  • May 3 to September 30: TD Bank Summer Reading Program. Yes, I know this isn’t a local bank. But I have a friend who goes to Lake George during the summer, and so I’m tossing it in for her. It pays to be friends with me. $10, as a matter of fact.
  • May 4 to August 26: Borders Double Dog Dare Reading Program – kids under 12 read 10 books, bring this form in (Waldenbooks is part of Borders too), and get a book for free. 
  • May 24 to August 30: VERY cool on-line summer reading program from No Time For Flash Cards; with weekly chances to win.
  • May 24 to “the end of August”: New York Times Student Challenge, something something, made my head hurt just reading the directions.
  • May 25 to September 7:  Barnes And Noble Summer Reading - kids from 1st to 6th grade read 8 books, bring this form in, and get a free book.
  • June 1 to July 31: Half Price Books Feed Your Brain Challenge. Kids get a $3 gift card each week when they read 15 minutes a day.   There isn’t even one of these stores in Michigan. But, maybe if you travel out of town you could cash in.
  • June 5 to August 21: Schuler Books Summer Reading Club. The clear directions and specific instructions of the program, along with cookies at Saturday storytime make this my personal favorite. Kids can earn up to 3 $5 gift certificates for reading an age-appropriate number of books.
  • June 14 to August 7: Kent District Library Summer Reading Program. Keep checking back; more to come.
  • June 14 to August 7: Grand Rapids Public Library Summer Reading Program. It sounds like the kids decide how much they want to read? That can’t be right. What I can tell you is that the swag-bag contains a t-shirt, Whitecaps, andGriffins tickets. SCORE!
  • June 14 to ? Pooh’s Corner bookstore. Keep checking back.
  • Baker Book House has an awesome program! For every five books kids read, they get an entry into a drawing. There are double points for certain books, and they get a 10% off coupon right off the bat.

I’ll update this post as the details become available, or as new places add the information. For now, get ready to rock the Summer Reading Programs. You know I love them.  For more Things I Love Thursday, go to The Diaper Diaries.

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Oh It's ON!

Summer, I mean. And the air conditioning; for a few days anyway until some Canadian air mass blows in and cools things off.  I tell you what, being in Michigan is hard work. We are constantly assaulted, if it’s not Canadian air, it’s Asian Carp by way of Chicago.  Good thing we can still get together and celebrate our Michigan-ness.  Have you read the comments and posts (you have to click on that “McLinky” thing)? Wonderful stuff!

 Oh It's ON!The kids and ended up making Michigan pancakes instead of cookies. 

 Oh It's ON!And also, a lizard.

My husband is from Arizona, and since I don’t have an Arizona cookie cutter he made a lizard in that state’s honor.  He’s very fair-minded, that A.P.  Although, thinking back - how hard would it have been to free-hand the shape of Arizona?

Well, I’ll let a blogger from that state answer such pressing questions.  On to weekend fun.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, of course.  Here are my picks for where frugal, family-friendly, and interesting intersect:

  • May 31 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM Coopersville Rail Road Troop Train – Free for vets, everyone else over 2 years old is $7.50 (it’s usually $10.50).
  • Various parades around town as compiled by GR Now.
  • Farmers’ Markets are starting to pick up a bit; use this listing from the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council  to find one near you.
  • If you have a Grand Rapid Children’s Museum or a Meijer Gardens membership, this is the last week for the cultural exchange between the two.  We went to the GRCM last week on a sunny afternoon and it turned out to be accidental genius.  No one else was there. 
  • It’s also the last week for the Big, Big, BUGS! exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. We liked the exhibit, but not the planetarium show.
  • Check out a Whitecaps Baseball game (but be sure and read my tips here first to see if you can save on tickets!).
  • Relax.  This is it before open houses, weddings, camps, and the hectic lives we lead in the summer making sure we enjoy every minute.

 Oh It's ON!

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Top Ten Things I Learned At My First Blog Conference

top ten tuesday Top Ten Things I Learned At My First Blog ConferenceI did it. After very happily writing for three years, I decided it was time to learn how to move beyond content. I think I’ve grown as a writer, and made a lot of connections in my community, but I felt like other blogs were growing their readership while I was slowly adding readers.  How are they doing that? I went to Gleek Retreat to find out. 

Incidentally, “Gleek” doesn’t really have anything to do with the TV show Glee, but please don’t let it stop you from enjoying a Gleek Retreat video with a song from the Glee soundtrack.

  1. Do not ask the guy from the Big Ad Network  if they are interested in a small blog, with good influence. The answer is no. Even if you stalk him a little, and ask him again. It will still be no.
  2. Upon learning that a Big Blogger has an interest in birds, do not announce to her that your children have an Adult Bird Book. It sounds like you are teaching them about some kind of Rookery Brothel, and you’ll never be able to recover the conversation.
  3. Small is the new big. Although big conferences offer lot of opportunities to network; the setting at Gleek Retreat was less hectic and afforded a little more in the way of really hanging out
  4. Meeting people you have previously only known on line is an amazing, rewarding experience. It’s more like seeing an old friend than meeting a new one.
  5. I was relieved to find out that speaking at a conference is not that scary, because I will have to give an acceptance speech for “Most Improved Blog” next year.  I actually just made the award up therefore have not really been asked to speak, but I still found this to be good news, you know, just in case.
  6. Even at a small conference, there will be people you didn’t get to spend much time with. (Next year, my friend!) 
  7. Sitting at a table, laptops open and tweeting each other is not only completely acceptable, it is crazy fun.
  8. I don’t have to be envious of people who went to conferences and landed amazing opportunities anymore. I made connections that I know will make the world (and our blogs) a better place.
  9. If, upon returning home you abruptly decide to learn how to use Mr. Linky and invent a completely unannounced carnival that evening, your new friends will join you. MWAH!
  10. Should you ever have the opportunity to have your blog’s name painted on your arm, do it.  Top Ten Things I Learned At My First Blog Conference

 gleek Top Ten Things I Learned At My First Blog Conference

Do you need more Top Ten Tuesday (or a fun giveaway!)? See what’s going on with OhAmanda.

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Well, Michigan Week Isn't Going To Celebrate Itself, So…

state of mi Well, Michigan Week Isn't Going To Celebrate Itself, So...I was digging through some stuff on my desk, and found a few things I had set aside to celebrate ”Michigan Week”. Yes, as a matter of fact I do really celebrate Michigan Week. Apparently that is more radical than I realized. 

I had coloring books, activity sheets – stuff that was starting to form a nice little theme.  I also bookmarked a “Michigan Week” website and made a mental note to myself to make Michigan cookies too. Because of course, I have a  Michigan-shaped cookie cutter.

I kept checking back to the link as the date got closer, and nothing. Still “Michigan Week 2009″ every time I looked. Then the website was suddenly updated, and announcing Michigan Week had met is death with the budget cuts.  How can a state kill its own week? Ladies and Gentlemen, Big Binder Readers, and the Committee To Kill Michigan Week;  I am not going to take this lying down. 

I’m going to celebrate Michigan Week, Big Binder Style.

The Michigan Week Death Notice website is very snively. Yes, snively is too a word.  Something about ”wah-wah we don’t have any money we can’t have a party”. We haven’t had any money since we’ve had kids, and we still have parties. You just ask everyone to bring something. So that’s what I’m going to do. 

I am declaring Michigan Week as May 23-30 and inviting you to join me.  Just like my potlucks, you can bring whatever you’d like; it’s pretty open.  Kids will be running everywhere, some people will be drinking wine and some will be drinking pop. Sorry soda, I do need to insist on that term; given the nature of the party.

Have you written a post about Michigan? Link it up – even if you wrote it long ago, back in the olden days when there actually was a Michigan Week. If you don’t live in Michigan, you can leave a comment about your perceptions of it, or a memory if you have visited. My parties get pretty interesting and there are always diverse views discussed politely. I’m sure it will be the same way here. I’ll even Tweet your link, Facebook Like your page, and follow your RSS feed if you participate. Pretty sweet.

Like a good hostess, I’ll get the conversation started.

  • The state capital is Lansing (not Detroit. I know you thought it was Detroit. Everyone thinks that).
  • The state motto is “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice”, which is Latin for “If you Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You.” I learned this in elementary school. I did not understand it English or Latin until high school.
  • The state bird is the Robin.
  • The state fish is Brook Trout.
  • The state fish is delicious.
  • Michigan produces 70 to 75 percent of the tart cherries grown in the United States.
  • I am obsessed with cherries.
  • The five Great Lakes contain the largest supply of fresh water on earth; 20% of the earth’s total fresh water. Only the polar ice caps contain more fresh water.
  • Michigan is shaped like a mitten, and we hold up our hand and point to our city’s location. That really happens.

OK. Now it’s your turn. Write up a post and link it up. Leave a comment. Let’s show our poor state some love this week.

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 Well, Michigan Week Isn't Going To Celebrate Itself, So...
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Me Gusto!

  Me Gusto!Here is what caught my eye this week:

  • The Frugal Novice wrote a “Top Ten Tuesday” list of kids’ activities. They are simple, frugal, and entertaining; all in a tidy list form. That’s a win, win, win, win, if you ask me.
  • Jill Savage wrote a post on The Confident Mom about “Being A Yes” mom.  I’ve heard this before, but it’s the kind of thing I need to hear every so often, just to shake of the lazies.
  • Saving Dollars and Sense put together a list of Report Card Freebies.  I’m trying to be thankful that it includes Krispy Kreme donuts, and not hateful that we do not have a Chick-fil-a here. Yet.
  • The clever and inventive 3inunder3 made a very cute “Bedtime Instructions Sign”, and included step-by-step instructions in her post about it.
  • The new season of the Bachelorette starts Monday. It’s sure to be full of the most dramatic rose ceremonies ever; especially with that crazy girl handing out the roses. I’ve missed Chris Harrison deeply, and also my favorite Bachelor/ette blog.  Lincee from I Hate Green Beans always rounds up who she thinks is going to make it to the end.  I’ve laughed so hard my Diet Coke came out of my nose at some of her posts before, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

For more Saturday Stumbles, check out Its Come 2 This.

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Forget peanuts and Cracker Jacks, just get me a 5/3 Burger

imagleek Forget peanuts and Cracker Jacks, just get me a 5/3 BurgerI am looking outside at this rainy day and feeling both sorry AND thankful for my husband. I wanted to go to Gleek Retreat, a blogging conference. Big Binder has been around for a few years, but I have only recently wanted to learn how to do a few cool and snazzy things I see on other blogs.  I also want to meet other bloggers, and then drive them crazy asking questions about how they do cool and snazzy things.

I bring you frugal kid stuff for a reason; I have to live frugally, or work full time.  I am not just trying to save a few bucks here or there; I don’t have the money to spend. So although Gleek Retreat was exactly what I wanted, we weren’t sure if we could afford it. Less than a week later, my husband sold one of his bikes (this brings him down to four…) and gave me the money so I could “go do that blog thing”.

I am so thankful.

In a cruel, ironic twist, I don’t have a lot to suggest for him to do with the kids this weekend while I’m gone. He could either head over to Grand Haven for the Great Lakes Kite Festival, or to Lowell for Trolls & Treats for Kids.  I was hoping that there would be a Whitecaps baseball game, but no such luck. We’ll have to wait and go as a family.

b1 1252 Forget peanuts and Cracker Jacks, just get me a 5/3 BurgerThat’s fine, because as usual, I have found some less expensive ways to enjoy the game. 

  • If you act quickly, you can get two free lawn seats when you donate a baseball glove.  Drop off sites at 5/3 Bank, other drop off sites, and more information is here.
  •  Monday games are the JQ99 All Faiths Night, and you can get 1/2 off box or reserved seats when you show a church or community bulletin. 
  • Tuesdays are Bob Evans Senior Night.  The games start at 4:45, so you have enough time for supper first. Just kidding…  The actual promotion is that people 50 years or over get half off box or reserved seats. 
  • If you are not 50, but you eat Kraft Cheese Singles, you can bring the wrapper in for a buy one get one free ticket on Tuesdays.
  • If you are a Priority Health member, show your card on Wednesday for $2 off reserved seats. 
  • A fantastic opportunity to see the ‘Caps at a discounted rate is brought to you June 26 by the awesome Great Start Parent CoalitionYou get a ticket, plus a pop and hotdog for $4.50!!  You have to get your tickets through Great Start ahead of time.
  • July 6 is Kids Day.  The tickets are all the same prices, but there will be extra kid-stuff going on.  Hopefully, there will be some beer specials that day too.

Here is some other information that may enhance your Whitecaps experience:

  1. You have to have cash to pay for parking. The Parking Lot Guy With The Orange Vest is wrong. You don’t have to go into the park, use the ATM, then exit the park and walk all over the parking lot find PLGWTOV who has since moved, and give him the money.  You can just go to the Customer Service desk inside the stadium.  You’re welcome.
  2. Those light-saber things are $5 and they work as an amazing discipline tool when you promise to buy one next time if your child earns enough money between now and then by doing chores.  My compost is taken out to the pile daily, and the returnable bottles and cans are bagged up, all for a very low rate.
  3. If you go on a Saturday, stay for the fireworks.  They do not start “immediately after the game”  though. It’s a good 20 minutes, so just be prepared to Walk Like a Dinosaur. Boom boom, acka lacka lacka lacka boom.

There are a lot of promotions (bobbleheads and stuff) too, so check the Whitecaps Promo link to make sure you go on a day that something fun is being given away. There are several other discounts, but most of them are on food.  Sadly, none are for the 5/3 Burger which made national news last year due to it’s – disgustingness. 

Unfortunately, my husband is still determined to eat one.  And after his generosity and understanding about Gleek Retreat, I’ll be happy to let him.  I will just make sure to pack the Rolaids.

large burger to share Forget peanuts and Cracker Jacks, just get me a 5/3 Burger

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A Black Belt By Age 10

TILT A Black Belt By Age 10We fell into Tae Kwon Do by accident.  A.P. was signed up for a track class at the Y in January, but it was cancelled so we quick stuck him in TKD instead.  What the heck, it was the same time slot.  Within two weeks we knew the kid was hooked.  He practiced all the time, but not how you would think a six year old boy would practice.  He is constantly kicking and punching, but surprisingly, not on his sister. 

The “Belt Test” was last night. This is a way bigger deal than I remembered it being. I took Tae Kwon Do in high school, but only made it up a few belts before I got punched in the face during a test and promptly quit.  I felt that a black eye was not becoming of a Pom Pon girl, and no amount of foundation was going to cover up that mess.

It was an incredibly long event and remarkably, all of the little ones sat and watched for the entire three hours.  Quietly. Not one child got out of line. Not one child pitched a fit. Not one child whined about being hungry or bored or even spoke unless it was time to speak.

Normally, even the promise of moving to a higher belt or getting to break a board at the end of the test would not be enough to keep a group of kids this size quiet for that long.  If A.P. continues on this track he will be a black belt in about four years. The panel of judges were supportive, but tough.  This is not one of those “everyone goes home with a prize” deals. You either do it, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you double down and attack it next time.

You want to see something impressive? Here is the list of “Home Rules for Children“.  It’s so old school; I love it:

1.Must show respect to their parents and family members at all times.

2.Shall greet their parents when they enter the house and tell them goodbye when they leave.

3.Will be truthful at all times.

4.Will maintain a good relationship with their brothers and sisters.

5.Must help with household chores.

6.Will keep their own rooms neat and clean.

7.Must keep their body, hair, and teeth clean at all times, every day.

8.Will not interrupt adult conversations.

9.Will study their schoolwork at school and at home.

10.Must show respect for teachers and peers at all times.

Children who do not obey their parents may be reduced in rank.

clip3 A Black Belt By Age 10

These are the lessons I want A.P. to learn. Respect, leadership, discipline. Maybelle also wants to begin classes in the fall.  Her motives are different; she would like to know how to “beat down bears”.  Fast forward 10 years, and I will make certain that all the boys in her high school know that she and her brother are both black belts.  I love this ancient martial art, and what it can teach to my very modern kids.

For more Things I Love Thursday, check out The Diaper Diaries.

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