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Jumping in Leaves & Other Fun Fall Activities

Fewer hours of daylight and dropping temperatures naturally find us spending more time indoors. That means more time to express our creativity.  Everyone – kids and adults alike – benefits from process activities. Autumn provides bountiful, free, natural materials that invite us to experiment and find out what happens when we do this or that. Sometimes the outcome isn’t what we expected. Sometimes we’re pleased with the unexpected; sometimes not. Either way, we’re  okay. We’re exploring possibilities, exercising deductive reasoning, solving problems.

Scavenge Natural Materials 

Our adventure begins outdoors where we’ll comb the neighborhood for materials. What we collect will determine our options. Some suggestions will appeal primarily to adults, others require adult assistance, and still others are kid-friendly enough for kids to pursue on their own. The best ones allow collaboration and memory making between adults and kiddos.

Gather branches of autumn leaves and fill a basket or a pail. Pick up leaves and acorns for crafting. If you want to preserve favorite ones, melt beeswax in a double boiler, dip each leaf, one at a time, by its stem, let the excess wax drip off, then lay on waxed paper to dry. Consider laying the most colorful leaves, preserved or not, on a tray as autumnal decorations. Sparkle acorns among the leaves.

Leaf Craft

Or make a wreath or a garland. Pinterest is brimming with creative projects using autumn leaves, from Mason jar candle holders to embedding autumn leaves in pillar candles. Speaking of Pinterest, I discovered two projects using faux autumn leaves that likely could only be done with faux foliage: leaf bowls and an autumnal topiary. Both make unique, attractive autumn decorations and invite kids and adults alike to experiment.

Kiddos have ways to get creative with autumn leaves too. Collect leaves for paper punching and use the leaf die cuts in creative ways. Consider adding the die cuts to place cards for Thanksgiving dinner or to gift tags. Or decorate a pumpkin with autumn leaves. Lasts longer than a carved one. Another idea is adding soil at the base of the stem of a pumpkin and planting a tiny succulent garden.

Raking and Playing

And finally, look at all those fallen leaves and grab a rake. Seize the opportunity to enjoy a crisp, sunny, autumn day outdoors. Dry leaves are easier to rake than wet ones and more fun to jump up and down in too! The exercise benefits our bodies and our minds, and many hands make light work. Yes, just as “making hay” was a community endeavor, getting up the leaves works best as an “all hands on deck” family activity. Admittedly living in a grove insures that getting up leaves becomes a chore before the last leaf falls, but the shade those trees  provide brings delightful relief from the high heat of summer. Raking gives everyone another chance to scavenge for natural materials for autumn crafts, and piles of dry leaves are irresistible invitations to play. Jump in and experience pure joy.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Play While the Sun Shines

Autumn, our third season, marks the transition from summer to winter. Delicate summer fruits give way to crisp apples and pears. Leaves on the trees turn glorious shades of red, orange, and yellow before cascading to the ground. While the season offers opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, our focus begins to turn inward as hours of daylight become fewer.
Have you ever heard someone say “make hay while the sun shines”? This expression is thought to have originated among medieval English farmers who needed sunny, hot, dry weather for cutting, drying, and gathering hay. Every able-bodied person was expected to seize the opportunity to harvest when conditions were right. Once the weather turned cold and wet, hay could not be harvested.
Most of us have no crops to bring in, yet sunny autumn days are fleeting, and we do ourselves a favor when we play while the sun shines. Seize the opportunity to get outdoors and experience all autumn has to offer. Engage the senses and savor the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the season. Invite a friend or gather the family for a search of seasonal delights.
Those glorious autumn leaves demand attention. Soak up their beauty as you walk around the neighborhood or hike a favorite trail. Listen to the crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet. Feel the warmth of the sun and the cool, crisp air on your face.
Bring a basket and gather leaves and twigs, acorns from beneath oak trees and samaras –  that distinctive fruit of maple trees commonly called “helicopters” or “whirlybirds.” Spy a feather? Pick it up. As you fill the basket, observe the colors, shapes, and textures. Imagine creative ways to use your bounty. Or simply appreciate the beauty of what you’ve collected. A shallow basket or a wooden dough bowl makes a perfect repository for such gifts from nature.
If you’re lucky enough to live near an apple orchard, take a trip and taste test the different varieties. Then buy a bushel and a peck of your favorites. Some orchards even allow customers to pick their own. That’s our chance to participate in a harvest. Stock up for eating and baking. As night falls earlier and earlier and the temperature drops lower and lower, people tend to bake more. Delicious and nutritious, baked apples are a traditional autumn dessert – ideal after a day of making play while the sun shines.

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February: Brimming with Opportunities

Although February is our shortest month, it’s brimming with opportunities. Special observances invite us to expand our knowledge of American history, celebrate love and friendship, and commit ourselves to random acts of kindness, not only to others but also to birds. Leap year gives us a bonus day.

President’s Day always falls on the third Monday of the month. This year that’s February 15. What better time to dust off our history books and learn more about our two most prominent presidents, George Washington, the father of our country, and Abraham Lincoln, whose leadership kept the country together despite secession and the bloody Civil War?

The pivotal moment in his presidency came on January 1, 1863, the date the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation that granted freedom to slaves.

February is also Black History Month, and a perfect time to explore the role of the Underground Railroad that brought many slaves to freedom. For children, consider Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, about Harriet Tubman who lead 19 trips that brought hundreds of slaves from the south to freedom in the north or Follow the Drinking Gourd, a tale about following the Big Dipper north to escape slavery. Both books are recommended for children ages five and up.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who shipped himself to freedom in the north in a wooden crate. To learn how quilts helped slaves find their way to freedom, read Under the Quilt of Night.

Older readers, those 12 and up, can learn from Nightjohn of the bravery of a former slave who returned to the south to teach others to read, an act punishable by dismemberment.

Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel The Last Runaway provides a compelling account of the Underground Railroad and the people, both slaves and bounty hunters, abolitionists and ordinary citizens, whose lives were impacted by slavery.

February wouldn’t be February without Valentine’s Day. While thinking of ways to show affection, consider that Random Acts of Kindness Week begins on Valentine’s Day this year. The idea is that by expressing kindness we’ll inspire others to be kind. Random Acts of Kindness Foundation reports on research showing how “kindness breeds kindness” and acts of kindness reduce stress. I think they’re on to something. I appreciate the kindnesses of others and feel better when I’m being mindful about showing kindness.

Their website is bursting with information and ideas. One simple act of kindness is smiling at strangers. Plato is quoted as saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” My mother used to remind us that we needed to be kind because we have no way of knowing what struggles another person might be having. I’ve found that to be true.

In our city a homeless woman has staked out a street corner in the business district and stands with a placard that reads, “Even a smile helps.” And she herself smiles at everyone who passes by. Her spirit touches me deeply.

February is also National Bird Feeding Month. So here’s the deal for kiddos and adults alike. Embrace kindness. Practice random acts of kindness everyday. Feed the wild birds. Winter is long and food hard to find. Buying a feeder and keeping it filled is one way to go. Another, if time allows and you like crafting, is making birdseed ornaments or balls to hang in trees. Melissa Mayntz, a birding and wild bird expert, offers easy to follow, step-by-step illustrated instructions. I’m thinking this could be a lovely way to spend time on a cold, winter.

Another idea is crafting simple, easy-to-create glitter hearts for use as Valentines and extras to give away as acts of kindness. Think about the neighbors. Newcomers? Elders? Shut-ins? Someone who’s been ill? How about folks who make a difference in your life. Perhaps a crossing guard at school? Mail carrier? Cashier at the market? Everyone likes being appreciated. And making someone else’s day has a way of brightening our own.

Here’s an idea for making those sparkly hearts:

Cut hearts from card stock. One way is to trace around a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
Punch a hole in the top.
Lay hearts on wax paper.
Using slightly thinned white glue, cover hearts with glue.
Sprinkle with fine grain red glitter.
Let dry thoroughly.
Flip hearts over, apply glue and glitter, and let dry.
Thread a piece of ribbon through the hole and tie.
Finish by placing each heart in a cellophane box.
Either tie with ribbon or fold top of bag to the back and seal.
I like the clear round “mailing seals” available at office supply stores because that keeps the focus on the contents, but any tape or stickers should do the job.
If the hearts are to be Valentines, add a label to each bag.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Happy New Year


Here we go again. The old year is spent. The new one a clean slate. Question is, what shall we do with this new beginning?

Many resolve to make the year ahead better than the one behind by making significant improvements in how we choose to live our lives. Some resolve to live more healthfully, whether by exercising more, eating less and making better choices about what we eat or learning techniques to reduce stress. Others vow to strengthen or rebuild important relationships. Still others commit to giving back. All these are valuable resolutions.

The problem is, we often “bite off more than we can chew” and end the year without having attained our goals. This year let’s discard our lists of resolutions and follow the wise advice of Arthur Ashe:

Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do what you can.

Wherever we are, we can make the conscious decision to use what we have and to do what we can, and that will make a meaningful difference in our lives and in those whose lives we touch. Remember

Success is a journey, not a destination.

The doing is often more important that the outcome.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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We’re Ready for Our Parade. Are YOU?


July 4th is upon us. Now’s the time to pull together everything we need for our sound parade. Fill a basket with rhythm instruments, the more, the merrier. Since “variety is the spice of life,” you’ll want an array of instruments, and to keep the peace, you’ll want multiples of the most popular. The goal is having instruments enough for everyone, children and adults alike, to join the celebration of our nation’s birthday with exuberant musical abandon.

Make sure you have newspapers enough for everyone who wants to make a hat. Remember to provide embellishments for “gilding the lily.” Some hat makers may prefer to leave their hats unadorned. Others may follow Yankee Doodle who “stuck a feather in his hat.” Still others may go all out, over the top and beyond, making their newspaper hats original works of art. Be prepared with ornamentation galore.

You’re making memories. Keep a camera handy for capturing hat making, hats on the heads, and, of course, the parade.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play


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How to Make Paper Hats for Fourth of July


Donning newspaper hats while striking up a Fourth of July rhythm band adds pizzazz to the parade. Making the hats is half the fun as each reflects the creativity of its creator.

Paper hats have traditionally been made from readily available, lightweight, easy to fold newspaper. Allow a full sheet per hat.

1.   Open a sheet of newspaper. You will see two folds, a long vertical one along the spine of the sheet and a shorter horizontal one where the sections of the newspaper were folded together.
2.   Begin by creasing the long, vertical fold.
3.   Place the fold across the top. The shorter fold now runs vertically down the center of the page.
4.   Fold one top corner done along the center fold, forming a diagonal crease.
5.   Repeat with the other corner.
6.   Fold the bottom edge of the top layer up two to three inches.
7.   Turn the hat over and fold edge up to match the other side.
8.   Fold two or three inches of the outside edge toward center of hat and firmly crease.
9.   Repeat on the opposite edge, keeping the same width as the first one.
10. Try on your hat. Adjust the distance between the outside edges to adjust the size.
11.  Fold the bottom edges up to keep the outside edges in place. Or tape the outside edges.

Hats can be embellished with markers, strips of colored paper to tear and glue on, rick rack, pompoms, fringe, whatever is readily available.

Celebrate our nation’s birthday. Make hats, play music, sing, and dance.

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Out With the Old, In With the New

images-4As we bid adieu to 2014 and embrace the new year,

“May your trouble be less
and your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness
come through your door.”
~An Irish blessing

When the clock strikes midnight, let’s commit ourselves to being and doing the best we can in 2015. That’s all any person can ask of another and all any one of us can do. Yet when we’re being and doing our best, we’re creating the change we wish to see in the world, one person, one day at a time. And, oh what a wonderful world that will be.

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What to Do with Thanksgiving Dinner Left-overs

Heidi Floren is passionate about cooking. So when conversation turned to the challenge of what to do with all the left-overs from Thanksgiving dinner, she shared her creative solution. Follow her lead for a quick-to-prepare, delicious meal. Feel free to adapt as you go, according to your tastes and what’s leftover, of course.

Day-After-Thanksgiving Turkey Pot Pie

2 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 c. mushrooms,chopped
1 c. leftover turkey, chopped
1 c. leftover stuffing
1 c. leftover vegetables – corn, carrots, green beans
1 c. leftover mashed potatoes
2 c. leftover gravy
1 c. frozen peas
pre-made pastry crust or crescent rolls
2 T. butter melted

In large saucepan heated to medium high heat, melt butter and sauté onion, carrot, celery, and mushrooms until just starting to caramelize.

Add the turkey, stuffing, vegetables, potatoes, gravy, and peas. Mix well and cook on medium low heat to warm through.

Pour into casserole and cover top with pastry or crescent dough, punch holes through the pastry top, brush with melted butter.

Bake 350 or the temperature on the pastry package for about 30 minutes, or until crust is browned.

Bon apetite.

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On Giving Thanks

Giving thanks is best practiced daily. Being mindful of all that’s positive in our lives develops an attitude of gratitude that lifts our spirits, enabling us to push through challenging experiences. My mother used to say no one has to look far to see someone worse off. Her observation serves as a two-prong call for action. Counting blessings. Showing compassion.

As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s take time to reflect on what’s positive in our lives. Keep a journal of our blessings, large and small. Re-reading what we’ve listed enhances our awareness and strengthens our resolve to live gratefully.

Create a Giving Thanks jar with slips of paper for writing down reasons for being thankful. Wide mouth canning jars, either plain or decorated, work well, but any container will do. Encourage everyone to participate. Those unable to write can dictate. Come Thanksgiving, with everyone gathered around the table after the meal, read aloud the expressions of gratitude.

Family gatherings stir emotions. Sometimes we’re thankful for those “beside us and the love between us.” Sometimes not. That’s when we’re thankful that “this too shall pass.” Both scenarios provide opportunities for showing gratitude and being compassionate.

Compassion reflects awareness of needs outside our own and gratitude for all we have. Research community needs, then rally family members to choose one and get involved. Connect with social service agencies to identify ways to brighten December for those who’d otherwise lack resources for celebrating their holiday of choice. Sign up to provide the fixings for a holiday meal and gifts for family members. Volunteer to serve holiday dinner at a homeless shelter. Opportunities abound, and acts of compassion enrich both giver and recipient.

Because what we do makes a difference. Choose to acknowledge blessings. Choose to show compassion. Everyday.


 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Making Ice Cream Cupcakes

Wanting a cool, summer treat? What’s more refreshing than ice cream? For a creative twist on a perennial favorite, make ice cream cupcakes. Choose favorite flavors, use one for the “cake,” the other for the “frosting.” Gather the kiddos, choose your favorite flavors and enjoy time together in the kitchen without heating the oven.

1 pint ice cream for the “cake”
1 pint ice cream for the “frosting”
favorite toppings, if desired

Lightly spray a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.  Let it chill in the freezer.

While the tin is chilling, let your “cupcake” ice cream soften on the counter. If you want to add an ingredient, now is the time to gently fold it into the ice cream.

When the tin is cold to touch, quickly fill each space with softened ice cream, covering the bottom and sides evenly. Leave room at the top for the “frosting.” Put the tin in the freezer and leave until the ice cream hardens.

Meanwhile let the “frosting” ice cream soften. Again, if you want to add an ingredient, now is the time.

Remove the ice cream-filled tins from the freezer and top off the cupcakes with your “frosting” ice cream. Be sure to fill them all the way to the top. Put the tin back into the freezer until the ice cream is completely frozen.

To remove, run a table knife under hot water and gently slide the knife around the edge of each cupcake. Turn pan upside down and tap lightly to release the cupcakes. To show off your ice cream cupcakes, serve in glass bowls. Enjoy!

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play