Start a Neighborhood Book Exchange

Monday, June 25, 2012

I’m so excited to recycle our children’s books by hosting a neighborhood book exchange.

book exchange bubble

Sort Books
When your books are over flowing it is time to sort through them and make a stack of ones you don’t read as often or ones your kids have out grown that you don’t plan to hold onto. I had two boxes full.  I didn’t want to donate them to our local thrift store because I’ve seen them throw books away if they haven’t sold within two weeks. It breaks my heart to see that. We have also donated books to Reading Tree, a non-profit who recycles books by donating those in good condition to children in need or properly recycling books in poor condition. They have big blue bins located in several shopping centers in Utah.

Find a Location
I noticed an empty cupboard in our church basement a few months ago. That space was going to waste. I thought it would be an excellent place to host a neighborhood book exchange so I asked our leaders and got permission to use the space.  I took my extra books over last week and started spreading the word for other moms to do the same if they have extra books they want to trade.  A few months ago I thought about putting a cupboard on my front porch to host the books.  You could also make a small covered house like a bird house and host a Little Free Library like this in your own yard.

Little Free Library books

Trade Books
I made a sign that says Take a Book, Leave a Book (pick your first book free).
A few people have already started trading.  I’m excited to see these books find a new home and get used instead of sitting there or being discarded.  Books need to be loved and kids love to see new books they aren’t familiar with. It’s a win/win situation.

I’d love to see your ideas if you have tried something like this in your neighborhood.
Victoria Signature 11

Modern Day Golden Ticket from The Golden Arches

Friday, June 15, 2012

I feel like our family is experiencing the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in real life this month.  We’ve got a Golden Ticket! We recently found out my daughter, Elayna, is a Grand Prize winner of the McDonald’s Happy Meal Chef contest.
McD Winner Instagram
Earlier this year, McDonald’s was looking for 10 kids, ages 8-11, to enter their Happy Meal Chefs contest. Families were asked to create a short video showing how they make mealtime fun and nutritious and incorporate the USDA’s new MyPlate food guide. 

{The Prize / Golden Ticket}
They selected 10 finalists who all get to go to London for part of the Olympics in July. They will participate in McDonald’s Champions of Play program where they get to play with some of the athletes and attend some Olympic events.  Each winner will get to take one parent with them to experience “The Golden Arches” at the Olympics (Go for the Gold) this summer. Then McDonald’s selected two of those finalists to be Grand Prize winners to go to London early to cook in a Global Champions of Food Cooking Challenge along with McDonald’s executive Chef, Dan Coudreaut. They will also get to go to McDonald’s headquarters in Illinois this October to be an apprentice Happy Meal Chef and help develop new ideas for Happy Meals. I’m so excited my daughter was selected as a grand prize winner and is now an official McDonald’s Happy Meal Chef.
{Healthier Happy Meals}
I’ve enjoyed seeing the changes McDonald’s recently made to the Happy Meal earlier this year.  They now offer apple slices in every Happy Meal and smaller/mini fries along with the option of fat free chocolate milk. They are looking for additional ways to make Happy Meals more nutritious and are planning to involve kids in the process.  I know the public often don't think of McDonald's being the most healthy restaurant, and they've never claimed to be that. They recognize the public wants to eat healthier and I'm impressed they are listening and working on offering more healthy options. I've really loved their salad choices lately and I recently learned that their sales of oatmeal have surpassed sales of the Egg McMuffin for breakfast. I like seeing these positive changes and we are excited to be a part of the process through this experience.
{Golden Ticket Winners}
We started noticing on Twitter that they were announcing some of the other winners throughout the country (search hashtag #happymealchefs).  My daughter was announced last week. It totally reminds me of the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as you meet each child who found a golden ticket who will get to experience the chocolate factory together (although all of these kids look sweet so far and we thankfully haven’t run into Slugworth).  My daughter is excited to learn about the other winners she will be meeting in person. 
McDonald’s created a surprise party to announce that my daughter won. It was the last day of school and we invited a few of her friends, family, teacher and principal. Two of our city council men, Charlie Luke and Soren Simonsen, came to congratulate her too, along with Ronald McDonald and some local media.  She was so shocked and overwhelmed to see the restaurant full of people she knew. She thought we were just getting an after school treat. As soon as she saw her dad she ran to give him a hug and wouldn’t let go for a good 30 seconds. As they announced she was a grand prize winner and would be going to London for the Olympics, she smiled but I don’t think she comprehended what was really happening.  We want to thank all our friends and family for coming to support Elayna and celebrate this exciting event with her! She said “This is the best day in my life ever, but that might change once I’m at the Olympics.”
Once we were home and it finally sank in, she ran to our back yard and screamed for joy shouting, “I can’t believe we won! I can’t wait to see the Olympics and Big Ben!”  Here is an article in our local paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, with a few more details.
I heard about this contest from my friend Kathy’s blog, the Danish Mama.  I’m so glad I saw her post about it. I thought, we have an 8-year-old daughter who loves to help cook and I assumed fewer people would enter a video contest so we may have a better shot at winning (although it is a national contest and we found out they had thousands of entries). I kept having these strong feelings that we really needed to make a video and enter the contest. I just knew we had to do it.

{Making the video}
So we made a short video and entered the contest. You can see it by clicking here (James and Elayna from Salt Lake.). I’ve never made a video before, except for the ones you make a slide show of still shots set to music. We quickly got online for a quick lesson on how to edit videos. We wrote a rough draft script then ad-libbed as we were filming.
Our family had so much fun working on this project together.  It took three days of filming, trying to film at night so the bright sun wouldn’t wash out our scene.  We had to do several re-takes and had many bloopers. This video shows a few.

{Daddy-o’s Diner Bloopers}


{Secret Ingredient Game}
My husband does much of the cooking and baking at our house. His dad is an amazing cook and baker too which has created a love of cooking for their whole family. They often attend cooking classes together and every Sunday the extended family gathers at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for homemade treats. Grandpa started adding secret ingredients to their meals as my husband grew up, so my husband has kept that tradition in our family. Our kids love adding secret ingredients to the meals and having the other half of the family guess what is in their food. It really helps kids think about what goes into their food. We shared this idea in the contest video.

Happy Meal Chef Saley Kitchen Diner-002

{Kitchen Diner Menu:}
Our kitchen is decorated like a diner so we also have a menu with pictures of food for the kids to order from. It has fruits, veggies, protein, grains and dairy for the kids to pick from. We’ve noticed the kids love having visual pictures to help them decide what they are hungry for.

Elayna Head Shots

{MyPlate Placemats}
We also made placemats to match the USDA’s new MyPlate food guide. We laminated them and our kids love to draw what we are having for each meal. This helps keep us, as parents, on our toes because they will notice if we are missing fruit or dairy and tell us we need to add those to our meal.

You can find free printable samples at I personalized ours by moving the words so you could draw in the spaces, then I added checkers at the bottom. We found some fun scrapbook paper for the front and back. Then we laminated them and the kids use dry-erase crayons to fill in the placemat while we make dinner.

Elayna Head Shots1
Our family is still in shock that we won an experience like this. It is very surreal at this point, like we are living part of the movie. I kind of feel like dancing around the room like Charlie and Grandpa Jo singing "I've got a Golden ticket!" I’m so excited my daughter and husband will get to have this opportunity from McDonald’s. I plan to go with them for part of the time but I am thrilled they will get to do this together. They are already creating recipe ideas for the Champions of Food Cooking Challenge in London.  We’ll share more about their experience throughout the summer here on obSEUSSed.
Victoria Signature 11

Playborhood {Book Review} Creating a Kid Friendly Nieghborhood

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How often do your kids play with neighbor kids? Do you ever feel like your kids are over-scheduled or in front of a screen too much?

We've all seen the need for kids to have unstructured play time with neighbors. Parents can help instigate this type of play by creating kid friendly zones in their yards or open spaces in their neighborhoods. This is the basic premise of the book Playborhood.

I had the opportunity to review the book Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play by Mike Lanza.PB_book_cover_final

Lanza created the ultimate kid friendly front and back yard to encourage free play and shares all of his tips on how to create your own Playborhood in this book. Suggestions range from common to unique such as in-ground trampolines to an interactive large neighborhood map mural on his driveway, where kids can play life-size monopoly style games. 

I liked how Lanza incorporated books into his designs and activities. He had kids create a mosaic representing the book ‘The Big Orange Splot’ and a rock village near their play river representing the book ‘Roxaboxen.’ I also love the idea of the small book exchange mail boxes set up in front yards so kids and adults can trade books.

The Playborhood book shows examples of other neighborhoods throughout the country and research showing why Playborhoods are important.  It takes planning to create a safe and inviting Playborhood and this book compiles all of the ideas you need to start creating your own.

Here is Mike with his wife and three sons. You can see more ideas on his blog, Playborhood.
You can find the Playborhood book on Amazon.

{My Playborhood}
Slow Kids at Play Sign ObSEUSSed

The past few summers I have organized a ‘park hopper’ summer calendar to invite the moms in our neighborhood to get together. We would visit different parks or go on special outings once a week.  As our kids have gotten older (not just toddlers anymore) our schedules have gotten busier and not as many moms have been able to attend. This year we decided to keep things on a smaller level and organize more play times at our homes.  Here are a few things we have done to encourage neighbor kids to come play at our house this summer.

{Stock a Summer Bucket}
summer bucket

 This bucket stays on our porch and is filled with;
  • sidewalk chalk (don’t forget the garden kneeling pads to protect their legs)
  • bubbles and bubble machine
  • jump ropes
  • water balloons, spray bottles, watering cans and water guns
  • and hula hoops hanging in the background
All of these items get played with during play dates, or unscheduled times when the neighbors just pop over to play. We also got some sno-cone flavors to make sno-cones this summer. We like to keep our picnic table stocked with a basket of fruit, otter-pops and a water jug.

Ball Bucket ObSEUSSed
We always leave this bucket of balls outside too so the kids can start a game with their friends anytime. We are lucky to live on a cul-de-sac. Our kids pull out their trikes, scooters and bikes to ride around with their friends.  They also love our driveway because it has a long slope they can glide down quickly.

Sand Box obSEUSSed back yard
We’ve had this play fort for years and the kids love playing on it, or in the sand box underneath.

{Two-Way Radios}
My children’s favorite outdoor play items have been walkie talkies. Santa brought them this past Christmas and they have been a huge hit. Anytime friends come over they break into teams and play spies, secret agents, soldiers or other games with them. Get a nice pair and they will be worth it. We love our Motorolla brand, but search around and find some that will stand up to kid use. The neighbor kids love them, and they work across the street so they can play around the neighborhood as they get older. They are amazing for encouraging team play and imagination.
{Hop Scotch Step Stones}
Another thing we have done is made Hop Scotch Step Stones. My kids painted the stones and every time their friends come over they love to use this vibrant, interactive path.  We are discussing plans to move the path closer to the house (not in the middle) so we can lay gravel and create a bocce court. Our kids love to play bocce and can’t wait to teach their friends how to play.

{Water Parties}
We also have a hot tub and we invite the kids’ friends over for hot tub parties where they soak for five minutes then run through the sprinklers.  Our neighbors across the street have a large trampoline and sand box so the kids love taking turns at each others houses. No need for everyone to have a trampoline. Below they are playing with pearler beads (the kind you iron).

I hope you enjoyed some of these ideas.  Reading Playborhood got my creative juices flowing, helping me think ‘outside the (sand) box’ for more interactive and inviting activities for children in our neighborhood. 

What do you do in your neighborhood to encourage outdoor play?

Victoria Signature 11

*Disclosure: I received a free digital copy of Playborhood for review.


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