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CP#1 broke her right foot over Easter, so our school vacation plans are limited to places we can easily get around. We’re considering a trip into Boston to visit the Franklin Park Zoo. MP, who is in need of warmth and flowers, is especially intrigued by the indoor tropical rainforest. And the zoo also provides wheelchairs to guests on a first come, first served basis, which will be a great help to our injured girl.

If Boston doesn’t make it into our plans, we may try going local to the Maine Wildlife Park. MP and DP haven’t been there with the kids since they were toddlers, so it will be fun to see the park again.

The Bowdoin College campus is always a great place to visit.

The Bowdoin College campus is always a great place to visit.

We recently visited the Bowdoin Art Museum and all of us enjoyed the Past Futures exhibit, which highlights science fiction and space travel. The museum is the perfect size for kids ages 7-up, and the bold paintings and space age graphics definitely appealed to our duo. While we were there, MP learned the museum hosts Family Saturdays with interactive activities for kids. This Saturday, April 18, it’s Family Saturday and there’s a free dance concert in the evening, too. If your kids are too small to brave the museum, the campus is a perfect place to explore or ride bikes.

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Just one of many tasty treats from Biscuits & Co. in Biddeford.

Sunday mornings are celebrated at our house with a big breakfast. This Sunday, we’re hoping to visit Biscuits & Company in Biddeford. MP has a thing for homemade biscuits, and she’s the type who likes to compare her own with others.

If the weather stays warm, we’re finally going to get our seeds planted. MP is following the advice of Stephanie O’Neil from Farm to Table Kids, and planting some flowers and vegetables from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

CP#1’s birthday is coming up next week. MP usually makes something special, but she’s asked if we can decorate mini cakes at Ice It Bakery in Yarmouth. This bakery has long been a local favorite of ours, and we’re more than happy to oblige the birthday girl, especially since she’s on crutches for the next few weeks.

cakeOther hopeful plans include a visit to Sunflower Farm in Cumberland to cuddle with the baby goats, and maybe some of us will steal away to our library for a little Thursday morning yoga.

Visiting the kids at Sunflower Farm is a favorite spring tradition.

Visiting the kids at Sunflower Farm is a favorite spring tradition.

We’d love to hear what you and your family are doing for vacation week, too. Drop us a line, anytime! Happy vacation.

xo, MP

 

 

 

Melissa Berluti from The Little Blue Birdie in Cape Elizabeth reached out to us recently, and we’re so glad she did! Melissa designs thoughtful travel bags for kids, containing everything from a wooden matching game to a mini chalkboard, a blank journal and more creative goodies. Since our family is always on the go, these smart bags seemed like a perfect solution for long car rides.

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Melissa, who lived on Nantucket Island in the past, was inspired to create the bags after taking ferry rides on and off the island with her nearly 2-year old daughter. In search of ways to keep her little one occupied, Melissa decided to create a bag that held special things to be used exclusively for these trips.

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In addition to travel, The Little Blue Birdie bags are ideal for sick days, snow days, party favors or even bringing along to a restaurant. And we like that Melissa creates activity bags that are age appropriate (thanks in part to her 10 years of preschool teaching experience).

You can shop for The Little Blue Birdie bags here. Just for Cute Potato readers, Melissa has offered 10% off any item in her shop. Simply use the code “Cutepotato.”

Happy spring travels, everyone!

PS: More fun activities for kids.

CP#1’s Girl Scout troop is working towards their commerce badge. To make it fun, the troop leaders organized a trip to Wilbur’s Chocolates in Freeport, where the girls would spend the afternoon learning about chocolate and how it’s made. MP, who is never one to turn down an opportunity for chocolate samples, decided to tag along.

Wilbur’s, which is located in an orange farmhouse on Route 1 called “The Pumpkin House,” has been in business since 1983. According to our tour guide, Tom and Catherine Wilbur started out with a retail store. Soon after, Tom began experimenting with chocolate making. The pair eventually made the decision to make and sell their own confections. The first chocolate Tom Wilbur developed is the iconic Wilbur’s moose, which is still sold at their shops today.

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Our patient tour guide for the afternoon.

After learning about the business, our guide showed the girls a cacao bean and explained that it came from a tropical, evergreen tree that grows in South America. The seeds from the cacao bean are used to make cocoa butter, cocoa powder and chocolate.

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Cellophane-wrapped chocolate pops for Easter.

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Trays of fudge ready to be cut and packaged.

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The troop was interested in the lesson, but  were anxious to try making their own chocolate covered marshmallow and graham cracker treats. We followed our guide to the factory, which is filled with candy making supplies, old-fashioned chocolate molds, and a conveyor belt for chocolate making. All of us were asked to wash hands and put on hairnets. If ever there was an “I Love Lucy” moment, this was it.

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Our guide turned on the conveyor and gave each of us a graham cracker and heart-shaped marshmallow. We painted the graham crackers with a bit of chocolate, placed the pairing on the belt and let the conveyor drip dark chocolate over the whole treat. Next, we took turns decorating our treats with colorful sprinkles.

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We all had to wait a little while for our chocolates to continue down the conveyor. Our guide explained that the chocolate had to cool and dry before the girls could package their treats to bring home.

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alldoneOur field trip to the chocolate shop and factory was such fun! We would definitely bring friends or family back to visit again. To tour the factory, visit Wilbur’s events page for dates and times. Just be prepared for lots of samples!

Wilbur’s Factory
174 Lower Main Street
Freeport, Maine
207-865-4071

Our family was looking forward to visiting friends in Providence for our first children’s film festival over February break, but the weather didn’t cooperate. While Maine escaped a blizzard, Rhode Island was hit with a big snowstorm and we cancelled the trip. MP was so disappointed. She figured the kids would have to wait until next year for the experience.

Then MP received a note from Portland-based mom, Lauri Boxer-Macomber, detailing the city’s upcoming children’s film festival. The event, now in its 4th year, benefits the East End Community School, a K-5 public school in Portland. According to Lauri, one the festival’s main goals is to create lasting connections within the community through films.

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The entirely volunteer-run festival, which begins Wednesday, March 25th and runs through Sunday, March 29th, features everything from animated short films for little ones to documentaries for teens. Each film focuses on a different part of the world in an effort to create a global awareness for young audiences. The films will be shown at several venues around Portland, including Space Gallery, The Portland Museum of Art, and The Portland Public Library, to name a few.

The festival will also feature original student films, which will be on view at the Nickelodeon. Lauri, who has volunteered for the festival since its inception, says this is often her favorite part. “The kids are so excited to see their work in the local movie theater. I love to watch their faces light up when their films are on the big screen.”

A scene from "On the Way to School."

A scene from “On the Way to School.”

MP previewed the films with the kids and we’re hoping to catch On the Way to School, a documentary that follows school children in four remote locations around the world—the Kenyan wilderness, the hills of Patagonia, the Atlas Mountains and the Bay of Bengal —as they travel to attend class in distant schoolhouses. The movie takes place at the Portland Public Library on Friday afternoon, and there is no charge for admission.

"Boy & The World" tells the story of a boy who is searching for his father.

“Boy & The World” tells the story of a boy who is searching for his father.

CP#2 is excited to see Horizon Beautiful, about a 12-year old street kid who hopes to get the attention of an influential soccer promoter, on Friday evening at SPACE. On Saturday morning, MP would like to take the kids to the Portland Museum of Art for the Brazilian film Boy & the World. After the movie, kids are encouraged to check out the Youth Art Month exhibition. Then at 1:00 p.m., side x side—a community arts organization based in Portland— will be leading an art project inspired by the film.

In addition to what we’ve selected here, there are so many more great films to see and interesting talks to attend (including a free chance for teens to watch “I Learn America” and meet the filmmaker at USM). For a full listing of events, visit here.

Hope to see you at the movies!

FMI: Visit the Portland Children’s Film Festival web site. March 25-29, 2015.

PS: For the Portland Museum of Art event, mention you are with the Portland Children’s Film Festival and you’ll receive half-price admission to the museum and art workshop.

“The more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it probably is.” —Michael Pollan

In January, MP was browsing the new books at our library and came across a cookbook called 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake. The book caught MP’s interest for a few reasons. Like MP, Lisa is a blogger and mother of two, who enjoys cooking and baking. Lisa began her blog after watching a television interview with In Defense of Food author Michael Pollan. Pollan’s common sense thoughts on highly processed foods inspired Lisa to change her family’s eating habits for the better.

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Lisa Leake and her family. Photo courtesy of http://www.jsonline.com.

Much like MP, Lisa had been filling her daughter’s lunch boxes with what she considered healthy snacks—yogurt sticks, pretzels, fruit snacks and granola bars. Michael Pollan’s Food 101 discussion challenged her to consider the ingredients of the foods she was buying. Lisa was surprised by the amount of preservatives, sugars, and artificial flavors in the snacks she believed were healthy for her kids.

Cover photo courtesy of Harper Collins.

Cover photo courtesy of Harper Collins.

Right around the time MP discovered 100 Days of Real Food, she had begun looking at labels and trying to keep the kids’ lunchbox snacks and juices to 10 grams of sugar or less. It seemed like the logical next step to follow Lisa Leake’s rule of thumb: try to purchase real food with 5 ingredients or less, and whenever possible opt for 100% whole grains and no refined sugar.

MP chose a few recipes from 100 Days of Real Food to start, including homemade granola cereal, tostadas, whole chicken in the slow cooker, and cinnamon-raisin quick bread. She had fun figuring out the family’s meal plan for the week, but shopping posed a few challenges. Like Lisa, MP couldn’t believe how many artificial ingredients were packed into some of our staples. The oatmeal bread MP used to purchase for sandwiches was at least 20 ingredients long. Even the plain almond milk she used for the kids’ smoothies had some ingredients she couldn’t pronounce.

After learning quickly which foods made the cut, MP felt encouraged. Instead of yogurt sticks, CP#1 takes whole milk yogurt to school flavored with real maple syrup. And rather than goldfish crackers, CP#2 brings freshly popped popcorn. Each of them always has a fruit or vegetable in their lunch box, and something homemade from Mom (quick breads and muffins sweetened with honey are a favorite). Their sandwiches are made from whole wheat bread (we like Borealis and When Pigs Fly), which has probably been the biggest transition for two kids who prefer soft sandwich bread. They also go to school with bottled water rather than juice boxes.

Of course, if you read this blog, you also know that we are dessert people. We’ve revamped our weekday desserts to fresh fruit with cream, smoothies, and a simple homemade frozen yogurt (stay tuned for that recipe in an upcoming post). Whenever possible, we save our treats for the weekend. We’re far from perfect, but this new way of thinking about the foods we eat has certainly put us on a great path. MP is hoping the kids will learn a lot from our real food journey.

We have many favorite recipes from 100 Days of Real Food. All of them are so simple and only require a few ingredients. One crowd-pleaser is Lisa’s Mini Lunchbox Quiches. We have them for dinner with bacon or local sausage, potato hash, and fresh fruit. The leftover quiches are perfect for lunch the next day!

Photo courtesy 100 Days of Real Food.

Photo courtesy 100 Days of Real Food.

Mini Lunchbox Quiches
Recipe adapted from 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt (divided)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) of butter, melted
4 eggs
1 ½ cups of milk
1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup of your favorite grated cheese (we used cheddar)

  1. Preheat oven to 400º F. Line a muffin pan with 12 silicone muffin liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, blend the flour and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Stir in the melted butter until the flour is completely moistened. Set aside.
  3. In a large, glass measuring cup or spouted bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, and pepper.
  4. Put one tablespoon of the flour mixture in the bottom of each silicone muffin cup. Push the mixture down flat with your fingers so it covers the bottom evenly.
  5. Sprinkle the cheese evenly on top of the crusts, then carefully pour the egg mixture on top, filling the cups approximately two-thirds full.
  6. Bake until the eggs are set and lightly browned on top. 18-20 minutes.

To learn more about 100 Days of Real Food, visit Lisa’s blog or shop for the book at your local bookstore.

PS: For more great food tips, see this post on how French kids eat.

CP#1 and #2 are growing up fast. We decided this year they would be ready to try cross-country skiing. Plus if there were ever a winter to embrace the outdoors, this one is it. DP grew up skiing at Carter’s in Oxford, but we decided to try some place closer to home for our first outing. On a bright, 20º Saturday afternoon, we bundled up and traveled to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. The ski center features expansive trails, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced.

We rented skis, boots and poles at the farm, and the friendly staff made us feel right at home. “You’ll have a blast!” said the young woman behind the counter once we were fully outfitted.

DP, who is the designated map expert at our house, decided on a nearly 3 mile trail to get us started. Once we all put on our skis, we traversed up our first hill. CP#2 lead the pack, followed by his Dad, CP#1 and MP, who admittedly is the slowest skier in our crew. The slippery hill was a tough way to start, but once we got past it, the remainder of the trail was fairly flat.

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The trails at Pineland Farms are well groomed and signs point you in the right direction along the way. We took our first break just past the skating pond, where skiers will find a fire pit. CP#1 was also pleased to discover bags of marshmallows and sticks for roasting.

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After our break, we skied the Oak Hill Trail, which took us down some fun little slopes and through a gorgeous stretch of woods. It was at this point in the excursion that most of us found our skiing mojo. One skier in our troupe—who shall remain nameless—wanted to cut the trip short due to fatigue, but we pressed on, encouraging each other along the way.

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By the end of the ski, all of us were tired, but in a good way. CP#1 asked if she could return the next day as soon as she took off her skis. MP worried about the cost of skiing twice in one weekend. Afternoon rentals and passes for our family totaled $60. Thankfully, she noticed a brochure for WinterKids, a non-profit that offers affordable outdoor programs for Maine families. MP knew WinterKids provided discounted passes for downhill skiing, but she learned the non-profit also offers a WinterKids FunPass for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and tubing locations as well.

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The FunPass is good for kids from preschool through fourth grade, and it allows them to try cross country skiing and snowshoeing for free! Downloading the pass on the WinterKids web site is quick and easy. The pass is good for three visits to 19 locations throughout the state! Thanks to this amazing program, our family can check out some more great places to cross-country ski.

FMI on Pineland Farms Ski Center, visit here.  To learn more about WinterKids, check out winterkids.org.

PS: For Maine 5th, 6th, and 7th graders, WinterKids also offers a special passport for discounted skiing and snowshoeing.

This is the time of year in Maine when we could all use a good dose of green. Thankfully, the first day of spring is just around the corner. We can’t wait to walk woodland trails, smell that welcome mix of evergreen and earth, and relish in temperatures above 40º.

In the spirit of feeling hopeful, we’re sharing pictures of one of our favorite new hiking spots—Rines Forest in Cumberland. We visited on a spring afternoon and had so much fun playing in the streams, throwing stones, and muddying our boots.

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To learn more about Rines Forest, visit the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust here, or check out Trail Finder.

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