Tuesday, May 26, 2015

FILL WITH KINDNESS--Random Acts of Kindness

When Mandy registered her older daughter for Girl Scouts five years ago, her daughter was placed in our Daisy troop.  A couple years later, her younger girls joined the troop, and Mandy agreed to serve as one of our co-leaders.  Last spring, Mandy and her husband decided to home school their three daughters.  As part of their lessons, they wanted to conduct a social experiment.  Mandy wanted to show her kids how “one single act of kindness can create an amazing domino effect.” She created a Fill With Kindness logo and printed tags that were attached to everything that was distributed.  These tags encouraged people to share their stories on a Facebook page she set up specifically for this experiment:    https://www.facebook.com/fillwithkindness 
 Fill With Kindness - Random Acts of Kindness
Over the years, Mandy and I have become great friends.  She wanted to celebrate her birthday this year by blessing others.  Since we share the same birthday, she invited my girls and me to join them for this special day.  After days of preparation—baking, wrapping, sorting, and mapping—she was ready, and so were we!  Here is the itinerary we followed for the day:

    1.    Mail a surprise gift to someone.

    2.   Leave baked goods for the Post Woman.

    3.   Distribute homemade treats to the neighbors.  For something quick and easy, check out these Brookies!  

    4.   Deliver a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” package to a new neighbor. Decorate a paper plate with a diagram of the street and label with the names of the neighbors.  Cover the plate with plastic wrap so the marker doesn’t bleed onto the food.  Arrange the baked goods on the plate and cover with more plastic wrap.  Add a bow and a gift tag.  

     5.   Deliver baked goods to the following:
  •          Pediatrician’s Office
  •         Library (may also donate gently used books)
  •         Fire Stations 
  •          Police Department  

     6.   Donate old towels, dog toys, and pet beds to a local animal shelter.

     7.   Deliver blankets and pillowcases for children receiving treatment at Cincinnati 
         Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital.  These hospitals are across the 
         street from each other and both greatly appreciated the donations.  Get  
         a group together and make pillowcases to donate.  For tips for hosting a 
         successful pillowcase event, check out this post.

     8.   Deliver toiletries and pop tabs to Ronald McDonald House.  

     9.   Donate Girl Scout cookies and tissue paper flowers to Fisher House.  The 
       Fisher House provides veterans and their families a place to stay while they   
       are receiving medical treatment at the VA Medical Center.  Make extra flowers 
       and visit residents in a nearby nursing home.

    10.While bumping around town, have some spare change and feed parking 
         meters.  Pick up some lottery tickets and leave them on the windshields 
         of cars in parking lots.  If it is raining, protect the lottery tickets by sealing
        them inside a snack-sized baggie.

11.Stop for lunch and leave a generous tip for the server.

Many families are gearing up for the last day of school and summer vacation.  Do you struggle to keep your children entertained during the summer?  This post offers plenty of ways to keep kids busy, and they’ll discover these activities are extremely rewarding—for the recipients of the donations as well as for themselves.  Have a wonderful summer!  Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Junior Girl Scouts badge: Flowers

Our Junior Girl Scouts completed the Flowers badge by attending a two-hour program at the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati.  In this post, I will describe the activities they completed to earn this badge.  I will admit I'm probably not the best person to lead a lesson about flowers, so I was excited to discover this program.  And for just $5 per girl, the Garden Center program was the perfect choice for our troop.  When I called to schedule a date, I learned there was an opportunity for our girls to join another Girl Scout troop that is also comprised of Brownies and Juniors.  While the Juniors worked on the Flowers badge, the Brownies earned their Bugs badge. The girls worked well together, and it was fun to spend time with a troop from another school.

STEP 1:  UNCOVER THE SCIENCE OF ONE FLOWER.  The girls began the program by touring the grounds of the garden, and we found many of the flowers were labeled.  The program leader is a botanist, so the girls were able to ask her questions throughout our time together.

The Juniors identified their favorite flower in the garden, and they created an acrostic poem in which each line begins with a letter of the plant's name.  As an example, here is my daughter's acrostic poem:

Pretty pinks and whites
Every bugs favorite hiding spot
One beautiful flower
Not smelling good
Your favorite pink color 

STEP 2:  LOOK UNDER PETALS.  Our program leader had several books and note cards for different flower families (Roses, Orchids, Asteraceae, and Lilies).  The Juniors were divided into small groups, and they worked together to first choose the flower family they wanted to research.  They found at least three fun facts about the flower family, and they created a poster that was later presented to the other groups.

STEP 3:  FIND OUT HOW FLOWERS HELP PEOPLE.  The girls learned that flowers are fruits in disguise.  They enjoyed a delicious snack of watermelon, pineapple, strawberry, blueberry, and grapes.  Each girl had a chance to pass out part of the snack to the rest of the group.

STEP 4:  HAVE FUN WITH FLOWERS. The girls were given a 3"x12" piece of clear contact paper to use to make a bookmark. They were asked to gather leaves and flower petals from the ground.  They peeled back one end of the contact paper film and arranged the items as desired.  They continued to remove the rest of the film before folding the top half of the contact paper over the materials to cover them completely, making sure to match up the edges before pressing the contact paper together.

UPDATE:   Here is one of the bookmarks the girls made as described in Step 4 above.

STEP 5:  SEND A MESSAGE IN FLOWER CODE.  The badge booklet says, "Many flowers are symbols that send a specific message when you give them."  Here is a link to a website that defines these different meanings.  We have made large tissue paper flowers for bridging ceremony decorations.  We have also made smaller ones to brighten someone's day.  A friend shared this tissue paper carnations tutorial with me, and I decided to post it here since it is easy to follow.  Tissue paper and pipe cleaners are inexpensive, so the girls can easily make tissue paper flower bouquets, corsages, and arrangements to share with others.  They could take the flowers to residents of a nursing home or to veterans at the local VA hospital.  What a great way to combine a badge and a service project!

Thank you for reading.  

Brownie Badge: Bugs

When our older girls were Brownies, they completed the Bugs badge during one of our regular meetings.  Our younger girls earned this badge by attending a two-hour program at the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati.  We used troop funds to cover the cost of the program ($5/girl).  In this post, I will describe how both troops completed the five steps to earn this Brownie Bugs badge.

STEP 1:  DRAW A BUG POSTER.  The older girls were asked to complete a poster at home.  They chose a bug and then found some fun facts about that bug to write on a poster.  If using the internet to do their research, they were instructed to have adult supervision.  They were also asked to add a picture of the bug and label its parts.  At the Civic Garden Center, we joined another Brownie troop for the program.  The Brownies were divided into groups of four.  They also chose a bug, drew it, and worked together to find information about it before presenting their posters to the other groups.

STEP 2:  TRY A BUG CRAFT.  The older girls made egg-carton caterpillars, using paint, googly eyes, and pipe cleaners.  The younger girls made coffee filter butterflies.  The decorated the coffee filters with markers and then sprinkled them with water from the rain tank at the Civic Garden Center.  When the coffee filters were dry, they clipped a clothes pin in the middle of the coffee filter and added half of a pipe cleaner for antennae.  For more fun, the badge booklet suggests hanging this butterfly above  tissue-paper flowers for a pretend butterfly garden.  

STEP 3:  SEE BUGS IN ACTION.  Both groups of girls watched three bugs.  The younger girls were given a handout to complete during their program.  This paper provided a space for the girls to write the name of the bug, what it is doing, and why?  They were also given a clipboard and a magnifying glass to use while they were exploring the gardens. 

Another choice of activity for this step is to make a bug box, and there are instructions for making a bug box out of a cardboard shoe box.  My younger daughter loves digging in the dirt and making homes for worms and bugs.  She received this bug box as a gift a couple of years ago.  She loved that she got to build AND paint the bug box to make it her own, and she continues to use it today.  Being able to have little bug "pets" has brought her a great deal of joy.

STEP 4:  EXPLORE BUG HOMES.  When our older girls were earning this badge, I ordered the Insect Lore Live Butterfly Garden.  We actually ended up with two of them because my older daughter received one for Christmas that same year.  The live caterpillars arrived in the mail, and we followed the directions provided.  About a week later, the caterpillars had formed their chrysalides and began their transformation into butterflies.  This was a great way for the girls to observe the metamorphosis.  

The younger girls were asked to collect items from around the Gardens that they could use to make a model of a bug house.  They were given a worksheet that asked them to list the bugs that live in the home and to sketch the bug home.

STEP 5:  TAKE A BUG FIELD TRIP.  Our visit to the Civic Garden Center fulfilled this badge requirement for our younger girls.  We will most likely return for the Juniors Gardener badge program they offer.  We took our older girls to the Butterfly Show at Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati.  This event has been an annual family activity for us for years, and we loved sharing the experience with friends.  If you happen to be in Cincinnati in the spring, we recommend you check it out!  Thank you for reading.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Junior Girl Scouts badge: Animal Habitats

Last year, the girls in our troop wanted to spend the night at the Cincinnati Zoo.  They used a portion of the money they earned during the cookie sale to cover the cost of the outing.  We camped out in tents behind the Giraffe Ridge exhibit.  My husband and I had purchased this Coleman 6-Person Tent for family campouts.  The tent gets great reviews on Amazon, and our family highly recommends it!  We have used it several times, and it has been relatively easy to assemble.  To give readers an idea, I set the tent up to take some pictures for this post, and I accomplished this task within fifteen minutes.  (Please note there is a rainfly included with this tent.  If I remember correctly, this protective cover is a little more involved to set up and may require an additional set of hands).  In our experience, we have been able to fit the following arrangement in this tent:
  • four adults
  • six young children 
  • two adults and three smaller kids 
  • three adults and two children
Remember to account for the space required for all the gear as well.  Here are a few photos to provide some perspective:


Our overnight at the Cincinnati Zoo last spring was such a hit that the girls voted to use this year's cookie sale profits for another overnight at the Zoo.  Thankfully the Cincinnati Zoo offers many overnight opportunities for groups and families, so the girls got to experience something new.  This year, we spent the night with the manatees.  

Knowing we were returning for another zoo program, I took a look at the requirements for the Juniors Animal Habitats badge.  I realized the girls would most likely complete three of the steps during our overnight at the zoo.  We completed the other two steps during one of our meetings. Additionally, the girls were asked to work on an endangered animal crossword puzzle and word search for fun when they finished sewing their pillowcases during our Pillowcase Event earlier this spring.  An online search for an "endangered species crossword puzzle" provides many puzzles that can be printed for the girls in your troop.

Step 1:  Find out about wild animals.  The badge booklet states, "Wild animals may seem very different from your pets at home, but at one time, all animals were wild!"  Since we were sleeping with the manatees, the girls had plenty of time to observe the animals.  As a group, the overnight participants discussed the manatees' behavior and talked about how their behavior differs from other animals we have observed.

Step 2: Investigate an animal habitat.   While at the zoo, we toured the Bird House, Jungle Trails, and had an opportunity to go behind the scenes in both the Bird House and Manatee Springs.  The questions listed in the badge booklet were answered easily. 

Step 3: Create an animal house.  During one of our meetings, we made a Jello Nest as described in the badge booklet.  Unfortunately the experiment did not work as planned, but we talked it through with the girls.  They left the meeting understanding how and why an animal insulates its nest.  As I already mentioned, part of the overnight included a visit to the Bird House, so the girls learned a little more about nests.

Step 4: Explore endangered habitats.  Since manatees are endangered animals found living in the Gulf of Mexico, the questions posed for this step were answered during our zoo overnight.

Step 5. Help protect animal habitats.  We completed this step during one of our meetings.

The Juniors used the endangered animal word search I mentioned previously, and they each wrote down the top five endangered animals they wanted to know more about.  From this list, we narrowed their choices down to three endangered animals.  The girls voted, and the groups were assigned accordingly.  One group researched the Asian elephant, and the other group discovered more about the Monarch butterfly
Using laptops under supervision of troop leaders, the girls worked together to answer the following questions about their endangered animal:
  • Where does the animal live?
  • Why is the animal's home endangered?
  • How can others help?
  • Is there an organization that protects the animal's habitat?  
  • If so, what is the name of the organization?  What is its mission?
Our three Brownies work together, and they chose to research the okapi.  All three groups decorated posters and presented their reports to the other two groups. 

Following the presentations, we recreated an oil spill as described in the badge booklet.  We filled a bowl with water and then poured some cooking oil into the water.  We tried to clean up the spill with some string, a tissue, a paper towel, a cotton ball, and a spoon.  When asked what else we should try, the girls exclaimed, "Dawn!"  Guess they're all familiar with the advertisements.  

Another fun badge completed.  Though this blog post describes the steps required to earn a Girl Scout badge, there are some great activities that school-aged children could complete on a rainy day or during summer vacation.  Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Our daughters get older, and there is an increase in the amount of chicken scratch covering the calendar that hangs on our refrigerator.  By color-coding this scrawl for each family member, my husband and I are able to successfully manage the chaos (though some days it doesn't feel like we're as efficient as we'd like to be).  I imagine this time of year is particularly crazy for most families as we gear up for summer break and the associated change in family rhythm and routine.  In previous posts, I shared some gifts that we make to give our daughters' teachers for Christmas and at the end of the school year.  One of the gifts is homemade bread with a cute tag made by the student.  My daughters and I love to bake.  I've let them help me in the kitchen since they were really young.  Most times we bake from scratch, but there are other times when we choose to use prepackaged ingredients.  Using measuring cups and spoons has been a great way for the girls to practice and improve their math skills without even knowing it.
Several years ago, I was introduced to the Brookie, an irresistable combination of brownies and chocolate chip cookies.  With just one bite, I was instantly hooked.  And then I learned how to make them... Brookies quickly became a family favorite!  Our older daughter's name is Brooke, so she thinks it's fun to take Brookies to her classmates for her birthday, and she gives Brookies as gifts during the holidays.

Every time we make Brookies, people ask me for the recipe.  As I mentioned earlier in this post, we usually bake from scratch, but when we make Brookies, it is much easier and quicker to use prepackaged ingredients.  So instead of a recipe, I have rather a list of instructions.  After searching online for a link of instructions to share in this post, I discovered there isn't a website out there that describes how to make Brookies like we do.  We have made this sweet treat many times, and my girls (ages 9 and 8) can now make it all on their own.  Of course, I'm always there to supervise the use of the hand mixer and oven.  After a great deal of trial and error, here are some tips for baking the perfect Brookies:
  • Purchase a box of Betty Crocker Triple Chunk Brownie mix and a tube of Pillsbury refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough.  By choosing a different variety of cookie dough (peanut butter or sugar cookie, for example) and adding various toppings (chocolate chips, crushed peppermint candy, etc), the options are endless.  That being said, these two products have yielded the best results for us.
  • Spray an 8"x8" glass pan with cooking spray. (While we prefer to use a glass pan, please note that any oven-safe pan can be used).
  • Preheat the oven as directed on the box of brownie mix.  If using the mix mentioned above, and if using a glass pan, the oven should be set to 325 degrees.
  • Set the unopened tube of cookie dough on the kitchen counter to soften.
  • Prepare the brownie mix as directed.  For this specific brownie mix, combine 1/4 cup of water, 1/3 cup of vegetable oil, and 1 egg in a medium bowl.  
  • Stir until well blended.
  • Pour batter into the prepared baking dish.
  • Bake as listed on box.  If using the mix mentioned above, the recommended time is 35-38 minutes.  We usually leave the brownies in the oven for 38 minutes.  A shorter baking time has yielded a really gooey brownie layer in the finished product. Keep an eye on them so they do not bake too long.  
  •  Remove brownies from oven and increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees (as directed on the tube of cookie dough).
  • Using a spatula, spread the softened cookie dough over the warm brownies.  
  • Bake for 10-11 minutes or until the edges are lightly brown.  Remember the cookie dough will continue to bake as it's cooling.  The edges shouldn't be too dark when removed from the oven, but the middle of the cookie dough layer shouldn't be raw either.
  • Let cool completely before cutting.  
  • When my daughter is taking the Brookies to her classmates at school, I cut the 8x8 pan into 25 pieces.  If we're serving Brookies for dessert or giving them as gifts, I may cut them into 16 larger pieces.  
  • I set each Brookie on a flattened cupcake liner.  Mini cupcake liners are a good size when the pan has been cut into 25 pieces.  Most kids can devour it in three or four bites.  It's the perfect little treat to satisfy a craving!  But be warned...most people can't eat just one!

Place a couple Brookies in a snack-sized zippie bag or slide them into a treat bag and tie with a pretty ribbon.  In my experience, the Brookie is out of the wrapper and gone before the packaging is even noticed.  

For Girl Scout troop leaders, help your girls satisfy a step for the Brownie Snacks badge or the Juniors Simple Meals badge by baking Brookies with them.  While the Brookies are in the oven, the girls can work on other badge steps.  Have fun!  Thank you for reading!

UPDATE (October 2015):  
I volunteered to make a treat for my daughter's Halloween party at school.  She asked for Brookies with a twist.  We decided to drizzle white chocolate over the top once they had baked and completely cooled.  We wanted to cut this batch into a dozen pieces, so we gently pressed a mellowcream pumpkin in the center of each piece.  After letting the white chocolate set briefly, we cut the pieces and placed them in orange cupcake liners.  NOTE:  The traditional Brookie as prepared with the ingredients described above is nut-free, but individuals with certain food allergies may wish to avoid this Halloween treat.  I used a bar of Ghiradelli white chocolate for the drizzle.  The package stated the bar may contain tree nuts, and the Brach's pumpkins were manufactured in a facility where milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy are used in the production of other products.  

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mother's Day Tea and Traditions

When I think about celebrating Mother's Day, the first ideas that come to mind are tea parties and flowers.  Every Mother's Day since becoming a mother myself, we have invited my parents and my in-laws to our house for a special dinner.  In 2009, my mother-in-law asked if we could have a special Garden Fairy Party before the annual dinner.  We immediately starting planning the day, knowing that we spend the majority of our time together planting annuals in the flower beds in front of our house.

a craft for the Brownie Bugs badge
In preparation for the "Butterfly Bash," my daughters helped make pipe cleaner butterflies to be used as decorations.  This is a relatively easy and inexpensive craft that can be modified for kids of all ages.  I believe I may have loosely followed the directions posted hereMy girls were only 2 and 3 years old at the time, so they needed some help with this craft.  They enjoyed experimenting with different color combinations of pipe cleaners the most.  To make the butterfly your own, you can use beads and pom poms, brightly colored pipe cleaners, sparkly pipe cleaners...Many different variations of these butterflies can be found on Pinterest.  The girls also made invitations for their grandparents by drawing butterflies on construction paper and decorating them with markers and glitter glue.

We wanted to serve a light lunch before getting our hands dirty, so my girls helped make finger sandwiches.  Using a butterfly cookie cutter, my older daughter cut the bread.  We spread some with peanut butter and jelly, and others we filled with bacon, cucumber slices, and ranch-flavored cream cheese.  I also made Ina Garten's Cheddar-Dill Scones; however, I used minced rosemary and diced thyme instead of dill.  Again, we used the butterfly cookie cutter when cutting the dough.  The scones were spread with a prepackaged herbed cream cheese.  We also served a fruit salad and pink lemonade--two favorites at our house!
consider for Brownie Bugs and Snacks badges

For dessert, we made butterfly cupcakes using my mother-in-law's favorite Jello Poke Cake recipe.  To make the butterfly, I combined several different ideas I found online.  A quick Pinterest search provides plenty of inspiration.  To make the wings, cut a large marshmallow in half and dip in sanding sugar.  Use pastel-colored M&Ms for the body and a gumdrop for the head. 
Daisies can practice being friendly and helpful.


Even when my daughters were much younger, they were able to help properly set the table.  For the "Butterfly Bash," I made simple place cards to set at each seat.  We cut flowers from our yard for the table centerpiece.  

When planning a tea party with Junior Girl Scouts, they can complete the five steps to earn the Social Butterfly badge.  Daisy Girl Scouts can earn the orange petal for being responsible for what I say and do.  They can also earn the yellow petal for being friendly and helpful.

After looking back through pictures in our family scrapbook, I now recall that I helped our girls make special booklets to give to their grandmas during this tea party.  I asked questions such as "What is your favorite thing to do with Grandma?" and "What is your favorite memory with Grandma?"...  I recorded the girls' answers, ending the message with "I love you."  We helped the girls "sign" their names.  Note:  If school-aged children are making this gift, they could fill in the blanks with their answers.  For example, "My favorite thing to do with Grandma is _____________."  These kids may be able to write the questions and responses on their own.  It would be cool to have kids write on a pretty piece of paper from the craft store and put it in a frame for Mom or Grandma.  They could update their responses for future Mother's Day gifts. 

In addition to the booklets, we made butterfly suncatchers for the grandmas.  There are several different varieties available.  In my experience, painting suncatchers is easier for younger kids than decorating suncatchers with baking crystals.  Our family has used both, and we've been pleased with the results.  I would recommend painting suncatchers when when working with Daisy and Brownie troops.  Junior Girl Scout troops may have success filling the spaces of the suncatcher with the baking crystals, but I suggest having additional volunteers available to help.  Depending on the size of your troop, you may consider purchasing additional glass stain paint so the girls aren't all trying to share the same eight pots of paint.  Keeping with the butterfly theme, a mosaic butterfly stepping stone is another great Mother's Day gift idea.  We have helped our daughters make a few stepping stones over the years, but this is not a project I would tackle with our Girl Scout troop regardless of their ages.

When the girls in our troop were in kindergarten, we held a Thinking Day Tea.  When the older girls were Brownies, we had a Mother's Day Tea.  For this occasion, the girls in our troop invited their mothers to a tea party that we scheduled for late afternoon on a weekday in early May.  Badge steps and service projects are usually tied into our events, but this time we planned to give the guests an opportunity to socialize with each other.  Each family was asked to bring something to share whether it be a sweet treat, a savory snack, beverages, or paper products.  An email was sent and the ladies were asked to "Reply All" when they signed up to bring something.  As I mentioned earlier, this is great way for Junior Girl Scouts to earn their Social Butterfly badge.  Brownies can satisfy steps toward the Snacks badge, and Daisies can earn some petals.  It was a super easy event for the leaders and a lot of fun for everyone! 

Just a couple months after that Garden Fairy Party, my mother-in-law Nancy was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.  She fought to the end but lost her heartbreaking battle on April 1, 2011.  Since her passing, Mother's Day has become even more special for our family.  Every May, a few days before the holiday, my husband and I take our girls to a local nursery to buy brightly colored blooms.  We spend Mother's Day planting flowers and mulching the beds, celebrating Nancy's life by taking plenty of time share our favorite memories of her.  Happy Mother's Day!  Thank you for reading.

    "The grass withers, the flower fades,
        but the word of our God will stand forever."

                                                     Isaiah 40:8