Category Archives: Life in the US

The Story of Two Nests of Sparrow Chicks in our Garden and How they Ventured into the House.

Every year, sparrows nest in our bird box. We watch the mother and father fly in and out, building the nest. We hear the chicks when they are born and see the parents feeding them. When the nest is empty, sometimes we watch the chicks in the trees as they learn to fly.

sparrow chick in a tree

As I was sitting in the garden, a few days after observing this chick in the tree, one of the chicks flew into the house.  I followed it in and opened doors and windows to entice it out.

baby sparrow in the house

Shortly after the mother entered the house looking for her baby. Her distinctive clicking cheep sounded desperate as she tried to get the chick to respond to her.

 

After some time the mother left. We thought we saw the parents  flying around with the chick outside.  I could still hear the chick’s squeaky chirp, but assumed it was coming for the garden. We left the house, as we needed to go out. Some hours later, on our return the children came running, saying the chick was still flying around inside the house. It settled on a high window ledge and we could see the parents flying around outside and frantically calling.  I opened windows and doors again and the mother came in and out, searching and calling. The baby flew to above the front door but didn’t work out how to get down.

 

 

Eventually, after hours inside the house, the bird flew to the ground and hopped outside to be reunited with his parents.

A few weeks later, the girls were playing football in the garden and discovered a nest near a rock, shaded by fern. Inside were 3 tiny eggs. A few days passed and the girls ran in to tell me the eggs had hatched.  We watched them for the next few days. Sometimes the mother sat on them and sometimes they were left while she searched for food.  She was never far away and a number of times we saw her swoop down to scare off an inquisitive baby bunny.

mother sparrow on her nest

We watched  as the strange bald creatures with huge eyes grew into fluffy chicks.

Sparrow Chicks in nest day after hatching
Day 1
sparrow chicks in nest
Day 2
Baby sparrows in a nest
Day 4

Then one morning my daughter ran to tell me to come and look at the nest.  The nest had been pulled from its hiding place and was on the lawn. The birds were nowhere to be seen. Had an animal discovered them, or was it time to fly the nest?

sparrows nest

We soon discovered the latter was true. Carefully camouflaged by brown leaves, one of the chicks was hopping around the ground and waiting for the parents to come and feed it. We could hear the other chicks too but we think perhaps they had gone into next door’s garden as we couldn’t see them.

sparrow chick before it could fly

After 24 hours the chick had gone, probably learning to fly. We heard them for a few days and then no more as they moved on to discover the world.

I love that we have learned so much about birds simply from sitting in the garden on a summer day.

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Are You Sick of the Seattle Spring Rain?Brighten your day with Seussical Jnr. at Village Theatre Kidstage.

Seussical-Jr_900x900If the rain is getting you down, Seussical Jnr at Village Theatre Kidstage, Issaquah, can’t fail to put a smile on your face. Many theatre goers shy away from kids productions for fear that they might not be any good. My own perceptions have been changed over the years since seeing  some truly excellent junior productions. I attended Seussical’s opening night because my daughter is playing the baby kangaroo, but I was in awe of this amazing cast and felt compelled to share my experience.

The last time I saw Seussical, it was performed by a group of talented adults (many of whom I had appeared on stage with) in Bristol, UK.  I had been told by many that Kidstage productions would exceed all expectations. The competition for a place in the cast is fierce with over a hundred children auditioning for thirty something places. I expected a quality show but these talented kids and teens blew me away and matched and sometimes outdid those adults in the UK.

The show itself, is colourful, high energy, funny, heartwarming and full of memorable songs. Setting the show in a playground and using everyday clothes for the costumes but adding magical twists like animal ears and feathered tails, emphasised the role of imagination, an important theme of the show, where ‘ Anything is Possible’.

Each cast member had a unique character that they maintained throughout the show.  Cat in the Hat (Nina Romero), is a fantastic physical actress. Every movement and facial expression embodied this familiar character perfectly and her clear speaking voice and strong, faultless singing made her perfect for this role.  Jojo (Natalia Oritz Villacorta) owned the stage, with a wonderfully, rich singing voice that surpassed her age.

Seussical introduces a myriad of familiar Dr. Seuss characters, but the main thread of the story centers around Horton the elephant. McKay Hancock made a perfectly sweet, lovable and downtrodden Horton and his heartfelt opening to Solla Sollew was one of my favourite moments. Arin Sandidge’s, beautiful voice, strong presence and ability to convey every emotion through her eyes, was captivating as Gertrude the bird with the one feathered tail. You couldn’t fail to cheer her on in her quest to get Horton to notice her.

I loved the characterisation of the Mayor and Mrs Mayor of Whoville (Colin Bixler and Eleanor Olsen). The Mayor’s comic timing was wonderful and this was counterbalanced by Mrs Mayor’s strong character and vocal ability.

There wasn’t a weak link in the show – every cast member put their life and soul into the production and there were so many little character moments to watch that I will need to watch it multiple times to catch them all. You can’t help but come out of this show with a smile on your face and you may very well be seeing future stars in the making.

Seussical Jnr runs from 13th – 29th April with performances on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Tickets are available from the Village Theatre box office for $18 general admission or $16 Youth and Senior.

 

Art Project Inspired by Chihuly’s Macchia

Dale Chihuly is a local glass artist. His works have been exhibited around the world and can be seen locally at the Chihuly Glass Garden and Museum adjacent to the Space Needle in Seattle or at the Museum of Glass and Chihuly Bridge of Glass in Tacoma.

My daughter did a science project for her first grade class last week, where she showed how colours could be separated using a coffee filter and water.  The class were fascinated, so I had an idea to incorporate their interests into our next art project.

One of Chihuly’s famous series are Macchia.  These look a little like glass bowls, similar in shape to a coffee filter and are made by experimenting with different colour combinations.  I showed the children pictures of Macchia and a short video showing how they are made.

Macchia means spots. I asked the children to decorate a coffee filter using washable  markers, adding a variety of colours and including spots in their design.  I showed them some examples from home, some had white spaces and some had the whole filter filled with colour.

When the designs were finished the children placed them on an upside down plastic cup and secured them with a rubber band.

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They were then sprayed with spray starch.  We protected the floor with paper and sprayed each one from a distance so the starch would create a fine mist and the filters wouldn’t get too wet.

This is quite a quick project but the children were keen to make more.  Most children made two or three in a 45 minute lesson.

The designs were left overnight to dry.

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The finished designs were mounted onto black card.  These were joined to make a collaborative display but I chose to put each bowl on an individual piece of card so they could take them home.

The finished display.

Chihuly macchia bowls using coffee filtersart project inspired by chihuly's macchiamacchia bowls made from coffee filters

 

 

Hamilton; The Hottest Ticket in Town: Does it live up to the hype?

Hamilton Seattle 2018

My first introduction to Hamilton was two years ago at the Tony’s. Around the same time, it took my daughter’s middle school by storm. She memorised every word and introduced Hamilton to her younger sisters, who were soon gripped by Hamilton fever.

The whole family took on the challenge to learn the songs and dress up for local Hamiltunes events and my two youngest daughters started a Hamilton club at school.

 

The long wait to finally get to see Hamilton was over this weekend, when we visited the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. Our only sure-fire way to guarantee tickets when Hamilton arrived in Seattle was to buy a seasons pass and we haven’t regretted it. Every show we have seen this year has been fantastic but Hamilton was the prize ticket.

With two years of hype and excitement, there was a danger that

  1.  The kids would be sick of Hamilton by the time it arrived.
  2. It wouldn’t live up to our expectations.

The show opened with a very different type of Burr to the Odin Jnr we were used to. The first five minutes were spent getting used to the new voices and intonations but by the end of the opening we had warmed to the new cast and we were carried away by the spectacular show.

It is solid testimony to the creators of Hamilton, that a show touching the hearts of the nation through the soundtrack alone, is such a visual delight.  The choreography, lighting and set are breathtaking but even more spectacular is the way in which all these elements work together to create the story.  If you feel you’ve heard the soundtrack, so don’t need to see the show, think again. Seeing the show provides not only a deeper understanding of the plot and characters but also an utter visual delight, incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen on the stage.  Lin-Manuel Miranda has certainly set a high bar  for all future musical theatre productions. It feels truly groundbreaking,  similar to seeing Les Miserables for the first time in the early 90’s.

Shoba Narayan as Eliza and Ta’rea Campbell as Angelica will blow you away with their incredible singing voices and emotive presence. Even knowing the story so well, it is difficult to hold back the tears during the second act.  The party behind me (who I suspect didn’t know the story as well) sniffed their way through the performance from ‘Burn’ to the end of Act 2. The perfection of the final lighting cue, shows focused attention to detail and how carefully thought out every moment of Hamilton is.

Is Hamilton suitable for children?

My youngest children are 7 and 9 and big Hamilton fans.  Even if children are Hamilton fans, there are a few things to be aware of.

  • Act 1 is long – around 30 minutes before the interval my 7 yr old told me she was tired and started to get a bit fidgety.  If your children don’t know the story or the sequence of songs and are not good at sitting for prolonged periods, I would suggest waiting until they are older.
  • Make sure you get a booster cushion (we took an extra with us just in case). The theatre will be full and most likely there will be an adult sat in front of them.

Hamilton was a wonderful experience for our family. The children are regular theatre goers and know the show well.  If your children are not used to the theatre, children under the age of 8 may not get the full benefit of the experience. Also being aware that this is a once in a lifetime experience for many adults, may help you decide if your child will be a distraction or not.

The final verdict

Hamilton

Smiles all around.  Hamilton is the hottest ticket in town with good reason. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to see Hamilton, wherever you are, don’t hesitate – you won’t be disappointed.

Young Puppeteers: Puppet Play Inspired by the Jim Henson Exhibition at MoPop

My love for Jim Henson’s creations isn’t a secret. As most children of the 70’s and 80’s, I grew up watching Sesame Street, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. I love the Muppet Movies new and old, I cried buckets when I watched the documentary ‘Being Elmo’ and my greatest ambition is to sing on Sesame Street some day.

My love affair with puppets began when I was nine years old and bought Snoopy and Charlie Brown marionettes with my Christmas money.  I joined the Pelham puppets club, who would send me magazines with short play scripts in them. My granddad made me a wooden puppet theatre with a hand painted back drop and curtains you could open and close.  I would perform the plays with my friends and remember making costumes for my puppets and performing a show about a witch for my Brownie pack.

Being an early years teacher, gives me the perfect excuse to continue buying puppets as an adult. I love the way young children respond to puppets and they are invaluable props for my parent and toddler music groups.  My girls have inherited most of my collection and added some of their own.

I have been looking forward to the Jim Henson exhibition at MoPop since the summer.  We decided to save our visit until the winter when the wet weather often drives us indoors. The Jim Henson Imagination Unlimited exhibition continues until 25th February, so there is still chance to visit.

The first part of the exhibition explains Jim Henson’s early career. Jim Henson started out by manipulating his puppets to sing along to  music tracks. At the exhibition, you can choose a puppet, and a track and record the puppets miming along to the music.  The girls were totally captivated and loved watching themselves on the screen. It was difficult to drag them away.

The other sections feature Jim Henson most famous creations.  The journey begins with Sesame Street.  I was very exited to see Ernie and Bert, Grover and the Count.

The girls learned about the generic  blue puppet used in Sesame Street to create multiple characters. The puppet is blank and features are stuck onto the face to change its appearance,  according to the requirements of the script.  The girls played at creating different characters.  We have a similar puppet at home, made by playskool. The girls have made additional features from felt with Velcro attached.

My favourite part of the Muppets section, was a fascinating video explaining how Miss Piggy and Kermit were able to ride bicycles in one of the muppet movies.

The girls loved showing off their theatrical poses and seeing their favourite character, Beaker.

The final section showed exhibits from The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Fraggle Rock.

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Outside of the exhibition was a muppet stage set up with miniature instruments. You choose your puppet, a piece of muppet music and create your own puppet show. The girls thought this was wonderful and they were surprisingly good at it.

This inspired them to make a puppet show at home. They often make puppet shows on the stairs, peeking over the bannister. This time, we made a screen from our photo backdrop.  The girls went to town customising it and spent the next few days writing a muppet show, full of jokes, magic, music and dancing.

My favourite was four puppets singing along to the Pentatonix sugar plum fairy.

The song features Kermit, the wotnot, and one of our favourite puppets, a Melissa and Doug ballerina named Peh .The girls called her Peh because when she dances her hair falls in her face, so to get it out of her eyes, she tosses her head, saying, ‘peh’.

We have a few recent additions to our collection.

Melissa and Doug chef

Melissa and Doug cowboy and his cow.

A giraffe

And a cute cat.

We’re now adding even more to our collection, as I’ve discovered Goodwill online is great place to find unusual puppets at great prices. I’m a little bit hooked. I recently won an amazing Jim Henson puppet ( more on that to come soon).

I love how the puppets have inspired them to create stories, costumes and props. They have also become interested in how puppets are made, what makes a particularly good puppet and how to be a ventriloquist. I’ll share some of their home made puppets in a future post.

Disclaimer: this post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase products via these links, I receive a small compensation.

Have You Ever Eaten Every Part of a Plant? We did on our field trip to Oxbow Farm.

Oxbow Farm is my favourite place for field trips.  The guides are wonderfully entertaining and keep the kids motivated with songs, movement, challenges and a fast paced, hands-on journey through the farm.

The children learn about the farm plants and have an opportunity to investigate, pick and taste everything, whilst being shown respect for the plants and their environment.

They eat leafy plants being careful not to stand on the plants.

picking Kale leaves
Snap off a whole Kale leaf and eat it. “It tastes like broccoli”

They eat seeds, learning about where the seeds come from, how they are spread and dried out in the greenhouse.

seeds drying in the greenhouse
The children collected bean pods in the garden, split the pods and brought the seeds to dry in the greenhouse

taking the beans from their pods

They eat stems. We found tiny celery sticks to try.

They eat flowers. We ate small yellow flowers that tasted like licquorice.

edible flowers

They eat fruit. We ate juicy apples from the tree and found the seeds inside them.

They eat roots. We pulled salad turnips and carrots from the ground, washed them and ate them.

tasting a salad turnip
tasting a salad turnip. “It tastes a bit spicy”

The children found a caterpillar

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Found out that runner bean leaves stick to you

runner beans

and even played hide and seek in the rhubarb

And everyone had a juicy pumpkin to take home.

Great British Bake-off Themed Kids Party

 

My kids are huge Great British Bake Off fans so my daughter chose a bake-off themed party for her 9th birthday. The idea of ten children all baking together at the same time was a little daunting but I needn’t have worried. I think this was probably one of the most successful parties I have organised.

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Planning

I decided on a basic Mary Berry cupcake recipe to be in keeping with the show.

I bought mixing bowls from the thrift store/charity shop and a pack of wooden spoons so each child would have their own utensils.

I pre-measured the ingredients for making 4 cupcakes and placed the dried ingredients in a ziplock bag. In the bowl, I placed the pre- measured butter and an egg.

Recipe for 4 cupcakes

60g self-raising flour

60g caster (baking) sugar

half a teaspoon of baking powder

60g butter at room temperature

1 egg.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Spoon into cases and bake for 25 mins at 350 F/ gas mark 4.

The Competition

The competition was to add additional ingredients to their cupcake recipe to make a unique cupcake and to decorate it with their individual designs.

Additional ingredients to choose from

  • raisins
  • chocolate chips (milk and white)
  • dried cranberries
  • dried cranberry and orange
  • dried blueberries
  • caramel pieces
  • shredded coconut
  • cinnamon
  • cocoa powder
  • raspberries
  • blackberries
  • vanilla essence
  • peppermint flavouring
  • almond essence.

bake off party

The children’s names were written on the bottom of the paper case before they went in the oven.

While the cakes were baking, we played pass the parcel and had some British snacks like cheese and pineapple and chocolate digestives.

great british bake off party

For the decorating stage – they had ready-made frosting (soft icing) and a selection of items to decorate.

  • food colouring
  • piping bags
  • sprinkles/hundreds and thousands
  • fruit
  • chocolate chips
  • fondant icing

Each child chose their favourite cupcake for the judging stage. The cupcakes were given a number but the judges didn’t know who the cupcakes belonged to.

great british bake off party judging

The judges awarded 3 prizes.

  • Best Decorated

best decorated cupcake

  • Best Tasting
  • Best Overall Cupcake

great british bake off party 2

Judging was very interesting ( and amusing). Some were very sweet or had overpowering flavours. I loved the comment from one of the girls, when they were sampling their finished cupcakes.

“My cupcake definitely won’t win best tasting, it tastes like toothpaste!”

The winners were awarded a prize and all the children took their cupcakes home along with a recipe card and a teapot cookie cutter.

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The above party was hosted for 10 children. There were 3 adult helpers, 2 cake testers and the party lasted for 3 hours.