Moms

Spring break projects to do at home

Spring break is supposed to be a wellspring of time off, a respite from a demanding school schedule. That is, if you're a student. However, for parents, it can be a jarring wake-up call as we think about how to spend time together as a family, in ways that everyone will enjoy. We've found some projects that can satisfy those who relish the outdoors or those who have a creative spirit or a sweet tooth.

Butterfly host garden

Butterflies are nature's flying jewels, and children are naturally drawn to their whimsical colors and shapes. Consider planting a garden that would support the butterflies' cycle of life. Host plants invite the female to lay her eggs and feed the resulting caterpillars. If conditions continue to be supportive, a butterfly eventually emerges.

For North Texas, we looked for plants that would attract the most colorful and interesting butterflies. Online searches, and a visit to Redenta's Garden in Arlington, led us to an easy-to-care-for host garden. Most of the plants we chose support one of the most colorful local butterflies, the black swallowtail.

Children may also enjoy the less-colorful butterfly that is drawn to the lettuce plant -- the cabbage looper. According to Kathy Newton, at Redenta's Garden, the caterpillar for that butterfly is what most kids would identify as the inchworm.

Devote a corner of your garden to the butterflies, or make this a container garden. Make markers for the plants to help kids learn their names. For my container garden, I put in some sweet alyssum, a butterfly food plant, for added color.

Be prepared for the caterpillars to make a meal of the host plants. That is to say, the aftermath will not be pretty. But when butterflies emerge, children will see the beautiful fruits of their efforts.

What to plant:

Parsley

Fennel

Dill

Rue

Lettuce

Sweet alyssum

Button bracelet

This is a very easy craft for children who can sew a button onto an elastic bracelet. Consider mixing vintage buttons with modern colors and textures. Buttons can be combined or stacked to give greater interest.

Note: Since many of the parts are small, they can pose a choking hazard for small children.

Supplies:

Scissors

3/8-inch elastic, white or black

Needle and thread in corresponding color

Buttons (look for interesting sizes and colors)

Upholstery thread

Fabric glue

Directions:

1. Cut a 7 1/2-inch length of elastic.

2. Overlap the ends by 1/4 inch and sew together with needle and thread.

3. We chose to stack our buttons first, beginning with a large button for the base and then adding one smaller button. Using upholstery thread, which is thicker, we sewed the individual stacks onto the elastic bracelet, trimming the knotted threads closely.

It is a good idea to reinforce the individual knots with a dab of fabric glue.

Skillet cookie

There's nothing like the prospect of a giant cookie to get the kids measuring ingredients and learning to cook. This recipe is adapted from Delicious Desserts by Barbara Beery (Gibbs Smith, 2004).

Makes 1 giant cookie, 16 slices

1/2 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk chocolate chips

Sprinkles (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 10-inch skillet (with an ovenproof metal or wooden handle) with cooking spray. Set aside until ready to use.

2. In a large bowl, use a mixer to cream together the sugars and the butter until smooth. Beat in vanilla, and add eggs one at a time.

3. Add the flour, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Dough will be stiff. Stir in the chocolate chips.

4. Pat cookie dough evenly into skillet. Decorate with sprinkles if desired.

5. Bake for about 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

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