Tag Archives: outdoors

Granola Strolla Solar Charger Review

Have you ever wanted to head to the playground or out on a hike or to the beach but waited because your phone was about to die and you were expecting a really important phone call?  This charger looks like it’d make it a lot easier to recharge while YOU recharge.

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The Granola Strolla family enjoying the outdoors–just for the sake of it, and to take advantage of their solar charger!

If we sponsored and shared every worthy Kickstarter we stumbled across, we’d have to rename ourselves The Stoneham Review of Interesting, Worthy, and Potentially Very Lucrative Brainstorms and Beyond because there are a lot of brilliant and innovative ideas out there. But this one for the portable Granola Strolla solar charger caught our eyes.  Why?  It shares our mission on multiple levels:

  • most practical when getting outdoors, enjoying nature
  • environmentally friendly
  • while it isn’t geared towards use by small kids, it is more kid-friendly/kid-safe than many solar chargers out there (more on this later)
  • calls on our love of all that is science geeky
  • it is a small family business with local ties

 

 

Here’s the link to the actual Kickstarter to support it: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/granolastrolla/granola-strolla-portable-solar-usb-charger

When I first heard about this, I thought, “Well, it is a nice concept, but there are other portable solar charges on the market.  How is this one different?”  Not that any idea is truly unique.  For instance, when I was a kid I thought a glow-in-the-dark toilet seat would be the answer to all the inconveniences of sharing a bathroom with my kid brother.  I was sure I’d be rich and be invited on 3-2-1-Contact or something.  It wasn’t a week later, I saw they were already on the market. Foiled!  So things have got to stand out and be different somehow.  And this one definitely does, in our opinion.  And I daresay it took a lot more thought and engineering than my midnight inspiration.  So I think this one’s got a great shot! How Granola Strolla stands out:

  • they are taking the lead by putting a more eco-friendly Lithium Iron Phosphate battery in it, in addition to a recycled casing.  Their promotional items, rewards, and “swag bags” are natural crafts from local artisans, as well.
  • It’s multi-directional.  This makes it easier to charge with more surface area on multiple sides, and it is also set up to loop easily onto your bag, strollers, or other accessories.  No unfolding or set-up with this one.
  • Its casing makes it more durable and hardier than many solar chargers already on the market.  And it is water-resistant!
  • It is more lightweight than some.  This is especially important when carting around the kids and all their stuff.  Or for backpacking!
  • It is more affordable than much of the competition and will be manufactured in the U.S. to create jobs.

 

See!  Water (drool?) proof and BPA free!

See! Water (drool?) proof and BPA free!

The sturdiness is a big one for me.  Confession time!  I don’t even have a smartphone yet.   I use mine for calls and texts only.  I can sometimes go five days on one phone charge whereas some of my friends make only five hours. (Less worry with Granola Strolla!) But as most of  you know, we’re running off camping constantly.  Usually there is no electrical source to be found!  It can still be good to have a phone or GPS in case of an emergency, or an e-reader if you read as much as we do.  It sounds like this would be a great addition to our camping checklist.

Irene and Ben reside in the Memphis area with their two little boys and their dog and cat but lived in Boston for a while and still have ties and connections here.  They are crafty, creative, and interested in environmental issues.  You can direct questions to their website and also check out the Facebook feed or Twitter @granolastrolla.  Irene also has a business doing custom sewn and  knit designs at Tea With Frodo Designs (which has a giveaway going on this week!).

Their son Garrett and Bridget when they were small.  Perhaps he's saying, "Ok, let's bring these to the playground.  And mommy can charge her camera on her Granola Strolla and take many adorable pictures of us!"  Sadly, it didn't exist then.  But it does now!

Their son Garrett and Bridget when they were small. Perhaps he’s saying, “Ok, let’s bring these to the playground. And mommy can charge her camera on her Granola Strolla and take many adorable pictures of us!” Sadly, it didn’t exist then. But it does now!

They are off to a great start, and are already 15% to their goal not even three days in. (It was very cute when they rewarded themselves with Toblerone–a Granola Strolla shaped treat–for meeting their first micro-goal.)   I think they’ve got a great chance and  an exciting idea that fills a niche.  Support them, or consider sharing if you’re unable at this time but still intrigued.  It’ll be exciting to see this continue to develop!

Drink your Trees – making maple syrup

I won a maple syrup making kit at a charity auction. AND GOT VERY EXCITED. I had never made maple syrup before, so I was super glad the kit came with these three books (pics link to amazon.com).

The kit I got came with a metal spile, a hook, and an aluminum bucket and lid – like this kit on amazon.com :Maple Sugaring / Syrup Tapping Starter Kit with Metal Buckets. The only other thing you need is a drill to make a hole in the tree. 7/16th drill bits are a bit hard to find, but that’s what the old fashioned metal spiles need.


(Aside: there are lots of different spiles, taps, lines, and collection vessels available on Amazon.com. For two spiles we used sand buckets, for one a plastic drinking jug – just need something to catch the sap)

I used my cordless power drill to drill into the bark. You’re supposed to do it between a big root and the first big branch, because that’s where the sap will flow the strongest. I kinda just drilled in where it was convenient to stand. The hole is supposed to be 1-2 inches and angled slightly upwards. I think I got that more or less.

I cleaned to drill dust out of the hole and was pretty much amazed that sap started leaking out immediately. I guess I got there just at the right time. Stuck the hook over the spile and hammered the whole thing into the hole. Attached the bucket and lid, and then waited.

The sap flowed at different rates over the next few days. A couple of days it filled the whole 2 gallon bucket, on others 1/4 or 1/2 a gallon. The sap flow is super dependent on the air temperature. For the sap to flow well, it needs freezing temperatures at night, and about 40 deg F during the day. There seems to be some wiggle room. I just checked the bucket a couple of times a day (mostly because I was curious about what was going on).

Turning Sap into Syrup

So maple sap only has a slight sweet taste (that’s me drinking it straight from the pot). It looks and tastes like water otherwise. If you collect it in the morning and some of the sap has frozen, that is the BEST! The ice is mostly water, the sweet part gets concentrated in the part that hasn’t frozen.

Then I filtered all the sap through a cheese cloth into a giant pot and boiled it. A lot. It’s a huge reduction and quite steamy.  I’m trying to work out how to do it in the crockpot, so I don’t have the gas stove going so much.

The books say to reduce the sap until it looks like syrup – light brown-ish, slightly sticky. And if you want to get precise, you can use a thermometer and hygrometer. I have a candy thermometer so I used that to heat the syrup to about 215degF. I also took some of it higher to make maple candy – mixed success there, though all was delicious (just some was too soft, and some too hard).

I then poured the boiling hot syrup into clean mason jars and sealed them up. They seem sterile and nothing has grown in the first batch, which has been at room temperature for over a week.

Things I learned: sap is yummy, and there is a lot of it. Maple syrup is much yummier but more precious that platinum. You just need a way to make a hole in a tree and a way to catch the copious amounts of sap.

And here are some photos of me making maple syrup:

Playground Hunt Treasure Hunt

Printable Fall Treasure Hunt

Someone requested a fall treasure hunt (after some prodding on Facebook). So here it is: my first printable treasure hunt for roughly 3 to 5 year old preschoolers for FALL STROLLS. Please let me know what you think and what other kind of treasure hunt I could make. They take a couple of hours to get pictures, resize, make look pretty, etc. So I don’t want to make them just willy-nilly.

FallTreasureHunt – links to pdf file

Enjoy! And let me know what you think – and join us on Facebook if you haven’t already – thanks!

FallTreasureHunt FallTreasureHunt – links to pdf file

Camping in Maine

We (Alex, Jen, Mama Angelika, and Bella the dog) went for a 7 day camping trip to Maine. This post is a cross between telling the stories, writing down the suggestions for making it work as a resource, and memos to myself for what to do different for the next time.

Driving

Google said it would take just under 4 hours to get from our house to the campground. It took 5 1/2 with pee stop, snack stop, pee stop, ice-cream stop, pee stop. That’s a long time for two active kids to sit, so I had prepped heavily with a lap table, picture books, coloring books, treasure hunt, and audio books.

The car tables I got were the Star Kids Snack and Play Travel Tray – which just sits on their lap and buckles around the back of the car seat. I loaded up the pockets on either side with drink bottle, snacks, crayons, and small coloring book.

The audio books I had with me were Bad Jelly The WitchandMagic Tree House Collection: Books 1-8on CD on loan from the Library. Alex in particular was very interested by the Tree House books and listened to the whole lot over the week.

Hint: I also found lots of audio books that could be borrowed for 2 weeks through the online loan system that lets you download files to your media player.

The drive went really quite well. The trickiest part was getting everyone to agree they had everything packed. Bella the dog had the front passenger seat and tried to lie down – often pushing the gear stick from D to N. I initiated a pit-stop every time they got restless, which is a change from other travels where I tried to make it to a certain place before stopping. Here I just figured that the main goal was to keep everyone happy – even if it took us an hour longer.

Campground

Several friends had recommended Searsport Shores Ocean Campground as a child-friendly, fun place to take young children. The more I read on their website, the more excited I got – they were writing about their goats, organic gardens, resident artists, and activities on the beach.

Wobbly bridges at the playground

Wobbly bridges at the playground

And it was even better than I had hoped for. There was a huge playground they had built themselves, and which was therefore interesting. There was a really nice play room with a cozy book corner (if you can call that many shelves a corner) with good books, a fireplace, and a shop for ice-cream (and various fiber arts and camping supplies).

The bathrooms were spotless, there were free hot showers, and even a handicapped stall, which is good for wrestling kids into the shower. There are also lots of washing machines and dryers. Turns out this is very useful if your theoretically potty-trained 3 year old has an accident and pees in her sleeping bag. Sigh.

The campground also has lots of gardens full of interesting plants for eating and dyeing. There are lots of sculptures, wood carvings, and little treasures to discover in the forests. And an amazing art studio occupied by a rotating cast of artists-in-residence.

Campsite

I chose a campsite where we could also park. The campground has sites where you have to walk a couple of hundred feet from car to campsite, but this seemed like a lot of hassle with little kids. Our campsite was shaded and all round really lovely. It had several trees where we built Fairy Houses, a fire pit (wood for sale at office), and a water faucet 10 yards away. The toilets ended up being a little bit too far for us. Next time we’ll get a closer site, and with electricity so I can recharge my phone.

Good things I brought for the campsite:

  • potty – even though both Alex and Jen are totally potty trained, sometimes we still get the “I have to go potty NOOOOWWWWWW!” and then it was good to have only a couple of feet to go. I have the Kalencom 2-in-1 Potette Plus, Blue with disposable inserts.
  • 10 different flashlights – variety is the spice of life here, apparently
  • 100 glow sticks – each kid got 4-6 glow sticks each night as a night light
  • wet wipes for when the kids refused to get washed in the shower
  • bikes – Alex tore up the campground riding back and forth and we managed to get to places (bathroom) without spending 30 minutes trying to drag dragging feet.

Arts

Turns out the Searsport Shores Ocean Campground has artists that stay there for a whole week and provide activities for the whole family in the custom Studio.

Check out the schedule for this year:

Week of: Artist in Residence Activities
June 23-29 Tom Cote Wood carving and whittling
June 30-July 6 TBA Ocean learning adventures
July 7-13 Barbara Andrus Weaving a Shorefront structure from twigs and driftwood
July 14-20 Blake Henderickson Wood Block Buffet
July 21-27 Susan Tobey White & Jeannie Painting, drawing and seeing
July 28- Aug 3 Ellen Mason Playing with Dyes and Yarn and Fabric
Aug 4-10 Steven Scheurer Chain Maille, Macramé & Caricatures
Aug 11-17 Maryly Mathewman Seaside Quilting and Color play for all ages
Aug 18-24 TBA
Aug 25-31 TBA
September 1-8 Fiber College 4 days of amazing fiber classes, demos, vendors and happiness

Pretty awesome!!!

Dyeing with EllenWe got there halfway through Ellen Mason‘s week, but she had us promptly dyeing, stitching, cutting, etc, although she also does a lot of knitting and designs patterns. She was super fun and engaging and both kids looked forward to going back to the studio – sometimes we went twice a day 🙂

Next artist-in-residence was Steven Scheurer, a.k.a. Santa. He looks like Santa, and does a lot of volunteer work and charity stuff as Santa, and as an all-round nice guy taught us how to make survival bracelets and chain mail. This was a bit above Alex and Jen, but I (and all the older kids) had a great time making bracelets and dog collars.

Beach

The campground has it’s own private beach, and they ran several activities during our time there: seining – catching little fish with a net for the kids to look at and crab hunting  (for an invasive species) were the ones we made it to. They put a lot of emphasis on conservation and the ecology of the beach and made it fun and education for all.

Tide pools

Tide pools

It’s a rocky beach with a pretty big tide difference. That meant that at low tide we could find lots of different shells, look at the rock pools, wade around looking for green crabs, and chase the occasional little fish in clear cold water. It’s not a sandy swimming beach and Alex and Jen asked for one of those a couple of times before they got used to the rocks and being interested in the animals there.

Another blog post will follow about what the camping experience meant to us personally, but meanwhile here are some pictures:

Suffolk Park Malden

The Playground Hunt Meetup group is off to a roaring start. I guess there are a lot of people out there who want inspiration and motivation to explore new outdoor play spaces (or old favorites with new friends?)

The meetup is here: http://www.meetup.com/Playground-Hunt-active-kids-outdoors/ – we have 10 meetups coming up, so please join us 🙂

This morning we went to a (new to us) playground in Malden. Erin, one of the meetup members suggested it, and everyone who came thought it was quite excellent.

View Larger Map

The playground is a large connected structure, probably more fun for kids over four years old. There are nets, and climbing walls, ladders, and 4 or five slides. They are all fairly steep on the end that is more geared towards the big kids. The end by the stairs is for smaller kids, but they are all connected. There is a tire swing, and a lot of grass to run around on. The field also had a port-a-potty.

The best on this hot day was when the grass sprinklers turned on. Then all the kids were almost instantly wet. And mostly naked. Sigh 😉

And here are my photos from this morning:

Camping Activities for 3-5 year old Kids

More camping preparation is underway and here is the list of activities I will be bringing along. We’ve done several of these before, but some are new to us, so I’ll report back to what worked.

My philosophy is to be prepared with a large arsenal of games, since my children often deem the lovingly prepared activities as not very exciting 😉 So here is my first stab at keeping them busy and happy. I’m also adding pins to my camping board at http://pinterest.com/angelikapaul/camping/

  1. Scavenger Hunt (use these bingo cards? http://www.makingfriends.com/scouts/camping_bingo1.htm
  2. Fairy Houses (collect nuts, leaves, rocks, twigs to entice a fairy to live in your house) – check out this book for inspiration! Fairy Houses Book
  3. Fort (build a people-sized shelter against a tree or rock)
  4. Obstacle Course ( round the table, three jumping jacks, across the log, sing a song,…)
  5. Follow bugs
  6. Charades (what animal am I,…)
  7. Make flower jewelry (crowns or bracelets)
  8. Coloring books
  9. Ball Games (Soccer, throwing, baseball with a random stick?,…)
  10. Frisbee (a current favorite)
  11. make up stories (my kids love stories about themselves 😉 )
  12. shadow puppet show (at night in tent)
  13. Bean bag toss (ziplock bags with a scoop of dirt, throw onto plates or dig out hollows in sand)
  14. Collect treasures (special rocks, leaves,…)
  15. build a mud/sand castle
  16. make rock cairns
  17. make rock, leaf, or twig art
  18. blow bubbles
  19. nature rubbings (leaves, bark,..)
  20. card games
  21. I-spy
  22. dam building
  23. ???

Bring:

  • magnifying glass
  • binoculars
  • ball
  • frisbee
  • coloring books
  • crayons
  • markers
  • paper
  • string
  • scissors/pocket knife
  • balloons
  • books
  • flashlights
  • little shovels/beach toys
  • tupperware container (bug house or treasure box)
  • deck of cards

That should do it, right?

Camping with 3-5 year olds

I’m getting ready to take the kids camping next weekend, so I’m compiling lists of stuff and activities and food. Thought I’d share what I found good last year camping with Jen and Alex, and what I learnt hiking and mountain climbing in New Zealand before I grew up 😉 Here is us camping last year with my excellent mountaineering tent. For this year I decided to downgrade to a car camping tent. I’ll report in a couple of weeks on how that goes.

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I like to go minimalist, but be comfortable, so here is my list with links to the actual items I own and use. This is my summer camping list, and does not include warm clothing, nor snow shovels…

Sleeping:

Eating:

  • Stove
  • Pots
  • Matches in a ziplock bag
  • Stove fuel
  • Sharp Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Spatula/Wooden Spoon
  • Plates (generic plastic plates)
  • Cutlery (from home)
  • Cups (generic platic cups)
  • Water Bottles
  • Water Containers (clean milk containers)
  • Campsuds
  • Scrubber
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Paper Towels
  • Baby Wipes
  • Plastic Bags for Garbage
  • Rope

Cleaning and Fixing:

Clothing:

  • Rain jacket
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts
  • Fleece sweater
  • Bathing suit
  • Sun hat
  • Pajamas
  • Laundry bag
  • Water Sandals

Playing:

Lastly, bring confidence, happiness, and a sense of adventure. There are several excellent articles online on camping with kids. One article on the REI website (http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/camping-kids.html) has lots of good advice:

When Outdoors, Be Outdoors

  • Make the most of nature: Look for wildlife. Check out bugs. Examine rocks. Identify birds, flowers, clouds, constellations. Lead kids on a rock scramble. Show interest in things that interest them. Bring a field guide to help you identify and learn about the things they find.
  • Be active, stay loose: Try to keep your kids active without following a regimented schedule. If they’re entertained by skipping rocks on the water, give them time to perfect the multiple-skip fling.
  • Attend ranger talks: If you’re camping at a state or national park, attend the ranger’s evening talk. Ask staff if the park offers a junior-naturalist program or other kid-focused activities.
  • Geocaching: A GPS-guided treasure hunt engages kids physically and mentally. Check our link to geocaching to see if any caches are hidden in the area you’ll be visiting.
  • Share time together: “Hey, mom, remember when we saw that deer?” Great memories are one of the great payoffs of a camping trip. Come home with the sort of stories that can only be created outdoors. Shakespeare must have been camping when he wrote, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

Endicott Park

We joined a Meetup.com meetup at Endicott Park in Danvers. We’d never been, but it is only 15 minutes from our home in Stoneham, and it was great fun. It’s run by the town of Danvers: http://www.endicottpark.com/

Located in northeast Massachusetts, in the Town of Danvers, Endicott Park encompasses 165 acres, and is home to some of the most unique and varied recreational land on the North Shore.

The park’s varied landscape includes pastoral views, historic farm buildings, orchards, woodlands, and marshes, with a network of trails and gravel roads for stress free and stroller friendly exploration of the park.

Entrance fee to the park is $1 for residents and $3 for non-residents during the weekend. Free during the week, but they are looking for donations to purchase a new climbing rock for the playground. And I always support people who want to improve a playground 😉 (For my playground project see http://RebuildingRounds.org)

Anyway, the playground area is fully fenced, has lots of benches, lots of shade trees, and lots of space with grass. There are two areas, one for the 2-5 year old set, one for the 5-12 year old set. Both are well designed, usable, and FUN! There are lots of swings, thought the ones with the infant seats and the big kid seats are at opposite sides of the playground. There are NO TRASH BARRELS since this is a carry in – carry out facility. Bring a plastic bag.

There are restrooms, some farm animals, some strolling trails, and lots of meadows and trees for frolicking.

Flying Kites

Alex and Jen are pretty average kids, and I try to get them outside running around as much as possible. Otherwise things go pear-shaped pretty quickly with excess energy. Thankfully both are now old enough to run and do activities independently.

So here are some random pictures of them flying their kites. Running for a whole hour. Woot!

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