#1. Freeze buttermilk
This one was pretty easy and straight-forward - one of those things that make you say "why didn't I think of that?!?" I occasionally buy buttermilk for pancakes or some other recipe, and I almost never use up the full container. The rest usually ends up going down the drain. So this is a great idea - freeze the leftovers and then you have it on hand when you need it (like when you don't know what to make for supper and it ends up being pancakes... that has happened before, and no one was terribly thrilled about the non-buttermilk recipe I tried out). Anyway, I haven't tried thawing out the buttermilk yet, so hopefully it's not some strange consistency once it's defrosted (they recommend giving the bag a shake to mix it up, if it has separated).
#2. Pool noodle "beads" - busy bag
I've been seeing ideas for "busy bags" all over Pinterest, and I absolutely LOVE the idea of them. For those of you who aren't familiar, busy bags are different activity bags that you can pull out when you need a few minutes of uninterrupted time (and you don't want to stick your kid in front of the TV) or when your kid starts complaining about being bored. They should be age-appropriate so kids can do them without your help (or with minimal assistance). They are also usually educational, helping kids practice hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, letter/number recognition, matching/recognizing colors, shapes, etc.
I'd love to have at least 5 or 6 (or more!) different bags for each kid, so there's always something relatively "new and exciting" to pull out. I think that's one of the brilliant aspects of these bags - they are cleaned up and put away after using them, so they're not just "another toy" lying around. They're a novelty, which increases their appeal to kids.
I picked the pool noodle "beads" idea to start our collection, mostly because I had an old pool noodle in the garage and it was easy to do - just get a knife and go at it.
For string I used a skipping rope that Annika got for her birthday, but both the handles came off before she ever really used it, so it's just been lying around since then. I made a set for both Emmett and Annika (even though the task is a bit too easy for Annika) because I knew that she'd want to do it too if she saw Emmett doing it. I will likely modify Annika's set a bit to make it a bit more age-appropriate (i.e. more difficult). I've seen a few ideas for older kids - having different color noodle "beads" to create patterns, or drawing letters or numbers on the noodles and then stringing them in order.
So how did the kids like them? Well, at first they were both intrigued and strung the beads onto the rope (the task is actually a little difficult for Emmett right now, but I'm sure he'll get the hang of it soon). As you can see, Annika is a pro at it.
However, it didn't take long for Annika's imagination to take over. The beads became "food" for her airplane...
then... bread crumbs??
Meanwhile, Emmett got bored and went back to playing with his Lego. :P
I ended up putting everything away (after fishing beads out from under the couch and various other places) after Emmett started taking bites out of them. Sure, the kids were busy, but not exactly like the quiet, serene picture I saw on Pinterest. :(
I was a bit disappointed that the bags didn't "work" as perfectly as shown on Pinterest (but really, what ever does??), but I think once the kids get used to the idea of how the bags work, and perhaps with a few "rules" (sit at the table or around the coffee table when playing with busy bags, items from busy bags must stay together, etc), then hopefully they will be more successful. (Note: as I'm typing this, Emmett is pointing towards the cupboard where the bags are kept and is saying "beads, beads, beads" - this could be a successful idea after all).
From what I've seen on Pinterest and the various busy bag pins I've checked out so far, it seems like a lot of people who make busy bags often do it as a "swap", so that they can get lot different kinds of bags without the effort of making them all themselves (it's also likely more cost-effective). You get a bunch of people together and everyone makes just 1 or 2 kinds of bags, but enough for everyone in the group. Then you swap bags and end up with a great collection! I think this is an awesome idea, and I'm toying with the idea of organizing a swap myself, if I can get enough people interested. I haven't totally worked out all the logistics of it, but I'd like to get at least 10 people participating, and you have to know me in real life and be relatively close by (so we don't need to worry about mailing stuff). We'd probably have 2 categories of bags - toddler (under age 3) and preschool (age 3-5). I could provide a list of bag ideas and you could pick one of two to make, or you could come up with your own idea. Each bag should only cost about $1-2 to make (or less). We would get together one evening to swap bags (and probably would need to have some snacks or something to go with it! ;) ). Let me know if you're interested in participating - leave me a comment here, send me a message on FB or email me!