Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

Broken (Sugar Cookie) Hearts

February 10, 2009
Decorating Valentine Cookies

I took Booh to a late afternoon cooking class for Valentine’s Day to make Valentine Cookies for her Daddy. When we arrived, the tables in the classroom were lined with butcher paper and individual decorating stations were set up for each student. Ramekins of colorful dime store candies were set out, and the temptation to stick little fingers into these bowls had all the kids on the edge of their stools while waiting for the class to begin. Once everyone arrived and settled in, heart shaped sugar cookies, the smooth blank slates for their little love creations, were passed out, and the decorating began.

Decorating Valentine Cookies

With small chef hats and matching aprons the kids set to work with their piping bags and chocolate non-perils. As frosting leaked out of the top of her piping bag and onto her sleeve, Booh made the analogy of the pink and purple frosting being like “glue” and the rainbow sprinkles “glitter.”

At one point I noticed that Booh would suspiciously sit back on her stool and pull her little chef’s hat down over her face. I took a sneak peak out of the corner of my eye and saw that she too was sneaking, only little bits of chocolate jimmies that were sure to ruin her appetite for dinner, which followed. I suggested she put them on the cookies for later, which inspired her to load one of her cookies with an abundant mixture of everything, calling it a “fancy dessert cookie.”

Decorating Valentine Cookies

As the room buzzed with laughter and chatting I watched the children beam over their designs. I thought to myself that creations a professional pastry chef can execute with a frosting filled piping bag couldn’t match what these kids made. Not because a pastry chief lacks any technical skills, but because of the abandon exhibited in their creations that would be very difficult for any adult to match.

Booh beamed too at her squiggly trails of frosting that traveled up and over the rainbow sprinkles with thick squirts, centered off with a jellied heart or bean. In contrast the cookies I had decorated were symmetrical in design, or had been fashioned with letters that spelled “I (heart) U” and “I C U,” laced with little rainbow sprinkles.

Valentine Cookies

As they finished up, each family put their little masterpieces to the side of the room on parchment squares to dry. Booh’s “fancy dessert cookie” spilled candies all over the floor as we moved it to the side table. When viewing the collective of cookies, the ones decorated by adults droned order and fashion amidst the chaos of the children’s wild and asymmetrical creations.

At the end of class, each child received a bag to carry their cookies in. Booh decorated her bag with stickers and gobs of red glitter glue (which does not dry quickly for those of you who aren’t in the know). To everyone’s chagrin, the containers were too big to be set upright into the bags. And because the bags were laced with glitter glue that would take a good week to dry, we had to place the cookies on their sides, smearing frosting and jimmies up against the plastic tops.

Valentine's Day

After class we set out into the cold and windy parking lot to hurry home to share our creations with Booh’s Daddy. Inside the bag (a collection of wild abandon and controlled deliverance) cookies continued to smear frosting on the lid and the backside of one another. I placed the glitter glue ridden bag atop the car as I buckled Booh into her booster seat, the wind pushing the door against my backside. And then I heard it – a great thud at my heels! The wind had knocked the bag off the car’s hood and smashed it down onto the pavement.

When we arrived home, Booh proudly handed the bag over to her Daddy. He pulled out a container filled with bits and pieces of cookies jumbled up with pink and purple frosting, textured with sprinkles. Without inquiry, he removed the container’s lid and selected the only bare broken piece of sugar cookie heart that stood pure among the mangled mess, scooping off the frosting and jimmies that clung to the lid. He smiled and Booh beamed back.

“Happy Valentime’s Day, Dadda,” she said.


Rebounder in the Living Room

January 17, 2009
Picking the Perfect Squash

Picking out squash at the Amherst Farmer's Market this past summer.

Over at Fitness and Wellness in America, fitness professional Chris Arterberry writes about keeping New Year’s nutrition and exercise resolutions during our current economic climate and ponders if folks will stick with them or not.  He concludes, “Overall, even in these tough times, I think one’s success with health-related New Year’s resolutions still comes down to personal behavior and one’s support system, not personal finances.”  

He mentions some shopping alternative people might take to stick with their healthy nutrition resolutions, including shopping at Wal-Mart for health food rather than Whole Foods.  There’s healthy food sold at Wal-Mart?! I had no idea! Not that I want to shop at Wal-Mart … it just feels a bit like an oxymoron. I have seen some healthier foods sold at Costco, like Lara Bars and Organic Olive oil, but never in my life would I have thought Wal-Mart as a source for health food.  I always thought of it as the land of Wonderbread and marshmallow fluff!

I started off my new year with a 10-day cleanse (Master Cleanse), so I feel extra invested in my resolution to health and wellness. Committed to continuing a healthy lifestyle during this recession, my family continues to shop for our “healthy” food at Whole Foods, our local co-op and Trader Joe’s. The trick for us is to buy mostly whole foods from the produce section and bulk food aisles, choosing local when available. Any pre-packaged foods we get are gluten-free. And we look for sales at each store. Being vegan helps a lot too, but my husband isn’t there (yet!). So frozen fish, chicken and cheeses at Trader Joe’s is a good bargain. And I should mention that TJ’s has great prices on their packaged nuts and dried fruits. Some are even organic and sulfur-free!

In the summer time part of our solution will be to grow our own vegetables, frequent the local pick-your-own orchards, farmer’s markets, farm stands, and to participate in our local CSA.  And one of my main objectives for this spring is to get chickens for a steady supply of fresh eggs!

As for exercise, I run on the road. But when it’s minus twelve outside … my husband suggested joining a gym. I could argue that joining a gym to keep us exercising and healthy, in the long run, would save us money … but what about right now? Rebounder in the living room? Maybe so.

Music from the Civil Rights Movement

January 16, 2009

Booh and I have enjoyed exploring songs from the Civil Rights movement, including:

  • This Little Light of Mine,” an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and a song all children should learn as a source of inspiration as they face adversaries and hard times in this life.
  • We Shall Not Be Moved,” an African-American spiritual that was sung during the slave liberation movement and the Civil Rights Movement. A great song to teach your children as they learn to stand up for truth and justice.
  • If I Had a Hammer,” a song that’s been sung during the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement
  • We Shall Overcome,” a song that originated back before the Civil War, that Pete Seeger and Joan Baez have been credited for popularizing.

Another great song that has become synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement is an African-American spiritual, “Oh Freedom,” which was sung by Joan Baez on the morning of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s great speech, “I Have a Dream.” Here’s a video of Joan Baez singing “Oh Freedom.”

“The fact that so many folksingers joined Dr. King in his effort to spread the word about civil rights was hugely relevant, not only because it brought a little added media attention to the effort, but also because it showed that there was a faction of the white community that was willing to stand up for the rights of African-Americans. The presence of folks like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, Odetta, Harry Belafonte, and Pete Seeger alongside Dr. King and his allies served as an omen to people of all colors, shapes, and sizes that we are all in this together.”*


Here’s a great playlist of additional songs that celebrate freedom and the Civil Rights Movement from recent independent musicians and well known artists:

  • Pete Seeger – “Dr. King on Violence” [Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger]
  • Buck Howdy – “This Little Light of Mine” [Giddyup!]
  • Tom Paxton – “Your Shoes, My Shoes” [Your Shoes, My Shoes]
  • Dan Zanes – “We Shall Not Be Moved” [House Party]
  • Dan Zanes – “Down By the Riverside” [Night Time!]
  • Ella Jenkins & Pete Seeger – “If I Had a Hammer” [Ella Jenkins & A Union of Friends Pulling Together]
  • Toots & the Maytals – “Freedom Train (Jamaica)” [World Playground 2]
  • The Deedle Deedle Dees – “Underground Railroad” [Freedom in a Box!]
  • Lori McKenna – “Ruby’s Shoes” [Paper Wings & Halo]
  • The SNCC Freedom Singers with Dorothy Cotton & Pete Seeger – “We Shall Overcome” [Smithsonian Folkways American Roots]
  • Christmas Day Hike

    December 30, 2008

    On Christmas Day we hiked down our property to where the river and the stream meet. With all the snow we had, melting after a rainy now above freezing day, the river and creek are rushing!

    The last second of this video might leave you wondering about the outcome of our hike. One thing I can say about Booh is she’s made of rubber (plus she has a great sense of humor!). So go ahead, laugh!

    Snow Lichen

    Snow Lichen

    You can’t hear it too well, but J says “Look how high the creek is.” And then Booh replies, “It’s a creek, not a cricket.”

    Then J says, “Hey honey, what’s this called.” That’s when Booh looks and loses her balance and does a face-plant into the snow.

    This is what he was looking at.  Not sure what it is called, so we are calling it Snow Lichen until we can get an id.  There is a Flickr group called ID Please.  I posted this photo here and hopefully some wonderful botanist can do just that.

    Gluten-Free Gingerbread Men (and dreidels!)

    December 21, 2008

    I remember as a kid decorating cookies for the holidays with my dad and brother. My mom would buy a roll of Pillsbury sugar cookie dough and cut it into thin medallions for us to decorate with rainbow jimmy’s and red hots.

    J and I have followed a similar tradition since we met, only we make and decorate gingerbread men (and women) from scratch. I’ve made a gluten free gingerbread cookie dough two years in a row, and sadly many of our gingerbread men wind up on the Infirmary Cooling Rack. They just don’t hold together as well. I guess my mother had the right idea!

    I made a royal frosting this year and piped it onto the batch I decorated with gluten free sprinkles. J and Booh opted to spread frosting on theirs with a butter knife and add currents. Booh found licorice Jelly Belly jelly beans and added those to hers too. That should taste interesting!

    One of our neighbors is Jewish and they’ve never decorated Christmas cookies, so we invited them over to help us. They brought their dreidel cookie cutter. The dreidels stayed together much better than the gingerbread men.

    Next year I think I’ll go back to a traditional gingerbread cookie recipe … unless someone knows of a good gluten free recipe that holds up after they come out of the oven!

    Winter Solstice: How an ancient tradition is celebrated today.

    December 7, 2008

    Illustration by Jan Davey Ellis

    Ellen Jackson’s book, The Winter Solstice, (published by Millbrook Press) takes a look at the many different cultures throughout history who have celebrated the Winter Solstice and developed cutoms for this shortest day of the year.

    With a simple storyline and attractive watercolor illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis, Jackson’s book is a nice addition to a social studies curriculum for children ages 4-8 this time of the year. The Scottish, Romans, Scandinavians, Celts, Northern Europeans, Peruvians, Pueblo Indians, and the Kwakiutl Indians are presented with their customs and beliefs; in addition to a scientific look and simple experiment to illustrate the planetary alignment that creates this seasonal change.

    Jackson also explains how the winter solstice is celebrated today in modern American and European cultures, and how solstice customs have found their way into the celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas.

    She ends her book with a Cherokee folktale of creation that tells why evergreens stay green because of their faith that the sun would return.

    If you have a seasonal title you would like to recommend, enter it in the comment box below. We’d love to hear from you!

    Handmade Holiday Card Swap

    November 30, 2008

    Handmade Holiday Card Swap, originally uploaded by icybooh.

    This year Booh and I are participating in Kids Craft Weekly’s Handmade Holiday Card Swap. We finished up our designs and sent them off to 10 families that are part of the swap. Our families were from all over the USA and two international families (Mexico & Australia), including a first grade class in Massachusetts.

    Above is our design. We cut a star out of recycled scraps of paper and hole-punched 10 round “ornaments” that we glued onto our Christmas Tree design. They were a lot of fun to make and we are looking forward to receiving our 10 handmade cards from families participating in the swap too.

    Sparky the Fire Pup

    November 25, 2006

    For the second year in a row we went to Shelburne Falls’ Village’s Moonlight Madness town celebration. It’s held the Friday after Thanksgiving every year. A candle company is located in this town and every year they donate 1,500 votive candles for luminaries that line the sidewalks and streets. Musician’s play at various locations, and vendor’s line the Main Street. You can even catch a visit with Santa at the senior center, or Sparky the Fire Pup who wanders around town. Very festive and hometownish. Last year it was freezing and very snowy. This year it was in the 50’s and dry. That’s New England for you.

    One of the many highlights of Shelburne Falls is the Bridge of Flowers which crosses the Deerfield River. We strolled across the bridge, all lit-up with luminaries and colored lights. Through the dark Booh could see the reflection of the bridge on the water, not realizing it was just that. She thought it was another bridge we could cross over to. When we pointed out the moon’s reflection on the water, we could see it all come together for her. It was neat to see the formation of what is “reality” become real for her, and at the same time sad to see her leave the illusion of what she was seeing as real.

    Trolley Museum

    Booh checks out the old trolley.

    After dinner at McCusker ‘s we walked over to the Trolley Museum. Based in the old Boston & Maine freight yard, the Trolley Museum is a non-profit educational organization that has restored one of the original trolley’s, Trolley No. 10. The Bridge of Flowers is a former trolley bridge that connected Shelburne Falls with Colrain. It was used to transport passengers, apples, mail, milk and other freight.

    After it’s heyday of carting back and forth, the trolley was retired and spent sixty-five years as a chicken coop. This bit of trivia seemed to interest Booh the most. And why wouldn’t it? How cool would it be to live in an old trolley? Lucky chickens, right?

    She was also very interested in the model train set-ups in the museum. She could push a button and old Lionel trains would chug along tracks in sceneries made to scale. Oddly, an out of scale cow three times the size of the trains had been placed in one of the areas, and we pretended the train was in a scene from “Attack of the Killer Cow,” racing the train around and around the tracks while terrified pretend passengers let out screams every time it passed by the Bovine giganticus.

    Walking back through town to our car we saw Sparky the Fire Pup again. Being a grown man dressed in a dalmation firedog outfit, I’m sure he found it difficult to maneuver through all the luminaries lining the street. This became evident when he kicked over one of the bags and it caught on fire. Sparky’s escort quickly stomped it out.

    Christmas Spider

    November 13, 2006

    Booh has decided that the Christmas Spider will be coming to our house this year instead of Santa Claus. She explained that the Christmas Spider was Santa’s helper who gave out presents when Santa was busy. The Christmas Spider wears a hat like Santa and likes to give out squishy pretend spiders that hang on the wall, along with books, pencils and sea marbles. Something to look forward to.

    I asked her if the Christmas Spider had a sleigh and flying reindeer like Santa and if she went down chimneys to get indoors. Persephone said that the Christmas Spider actually climbs up houses and then down the chimneys to get inside. Then she crawls on towards the next house with her fast skinny legs.

     Booh then proceeded to run around and around the house with her socks on at top speed saying that her legs were skinny too, so she could run as fast as the Christmas Spider. That was before she wiped out on the kitchen floor. With a bruised elbow and a tear stained face she snuggled up on my lap. She looked up at me and told me that the Christmas Spider wasn’t allowed to snuggle with me when she came to our house. I reassured her that she was the only spider I’d ever snuggle.

    Cobweb ChristmasAt the library I found this book titled, Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel. It’s a tale about an old German woman who cleans out her home for Christmas, sweeping away the spiders and their webs. The spiders later return and spin their webs in her Christmas tree and Saint Nicholas changes the webs into tinsel.

    I also discovered that not only is there a real Christmas Spider (Austracantha minax) that lives in Australia, but there is also a German and Ukranian legend of the Christmas Spider. Ornaments and craft project abound around this legend.

    The Legend of the Christmas Spider

    A long time ago , a mother prepared for Christmas Eve. She cleaned and scrubbed her home, chasing the spiders from the living room with her broom. The spiders fled to the attic and listened to the excitement below as the Christmas tree was put up and decorated. When all was quiet again, the little spiders crept back downstairs to see the beautiful tree. They were filled with happiness as they crawled along every branch, admiring the glittering beauty of each ornament. But alas, by the time they had finished climbing through the tree, it was completely draped with their dusty, gray cobwebs.

    When the Christ child came, He smiled as He looked upon the happy little spiders, however, He knew the mother would be heartbroken when she saw the shrouded tree. So He reached out nd touched the webs and, blessing them, turned them into silver and gold. Now the Christmas tree sparkled and shimmered and was even more beautiful than before. Thus the custom to have tinsel of silver and gold and a spider ornament amongst the other decorations on the Christmas tree was born.

    ~Author Unknown


    November 5, 2006

    Friends of ours who live had a Martinmas festival at their home. Martinmas is a celebration that has celebrator elements found in both American Halloween and Thanksgiving traditions. It was a perfect night with a full moon and clear skies.

    When we arrived fresh apple cider was being pressed from fresh picked apples. Booh and I gathered with other children in our friend’s barn to make lanterns out of glass jars for the lantern parade. Booh painted her jar and said the design was a snake cloud from her imagination. She described it as snakes in a ball. I took strips of colored tissue paper and glued them to the outside of my jar.

    Guests placed candles in their lanterns and paraded into the darkness along a path that snaked through their fields, lit with candelabras. We sang “Lantern Songs” and other familiar tunes. After the parade we gathered for a feast of food guests had brought. Traditional goose would have been served, but we brought a rotisserie chicken instead.

    After eating we went for a full moon hayride and then gathered around a beautiful bonfire with hay bale seats. We sang more songs and roasted marshmallows. The fire let off burning cinders into the air that Booh calls Fire Fairies.

    Booh’s daddy couldn’t come with us, so when we got home she explained what was Martinmas. She said that is was for Martin from Zoobomafoo. Actually, Martinmas is name after St. Martin, the patron saint of beggars, drunkards and outcasts. He was known for his gentleness and hospitality, and his ability to bring warmth and light to those who were previously in darkness.

    Halloween Spirits

    November 2, 2006

    Town Hall

    On Halloween Booh went trick-or-treating down Main Street in Ashfield. The town hall was set-up as a spook house and the line went around the block. Before we left for the evening we went through their “house of horrors” and (as pitiful as it sounds) I have to confess that I ended up more freaked out than Booh!

    The festivities started off at the local fill-up station with a rag shag parade of kids and parents dressed in costumes. We spent the evening going door-to-door with friends, up and down Main Street.

    Talking 200 pounds pumpkin

    The Great Pumpkin

    The local country hardware store had a two-hundred pound pumpkin they carved and propped-up on hay bales. The folks who own the general store sat out on the steps and passed out treats. Several houses had spooky traps set-up and many others glowed with strings of orange & yellow lights and carved jack-o-lanterns with flickering grins.

    That night we went home and Booh set her pack of treats out on a special rock for the Halloween Spirits to find and turn into little gifts. The next morning she woke up bright and early, excited to see what the Halloween Spirits had left her. They turned every piece of candy into little resin dogs of all different breeds.

    She said the toy dogs are better that real dogs, because you don’t have to bring them to a doggie playgroup, they can just play together and you don’t have to take them anywhere.

    Glassine Paper

    October 28, 2006

    Last night was the Family Center’s Halloween Monster Mash at the Community House. Everyone dressed up and danced to Senegalese Drumming by Backa. The floor of the hall was covered with multi-colored balloons. Booh said it was a “field of balloons.

    She was telling her daddy how she was running around like a cheetah during the dance, kicking balloons everywhere. They started to reminisce about our trip to Mass MoCA when she was a year and a half old to see Ann Hamilton’s exhibition. The room, a very large warehouse, was filled 6 inches high with glassine paper that fell from the ceiling. Copy machines were attached to the ceiling, dropping paper systematically, slowly filling the space over the course of the exhibit.

    As I type, Booh and her daddy are arguing over whether or not she will ever be able to do that again. Her daddy said she wouldn’t and Booh is insisting she will. She’s convinced that the picture I took then has the real Booh in it. She said she can kick a “field of paper” any time she wants to.