Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Celebrating a Girl’s Rite of Passage

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Frankly, I’m not big on a lot of the pomp that often surrounds birthdays. I like to keep our celebrations intimate and un-hyped. But Elizabeth’s thirteenth is coming up and this passage is one I want to acknowledge with a true ritual — one that helps her with a new self-identity in the adult world. And I want to do this with a sense of the sacred and an element of the mysterious. So I’ve written to the women she respects and loves the most (they’re scattered all over the country) to ask them to send her some piece of advice that they wish THEY would have gotten from an older woman friend when THEY were thirteen. I also asked them to send something small and special — a beautiful rock?, a poem?, an extraordinary bookmark? — something that she can tuck away and pull out when the going gets rough to remind her of the women who have weathered their lives’ storms and hopefully give her a boost of support to see her through her own life’s challenges. Finally, I asked all of them to tell Elizabeth what she means to them — her essence, I guess. As their gifts arrive, I will collect them into a handmade basket or wooden box and give them to her at a special moment when she and I are together.

For other ideas about coming-of-age and rites of passage, consider purchasing the Chinaberry book, The Joy of Family Traditions by Jennifer Trainer Thompson

Drama Trauma Flower Essence for Pets - 4th of July & Beyond

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Who wants a quiet 4th of July? Do thunderstorms frighten your pets?  Going on summer vacation with your pets? Does Your Pet Need a Little Extra Help?

Just like people, some animals suffer from anxiety, depression, fear, and panic attacks. Although our pets can’t talk to us, we don’t have to be psychic to know when something is going on with them. Now, there is help for them when they sometimes so desperately need it.

Flower essences are remedies that work on a subtle energy level, much in the same, rather mysterious way that aromatherapy or homeopathy works. Hard to explain, but powerful nonetheless. They were developed in the 1930s and have been used for generations with people to help ease moments of tremendous shock, fear, or trauma. Now we can bring that same help to our animals thanks to Meg Harrison. A horse trainer for 20 years, Meg discovered the value of flower essences when she saw unexpected progress after giving essences to ”damaged” horses. Fast forward to today, and Meg is at the forefront of this modality, with animal care specialists and behaviorists, shelters, and Best Friends Sanctuary asking for her blends by name. Dogs, cats, horses, birds — virtually any creature can benefit from the appropriate flower essence blend.

Drama-Trauma is especially good for cats, but works for other animals as well. Use this blend if your pet suffers from anxiety, fear/panic, stress, inattentiveness, and if he/she has drama queen tendencies. This blend eases the ride on life’s rollercoaster and is very similar to the Rescue® Remedy blend sold for people.

Made especially for animals, these flower essences have proven to help soothe, comfort, encourage focus, and generally enhance the emotional well-being of your furry, feathery, or scaly pal. Packaged in a handy spray bottle, each blend can be administered by adding it to the water bowl (it is ok if other pets share the water bowl), spraying directly onto the animal, or by spraying your hands, then petting the animal. Please use the bottle within 3 months after opening.

Review by Ann Ruethling

Available on our sister site, Isabella: Drama Trauma Flower Essence for Pets.

Dad’s Awesome Grilling Book by Bob Sloan

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Techniques, Tips, Stories and More Than 100 Great Recipes

I’m hard-pressed to decide whether it’s the recipes or the humor that makes this book one that the Man-of-the-Family simply must have. Sloan’s wit will make any grill-fearing or even ”there’s nothing I don’t know about grills” guy want to hunker down in the easy chair and read the book cover to cover.

A must-have for any family prone to BBQ, Dad’s Awesome Grilling Book has recipes for appetizers, beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, burgers/dogs/brats, pizzas…the list goes on and on. Add to that its funny musings and really helpful technical info, and the book lacks for nothing. Get it for Dad.

Review by Ann Ruethling

From the author, Bob Sloan:
If you’re like me, then Father’s Day is a chance to make a request for someone in your household to provide you with your favorite food. For me, that would be some barbecue. If you’re also like me, you don’t trust anyone else to smoke the ribs or brisket but yourself. So what’s a dad to do? Well, here’s a solution that’s worked for me–have your wife and/or kids throw together these Barbecue Pork Burgers for lunch. They’re not true, pure, unequivocally absolute barbecue, but they allowed my family to feel as if they were making something special for me–Dad–on my Day of Days. The burgers, in fact, do have that essential barbecue flavor, which is a perfect fix to hold me over until dinner. That’s when the ribs I have coated with my special dry rub the night before will be coming off the grill. Hey, I know it’s supposed to be My Special Day and everyone is supposed to be taking care of me, but I just can’t help myself. Anyway, there is no greater gift than my family eating together–especially when we’re getting our hands messy in unison eating barbecue. For great smoked barbecue recipes, check out Dad’s Awesome Grill Book.


An exclusive recipe for Chinaberry Customers from Bob Sloan:

Barbecued Pork Burger

This burger captures the spirit of an authentic down-home pulled-pork barbecue sandwich. Let the sauce soak into the bun and eat it with a fork. It will definitely give you a heady barbecue rush.

  • Burgers
    • 1 1/2 pound ground pork
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
    • 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
    • 2 tablespoons favorite bottled barbecue sauce
    • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
    • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 hamburger buns

Place the ground pork in a medium bowl. Add all the ingredients except the oil and gently mix together until just combined. Shape the meat into 4 burgers about 3/4 inch thick and 4 inches across, handling as little as possible. Make a 1/4-inch dimple in the center of each burger about the size of a half-dollar about the size of a half-dollar with the tips of your middle 3 fingers.
Place a skillet, preferably cast-iron, over high heat, and let it get very hot, about 2 minutes. Add the oil and spread it evenly over the pan. Arrange the burgers so they aren’t touching and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn and cook 4 to 5 minutes more, or until the meat is no longer pink inside (160 F).
Serve in hamburger buns topped with additional barbecue sauce.
For charcoal grilled burgers, make a medium-hot fire (see note page 14). Cook the burgers for 5 minutes. Turn and cook 4 to 5 minutes more.
For gas grilled burgers, preheat on high until grill is very hot, about 500 F. Cook the burgers for 5 minutes with the lid closed. Turn and cook 4 to 5 minutes more, again with the lid closed.
Makes 4 burgers

Happy May Day

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Can you believe it’s already May??? Ever since I became a parent, time just seems to fly by at record speed. One day our family is celebrating the new year, and then, with Houdini-like magic, it’s Valentine’s Day, then Easter, then my twins’ birthday, then time to sign them up for summer camps. Isn’t it crazy?!?

Anyway, I digress… the photo is of the May Day 2009 Bloom from Susan McKinley Ross, toy and game designer. Check out our interview with Susan from last week for more information.

Here’s to life slowing down just long enough so we can catch our breath.

May Day History and Significance (from TheHolidaySpot.com):

Well, it is a fact that May Day, which the children do enjoy with all vibes, is not an overly prominent holiday in America. Yet, it does have a long and notable history as one of the world’s principal festivals. The origin of the May Day as a day for celebration dates back to the days, even before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it too has a Pagan connection.

For the Druids of the British Isles, May 1 was the second most important holiday of the year. Because, it was when the festival of Beltane held. It was thought that the day divides the year into half. The other half was to be ended with the Samhain on November 1. Those days the May Day custom was the setting of new fire. It was one of those ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. And the fire itself was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.

Then the Romans came to occupy the British Isles. The beginning of May was a very popular feast time for the Romans. It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers . It was in her honor a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start from April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival in the British Isles. And gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. And many of today’s customs on the May Day bear a stark similarity with those combined traditions.

May day observance was discouraged during the Puritans. Though, it was relived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rights.

(more…)

National Geographic’s Mothers & Children

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Review from Tina at Chinaberry:

In this stunning photographic gift book, National Geographic has once again compiled pictures that tell a story more eloquently than words could ever do, in this case capturing the essence of a mother’s love. No matter the place or the language, the universal truth of the connection between mother and child is the same: “I am here for you, you are safe and you are loved.” In southern Indiana, a young mother nurses her child while driving a tractor. In India, a beautiful young bride tearfully clasps her mother’s hand to her lips before driving off to her new life as a wife. In the People’s Republic of China, a mother and daughter share a gleeful moment of pure joy, and in Iceland, a mother braves the frigid air as she skates across the ice, her child warm and safe in a covered carriage.

The beautiful photographs, interspersed with quotes honoring mothers and musings from Craig Wilson combine to make a lovely gift for Mother’s Day or at any time. You will want to share this treasure with all the mothers in your life.

Chinaberry Interviews Susan McKinley Ross

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Susan McKinley Ross creates fun: games, toys, crafts – anything involving fun for children. She licensed her first toy in early 2003, and she’s been busy ever since with her growing business, Idea Duck. I had the great pleasure of meeting Susan in 2004 when she was helping us select toys for the Chinaberry catalog. Today, we carry her award-winning board game, Qwirkle. When we had lunch together at Toy Fair last January, I could have listened to Susan for hours! Since we ran out of time, I thought I’d continue our conversation here and share it with you all!

Janet: When you were a child, immersed in toys and games, did you ever one day dream that you would become an award-winning game maker?  What DID you see yourself doing?  In other words, what were your aspirations?

Susan: Growing up, I had no idea there was such a thing as a toy designer. Or a game designer. I thought these products just magically appeared. The whole concept of product design was outside my realm of experience. We’re aware of authors, directors, fashion designers, but as a culture, we’re not very clued in to the people who design things like toys or silverware. Every single product was designed by someone and I’m fascinated by that. It’s a career I stumbled into, but if I had known it existed, I would have sought it out.

As a child, I spent hours making mud pies, playing with my dollhouse and inventing imaginary worlds for my miniature toy animals. I think that’s why I’m drawn to low-tech toys. I want to design toys that I would have enjoyed myself.

In elementary school, I planned to be a lawyer and do good things for the world. When I graduated from college, I was blessed to get a job working at Hospice. I still sing the praises of the amazing people who do Hospice work. Working at Hospice taught me how important it is to do the things you love to do. I realized I wanted to be doing something creative in my work life. It turns out I wanted to be designing toys and games, even though I didn’t know that was what I was headed for.

Janet: What were your favorite games growing up?

Susan: I’m lucky. My family played games often. They never thought that I was too young to play. They taught me whist (a simplified version of bridge) when I was six years old because they needed a fourth player. We played a lot of cribbage and a lot of gin rummy. We played Scrabble, Monopoly, Password, Pay Day, Rummikub and Mille Bournes. When I was in high school, I played a lot of card games with my friends - hearts, spades, canasta and pinochle. We also played Trivia Pursuit and Pictionary. These are all very popular games that anyone my age would have had access to. I was just lucky to grow up with people who liked to play games.

Janet: Could you tell us a little about the monthly game night you and your husband host in your home? What is your favorite game now?

Susan: My husband, Chris, introduced me to a much wider variety of games than I knew about. Since we both love games, we’ve hosted a monthly Game Night for 12 years. It’s similar to a book club. Ten to fifteen people come over and we break into a few groups and play games. Game Night gives us a regular opportunity to play lots of games with lots of different people. It’s a fun way to spend an evening with our friends, and it’s a huge help to me as a game designer.

My favorite game is Puerto Rico. I also love Dominion and Agricola. These are complex games that offer many routes to victory. I like games that offer choices, so that if your first plan is blocked, you can still puzzle out a good back-up plan. One of the things I like about Qwirkle is that as you play, the board grows and so does the decision tree. Late in the game, there are lots more choices about where to play. You get to search the board to find the best possible place to play.

Janet: You’re such a creative idea person!  What inspires you?

Susan: When I started doing this work, I was mostly inspired by looking at all the amazing products out there and trying to figure out what made them interesting. I’m a huge fan of HABA toys. They’re so beautiful! When I see their toys, it makes me dream of designing something just as wonderful.

It’s always inspiring to see something beautiful, be it a toy or a greeting card or a children’s book. Toy Fair is a wonderful event and it makes my head spin with new ideas. I love it. But my absolute favorite part of going to New York for Toy Fair is my yearly pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Going there inspires me for weeks.

The best part of my job is when I’m in the throes of inspiration. Sometimes I wake up with a great idea and I’m blessed that it’s my job to hold onto that idea and develop it. It is completely compelling. I really let myself indulge in the joy of inspiration because it helps sustain me when I hit the difficult stages of product development.

Janet: If you could have only one item in the Chinaberry catalog, what would it be?

Susan: I love the Chinaberry catalog! When I read your catalog, it’s like having a conversation with a good friend. I’m always trying to find new things I enjoy, and Chinaberry is a great way to do that.

The thing that I’ve been meaning to order from Chinaberry is the new Himalayan Salt Inhaler. I’ve always been fascinated by the Neti Pot, but this looks even better. Leave it to Chinaberry to find a useful new version of a classic item.

Janet: And, lastly, tell us about your May Day ritual.  I know I’ve been getting your May Day flowers for the past five years, and I’ve saved every single photo.  Tell us how it started and how many pictures you send.

Susan: When I was growing up, my Mom and my grandparents taught me about May Day. They taught me to make a bouquet of flowers, leave it on our neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell and hide in the bushes. Of course, the neighbors always knew it was us! But it was fun to do anyway. In high school, my cousin Stephanie and I would get up very early and drive around town delivering May Day flowers. And candy. We didn’t have enough flowers for everyone, so we gave some people candy. The best part was that we’d pick a few completely random houses to leave flowers.

Eventually I figured out a sneaky way to deliver hundreds of May Day bouquets. I make one beautiful bouquet, take a picture of it and email it. A few years ago I decided to turn the photo into a card so my favorite people would get a love note on May Day. I send out between 200 and 250 cards.

It gives me great pleasure to keep this May Day tradition alive. In general, I’m holiday crazy. But I especially adore celebrating May Day because it’s entirely my decision to celebrate it. It’s not a commercial holiday. There’s no apparatus to support May Day. It’s just a great excuse to remind people that I’m thinking of them. I usually deliver 5-10 actual bouquets on May Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see people and let them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

Janet: Be sure to check our blog May 1 for Susan’s 2009 May Day bouquet!

Disneyland is Free on Your Birthday!

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Photo: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

Photo: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

[OK now, I'm sure many of you have already heard about this Disney promotion. Just in case you haven't, read on.]

I was happily surprised (our family doesn’t watch much TV) to find out that during this year, Disneyland is letting people in free on their birthdays. Since I have twins, who will turn seven this month, I get both of them in for free! We happen to live close enough to Disneyland for a day trip. The girls are very excited since the first time I took them there, it rained most of the day.These free tickets can only be used on your exact birthday and you’ll need to bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate. I believe you can get free birthday tickets at Disney World, as well.

Get your free birthday ticket(s) here!

I also just found out that Disneyland has finished their renovation of the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride–it was closed last time we visiting. To me, Disneyland just isn’t complete unless I go on this ride. The “downside” is that I’ll have the It’s a Small World song in my head for weeks afterward. Well, it’s better than Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which one of my girls has been humming & singing since December.

Crafting - Coloring Easter Eggs

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Decorated Easter Eggs

Decorated Easter Eggs

Last year around this time of year, I gathered all of our Easter egg supplies and took the activity outside where we could decorate without fear of spilled dye on the carpet or dripping fingers touching the furniture. I know that not everyone has the luxury of warm weather in the spring, but if you are able to get outside to decorate your eggs, it really is the best option. I have a little play table that is a good height for the kids so they can stand over the dye cups and not risk tipping the cups over like they might at a dining room table or kitchen counter.

I have my boys dress in old clothes and then let them go at it. I buy an inexpensive egg decorating kit that includes the dye pellets, a wire holder (though a tablespoon is generally easier to maneuver), and sometimes a few stickers, which I usually put into their Easter baskets. I’ve never gone for those complicated dye kits that add glitter or wrap plastic casings around the eggs. I think they take away from the creativity and imagination of making your own designs. My boys like to draw on their eggs with a crayon before dipping them to create patterns or personalize them with their names. The half-and-half egg is a popular one at our house but requires a steady hand to hold the egg only halfway into the dye before flipping it on the spoon and dipping the opposite side into another color. My eldest likes to use an old eye dropper to deposit small drips and make a swirl effect with a rainbow of colors.

Using dye is the perfect opportunity to learn about color mixing (last year we ended up with lots of purple eggs, the result of my littlest trying to make a brown egg!). My boys usually abandon their spoons and holders halfway through the proceedings and end up dipping their fingers into the dye to retrieve their eggs. I don’t mind a little mess as I think it encourages the imagination, but if you want the kids fresh and clean for Easter Sunday, the dye does stain fingers and nails so have them wear rubber gloves!

This weekend I will be setting up our egg coloring station in the front yard. I hope you will share your own family Easter egg coloring traditions with us!

Time to decorate those eggs!

Time to decorate those eggs!

This is for the Birds: A Midwinter Tree

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Making a feast tree for the birds and small woodland animals that live by our home has always been one of my children’s most treasured holiday activities. They love the whole process—making the food, decorating the tree and then watching through the kitchen window as the little animals eat their treats. We usually make our tree for the birds out of our own Christmas tree after we have dismantled it, but most any tree will do. We drag it outside to a sheltered spot in the backyard where we can unobtrusively observe the animals’ doings and then decorate it with all kinds of yummy bird and squirrel treats. This is a fun activity that preschoolers manage with ease. In case you are interested in trying this out for yourself, here are a few ideas on how to decorate your tree.

  • Strings of Popcorn—All you need to make this welcome delicacy is plenty of freshly popped corn (omit the butter and salt) and a needle and thread for each person. Knot the thread and then carefully push the needle through the popcorn. Some young children have trouble making these, as the popcorn needs to be threaded with a light touch or it tends to crumble. You’ll have to judge your child’s dexterity level. Some enjoy this activity greatly; others find making popcorn strands tedious. Our family has found that if we appoint one person to read aloud and have the rest of the family stringing, our popcorn strings grow much longer with much less effort. We have tried stringing cranberries but the animals in our area, anyway, don’t seem to care for them.
  • Peanut Butter Pinecones—This treat is always the first to be eaten by the birds at our house. They’re simple to make and a big hit with the preschool crowd. Be forewarned, these can be a bit messy to make but are always worth the effort. You’ll need pinecones (most any kind will do, the more open the better), string, peanut butter, birdseed and sunflower seeds. To begin, knot a string loop on the cone so it is easy to hang the finished product on the tree. Next, mix the seeds together and pour them into a shallow pan (a pie pan or a small roasting pan will both work well). Slather pinecones with peanut butter, using a knife or your fingers to gently push the peanut butter into the cracks. I tend to assign this task to the oldest child, if she is willing, since it is the messiest and small children have trouble getting enough peanut butter on the cone. If there are no older children available, an adult might want to do this. And last, roll the cone in the seeds, trying to get as many seeds as possible onto the peanut butter. (Many two-year-olds are fabulous at this messy task!) It should look like one big blob of seeds when you are done.
  • Fruit Strands—Slice apples and oranges in rounds and string like the popcorn.
  • Suet Balls—For this nutritious tidbit, ask the butcher for suet. You will need to have a few empty paper egg cartons on hand, as well as some birdseed and a bit of yarn or string. To begin, melt the suet over low heat (be very careful with the hot fat and young children). Add in an equal amount of birdseed and stir. Gently stir the suet-birdseed mixture as you pour it into the egg holes in the egg carton. Make a loop of yarn or string and place it into the melted suet mixture. (This is a great job for three- or four-year-olds.) When the suet cools, the yarn will become the handle with which you hang the suet on the tree. Some people like to add some peanut butter to this mixture for extra nutrition. Allow the suet to harden and then gently peel away the egg carton to hang the suet balls on the tree.
  • Once you have gathered enough goodies to decorate your tree, make it an event. (For inspiration read Night Tree by Eve Bunting. After you decorate your tree, don’t forget the ground-feeding birds. Leave a few peanut butter pinecones and some extra birdseed on the ground for them to nibble, too.

Chocolate-Almond Lace Cookies

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Makes about 20 cookies
My most sought after holiday cookie recipe

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 T flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup ground, blanched almonds
2 T milk
1 tsp almond extract
3-1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with foil; butter and flour foil.
Melt 1/2 cup butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add sugar, flour and salt and stir until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes.

Mix in almonds and milk and stir until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and blend in almond extract. Let cool slightly.

Drop batter onto prepared baking sheets by teaspoons, spacing 3-1/2 to 4 inches apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until light golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Let stand about 2 minutes to firm slightly, then remove cookies from foil and transfer to rack to cool.

Using thin metal spatula, spread layer of chocolate on bottom side of half of cookies. Cover with flat side of plain cookie to form sandwich. Cool on rack until chocolate is set.