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Rain, Rain Come Our Way

girl with rain boots jumping in puddle

After years of drought, we experienced the wettest January in more than a decade, and I celebrated every drop. Granted inclement weather poses challenges, from rain slick streets and highways to mud flows and flooding. Yet week after week of sunny skies during the winter creates severe water storages. Rainfall is absolutely essential.

Shelter In Place

People tend to stay indoors when anything wet begins falling from the sky. I readily admit to  savoring every opportunity to curl up with an engaging book and read and nap the day away. Some people watch favorite movies or channel surf until something interesting catches their eye. Others take pleasure in assembling pots of delicious homemade soup or baking favorite treats. Those passionate about a craft likely lose themselves in their latest project. Sooner than later, however, almost everyone comes down with cabin fever, feeling cooped up and restless.

Head for the Door

Who says we have to stay indoors? In fact, getting outside does wonders for what ails us. All we need is proper clothing for the conditions and a spirit of adventure. Dress yourself and the kids in waterproof boots, pants, and jackets, pull on gloves and a hat, and head out the door.

Splash in  Puddles

Walking in rain or snow is invigorating. Decades ago when our son Edward was four years old, we had 10 consecutive days of rain. And everyday we’d don our wet weather gear and take a walk. Always in search of puddles, he happily splashed his way around the neighborhood. Watching him delighted me.

Engage Your Senses

Engage your senses and experience the world around you. Breathe in the fresh, cold air. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and taste what’s falling. Feel it fall against your face. Watch as puddles form or powder covers the ground. The world looks altogether different with rain dripping off leaves and running in gutters or blanketed by fresh snow. Listen to the sound of rain falling and the silence of falling snow. Splash around in puddles. Make angels in the snow.

Savor Your Experiences

When you’ve had enough, go inside, shed your outer wear, and head to the kitchen for a steaming bowl of soup or cup of cocoa. Expand the rainy/snowy day experience. Talk about your exploits. What did each person enjoy most? What was the least fun? Write stories, draw pictures of what you saw and all you did. Savor the memories.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Feeding the Winter Birds

With temperatures dipping and plants in their winter slumber, wild birds have difficulty finding adequate food. That provides us an opportunity to make a difference for the birds and ourselves. When days are cold and skies are grey, watching birds feed from the warmth of our homes can be most enjoyable.

Internet searches provide ideas galore for ways to feed wild birds. My favorite comes from Martha Stewart. She offers a recipe for making a birdseed wreath that looks lovely hanging in a tree and provides calorie dense nourishment for our feathered friends. Making the wreath is a fun activity too!

birdseed wreath

 

Here’s her recipe.

Tools and Materials
Suet
Saucepan or baking dish
Fine cheesecloth
Measuring cup
Fresh cranberries
6-cup Bundt pan
Wild birdseed
Dried cranberries
Roasted unsalted peanuts
Large plastic spoon
Wide ribbon

Birdseed Wreath How-To
Begin by cutting 1 pound of suet into small chunks and rendering in a saucepan or baking dish in a 375-degree oven until all the fat has melted.
Strain rendered suet through fine cheesecloth, allow it to harden at room temperature, and then melt and strain again. Measure out 1 1/2 cups melted suet and set aside.
Place fresh cranberries in bottom of 6-cup Bundt pan in desired pattern (we used three cranberries in every other channel).
In a large bowl, thoroughly combine 4 cups wild birdseed and 1 cup each dried cranberries and peanuts.
Add melted suet to dry ingredients and thoroughly coat using large plastic spoon or your hands.
Once completely combined, fill pan with mixture, being sure to press down firmly as you go.
Allow mixture to harden overnight in the refrigerator or freezer.
Once hardened, remove pan from fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes before unmolding.
With wide ribbon, hang wreath outside when temperature is around freezing. Be sure wreath is not in direct sunlight, to avoid melting or spoiling. Tip: Avoid using twine or rope to tie up wreath as it can pull through and break the side of the wreath.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Insider Tips on Making Cookie Cutter Ginger Crisps

 

Cookie Cutter Ginger Crisps

 

After Thanksgiving we began sharing recipes for family friendly holiday activities. One was a recipe for delicious, easy to make ginger crisp cookies that could be used as place cards for your holiday table. Set a date and time for cookie baking, assemble the ingredients, gather the family, and let the good times roll. The time spent not only adds to our treasure of holiday memories but also delights our senses.

To facilitate the process, Peg Ackerman, who shared her recipe and this picture of the “place cookies” she made for Thanksgiving, offers these helpful behind the scenes details:

The cookie cutters are leaf shapes ~ some big and some small. The big ones can be found anywhere. Jane’s Cakes in Montrose, California, has a wall of cookie cutters to choose from! The small ones come in a set of four and are at Williams-Sonoma. These are cutters/stampers. First you cut the cookie, and then, before you move the cutter, you push the little plunger and it imprints (or stamps) detail on the cookies!

The letters I used for the names came from Michaels. They were originally designed to stamp on stepping stones. They are plastic and reusable and the perfect size for place cards. There are two styles of letters available…the one I used is called “Victorian.”

I make the dough a few days ahead so when I want to bake them, I can just start cutting and baking. These cookies freeze well, too. Lay them out on wax paper on a cookie sheet to freeze~ takes only about 15 minutes. When frozen, package the baked cookies in a Tupperware type container and put in freezer. When company comes, you are ready for tea and crisps…they thaw quick!

With winter in high gear, ginger crisps and a hot beverage sound most appealing. I’ll make mine tea, but coffee, apple cider, and cocoa go well too. Enjoy!

And remember to e-mail us about your family cookie baking projects. We’d be delighted to hear and share your experiences and pictures of your ginger crisps.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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February Celebrations

Groundhog Folklore

February offers us a bouquet of celebrations. We can watch for a shadow as a groundhog in Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania, emerges from his den on 2 February. Folklore claims that a groundhog emerging from his den without seeing his shadow will leave his burrow in anticipation of spring arriving early. On the other hand, if he sees his shadow and retreats to the warmth of his den, we know winter will last another six weeks. Actually, either way spring arrives six weeks later on 20 March, with the vernal equinox. The temperatures outside may still be “frightful,” but we can celebrate the increasing sunlight and the approach of warmth. Who can resist the fun of this uniquely North American “holiday”? And who in the grips of “old man winter” doesn’t dream of an early spring?

President’s Day

President’s Day gives us an opportunity to learn about all the presidents of the United States, but most especially the “father of our country,” George Washington, and “the great emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln. Their birthdays used to be separate holidays with Washington’s on 22 February and Lincoln’s on 12 February, and many locales still observe their official birthdays.

What better time to search out little known facts about these two men and share them around the dinner table? For starters, Washington liked ice cream so much that he had an ice cream cooler installed in his house. Wikipedia claims his was the first house to boast such a convenience. Wonder what it looked like and how it worked. Incidentally, did you know that the first ice cream parlor in America opened in New York City in 1776.

Lincoln was the first major leader to support extending the right to vote to women. As an Illinois state legislator, Lincoln released a statement to a newspaper endorsing “female suffrage.” The year was 1836, a full 12 years before the first women’s rights convention. Imagine that.

Valentine’s Day

Of course, Valentine’s Day likely causes the most excitement. Who can resist an opportunity to express love? That said, we all remember that “moral dilemma” of our childhood: must we send a Valentine to those we don’t like and, therefore, definitely do not want to be our Valentine? And what should we do if someone we don’t like wants us to be his/her Valentine? Seems often the teacher or our parents solved that one for us with an all or none solution that befits the spirit of the day.

I’m in favor of celebrating Valentine’s Day by spending time together. What more meaningful way to say, “I love you” than to set aside time to be together and share an enjoyable experience? Simple and inexpensive pleasures are pluses in our lives and prove the adage “it’s the thought that counts.” Here’s my idea: gather the children, put out supplies, and make each other a Valentine. The process counts as all important quality time; the products are unique treasures to cherish and serve as reminders of special bonds and special times.

Let us know how you and your family made the best of this bouquet of celebrations. Send pictures of your family at play and their one-of-a-kind Valentine’s. E-mail a little known fact about a president. We’ll be sure to share.

Here’s to a fabulous February.
Stay warm and watch for spring as the days grow longer.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Celebrating Festivals of Light

Days are growing progressively shorter and nights longer as we approach Winter Solstice. With the arrival of autumn, our hours of daylight steadily declined, temperatures fell, and we began to spend more time indoors. Holidays bring light and warmth, both metaphorically and literally, into this darkness.

Thanksgiving draws families and friends together to celebrate the harvest, share the feast, and express gratitude for the blessings of our lives. Living mindfully, being tuned in to all that is good in our lives allows us to recognize our blessings and live gratefully everyday. I recall my mother reminding us children that “you don’t have to look far to find someone worse off than you are.” That’s the truth, no matter what’s going on in our lives. Family, friends, bountiful food, and heart-felt gratitude are indeed defenses against the darkness.

Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights commemorating the victory of the Maccabees, the rededication of the temple of Jerusalem, and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Hence the tradition of lighting a candle each night of this eight day celebration.

Christmas is also a festival of lights. Remember the Star of Bethlehem? Moravians hang a 26-point star from the first Sunday of Advent through Epiphany. Advent wreathes include five candles, one for each Sunday leading to Christmas and a fifth candle for Christmas Day. Before the advent of electric light bulbs, candles illuminated Christmas trees. Freshly cut trees were decorated and candles lit on Christmas Eve. Electricity affords safer and brighter Yuletides and allows more lights to brighten more places indoors and out.

The burning of a Yule log, a large wooden log, in an open hearth is part of traditional Christmas celebrations in numerous European cultures. It can be part of Winter Solstice festivities as well as the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night also known as Epiphany. These days most of us think of dessert when we hear the words Yule Log, but then who among us has an open hearth for lighting a large wooden log?

However your family celebrates, we wish you peace, love, and joy.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play