Celebrating Hanukkah

Tonight is the last night of Hanukkah so thought I'd share a few images from our celebration. These photos are from the second night when we lit 2 candles plus the shamash.  I've received a number of emails with questions regarding lighting the candles.  The basics are as follows: We start on the first night lighting 2 candles -- The first candle stands for the first night of Hanukkah and the second one is called the shamash (or "helper-candle.") The shamash is lit first, used to light the other candle (or candles) and then put into the 9th place on the Hanukkiah which usually stands a little taller then the other holders on the candelabra.  On the second night we light 3 candles (the shamash and two "regular" candles) and so on each night until all the candles are lit. For more details you can have a look here...  You can also find more background and the story of Hanukkah here.

On the third night of Hanukkah we discovered we had a latke-thief in our midst, pilfering latkes from dinner plates on the kitchen table. 

He showed not a bit of remorse as he gobbled up his stolen goods -- instead, he tried to run away. We found him easily due to the bits of latke he trailed along the way, and honestly, the whole ordeal left us nearly apoplectic with laughter. For a good, basic latke recipe, you can have a look here.

Hoping your holiday has been filled with laughter and light, too!


Great Cookie Recipe and yet more Gumdrops!

I love this recipe for molasses cookies -- it's quick to mix up a batch and the dough is not sticky so it's easy to handle. Plus the cookies look wonderful decorated with gumdrops!

Molasses Cookies

Whisk together: 3 cups of all-purpose (unbleached white) flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 3/4 tsp. baking soda and 1/4 tsp. salt.

Mix with the dry ingredients until well combined: 6 Tblsp. unsalted butter (softened), 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 large egg, 1/2 cup molasses and 2 tsp. vanilla.

Form the dough into two balls, wrap in wax-paper and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for as long as 2 days (but bring to room temperature before rolling out the dough.)

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Sprinkle a bit of flour on your work-surface and on top of the flattened ball of dough.  Roll to 1/4 inch thick, cut shapes and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or greased cookie sheet.)  Bake 7-9 minutes, allow to cool and apply gum drops!  (I mixed 1 cup of powdered sugar with 3-4 tsp. of water to make a bit of icing.)

Wishing you happy cookie-making, and to those who observe the holiday, 
I wish a very joyful Christmas celebration!


A Give-Away Reminder: Little Angels

Just a quick reminder about my little angel give-away!  I will be giving away these two tiny angels... There will be 2 winners, one angel for each.  If you would like a chance to win one of these angels, please leave a comment over at the post on December 19th (and when you leave a comment, make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn.)  I will choose a name via random number generator tomorrow -- Sunday, December 25th!
Good Luck!


A Visit from the Winter Fairies

For the past five years the Winter Fairies have been visiting our house on Winter Solstice.  We decorate the house... We leave treats...  This year we left the last winter rose of the season and my little Mr. left a note: Dear fairies, May I please have a stuft fox, a white string, and a wooden bead about this size [see drawing in photo] oh, and look out for the cat  hope you like the cookies and oranges Love, little Mr.

 This year we also set out our fairy-door to help the fairies get into our house without soiling their midwinter garments from soot in the chimney (you can read more about our fairy-door here...)

In return for the treats we left for them, the fairies left a tiny note and brought treats for Little Mr. (they also brought a treat for Wee Bloom!)  Nicely wrapped parcels from the fairies...  I wonder what's inside?

A wee wooden fox (they said in their note that a stuffed toy fox would be too heavy to carry, but that they would call in reinforcements next year so they could carry a heavier parcel), a wooden bead & string (as requested) and a little whistle-toodle-pipe for our Wee Bloom.
 Thank you Winter-Fairies -- 
We are always so happy to have you visit our home!


Gum Drops

Last week I was (again) strolling through the foyer of my local library, past the little 2nd-hand book shop which is an endless treasure trove.  A volume of recipes and entertaining tips by the inimitable Martha Stewart caught my eye and I quickly paged through the book. There were several appealing recipes, but the moment my eyes landed on instructions using *gumdrops* to create tiny people, snowmen and birds I knew I had to have this book!

 Off to the store I went for some supplies...

 My little Mr. built this tiny alien monster with a face only a mother could love,

 And our neighbor, the lovely Miss A. constructed a house, a sofa, and also a variety of creatures...

I joined in the fun and came up with this toadstool and a bird.  For more ideas using gumdrops you can visit Martha Stewart's website here and here...

 And if you undertake this slightly sticky project, I hope you have as much fun as we did!

 P.S.  If you would like a chance to win one of these sparkling angels please do visit this post here and leave a comment!  Happy Holidays --



Favorite Gifts This Year

In my house, this is, sadly, not the year for a hand-made holiday.  Why is this?  Exciting news brewing, and all will be revealed very soon...  Meanwhile, I have been doing my best to pull together meaningful gifts for the holidays.  In my mind, the best substitution for hand-made is always a book or two, but not just any book will do.  For children, especially, isn't it wonderful to give something which inspires active play, participation and creativity?  At the top of my list for such inspiration is the new book by Marilyn Scott-Waters --  The Toymaker's Workshop. Last year she released The Toymaker's Christmas which is equally wonderful!

Then there are books by Ed Emberley which encourage children (and grown-ups) to draw.  Our favorites are The Big Green Drawing Book and The Big Purple Drawing Book, but honestly, any of the drawing books by Mr. Emberley are just wonderful.

Then there is this sweet gem of a book -- A Christmas Angel Collection by Catherine Stock.  It's been out of print for many years but has finally been re-issued (which is very good news!)  This book contains 12 angels which can be colored, painted, glittered, etc..  then cut out and then formed into beautiful 3D ornaments.  You can find this book here at Chinaberry.

As for gifts for my husband?  He's getting books, too.  However, he occasionally reads my blog (hello sweetheart!) and so I cannot reveal his gifts here...

 And finally, a non-book gift for my mother -- I bought a necklace for her by Beth Quinn.  If you're looking for a special gift for your mother, sister or friend, you might want to have a peek...

As always with gifts, "You give but little when you give of your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)  And this is the most basic and deepest truth, isn't it?  Wishing you a most beautiful season of heart-felt giving!
P.S. To read the funniest post about Hanukkah ever, you must visit Danielle's blog Most Days I Win to read a post written by her husband Matt!


Little Angel Swap Wrap-up & Give-Away

Dearest all --

Here is a quick wrap-up for the Little Angel Swap I recently hosted.

First of all, a sincere thank you to each and every participant for all the joy and creativity you brought with you to this swap.  It's been delightful for me to read your emails, see your photos and to know that your little emissaries of peace, love and joy have been flitting 'round the globe to grace homes and shine throughout this holiday season!

If you were not able to join in, you can still see some of the lovely treasures created for the swap by visiting the Little Angel Gallery here.  (A note to swap participants: if you sent me a photo and don't see it in the gallery, please let me know... occasionally things fall through the cracks and photos go missing!)

And last but not least, a little angel give-away!  I will be giving away these two tiny angels... There will be 2 winners, one angel for each.  If you would like a chance to win one of these angels, please leave a comment under this post (and make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn.)  I will choose a name via random number generator on Sunday, December 25th (oh, joyous day!)

May you always be blessed and
protected beneath the wings of angels...

Note:  This post has been linked to Natural Suburbia's Creative Friday and The Magic Onions Fridays Nature Table.

Congratulations #1/Rainblissed and #10/Kelly. Thanks to the mysteries of the random number generator a little angel shall be winging it's way to each of you!


Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

I had a little dreidel,
I made it out of clay,
And when it's dry and ready,
Oh, dreidel, I shall play!

In our house, tops are are some of the most-played-with toys...
This top makes chugging noises as the tiny train goes round & round the track (and even the tiny gate goes up and down...) It's one of the prizes in our collection!

Here are some tiny tops we made ourselves.

When Hanukkah rolls around, our collection of dreidels comes out of storage to join our usual collection of tops.  And, we don't limit ourselves to traditional dreidels -- the ones with flashing lights are favorites around here!

This is one of our most outrageous...  As it spins around, lights flash and it emits space-blaster noises... No wonder the little sticker on the "launcher" declares this to be a "Techno Draydel!"

While the flashing, singing dreidels are fun, you cannot play a proper game of dreidel with them.  To play the game, we use these beautiful, olive-wood dreidels from Israel.  Here's how you play:

A dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each of its 4 sides.  The letters are “nun,” “gimel,“ “hay” and “shin” which stand for the words “Nes Gadol Haya Sham.” This means “A Great Miracle Happened There.”  The dreidel game is usually played with pennies or nuts.  To start, each player puts a penny (or nut) into a small bowl in the center of the table, then one player spins the dreidel.  If “nun” comes up the spinner does nothing and the next player starts their turn; “hay” means the spinner takes half of the coins in the bowl; “shin,” the spinner adds a penny to the bowl; “gimel,” the spinner takes all coins in the bowl.  When the bowl is emptied everyone  adds another coin and the game continues until one player wins all the coins. 

 This year Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 20th.  Perhaps you'll join the fun this holiday season and try a game of dreidel, too!

P.S.  If you would like to win a copy of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins please leave a comment under my post from December 14th (and make sure I have a way to get in touch with you.)  I will draw a name via random number generator on December 18th.


Celebrating Hanukkah Books

It's not easy to be a family which does *not* celebrate Christmas.  When we are out in public during the latter days of December (i.e. after Christmas) it often occurs that kind, well-intentioned strangers will ask my older son what he got for Christmas.  You should see the looks of incredulity, perplexity and slight horror on their faces when he answers with a funny grin, "I got nothing for Christmas."  They look back and forth from his face to mine, having trouble imagining how this could be so.  I smile sweetly (to cover my slight grimace) and confirm that, indeed, we do not celebrate Christmas. A look of pity creeps into the faces of these strangers when I tell them that, instead of Christmas, we celebrate Hanukkah.  I always walk away from these exchanges marveling at the assumption that everyone in the world celebrates Christmas and that any child who lacks a Christmas Tree must surely be deprived.  Please don't misunderstand me here. I love Christmas and the beautiful story of the nativity.  I enjoy seeing all the decorations, learning about the family traditions of our friends and watching the Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet.  But, neither my husband nor I were raised celebrating Christmas and we don't celebrate Christmas in our own home now.  While we may love it, it's simply not our holiday.

The thing is, bombarded by over-commercialized glitz, omnipresent through the month of December, my older son used to really want to celebrate Christmas (and yes!  the bombardment of over-commercialized glitz can be a problem even for families celebrating Christmas!)  It did not matter how many candles we lit or how many lovely gifts he received, our little Mr. still wanted Christmas (or a commercialized idea of Christmas) until we got some really great Hanukkah books.  It was the magic of these books which brought magic to our own family celebrations.

Our first and foremost favorite Hanukkah book is Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel.  What's not to love?  A spooky, abandoned house, a passel of creepy goblins and a very clever fellow who outwits the goblins and lights the glowing candles of Hannukah...

Our next favorite is ZigaZak, also by Eric Kimmel (more naughty goblins!)

And then there's this delightful story -- the Chanukkah Guest (thanks again, Eric Kimmel!)

For a bit of good natured humor there's The Best Hanukkah Ever by Barbara Diamond Goldin...

And also this clever book -- Malke's Secret Recipe by David A. Adler.

The newest addition to our Hanukkah book collection, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket, is seriously irreverent!

And finally, a story which is not necessarily for Hanukkah, but so beautiful that I had to share it --  
The Treasure By Uri Shulevitz.

Of course, as usual, I have an extra book on my shelf to give away!  If you would like to win a copy of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins please leave a comment under this post (and make sure I have a way to get in touch with you.)  I will draw a name via random number generator on December 18th.

Wishing you and your family a joyous holiday (whichever one you celebrate...)  May it be filled with light, love, laughter and... good stories!

Congratulations to Danielle of the blog Most Days I Win. Via Random Number Generator you have won my extra copy of Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins. With apologies to Alyse... this story does not have any pretty princesses in it  :-(


Pinecone Gnomes

I was walking through the garden with my wee Bloom this morning and heard a small rustling of leaves.  Our attention was drawn down to the roots of a great pine tree.  

 Nestled among the roots, pine needles and fallen leaves were these two little fellows, doing their best disguise themselves among the pinecones.

The two little gnomes squeaked in terror when they realized they'd been spotted, but after my wee Bloom and I knelt down and assured them we meant no harm, they invited a third friend to join them.  Introductions were made with a "How do you do, and a how do you do, and a how do you do, again..." (the gnomes in my garden are, apparently, very formal little fellows!)  We talked about the weather, the fallen leaves and the migrating birds. Then our new friends said they must be on their way to help the local squirrels hunt a few last acorns, so we parted ways with a very formal "Hope to see you, and a hope to see you, and a hope to see you again soon!"  And I'm sure we shall...

If you would like to see some pine-cone gnomes in your garden, you'll want to find some smallish pinecones and 1-inch wooden beads with 3/8th inch holes like these.

 As you can see, I made a simple pattern for the hats out of newsprint...  These hats are about 2 1/2 inches high.
To help the little gnomes balance, you may want to cut some feet from matching felt and glue them to the bottoms of the pine-cones.  One of my pine-cones was still a little wobbly so I reinforced the felt base with a piece of cardboard (and if your pine-cones are really wobbly, you can add some weight by gluing a penny to the base...)

If you want your gnomes to have mittens, you can cut 3 inch lengths of pipe-cleaner, run a line of glue along the center 2 inches and then place it in among the bristles through the middle of your pine-cone.  Leave an inch, or so, of the ends of your pipe cleaner sticking out in front to form two arms.

Then glue your bead to the top of the pine-cone, glue the hat to the top of the wooden bead and mittens to the ends of the pipe-cleaner arms.  Finally, if you wish, you can paint or draw little faces.  For these gnomes I used colored pencils to draw the faces, and I think it worked out nicely. Don't you?

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