winter’s last gasp wishlist

Oh my god the snow, you guys, THE GOLL-DANGED BEAUTIFUL TREACHEROUS SNOW. About 4 feet so far up where we live, and that’s small potatoes compared to our friends in eastern Massachusetts. Ethereal, marshmallowy landscapes that create impassable roads and frightening ice dams on your roof. I love it and I hate it. I’m enchanted and yet I’m halfway to losing my mind.

In a few hours, it will be March. MARCH! The month in which Spring officially begins! Although it usually arrives in the midst of a giant snowstorm, I’m clinging to the knowledge that in these parts, the first day of Spring means that in about two more weeks, it will actually be Spring. Brown, muddy spring with almost no flowers yet, but Spring nonetheless.

So with that in mind, I’m trying to make the last few weeks of this seemingly endless winter go by more quickly with an end-of-winter wish list. Some wintry things I’d like to do before Old Man Winter finally eats it once and for all.

1. Make an Ice Cube Garland

ice cube garland

This picture is from a few Februarys ago – I can’t believe we could see grass at this time of year! Making an ice-cube garland is super easy and a great way to add a little color to the unrelenting whiteness around us. Just fill an ice-cube tray with water, add drops of food coloring to each cube compartment to make different colors, and dip a bit of twine into each cube with the end hanging out. Once they’re frozen, tie each one onto a length of twine and tie the ends to trees or whatever outdoor place you have to tie things to. The nice thing about doing this project when there’s snow on the ground is that as they melt, the colors transfer from the garland to the snow below, so you end up with a cool rainbow splotch pattern on the ground.

2. Read Snow Music one more time.

Oh, man. This is my favorite winter picture book. I’ve been meaning to write about it literally since I started this blog and now I’m so freaking sick of the snow that I can’t face writing an entire blog post about how magical it is. But seriously, this book makes it extremely magical. It perfectly captures the sounds of a new snowfall. I remember once in college, walking home from work on a snowy evening when everyone had already left campus for winter break, the streets were so deserted that as I crossed Lincoln Avenue, I could literally hear each snowflake hitting the ground. I was so struck by the magicalness of it that I just stood there on the median, listening. Lynne Rae Perkins perfectly captures it in the opening of Snow Music (“Everybody whisper: Peth peth peth peth peth peth peth peth”) and it just gets cooler from there. The music of a snowplow scraping down the street. The music of an escaped dog, running happily through the snow. The “k-tk” of a dried leaf blowing along the pavement. Just trust me folks, this is a good one.

3. Make Ina Garten’s Hot Chocolate.

gourmet hot chocolate

You really can’t enjoy hot chocolate in the spring, summer, or even fall like you can in the winter, so I’m going to go out with a bang. This Ina Garten recipe is the most decadent, yummy thing ever. It’s not my everyday in-from-playing-in-the-snow recipe, but it deserves to be drunk at least one more time before winter’s over. (As do we all.)

4. Make Swedish Snowball Lanterns.

I saw these the other day on The Artful Parent and posted excitedly about them on the facebook page, but my plans to make them the next day were foiled by some unforgivingly cold temperatures. Nonetheless, we still have plenty of snow (rueful laugh) so this is definitely on the docket. Maybe we can even make an ice lantern with the enormous chunks of ice I just had hacked off my roof. Oh New England, you beautiful snowy ice damming bastard.

5. Sugar on Snow.

sugar on snow

This is what spring in New England looks like, folks. You still have plenty of snow, but now with fresh maple syrup. Since we just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods and are entering maple syrup season, this is the perfect dessert of the moment. All you have to do is heat your maple syrup to 234F, drizzle over some fresh snow, and enjoy. Next, eat a pickle. Cause that’s the New England way. Other acceptable accompaniments: coffee and a donut.

6. Visit an Ice Castle

I probably have the only 4-year-old girl in America who isn’t into Frozen. (There was a brief period after we watched it last winter when she spent a lot of time playing Frozen. Which in her case meant pretending to be a dinosaur hunting and devouring Elsa and Anna.) However, I think any kid – hey, any adult – would be enchanted by these awesome ice castles. There’s a couple of these in our region, and I think they’re closing really soon, perhaps as early as next Sunday.

7. Pajama Muppet Show Marathon

What they lack in Elsa and Anna fan-dom, my kiddos more than make-up for in their devotion to the Muppets. Muppets were the only thing they asked Santa for this year. (Unfortunately they had to go and fall in love with the most obscure and un-merchandise-friendly ones: Beaker and Camilla… these kids never make it easy for me, I tell ya.) But Santa delivered, and muppets are right up there with legos, dragons, and dinosaurs for most played-with toys in our house at the moment. So while I love spending the morning outside playing in the snow, I’m keeping this idea in my back pocket for the next time we all just feel like hunkering down with a cozy blanket and having some laughs. I have a feeling they’ll all be excited about this:

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rainy day dragon bread

DSC00694Ever since we went to How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the drive-in movie theater (just barely squeaked that summer wish list item in on Labor Day weekend! By the way we were 11.5/14 on that wish list – not bad but a far cry from my pledge of TOTAL SUMMER WISH LIST DOMINATION. Next year, baseball, camping and preserving!) As I was saying, ever since we saw HTTYD2 it has been All Dragon All the Time over here. My son especially goes really full-on with his passions, and in the past 4 years I’ve learned more about steam locomotives, creatures of the deep sea, evolution, and outer space than I ever knew in my previous 30-cough cough years on the planet. And so it is with dragons. Budding naturalist that he is, the classification system of the dragons in the HTTYD universe really appealed to him, and I’ve even heard my three-year old tell us that “Deadly Nadder isn’t his name, it’s his species.” Of course, being recovering dinosaur addicts, they enjoy all the stomping, roaring, and giant reptilian destruction as well. We’ve read the first two books in the HTTYD series by Cressida Cowell, which the movies were very loosely based on, and with 11 books and counting in the series, I think it’s fair to say there’s no end in sight to the dragon mania.

As a onetime Waldorf preschool parent, I especially think of dragons at this time of year, with the Michaelmas holiday that Waldorf schools traditionally celebrate at the end of September. So when a dark, rainy day spoiled our plans to go hiking and apple-picking, I decided to declare it Dragon Day and have an indoor adventure instead.

We started out by reading the story of Saint George and the Dragon, a retelling by Margaret Hodges with pictures by probably my all time favorite children’s book illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman. As an early subscriber of Cricket Magazine, of which she was the art editor and frequent contributor of illustrations, her pictures shaped so many of the stories of my childhood and I loved to pore over the beautiful and rich detail of her Cricket covers.

The Saint George story is pretty weak in terms of female characters, but hopefully that’s mitigated by the awesome library book we read last week, another Trina Schart Hyman beauty called “The Serpent Slayer: and Other Stories of Strong Women.” It’s a collection of folk tales from different cultures, that all happen to feature female protagonists. Not all the stories have dragons, but a bunch of them do, and they all have kickass heroines.

The Saint George story, however does have an awesome dragon and some good blood and gore in the story for those of you who go in for that. (The cover features blood spurting out of the dragon’s severed tail, which I was like, ewww, but my children apparently found deeply entertaining.)

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After the book, it was time to make some dragon bread. One of my very favorite things to do with kids is when you can tell a story that goes along with an activity you’re doing, so I was so excited when I found this dragon bread story and recipe on Cypress Space. I made some adaptations to the recipe, and as it turned out, to the story as well. My version was a far cry from the original, which comes from the lovely book All Year Round, but this secular, angel-free retelling was the perfect dragon story for our family. When it comes to storytelling with children, it’s my experience that the best way to capture their attention and imagination is to adapt your story to the needs and interests of the particular children you’re telling it to, being flexible enough to improvise along the way if you need to. And regardless of your feelings about dragons, angels, or Waldorf woo woo, this bread is indisputably super delish. So if you just want some fabulous, slightly sweet, wholesome bread that’s great with a cup of tea, scroll down to the bottom for the recipe. But if you want a dragony story to tell as you make your dough, read on.

This story begins in a small but beautiful village in a valley surrounded by lovely forests, hills, mountains and rivers. [We used mixing spoons to shape the flour into the hills, valleys, mountains, and riverbeds.] The people worked very hard tending their farms and caring for their families and each other, but they were happy.

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But one day, an angry dragon flew down and breathed fire upon the land, boiling the rivers up until they flooded the valley. [We poured in a foamy mixture of warm milk, yeast, sugar, and melted butter.] The heat from the dragon’s fire scorched the land and made it barren. [We stirred the flour and milk together until they created a sticky dough.] The smoke from his breath cast darkness over the land. [We sprinkled brown sugar down onto the dough]. And without the sun to warm them, the clouds froze and rained ice down upon the village. [We sprinkled the salt over the dough.] The villagers were so cold and scared and sad that they hid inside, unable to work or play outside, and worried if they could survive in this dark, desolate land.

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In the traditional Waldorf telling of this story, it is at this point that the Archangel Michael (or, the knight Michael, depending on how secular the storyteller is attempting to make it) comes and gives cheer to the villagers and encourages them to be brave and work together to defeat the dragon. Just as I was about to get to that part, my daughter piped up said “They just need to train that dragon.” In the movie version of How to Train Your Dragon (unlike in the book), the vikings are so terrorized by the dragons that they strive to kill any dragon on sight, until Hiccup, the young hero, teaches them they can tame the dragons with nothing more than kindness and understanding. This is an especially powerful message to children who themselves struggle with aggressive impulses when they’re feeling threatened or ill at ease. So at that moment I realized that instead of telling these dragon-loving kids yet another story about slaying a dragon, I should give the dragon a chance to redeem himself. So our story continued like this:

From his home in the cliffs above the village, the dragon looked down upon the land and the unhappy people, and his heart was filled with remorse. He felt such compassion for the poor frightened villagers that with his next breath, he sent golden sparks down into their skies. The sparks turned into a thousand stars, and the people marveled at the magical light in the dark night. [We scattered golden raisins over the dough.]

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With another breath, he gently blew away all the smoke and icy clouds so the sun could shine down upon the land once again. [We dropped in the egg yolk and mixed it and the raisins into the dough.] The people were warmed by the sun and began to venture out of their houses to begin repairing and restoring their farms. The dragon came down and brought them new seeds to plant. [We scattered the pumpkin seeds over the dough.] He told them how sorry he was for what he had done. The warmth of his words softened the icy cold ground and the plants soon grew into tall wheat fields. [We mixed the seeds into the dough with our hands.]

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When the crop was ready to harvest, the dragon helped the villagers thresh the wheat and grind it into flour. They mixed the flour into dough and the dragon baked the dough with his fiery breath until there was enough bread for all the villagers to share. They gave the biggest slice to the dragon, and their generosity and friendship warmed his heart. From that day on, the dragon was a friend to all the people in the land, giving them courage to face even the biggest of challenges.

And with that, we placed a cloth over the bowl of dough and set it to rise.

While we waited for the dough to be ready, we made some dragon paintings with crayons and watercolors.

painting a hideous zippleback

When the dough had risen, we turned it out onto a board and began to shape it into a dragon. I followed a method of shaping that I learned from a post on Waldorf (Inspired) Moms. By the way I pre-emptively apologize for the unattractive photos in this post – it was such a dark dreary day that it was a difficult lighting situation for photography. But a dark dreary day is pretty much the perfect day to stay indoors baking bread and telling stories.

So basically, you chop off about 1/3 of your dough and divide that piece into a chunk for the head, four short legs, and a long skinny log to make the dragon’s crest and spines. The remaining 2/3 piece gets stretched and rolled to a point at one end to create its body and tail.

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It’s easiest to assemble the dragon on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, so you can just slip this bad boy into the oven when you’re finished. Once you’ve got the head and body shaped and attached, lay the crest/spine piece along them and add some almond slivers or other flattish nuts or seeds for his teethDSC00233

We used prunes for his eyes and sliced almonds for his scales. Attach the four leg pieces and use a knife to divide each foot into three toes, which can then be embellished with seed or nut claws. Brush some egg white wash over the whole beast and snip along the crest/spine piece at 1-inch intervals to create the spikes. Bake until toasty and golden brown.
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Our dragon turned out more like a Gila monster than a Monstrous nightmare, but he’s still cute and terrifying in his own pastry reptile way.
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And most importantly, he’s totaly scrumptious, especially when spread with honey butter and served with a mug of hot apple cider.DSC00252

Here’s the full recipe for our dragon bread, even more fun when baked with a story. Feel free to adapt mine as you wish or make up your own!

Rainy Day Dragon Bread

1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 ½ cups warm milk
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup golden raisins
1 egg, separated
¼ cup of pumpkin seeds
2 prunes
¼ cup of sliced almonds

1) Add 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar and the yeast to the warm milk. Stir and set aside.

2) Stir together the flour, creating a valley in the center.

3) When the milk/yeast/sugar mixture has bloomed and you see a foamy top, add the melted butter to it, stir, and pour into the valley in the flour bowl.

4) Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar, the salt, the raisins, the egg yolk, and the pumpkin seeds over the dough and mix well.

5) Cover with a dishcloth and let rise for one hour.

6) Preheat the oven to 375.

7) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Cut off about 2/3 of it and shape it into the body and tail of the dragon.

8) Divide the remaining piece into a head, four small legs, and a long, skinny piece the slightly longer than the body and tail, which will become the dragon’s crest/spines.

9) Place the body and tail piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Shape the head and attach it to the body, adding the prunes for eyes and almond slices for teeth.

10) Lay the long skinny piece along the head and back of the dragon. Attach the legs and use a knife to cut each one into three toes. Stick pumpkin seeds or almond slices on for claws.

11) Add almond slices along the back for scales.

12) With a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the crest piece at 1-inch intervals all the way down to the tail.

13) Mix the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the entire dragon.

14) Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

May every slice bring you warmth, strength, and courage! Huzzah! Dragons!

part-time princess

pondering the waterfallThis is a strange time to be raising a daughter. For a million reasons, but in this post I’m gonna stick to those relevant to the four-and-under set, as that is the only kind of daughter I have experience with so far. When I first began to have ideas about raising a daughter (years before I had one, which is the best time to be an expert on parenting, doncha know) I was so overwhelmed by the vast swaths of pink presents at a friend’s baby shower for her daughter that I swore that when I got pregnant I was going to keep the baby’s sex a secret from everyone but its father. And then I had an actual daughter and not only shared the news of her girl-ness, but happily accepted hand-me-downs from anyone and everyone and ended up with this:

pretty in pink

When you are parenting an infant (or just thinking about parenting an infant) you feel so much anxiety and excitement about shaping this little person and their whole outlook on the world that it’s easy for small things like what clothes they wear to take on looming importance. After all, an infant is basically just a lump for you to project all your hopes, dreams, gender politics, and neuroses onto. But as time passes and they grow into little people with their own ideas and desires and interests, it often turns out that our kids are not perfect reflectors of our carefully curated gender-neutral worldviews.

I was a disappointment to my own mother in this regard – as a toddler, I thoroughly ignored all the trucks and cars she kept buying me in her earnest 1970s way, and made a fast favorite of the Barbie knockoff that my babysitter, oblivious to my mom’s anti-Barbie leanings, gave me. My own daughter surprised me with her early penchant for baby dolls and shoes, though she is also passionate about monsters. It’s actually been really interesting raising a daughter who is the younger sister of a brother. His influence rounds out her interests more powerfully than I ever could. Thanks to him, at two she could identify at least two dozen dinosaur species, and by three she knew all the planets in our solar system.

Since my own childhood, we’ve made enough progress at gender equality that a lot of my beloved Free to Be You and Me now sounds strange and dated. And yet. Much has been said about the rapacious pinkification of American girlhood over the last couple of decades. And it’s not just about the ubiquitous pinkness of the “Girl” aisle in toy stores. (Which, why is that even a thing?? What could possibly be wrong with just having toys organized by type, not supposed gender of recipient?) It’s about the constant whittling away at little girls’ idea of what it means to be a girl, from dolls with unattainable body types, to hyper-gendered toy choices, to salacious children’s and doll’s clothing styles, to passive or self-sublimating female characters in countless books and movies.

Which is why it’s been so incredibly heartening to see Disney, the prolifigator of the Princess Industrial Complex famous for its conventionally beautiful, wimpy “heroines,” taking some of this criticism to heart and finally coming out with some truly admirable female protagonists. The two most recent Disney princess movies, Brave and Frozen, both feature wonderful, tough heroines who take their destinies into their own hands and have their richest, most rewarding relationships with other terrific female characters. And then I came across this little gem at our local library (picked out by my son, funnily enough):DSC03570Published in 2013 by Disney’s children’s books imprint, Disney-Hyperion, this cute book by author Deborah Underwood, with pictures by Cambria Evans, tells the story of a little girl who leads an ordinary life by day but at night turns into a kickass princess, capable of not only rescuing herself, but everybody else too.DSC03571

I loved that her royal duties include fire-fighting and dragon-taming,DSC03572

And my amphibian- and mud-loving children appreciated that she goes puddle-jumping with her mom, the queen.DSC03574

There is a royal ball, of course, and the princess quells drama by inviting the trolls to dance with her. There’s also a handsome prince there, but, you know, whatevs.DSC03575

Also did I mention that she drives a monogrammed motorcycle?DSC03576

I love this messy, brave, and fun-loving little princess, and I also love that unlike many kids’ stories, her mother was not only present throughout the story, but a total ally in fun and adventure. Role models for the whole family.

tractor baby

fort brambly hedge

So, this blog post is mainly going to be about Jill Barklem’s beautiful Brambly Hedge stories, but first I have to tell you about this awesome stick fort we made.

We have this total mess of a tree/shrub thing at the back of our property.bramble tree

It’s so crazy and fugly looking that I just designated it the stick area and used it as a spot to pile unwanted sticks from around the yard and branches I pruned off our long-neglected lilac bushes, until they made their way into the fire pit. Its only real selling point is that it puts a little bit of privacy in between us and our neighbor’s swimming pool. UNTIL NOW. stick fort

Now it looks like this! Pretty much just as much of an eyesore from the front, but now instead of just a big pile, our sticks are formed into an awesome fort to play in!

stick fort interior

I basically just planted a bunch of dead branches in the ground, laid a stick across them like a beam, and then balanced branches and vines on top between the crazy tree thing and the beam. Then I wove some long sticks in between the ones I had planted into the ground, and at the end we just threw all the smaller sticks at it and let them sprinkle down wherever they stuck. stick fort and pine tree

The kids were pretty enchanted.entering the stick fort

I was talking to a friend the other day about how one of the awesome things about parenting is that in some ways it’s like a second chance at childhood. Whatever you miss from or wished you had in your own youth, you now have the opportunity to do with your kids. I always wished I had a cool clubhouse or fort or treehouse when I was a kid. But we are not a handy family – between me and Jon, I’m the construction expert, and my expertise pretty much begins and ends with competence at assembling Ikea furniture. But as it turns out, I’m also good at making non-load-bearing things out of stuff I find in the yard! So here we are. Extensive modular furniture construction experience + large amount of branch refuse = awesome stick fort.

As a fort and treehouse craving kid, it’s probably for the best that I never discovered the Brambly Hedge books because I would have about died of jealousy over the amazing tree dwellings of these cute little mice.brambly hedge cover

The eight Brambly Hedge stories are kind of Beatrix Potterish, with the sweet naturey illustrations and English countryside setting, but they also have tons of intricate cross-section drawings of the trees and other places where the Brambly Hedge mice live and work.brambly hedge crabapple cottage

The Brambly Hedge mice have a Store Stump, where ingredients can be found to make such foodstuffs as watercress soup, dandelion salad, honey creams, syllabubs, and meringues, not to mention elderflower wine and blackberry juice. Of course, sometimes, they just want to chill on their stoop and eat a huge stack of toast with jelly, like Mr. Toadflax here.

brambly hedge  mr toadflax

Even Brambly Hedge, however, is not immune from the English penchant for titles and class divisions. Most of the mice live in humble trees like the crabapple, but Lord and Lady Woodmouse live in the grand Old Oak Palace.brambly hedge old oak palace

Their digs are rustic but posh, if that’s possible. By the way, did you know you can buy an English lordship for about $33? And of course there’s a plethora of the mills my kids are so wild about. Imagine this place filled with the conceptual art I told you about in that wish list post, and you’ll have a good idea of the Wassaic Project.

brambly hedge mill

Intricate and adorable though it is, the flour mill turns out not to be an ideal place to raise a bunch of babies, as Poppy Eyebright finds out when she and Dusty, the miller, start a family. Getting up two flights of stairs with some groceries and one baby is an arduous enough task, as I learned in our Chicago days, so 92 stairs with triplets, not to mention the noise and dust of a mill, would probably put anyone over the edge.

brambly hedge hawthorn cottage

Fortunately the resourceful and generous Brambly Hedge community comes to her rescue and finds and refurbishes a new tree-cottage for Dusty and Poppy’s family to live in. They even arrange a sleepover for Poppy and the babies at Old Oak Palace, so Dusty and the gang can secretly move and unpack all their belongings and surprise Poppy. I first read this story when we were in the thick of a move ourselves, and how I wished I had a village of helpful mice to do it all for me!

The kids built this Brambly Hedge-esque structure at the foot of our pine tree with some wood scraps left over from a construction project, and the Calico Critters mouse family a friend gave my daughter for her birthday last winter are the perfect accessory. She made sure there were beds for the babies to sleep on

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And my son made sure to provide mouse toilets.brambly hedge toilet

I can already tell this is going to provide weeks of backyard entertainment. playing brambly hedge

Maybe they’ll even be captivated enough to play on their own and I’ll be free to fulfill my ambition of summer novel reading, in my fort!

view from the stick fort

the lupine lady

Welp, cross one off the summer wish list. We went to see the fields of lupines yesterday, and it was glorious.lupines-3

This outing was inspired by the wonderful 1982 picture book, Miss Rumphius. miss-rumphius-cover

If you don’t know Miss Rumphius, you should probably go out right now and get a copy from the library. They will definitely have it as librarians love this book. They even made an award for librarians named after it. The story and the beautiful pictures are by Barbara Cooney of Ox-Cart Man fame. miss-rumphius-1

I was so captivated by this story of a lady and her love of lupines, that after I first read it a couple of years ago, I googled lupines and that was how I found out about this June festival only a couple hours north of us in Franconia Notch, NH. It turns out that in person, the lupines look exactly like they do in the book. Tall, sturdy cone-like stalks with dozens of little bonnet-shaped flowers. lupines-2

In the story, Miss Rumphius starts out as a little girl named Alice, painting skies in her grandfather’s art studio. She tells him she wants to see the world and then settle down in a house by the sea. Her grandfather things that sounds pretty good but tells little Alice she must also do something to make the world a more beautiful place.

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So she becomes a librarian! Told you librarians love this book. No, actually she hasn’t gotten to the world-beautifying part yet, though librarian is certainly a noble profession.

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Then in her middle age, she decides to go off and see the world. Basically Miss Rumphius is a total badass, traveling to tropical isles and crossing deserts on camel back by herself. I love that nothing is made of the fact that she isn’t married or having kids or whatever, she’s just a cool single lady doing whatever she likes. By the way, do you love my new carpet in these photos?miss-rumphius-5

Here’s a better view of it.

kilim rugI’ve been wanting a Turkish kilim rug forever, but my husband is so conservative in his tastes that he found most of my selections way too garish and colorful. I was totally stalking this guy’s ebay store until finally this muted one came up. I feel like with the star-like pattern and the rest of our furnishings beside it, it ends up looking more Scandanavianish than Turkish, but that’s fine with me, I love Scandanavia! I’m totally a Swedish-wannabe.

Anyhow, Miss Rumphius ends up injuring her back in an ill-fated camel dismount, and she decides to go on to the living by the sea part of her life’s plan. She buys a little house, plants some flowers, and then gets laid up with her bad back all spring. I just love Miss Rumphius’ house. I totally want that vanity thing she has over there, and the quilt and rag rug look so cozy. And the view! I almost feel like I wouldn’t mind being in bed all spring if I could do it in Miss Rumphius’ bedroom…

miss-rumphius-4But then she gets totally better. I told you she was a badass. No more camel-injury invalid here. She orders a bushel (A BUSHEL! That’s 32 POUNDS!) of lupine seeds and walks around town sprinkling them all over the place. Everybody calls her crazy and she just doesn’t give a shit. Badass.miss-rumphius-3Then the following spring, she’s totally vindicated when the whole town erupts in lupine blossoms. The townspeople switch to calling her “the lupine lady” instead. RESPECT. Life’s mission: accomplished.miss-rumphius-2So I don’t know what the heck happened to make all these lupines burst forth in the area around Franconia Notch, but there’s definitely some Miss Rumphius-worthy beauty there.lupines-1Nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, this beautiful spot was worth the drive. We found an area near the Sugar Hill Sampler that not only had fields and fields of lupines to admire, but also a mowed path to walk through, with little snippets of poetry posted along the trail. We had fun reading (and singing – some were song lyrics) all the poems aloud as we walked.lupine-poetry-walkI’m with you, Christina. Especially late spring. I could live in a world where May and June were each 60 days long. (To make up for this we need to eliminate February and March. Everybody with me?)

unusual creatures

What do you get when you mix an endearingly nerdy Brooklyn musician, an infographic designer, two Dutch screenprinters, and 50 of the animal kingdom’s most bizarre members?

ImageYou get Michael Hearst’s awesome book, Unusual Creatures, which my librarian friend Eileen turned us on to. In fact, it’s my son’s very first book checked out on his own account at what will soon be his elementary school library. Sniffle! Now that I think about it it’s probably way overdue – is that a bad omen for his grade school career? Or is it a good omen for his career as a passionate reader… One thing is for certain, he is head over heels in love with this amazing book.

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It starts off with a brief explanation of biological classifications, and offers the following helpful mnemonic: “Kids Place Candles on Foot Gravy Sausage,” which is a pretty good indication of the silly yet informative tone of the book. At the least, it’s much more PC for a rising kindergartener than the one I learned in Freshman Biology: “King Phillip’s Children’s Only Friends Got Slaughtered.” At any rate, mnemonics are probably wasted on a child who can’t read, but my kid got really into shouting out the Kingdom, Phylum, and Class of each animal. In fact for his bedtime story tonight, he chose to “read” us two of his sister’s board books, which he re-titled “What are Mammals and What Are Not Mammals, Volume 1 and 2,” and then proceeded to classify the animals on each page.

ImageBut that is just the beginning of the fun in Unusual Creatures; each page offers beautiful drawings (though the subject matter is often quite hideous) and a dryly humorous description of each animal’s unusual features, as well as quizzes, factoids, and poetry inspired by the animal in question.

ImageSpeaking of beautiful illustrations of hideous subjects, this drawing of a wombat’s cube-shaped poop was hands-down my kids’ favorite part of the book.

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But the magic doesn’t end with square poop, my friends. Unusual Creatures, the book, was inspiration for an entire album titled Songs for Unusual Creatures, composed by Hearst and featuring the Kronos Quartet as well as people playing a bunch of kooky instruments like the tubax, daxophone, theremin and xylobotImage

With a book and companion songs under his belt, Hearst couldn’t stop there, and went on to create a whole series of fun videos about the creatures, which I just discovered tonight while writing this blog post. These are basically the kid-appropriate version of Ze Frank’s True Facts About videos, of which True Facts About the Sea Pig is a family favorite. I can’t wait to wake up my kids on the first day of summer vacation and show them this:

tap tap boom boom

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Well, this must be what they call serendipity. I start a new blog called Rainy Day Riot, and the next day is a rainy day. And not only that, but we found an awesome book about New York City in a thunderstorm yesterday at the library! What better to do on a rainy morning than cuddle up with a little girl and a cup of tea and read a rainstorm book.

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Tap Tap Boom Boom is a new book by Elizabeth Bluemle with awesome gouache and pencil illustrations collaged with photos by G. Brian Karas. I picked it up because the title reminded me of our favorite winter book, Snow Music by Lynne Rae Perkins, which uses words to evoke the sounds and silences of a snowstorm. It’s so great. I’m gonna do a whole post on it one day, but it seems odd to talk about snow books in June. So Tap Tap Boom Boom.

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It has a wonderful rhyming sort of free-form poetry that describes the anticipation and mad dashing of the beginning of a thunderstorm, and then the warm, wet camaraderie of strangers congregating to wait out the rain. I entertained myself chanting Boom! BOOM!! in my most thunderous voice, and imitating the sounds of raindrops and lightning, but if you’re the type of person who likes to read books in a dignified manner and not sound like a lunatic to the other folks at the library or bookstore, then maybe wait until you get home to read it aloud. Thankfully, everyone who goes to library story hour probably already knows that I’m a lunatic, so no harm done.

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I love this guy who ran into the subway with his pizza and then decides to share it with a bunch of other folks seeking shelter down in there.

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The illustrations are so detailed, and it’s fun to follow the characters through their pages. On the back cover, these two little guys march happily out of the subway to see that the sun has come out and presumably go back to the playground where they were when the book begins.

And the kiddos adore it – I’ve read this one three times already this morning and counting. I have a feeling this book will be joining our permanent collection!