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Friday Five: Ramadan

Ramadan started on June 5th and because of a very cool book and set we’ve been celebrating it. 

Ramadan Date Palm1. The Ramadan Date Palm written by Fatemeh Mashouf, illustrated by Vera Pavlova

This is the book that started it all, so to speak. Through one of my best friends I saw a crowd funding project for a book, stuffed toy, activity cards, and plate set that was intended to foster pride in Muslim children as well as excitement around Ramadan (i.e. not Christmas, watch their story here, you’ll see what she means). When the box arrived on our doorstep Cam was intrigued. After reading the book she asked to read it all over again right away. Then she started asking when Ramadan would start so we could do the cards and celebrate. The book is darling and while intended for Muslim kids would mostly make sense to kids of any faith. It does a good job of explaining what the holiday is and what it means for Muslims. For more on the story read my full review over on my library blog. You can hear the full story on their website as well as order a copy/set for yourself.

Under the Ramadan Moon2. Under the Ramadan Moon written by Sylvia Whitman, illustrated by Sue Williams

This makes the perfect bedtime story during Ramadan. It has simple rhythmic text and gentle pictures. It isn’t very long or involved either which makes it good for winding down or for sharing with young children. While it does give a bit of information on Ramadan, it’s not really intended to teach about the holiday. There isn’t a story here per se, but it does celebrate all the fun things that go on during the month. 


Party in Ramadan3. A Party in Ramadan written by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

This book is a bit longer and might be better suited to slightly older children (although Cam enjoyed it).  Leena decides to attend a birthday party on the day she is fasting for the first time. At first she thinks it will be no problem, but as the party wears on and she runs around and sees chocolate cake, Leena isn’t so sure going to the party was such a good idea. The ending is very sweet as Leena has a conversation with her dad about how hard fasting can be. And it turns out her friends have saved her some cake and they drop by to share it after the fast has been broken. For older children this may be a familiar story, but it celebrates Leena’s accomplishment and strength in sticking with her fast despite the tempting chocolate frosting. 

Nabeel4. Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Proiti Roy

This story is just plain funny. Nabeel, while out buying Eid presents for his family, buys himself a new pair of pants. But there isn’t time to have the tailor hem them up. Nabeel goes around to his wife, mother and daughter handing out gifts and asking for help with his pants, but no one has time. They’re too busy making food for Eid. Finally Nabeel goes home and does the sewing himself. Feeling guilty, though, each woman sneaks over and hems Nabeel’s pants up a little more. A well-timed page turn reveals Nabeel in his new shorts! Oops. Fortunately they have saved the fabric scraps and are able to repair his pants. The text is a bit long, but so much of it repeats that it doesn’t feel long. It also gives kids the chance to jump in and say it along with you. I think this ties in with the idea from Rafiq and Friends that Ramadan should be fun for children and this will certainly help bring an element of humor! 

Ramadan Moon5. Ramadan Moon written by Na’ima B Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adi 

 Another sweet book that celebrates all the fun things that happen during Ramadan. I absolutely love the illustrations in this one. They are made with different types of paper and fabric, plus some pen and ink details. They are so arresting. I also appreciated that this book is set in Iran with an Iranian family. A lot of the books about Muslims feature Arab characters and it isn’t only Arabs who are Muslim. The story is a little longer than Under the Ramadan Moon, but is similar in content so if you have a slightly older child this might be a better fit. 


 Please note, there are other lists out there of Ramadan books. Many of them are fine lists. The books I have listed here, however, are appropriate both for Muslims children and non-Muslim children, meaning they don’t over explain the faith. Books with lots of extra information and definitions are not meant for Muslim kids, they’re books to help non-Muslims understand and I didn’t want a list like that. The other thing to be aware of is that at the end of Ramadan there is an Eid. Eid simply means holiday or celebration in Arabic, but the full name for Eid after Ramadan is Eid al-Fitr. There is a second Eid, Eid al-Adha which is the time when many Muslims make hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. I have noticed that there are a couple books about hajj and Eid al-Adha that have been lumped, I suspect unknowingly, into Ramadan book lists. This indicates that the person making the list wasn’t especially clear on Islam. Am I saying I know all there is to know? No, not at all. Is exposure to books about Eid al-Adha a bad thing? No, but it kind of alienates Muslim kids who would know the difference. I tried to be sensitive in this list by adding books that Muslim kids can enjoy as much as their non-Muslim friends. 

Tradition: Candlemas

This is the first year we will be celebrating Candlemas on February 2nd. Traditionally (i.e. religiously) it is the celebration of the presentation of Jesus at the temple. Since we aren’t particularly religious we celebrate the more pagan tradition that I think the Feast of the Presentation is supposed to obscure- it’s the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Basically it means the days are getting noticeably longer.

I have noticed that out on our walks and in the evenings when I head out to take care of our flock and creatures outside. I’ve also noticed it in the mornings when I head out to take out treats and open the run for the chickens. I don’t mind winter at all, which is in part probably due to the mild winters we have here in Sacramento, but I’m always glad to see the longer days. 

To celebrate we are going to read two poetry books that I got from the library that celebrate the passing of the seasons. A Circle of Seasons and A Brighter Garden. I am also going to put out candles during dinner and we may even read the books solely by candlelight. 

Spring is coming!

Garden Plan 2016

I spent the last few weeks planning out the garden because, as it turns out, some of my seeds need to be started inside this week. We are very fortunate to live in a mild winter climate, meaning we are in the 50s during the day through the winter (with a few days in the 40s) and nights hovering in the upper 30s. Until a few years ago we seemed to only have a handful of nights that dropped to freezing or below, but I’ve noticed the last few years we’ve had a couple weeks worth of nights that drop down into the upper 20s. Brr! It does not snow where we live in California (although contrary to popular belief there are places it does snow in the state) so once the weather starts warming up in early March we are home free for planting. 

The bigger challenge for our gardening is how hot it gets in July, August and September. There are several stretches of days where temperatures reach 105 and while there is often a delta breeze to cool us off in the evening we have a week or two of airless days. This causes even some of the hardiest plants to wilt and requires a lot of extra watering to pull the food crops through. And water is scarce out here in the West right now. I’m hoping to get some rain barrels and fill them this winter (we almost never get rain in the summer months) to supplement. 

Last year we ripped out our lawn (too thirsty!) and put down bark and a number of other ground covers like lantana and various ornamental grasses. This also freed up space in our sunny front yard for a real garden. Our house faces due north and the backyard is blessedly shaded by an enormous fruitless mulberry all summer long. Excellent for cooling bills, terrible for vegetable gardens. I can grow cooler season crops in the back and occasionally I’ll get some sun-loving plants to limp along. We never got tomatoes. Last year, with the lawn gone, I tried out straw-bale gardening and it worked incredibly well. I’ve never gotten so many peppers and squash and beans and tomatoes. This year I want to expand it and plant more of the crops we tend to use while keeping a few crops and the bee hive in the backyard. 

Here are the layouts/plans for my front and back gardens (to see them larger and more clearly, click on the image to open it in a new page):

Front Garden Plan

Back garden plan

Advent Reflections: Week 2

This week I wanted to share our family Advent tradition. It has four components to it that are based on my upbringing in the Episcopal church and as a German. 

Advent Calendar: I always had one of those chocolate calendars as a kid and I loved them. I’m not opposed to them, but I wanted to get back to the German roots of the tradition more. The Germans make so stunningly beautiful Advent calendars that each window reveals a tiny picture, but that feels like something Cam will appreciate more when she is a bit older (tween and teen years). I love the idea of a tiny gift each day, but decided I wanted to get away from Cam getting so much stuff. So I took the religious Advent wreath and made one for our table. Each Sunday of Advent we light a candle in it and each day there is a jar in the middle with an activity. Some are about giving (take groceries to the food bank) and others are something to make the season festive (make an ornament for the tree). 

St. Nicholas Day & Christkindlmarkt: Instead of opening presents on Christmas morning we put out Cam’s shoes on St. Nicholas Night and she gets her presents the next morning. We tried some other traditions, but I am trying to get as far away from the hype that Christmas morning presents brings. In the German tradition that weekend there is a Christkindlmarkt which is like a craft and food fair. Our local German society club puts one on and we go to pick out an ornament and buy some traditional cookies and sausages. 

Yearly Ornament: At the Christkindlmarkt we let Cam pick out an ornament from the blown-glass ornament vendor. This way when she leaves home she’ll have a small collection of ornaments to take with her. For the time being, they are put on our tree.  

Nativity Scene: I have a Nativity set that I remember very fondly from my childhood. Cam and I set it up each year together and she is allowed to play with the figures. Per what I think is a religious tradition and may also be German the Christ child does not arrive until Christmas morning and Mary and Joseph don’t arrive until Christmas Eve. Mary and Joseph also travel around the house during Advent on their journey to Bethlehem. I find this to be a lot more meaningful and way less creepy than that Elf on the Shelf. 

Now I will say Cam does get presents on Christmas. She has seven grandparents so they have her covered (although we limit them to one or two with no pressure to do any). I loved Christmas as a child, but I think it’s gotten a lot more commercial and a lot more intense and I don’t want that for our family. We have all we need and much much more. Cam doesn’t need lots of new toys each year nor does she need the hype of begging things she doesn’t really want. So I’ve tried to tie the season to religious and cultural traditions to tone it all down and make it more meaningful and special. 


Friday Five: Scottish Tales

Our family is part Scottish and while I’m trying to show Cam the wider world I also want to give her an anchor in our German and Scottish roots. Part of this has involved sharing cultural traditions and foods with her, but I have also tried to find stories that are part of those cultures. German fairy tales abound, but the Scottish tales have been more elusive. Below is a list of five books I have found that either retell traditional Scottish tales or use elements from them. 

Tam LinnThe Tale of Tam Lin written by Lari Don, illustrated by Philip Longson

From Goodreads: Janet is forbidden from visiting the woods near her father’s castle because legend says that long ago a local boy called Tam Linn was stolen there by the fairy queen and never returned. But Janet isn’t afraid of fairy stories. Deep in the woods, by a well, she meets a fairy knight – the famous Tam Linn, forbidden to leave by the evil queen’s spell. Janet decides to save her new friend, but when the queen and her army appear, fairy magic turns Tam into a whole host of Scottish creatures. Can Janet hold on long enough to rescue him?

I absolutely love this story. I especially like this retelling because it removes the romance. Janet simply saves the boy because it’s the right thing to do. Add to this that she isn’t some simpering princess. She is strong and brave and determined. An excellent role model for our girls. I’m all for love and romance, but I think sometimes it undermines the message of being a strong woman. 


The Selkie GirlThe Selkie Girl written by Janis McKay, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane

From Goodreads: Fergus lives with his father by the sea, but is lonely. He wants a friend more than anything. One day Fergus finds treasure on the beach: a beautiful fur blanket hidden in the rocks. But Fergus doesn’t know that his treasure belongs to someone else – a selkie girl has lost her seal skin and can’t go home to the sea without it. Will Fergus give his new friend what she needs, and risk being lonely again?

Selkies are one of the mythical Scot-Irish creatures that come up in a lot of stories. This particular book doesn’t appear to be a traditional tale per se, just a tale that features a selkie. Both this book and The Tale of Tam Linn (and the following book on the list) are from a series of Scottish Tales. These retellings feature younger protagonists or, in the case of The Selkie Girl, kids. I think there is a lot of power in the stories as they originally were, but I think it’s also okay to retell them with children so kids see themselves in the stories more. 

StoorwormThe Dragon Stoorworm written by Theresa Breslin, illustrated by Matthew Land

From Goodreads: The Dragon Stoorworm was the very first, very worst dragon that ever lived. It was ginormous: almost as big as the whole of Scotland! The King of Scotland called for warriors to defeat the terrible dragon and save his daughter, the Princess Gemdelovely, from being eaten. But none who faced the dragon ever returned. 

This is both a creation myth and a bit of a love story. Gemdelovely’s father offers her hand in marriage, his sword and his kingdom for getting rid of the dragon, but she tells him that only she can give her hand. Gemdelovely’s not impressed with the knights that come and are full of bravado and keen on winning the kingdom. But when Assipattle comes along he is not full of braggadocio. He is interested in getting to know Gemdelovely and takes on the challenge of Stoorworm with the help of Gemdelovely instead of as a way of winning her like a prize. The ending is the best where he kisses her once and she takes the initiative and kisses him six or seven times back. I particularly like the final illustration that shows them sitting around the fire with a few beautiful objects like a plate of shortbread telling stories and singing together. 

Wee GillisWee Gillis written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson

From Goodreads: Wee Gillis lives in Scotland. He is an orphan, and he spends half of each year with his mother’s people in the lowlands, while the other half finds him in the highlands with his father’s kin. Both sides of Gillis’s family are eager for him to settle down and adopt their ways. In the lowlands, he is taught to herd cattle, learning how to call them to him in even the heaviest of evening fogs. In the rocky highlands, he stalks stags from outcrop to outcrop, holding his breath so as not to make a sound. Wee Gillis is a quick study, and he soon picks up what his elders can teach him. And yet he is unprepared when the day comes for him to decide, once and for all, whether it will be the lowlands or the highlands that he will call his home.

I think you have to be Scottish to like bagpipes, but this is a zany story about them which you can enjoy without actually listening to the music. It’s also about the uncomfortable positions families put us in and about finding good compromises. It draws on highland-lowland rivalry too which shows some Scottish tradition (although I’m not sure how real it still is).

Wee BookA Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots written by Matthew Fit & James Robertston, illustrated by Deborah Campbell 

From Amazon: Here are six of the world’s best-loved folk and fairy tales, retold in lively modern Scots by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson. Familiar stories like Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin are given a fresh look and sound in these new versions, which are ideal for bedtime, nursery and classroom reading.
Includes: Cinderella; Wee Reid Ridin Hood; The Three Wee Pigs; Snaw White; The Billy Goats Gruff; Rumpelstiltskin

This one is more for fun. It’s five traditional fairy tales, but they are told in the Scots dialect or language. Since the stories are familiar it’s not too difficult to understand what they’re saying, but be forewarned Scots is not American English or even British English. It can sound very foreign, but also incredibly beautiful, particularly when spoken.

If you’re interested in Scots here’s an interesting radio piece (you can read it or listen to it at the link) from PRI about the first Scots Scriever (or writer) Hamish MacDonald. Just listen to him speak. Wonderful. 

Cam in the Kitchen: Poetry Tea

I recently came across this idea for a poetry tea on Pinterest. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun and told Cam we were going to try it out. Here is a link to the post that I found through Pinterest. We had so much fun that we’re going to make a it a Wednesday tradition. 

IMG_6215I actually started building anticipation on Monday when we started looking in a few stores for a teapot. I have kettle, but that isn’t exactly an efficient way to brew tea (it makes too much and the pot is really hot). It turns out a decent (and decently priced) ceramic teapot is really hard to find! While we keep looking, we’re using the tea kettle. I brew tea at the stove and pour into cups. 

On Wednesday, after lunch and before nap time, we brewed a pot of tea, put some cookies on a plate and found a poetry book to share. Cam pushed our chairs close together and we sat down to sip tea and read. It worked beautifully and Cam loved it. IMG_6216It was relaxing and lovely. At the end of the month I will create a list of our favorite poetry books and link to it here. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated. We’ll have whatever is on hand for a snack. We just read the poetry. I suppose if Cam wanted to talk about the poems we could, but right now we’re just listening to them. I hope eventually she will take over reading some of them because learning to read poetry aloud is a good skill to practice for public speaking, for fluency, and for understanding how the spoken word works. 

Activity In the Hive: Baby Chicks

We are a family of pets, but not your usual ones. There are no cats or dogs here, nor will there be anytime soon. We have rabbits and a turtle, exotic birds and fish, and chickens and ducks. We originally got the chickens for fun and we haven’t been disappointed. They are ridiculous and most of us could watch them run around doing silly things for hours. Cam loves to chase them around the yard and pick them up. We are also pleased to get the most delicious eggs from them. We are not big egg eaters, but I haven’t had to buy eggs in a couple years and our neighbors and coworkers are always happy to receive a dozen fresh eggs.

About a week and a half ago we went to the feed store to get a new batch of chickens. This is the third time we’ve had baby chicks and I think there is something incredibly magical and special about having such new life in the house. It’s an incredible lesson for Cam in how fragile, delicate, and precarious life is. When we buy the chicks we buy several, both for company and because there is the distinct possibility that one or more will die. We have been lucky that this has not happened, but I think if it did (and even the discussion about the possibility) is a good experience for Cam. I know we have this innate desire to protect our children from all that is bad and scary and sad in the world, but I would rather Cam was exposed to some of that in a safe environment and that we show her how to cope well with it. The thing is, she lives in this world and she will experience these let downs and emotions and it’s important that she knows how to process those emotions and move through them without getting lost in them. I know the experience of a small chick dying while she is only three will not give her profound understanding of death or sadness, but it’s a step toward that understanding and a part of her long learning process. 

The baby chicks also grow incredibly fast and are surprisingly self-sufficient and capable even at a day old. It’s an amazing thing to see them get bigger so quickly and to marvel at how complex life is. It never ceases to amaze us that they just know how to be upon emerging from the egg and with no parental support. 

It doesn’t hurt that they are adorable either (click the image to see it larger):

New chicks

Cam in the Kitchen: Vanilla Crescents

Every year since I was just a few months old my grandmother, my mom and I have gathered to bake Christmas cookies. When Cam was born my grandmother was not able to join us, but my mom and I continued the tradition. The cookies we bake have dwindled in numbers over the years, but the recipes have stayed the same. Spice cookies rolled paper thin. Orange candy oatmeal cookies. Candy cherry cookies. And vanilla crescents. The vanilla crescents were a particular favorite of my grandfather and I discovered last year that they, or something very similar, are a traditional cookie for Martinmas. The crescent shape is reminiscent of a horse shoe and therefore St. Martin’s horse.

I made the cookies last year, but this year there was the added benefit of them being a favorite of my grandfather. Martinmas falls close to All Soul’s Day and we still had our pictures up from that celebration and we were able to continue celebrating. 

These cookies are very simple to make. Just throw all the ingredients into the bowl of a mixer and whip them up. Cam has helped the last two years with the mixing and powdered sugar dusting with great success. Shaping the crescents is still a little difficult, though. 

Martinmas Vanilla Crescent Cookies
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  1. 1 cup butter
  2. 1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  3. 2 cups flour
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together.
  3. Add vanilla and then add the flour gradually.
  4. Scoop out tablespoon sized balls and shape into crescents.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes. The cookies do not get very brown, so don't over bake them.
  6. Remove from cookie sheet and allow to cool.
  7. When cool dust with powdered sugar.
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Handwork: Martinmas

Gluing Lanterns I wrote last year about Martinmas and what we did. Our celebration this year was similar. Since St. Martin was known for sharing his cloak with a beggar one cold winter night we purchased a coat to give to the local coat drive. We made cookies which I will share in the December Cam in the Kitchen post. We also made the traditional lanterns for the holiday.

Martinmas LanternSince Cam was older this year I picked a lantern that she could make on her own. I made four and she made three which was about right. We’re giving them out to family and friends again. 


  • smooth-sided jars
  • pieces of tissue paper
  • white glue
  • paintbrushes
  • small bowl for glue

What To Do

  • I got some things set up on a tray a day or two before we actually did the craft. This made it easy to get it out and make the lanterns, but isn’t essential. I do suggest some prep before you get started though.
  • Cut the tissue paper into small- and medium-sized pieces. They will be covering the outside of the jars so use the sizes of your jars to decide how big to cut the pieces. 
  • In the small bowl, mix some white glue with a bit of water to thin it out. It should be think enough that it doesn’t really drip when painted on the jar, but not so thick it’s hard to spread.
  • Paint a layer of glue onto the outside of the jar. You can work in sections or cover the whole outside.
  • Begin placing the pieces of tissue paper around the outside. They can overlap. If you have a young child it might be easier for you to hold the jar while they place the tissue paper scraps on.
  • Once you have a patch (or the whole jar covered) brush over the tissue paper with the glue sticking the pieces down more and creating a thin layer to protect the paper. This will keep it from peeling off so easily and acts a bit like Modge Podge.  
  • Allow to dry completely. Place a candle inside (we use the battery operated candles, but you can use votives or tea lights).

Reflection: 2014/24

Martinmas: We celebrated Martinmas again this year. I really like how this is a holiday about charity and light at a time of year when we get so many messages about getting stuff. See my weekly post on Wednesday for more on what we do to celebrate. 

Reorganizing: Again. In the classroom. It isn’t really major, but I read the book Beautiful Stuff which I will review Thanksgiving week and it’s inspired me to involve Cam in sorting our recycled materials and have them more prominently displayed.