Make Christmas as Merry as Possible

Our last episode was about Hanukkah, and as is the case with many of our topics, I learned so much about this one. In fact, I was embarrassed that I knew so little up to that point, and I was so impressed with what I learned about the beautiful Festival of Lights. I was on more solid ground with Christmas since I grew up with Santa and Christmas trees. I decided to focus on the celebrations and traditions of Christmas in this episode. It turned out to be a fun one to do.

Anything involving lights, songs, sparkle and color is my thing, and Christmas at our house incorporates all of those, as I suspect is the case in many homes. I began by taking a ‘tour’ of our Christmas tree and pointing out ornaments that have special meaning. We have ornaments our children and grandchildren have made for us, ornaments we brought back from our travels, and ornaments that just say Christmas to us. We looked at some of my nativities, and I took the opportunity to point out why we celebrate Christmas in the first place, namely the birth of the Christ Child. I emphasized the traditions that many people celebrate around that all important event that Christians everywhere celebrate. I talked about who Santa is in other countries and some of the traditions surrounding the various incarnations of Santa. And I introduced La Befana, the witch who visits children in Italy in early January. I had never heard of her until Charlie was introduced to her while they were living in Italy. Coincidentally, my other three grandchildren met La Befana in Disney World only weeks later at Epcot’s World Showcase. I fell in love with La Befana’s legend.

I read poems called “Christmas Cheer” and “When Santa Stops By.” As has been my habit with many of our episodes, I mentioned that Christmas this year could be very different for all of us, but that family and many of our familiar traditions would still be there for us to enjoy. My concern all along has been the jarring differences in the lives of little ones in the face of the ongoing pandemic (a word I resist using in any of the episodes). I try to reassure them that their lives will go on, their families are there for them, and eventually things will return to some sort of normal.

While it’s important that our kids feel safe in this uncertain world, we adults need to have that as well, at least enough to allow us to celebrate the holiday. I think we’re all so weary at this point that we, in fact, almost feel like we need permission to be happy as we dodge illness, and bob and weave through the minefield that is 2020. I’m giving myself that permission to celebrate and, for what it’s worth, you also need to give yourself that permission. I’ve seen more decorated houses and Christmas lights than I’ve ever seen before, and I think these people have the right idea. We all need to take a breath, power through, and have as merry a Christmas as our circumstances allow. We owe it to our kids, yes, but we owe it to ourselves as well.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Stay safe and healthy, and here’s to a better 2021. ❤️

Let It Snow!

We teachers love snow. We can’t drive in it very well since we generally don’t have to, but it gives us the occasional, glorious day off. Usually by the time it snows we’re ready for one of those. So being a big fan of snow, it seemed a natural topic for GG Sprinkles to do.

To prepare for this one, I learned how to cut snowflakes out of white paper and then went a step further and found a recipe for making a reasonable facsimile of snow using baking soda and hair conditioner. And believe it or not, it really does feel like snow. And it smells wonderful. My experiments with cutting out snowflakes didn’t go quite as well, but they sufficed. My grandson Charlie has been generating them in great numbers and at the young age of five is way better than his GG at making them. I gathered up just some of my snowflake ornaments to show the kids along with my stuffed snowmen and snow globes. And I was ready to share my love of snow and all things winter.

I wrote a poem called “Snowflake Joy” and read that. I showed some pictures I’ve taken of actual snowflakes and talked about the fact that they are, of course, all different. And I showed a few pictures of the little ones in my life on sleds, catching snowflakes on their tongues and making snow angels. I had a brief artificial snowball fight with my trusty videographer. And I laughed. Just the thought of snow makes me happy. My goal was to share some of that joy with my young audience. Who knows what the winter will bring, with many kids doing school virtually or on modified schedules. But whether they get snow days or not, there’s always the hours after school to be the children that they are and play in the snow. And I’ll be right there with them in spirit. And probably taking my inner child sledding in the park.

The Beauty of Hanukkah

Christmas is a big deal in our house. Not over the top, but very much a holiday. I collect ornaments and have since my teen years, so that means a second tree (and maybe a third) would be a very good idea. But as it is, we have just the one tree, and I imagine that if it could talk, it would have a lot of ugly things to say about over crowded branches (you can’t actually see the branches) and maybe deliver a lecture on the dangers of excessive Christmas bling on the tree. At any rate, I knew there would inevitably be a GG Sprinkles episode on Christmas. But Hanukkah was rapidly approaching and would precede Christmas, and I really wanted to do an episode on Hanukkah. I was spurred by what I knew was a lovely holiday celebrated by millions of Jews around the world and by the increasing anti-semitism in the last few years, not just in the States but elsewhere in the world. I wanted to make the statement to the kids that, while Christmas is a lovely holiday celebrated by many Christians, so Hanukkah is also lovely and an equally meaningful and worthy holiday with its own traditions and celebrations.

I knew very little about Hanukkah, I’m embarrassed to say, so the first thing I did was order what was basically a Hanukkah kit, with a menorah, candles, colorful dreidels, chocolate coins and a pamphlet to explain what one does with all of those items. But reading a pamphlet and only a pamphlet is not my style with any Sprinkles topic, especially one as important as this. I hit the Internet hard and read tons of articles about the origin of Hanukkah and the finer points of correctly lighting a menorah. I learned that dreidels have letters on all four sides that represent words meaning “A great miracle happened there” except in Israel where one letter changes to make the sentence “A great miracle happened here.” I feel very bad that during the episode I accidentally left out the word “great” because it truly was a great miracle. I practiced spinning my dreidel and made a cheat sheet so I’d remember which letter meant what in the distribution of the coins (which I learned are called gelt).

I read about the different kinds of foods Jewish families would possibly enjoy during the eight days of Hanukkah. I learned that they fix foods fried in oil because of the miracle of the oil that happened so long ago when Judah led his people to take back their temple from the evil Antiochus. Jelly donuts are a favorite, but I’m no cook. I needed something I could actually make, so I found a recipe for bimuelos, a fried dough treat with Spanish origins that looked delicious (and is!) and decided to make them during the episode.

I learned a lot of the terminology and names, and got help with pronunciations (I had Antiochus all wrong, so it’s good that I checked). But the most important thing, of course, was to read about the menorah and how to properly light the candles. I was, in fact, concerned that it might not be appropriate to light it at all, as a non Jew and during the course of a demonstration. There were mixed opinions on that online, so I decided to go ahead. I wanted to demonstrate the order in which one would light the candles, light only two, and promptly extinguish them. I wanted to do this episode prior to the start of Hanukkah rather than waiting until the first night to avoid any possible hint of disrespect.

Dropping the batter for bimuelos into very hot oil and the finished treats. They’re great with powdered sugar or honey.

I get a bit anxious before some of our videos, but I actually had trouble sleeping the night before this one. I was terrified that I would get something wrong. I try very hard not to do that no matter the episode because these are recorded for children (case in point: I insisted we re-record our Octupus’ Garden episode because I said the octopus had tentacles when they’re really called arms, and it’s octopuses, not octopi). Would the kids know? Possibly not, but I would. And they deserve accuracy. So I demonstrated the lighting of the menorah, spun the dreidel, and made bimuelos. I read my poem called ‘The Story of Hanukkah’ and then one called ‘Traditions of Love,’ which emphasizes the point that I most wanted to make: that whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or any other holiday that comes around this time of year, these celebrations and traditions are worthy of respect, as are the people who celebrate them. And the world would be a much better place if we could all just remember that. ❤️

Counting Our Blessings

Easier said than done, right? It’s very easy and even understandable to forget what blessings we have in our lives while in the midst of a global pandemic. I, for one, figure I’m blessed if I’m well and able to write about all of this. There’s no doubt that how we as adults deal with the current chaos affects how our children deal with it. Talk about an awesome responsibility!

As Thanksgiving approached last month, I realized that there were several issues with having GG Sprinkles do an episode on this very American holiday. First, and sadly, while it’s often true that way too many people can’t afford the big holiday dinner that you see in glossy magazine photos, that was undoubtedly even more true this year with thousands out of work and traditional feasts not always an option for many families. Second, an increasing number of people object to celebrating a holiday that glosses over in a big way the relationship between the pilgrims and the Native Americans and ignores the violence against tribes that came soon after. And then, of course, there’s the fact that Thanksgiving appears to be a uniquely American holiday, and GG Sprinkles goes out to wherever YouTube is available.

So I decided to first investigate whether other countries have a similar holiday; turns out there are several. Canada actually calls theirs Thanksgiving. Liberia observes Thanksgiving since their origins are American. One Australian territory also has a day of Thanksgiving. But there are other countries who have a similar day of celebration, including India, Japan, China, and Germany. In Japan, the people basically have a Labor Thanksgiving to say thank you to those who keep things running and keep everyone safe and healthy. The children make cards for first responders and health care workers, among others. I decided to tell my young audience how people around the world celebrate. Then I thought it appropriate to acknowledge that Thanksgiving, no matter when and how one might traditionally celebrate it, would probably be different, with possibly fewer family members gathered together and other differences. And then I focused on the idea of counting our blessings instead of stressing over things we cannot change and mourning the absence of traditions we might be used to on this day.

I demonstrated a couple of simple crafts that kids might find fun and meaningful. I traced my hand to do the classic turkey and added the component of fingerprints on the feathers for mom to keep forever. I also showed them how to make a blessing tree. At the end of the episode, I showed the progress our little oak tree had made since I planted the acorn in our fall episode. I see this as a clear sign to hang in there (not that many acorns grow when you plant them in a pot).

Honestly, it’s hard for us big people to understand why our lives are so different, why we can’t necessarily gather with extended family, why our holidays have turned into life-or-death events where the danger of transmitting the virus frequently trumps holidays as usual. But I know that, for me, it helped a bit to look at the bigger picture and focus on the good things in my life and know that better days are just ahead for all of us. I was hoping it would help my little viewers as well. ❤️

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The Power of Shoes!

For some reason, the idea of doing an episode of GG Sprinkles on shoes just occurred to me on a whim. Well, a whim and my realization that I hadn’t charged my light-up shoes in a while. And that started my taking stock of my shoe collection. I’m not talking about expensive trendy shoes they might wear in the show Sex and the City. Nope, I’m talking about weird shoes that might sparkle, shine, boast vivid colors, light up—or all of the above. In my defense (should I need one), when I broke my ankle a couple of years ago and was depressed that healing didn’t happen overnight as I’d hoped, my husband encouraged me to buy a few pairs of shoes that could serve as goals to get me up and moving in hopes that they would look as good on my feet as they did in their boxes. Those were some pretty obnoxiously gaudy shoes. And I loved them all.

But I can’t claim the ankle as my only excuse for owning interesting shoes. It’s very much who I am. So I charged my light-up shoes (naturally) and dug my most interesting of all my interesting shoes out of my closet and out from under my bed. I wrote a poem about all types of shoes, the many different materials they’re made of, and their various purposes. But I wanted to go a bit further and talk about the benefits of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes. I didn’t think the kids who watch our episodes were too young to grasp the idea of putting themselves in someone else’s place, to understand where another person is coming from, how and why they’re thinking and feeling. I wanted to convince them to try to see things from another’s point of view. That resulted in a second poem about walking a mile in another’s shoes.

I showed the kids my various shoes, including the ruby slippers my daughter Katie made me a sequin at a time and which look eerily and beautifully like the movie shoes, and then read the relevant poetry. It turned out to be a fun episode, and it was well received by parents who watched it. I wish I were better at practicing what I preach when it comes to walking a mile in other people’s shoes, though. I try, of course. At least I have some pretty cool shoes to walk around in while I work to be a better me. And they really do light up. ❤️

Invisible Friends

One of my daughters had an invisible friend named Amo Fotebaum (no idea of the origin of that name) and Amo was a good buddy. She went everywhere Katie wanted her to go and basically was there when she was needed. I remember reading at the time that kids who had invisible friends were frequently gifted. I decided right then that Amo was a very welcome whatever-she-was in our home. I think with our daughter’s experience in mind one day, my husband suggested invisible friends as a topic for GG Sprinkles. I liked it and decided to expand it to cover friends of all kinds.

Now that I could Google invisible friends (not an option in my daughter’s childhood), I researched the topic a bit. I didn’t see a reference to gifted children, but I did see that children with invisible friends clearly have active imaginations. And I read something else that was interesting and that made total sense: Invisible friends allow kids to have some control. The invisible friend says and does what the child commands it to. It sits where it’s told and plays whatever the child wants to play. This made so much sense to me, especially these days. Adults currently are feeling like they have no control: they can’t go many places they would usually go; they have to observe protocols to stay safe; food and supplies they would normally buy without a thought may not be available. Can you imagine how unsettled little ones must be feeling? Nevertheless, my goal of this recording wasn’t to encourage kids to have invisible friends, but rather to acknowledge their existence (if that word works here) and talk about their place in kids’ lives.

I wrote a poem called ‘Emmaline’ about an invisible friend who goes to school, plays, eats lunch with her human friend, and is basically a friend the child has all to herself, even as the child acknowledges that her buddy Emmaline is a friend ‘only [she] can see.’ I also wrote a poem called ‘Different Friends’ that covers school friends, neighborhood friends, animal friends (both real and plush) and, of course, invisible friends. I was able to locate two animals I played with as a child and used them as examples. I even sang a bit of a song Katie learned in preschool called ‘Germs the Invisible Dog.’

I think wherever we can find good friends, whether real or not, two-footed or four-footed, we value them and we need them. And children are no different. So if your child tells you not to sit somewhere because their ‘friend’ is already sitting there, just move on down a seat or two. And be glad that your little one has a friend they believe they can always count on. Because the truth is, they can. ❤️

Getting in Touch with the Zoo Animals

We took GG Sprinkles on the road yet again, this time to the St. Louis Zoo. Masks were required as was social distancing, and we were good with that. We knew we’d have too much video to do only one episode, so we broke it into two. The official poem that I include with every episode didn’t happen until the end of the second segment, so we devoted most of the time to seeing the animals and commenting on a lot of them.

The St. Louis Zoo is unique among city zoos in that it’s free. It usually draws crowds who support it by becoming zoo members and spending money in the gift shops and food kiosks. Like everything else in these unprecedented times, the zoo was in a bit of a lull. You have to make reservations (not a requirement normally) and arrive within that time frame. So we saw far fewer people than we might usually see on a nice day, and I missed the little ones running around. We were there on a school day, but I still figured we’d see some children and you can hear some wee voices on the videos. I’m sure zoo management will be pleased and relieved when life returns to normal and there are chaotic and rambunctious crowds enjoying the animals rather than the carefully managed flow of visitors.

As I’ve said before on my blog, I think it’s so important to give kids a slice of normalcy whenever possible, and we were going for that in these two episodes. It was good for us as well to get out and walk around and act ‘normal’ as we tried to see and video as many animals as we could. We apparently hit during nap time for some of them, which is unfortunate, but we did our best. We saw gorillas and the big cats and—well—you’ll see.

Enjoy your trip to the zoo!

Road Trip to the Aquarium

We decided to do something we had never tried in our over seventy episodes of GG Sprinkles—we decided to take an episode out of our family room and into the world of sea life at the St. Louis Aquarium. We haven’t gone out much since the pandemic more or less imprisoned many of us in our homes, but we knew restrictions were in place and we felt safe as soon as we arrived. I had made a mask suitable for a visit to the aquarium, and we were ready to spend some quality time with sea life.

We shot bits of video all over the aquarium and communed with river otters and sharks. It was fun to be able to see all of it for ourselves and to figure out what would entertain little ones. I put my hand in the tank of doctor fish and let them swarm my hand and nibble my fingers. That entertained me, so I figured the kids would like it. Petting the stingrays was something I had resisted in previous trips to the aquarium, but I decided to be brave and give it a try. A tad slimy, but a very interesting experience. I knew the sharks would likely be a favorite, so we got some video in front of the tank as well as looking overhead where they swim above aquarium visitors. I’ve been to the aquariums in Monterey, California, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, both bigger than the new one we have here, and the tunnels where the sharks are above you are the best. I’m glad our local aquarium decided to create that same experience.

Once home we had to choose what snippets would be best for the complete video, which was different from our usual one-take episodes. We filmed the last few minutes back at home so that I could read a poem about our aquarium visit and say goodbye. We had fun with this one, but I honestly think that one of the best things about it is how normal it all felt, being out and doing something fun. I was hoping that it would have the same effect on the kids watching. We all need a touch of normalcy in our current situation, especially the children. And they deserve it.

Taking the Fear out of a Dentist Visit

Whenever possible, I like to use the GG Sprinkles forum for more than entertainment. I like to educate a bit or, in the case of this episode, eliminate a bit of fear. When I was a little girl, trips to our dentist—the only one in our little Tennessee town—were often not pleasant experiences. But things have changed a great deal since then. There are now pediatric dentists and family dentists who are ready and willing to work with little ones to provide the best experience possible. In the long run, if the dentist and his team can make a child’s visit as pleasant as possible, that would have to make their jobs a tad easier.

I decided to enlist the assistance of my not-so-willing dog, Gracie, to help make the point. The poem that I wrote was about a typical trip to the dentist. I had actually had my own 6-month checkup the previous week, which gave me the idea for this topic, so I took the opportunity to talk to the friendly dental assistant about how they work with children. The poem is written more as if a child is speaking, as many of my Sprinkles poems are. That made it more fun to write, for sure. I took some pictures of the staff and even of me in the dentist’s chair.

I pulled out Gracie’s toothbrush, doggie toothpaste, and breath drops, as well as my own toothbrush. After I read my poem, I grabbed Gracie and demonstrated how the dentist puts a covering on your chest to keep your shirt dry and then proceeded to brush Gracie’s teeth. Sort of. She wasn’t inclined to cooperate fully, but we did our best. And I knew the kids would like the humor of trying to brush a dog’s teeth.

Hopefully the upbeat message made the point that the dentist isn’t someone to fear, that he/she is there to help make a sore tooth better and keep our teeth clean and healthy. And Gracie is speaking to me again. Finally. ❤️

The Music of Children

Let’s face it: We all need music in our lives, even if we don’t know it. It doesn’t have to be professional or polished. In fact, it can be music we create. Nothing fancy, of course. Instruments can be pretty primitive, and sometimes the more primitive the better. Or at least, more fun. It was the fun part of this that made me research instruments that you can make with materials on hand. In particular, I wanted to see what children could create. I taught high school, so I didn’t have that wisdom that teachers in the lower grades have and that I’ve always admired.

Percussion instruments are always a favorite and the easiest to create. I found out that macaroni can be used in a variety of ways. I put some in a margarine container which made a fine (and pretty loud) percussion instrument. Anything resembling maracas was popular with my kids, so I used plastic spoons, plastic Easter eggs, and rice to make reasonable shakers. And I grabbed a big plastic bowl to use as a drum, but there are fancier ones with directions online. I discovered that it’s possible to create a primitive but workable guitar out of a shoebox, but I didn’t have all the ‘ingredients’ that I needed. However, I did decide to include water glasses to help with melodies. Who would have thought, by the way, that they’d be difficult to tune!

The one instrument that I really wanted to make and play was one I’ve admired since childhood: the spoons. I’ve always been fascinated by musicians, usually country, who could play them so well. I was jealous. And so, of course, I had to learn. I watched YouTube videos and read articles and, naturally, I practiced. And by golly, I did it! Not well, necessarily, but I could do it. I doubt the Grand ‘Ole Opry will be calling anytime soon, but hey…

I decided to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm and accompany myself with water glasses and percussion. It lacked polish (I’m WAY understating that) but it was fun. I started this post by saying we all need music in our lives, and I wasn’t kidding. There isn’t nearly enough joy these days with COVID, the political landscape, and weather events that seem to be increasingly bigger and more devastating. I think we need music to drown out the sadness. And the louder, the better. And who cares if it isn’t polished or professional, as long as it’s loud and fun. If it comes from the heart, macaroni shakers and shoebox guitars will work just fine. Let the little ones create, sing and dance. And let their spirits—and ours—be lifted by the melodious and not so melodious sounds. ❤️