Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Of Hanukah and Dreidels

I am going to get on my "Library Lady Rants" soapbox to say that Hanukah is not, not, NOT a pseud-Christmas, but a minor holiday that is mostly a family celebration. The "tradition" of eight presents was invented somewhere in the last century by Jewish families not wanting to cave in and celebrate Christmas in a secular fashion, or to tell their kids, "sorry,kids, you're Jewish--you don't get presents in December".

My own mother comes from a family of radical Jews who celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday and my father went right along with it (as he always does for my mom),so my brother and I had Santa Claus, presents and a tree.
As it turns out we both married gentiles and HIS kids are so WASPy they barely know they're half Jewish.

My girls get their gifts at Christmas. But Hanukah is for them as it was for me, a time for family and food, of lighting my menorah, eating latkes and applesauce and getting Hanukah gelt(gold wrapped chocolate coins)

I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in NYC and back then it was okay to sing Christmas/Hanukah songs in schools. And I grew to hate the "Dreidel" song with its endless "dreidel, dreidel,dreidel".

So nothing could have startled me more than receiving this book at the library and LOVING it.

It uses the song beautifully to show a family celebrating Hanukah. The book sings like a dream--the verses are smooth and fit the tune perfectly.
And there's nothing here about presents, BTW!

My one quibble is the carrot in the latke recipe--my Grandma Esther would have thought that was nuts and so do I.

I have been known to sing "Chanukkah, O, Chanukkah" at programs, both in English and what my daughter SC called "Spanish" when she was tiny.
She loved this song and when she was 2 I sang it to her at night for months--that and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". Actually, it's Yiddish and my father, who grew up in a Yiddish speaking home says my accent is pretty good.

This is the great performer Theodore Bikel, singing the song in Yiddish, English and then Hebrew.

I like to show kids real dreidels and let them try to spin them. It's challenging for preschoolers to do. And then we pretend to be dreidels by playing this game, from an out of print book called "Hanukkah Oh, Hanukkah: A Treasury of Stories, Songs and Games to Share"  


Spin little dreidels, go, go GO!                                         Turn around and around
Spin little dreidels, now go SLOW!                                  Turn around SLOW-LY!
Jump, little dreidels, jump so high                                     Jump up and down!
Now, STOP! And reach for the sky!                               Stretch arms above your head\
Now little dreidels, find your nose                                  Touch nose
Now little dreidels, find your toes!                                 Touch toes
Spin little dreidel, round and round                                Turn around and around
Round and round till you fall to the ground!                  Fall down--gently

The kids love this game and we play it at least twice--sometimes more.

I hope you have fun with all things Chanuka. By the way, have you noticed that I have spelled it at least 3 different ways in this post? That's because they're really is no one way of spelling a Yiddish word in our alphabet. Just say HA-NOO-KAH  and try to sort of spit as you're pronouncing the first syllable and you'll have it.

And you could spell dreidel  as "draidyl" "dreidle" or any other way that sounds like "DRAY-DLE"
Just rhyme it with "ladle" and you're in business.

Happy Hanukkah. Sorry I can't invite you all here for cheesecake, but if you pass a library in Northern Virginia next Monday and it smells like cooking oil that's me, frying latkes for the entire staff!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Nutcracker" In A Box, Or: I Think I Can Dance!

Program with my daughter JR in 2008
Alas, she is no longer dancing.....
I have been a bad amateur ballerina for years--I've been taking classes for about a decade now. Not that I'm good--when you start dancing at 40, and you're not a skinny sylph, it's not going to happen. But I love it.

About 6 years ago I took it into my head that it would be fun to do some sort of "Nutcracker" movement program with the kids at programs in December. I started hunting on the Net for idea, but found next to nothing to help me.

Fortunately, I have my teacher and dear,dear friend Lynne, who has taught ballet to preschoolers for many years. We met, in fact, when she was a preschool teacher and used to bring her class in to my library for visits.

With her help I devised several simple dances. On my own, I figured out which other pieces would be good for creative movement and came up with props to use.

This has become an annual event and I've added more props over the years. The families love this and the kids seem to as well. In fact, I had a mom ask this week if her oldest son (8 or 9) could come to the after school session--he ASKED to come!

Some of the props are handmade because making them is a lot less expensive than buying them when you need enough for 30-50 kids. Especially when some of those kids are with adults who will NOT supervise their use and some of the props need to be replaced each year :(   Others can be purchased inexpensively in bulk.

Almost everything stores away in a big Rubbermaid tub from year to year, though I keep some of the stuff out for use at other times in the year. Hence, "Nutcracker In A Box":


1) Overture: During this music, I explain what we will be doing, show the basic foot positions of ballet (which I don't expect the kids to master, but it's fun) and demonstrate several of the simple steps that we'll be doing.

2) March:  The girls wear princess crowns and the boys wear soldier hats as they march, jump (echappe), walk in circles, march into the middle and out and gallop (chasse).

The girls' crowns are from a foam kit you can buy. JR and I had lots of fun fancying them up with glitter and foam shapes--the glitter isn't showing well here.  The boys' soldier hats are made from foam pieces--I just cut and glued them as best as I could.

3)The Story of "Clara's Dream"
I don't use music during this. I tell the story of Clara's receiving the Nutcracker, of its breaking, of Clara's putting the Nutcracker to bed under the Christmas tree, then tiptoeing downstairs to make sure it's okay. The kids get to pretend that they are the mice--squeaking and wiggling their whiskers.

4)The Christmas Tree and The Mouse King: This is made from felt, backed with cardboard, and suspended from the ceiling via one of my favorite things--clear fishing line. The tree is folded down part way, but when I tell the kids about the clock striking midnight, I pull on the fishing line and the tree rises and unfolds, "growing". Then I enact the battle of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Clara's throwing her shoe, and the transformation of the Nutcracker into the Prince.

5)Tea:The first dance is the Chinese dance. These are folded paper fans, secured at the bottom with shiny silver duct tape (you can get it in various colors as well, BTW). I have also bought fans like this and this from Oriental Trading, but they tear easily, so unless you are working with older kids, I'd stick with the paper kind. Incidentally, Oriental Trading has GREAT customer service, and issued me a credit when I complained about how bad the fans were!
In the "Tea" dance we prance (cheval), walk on our tippy toes in a circle (bouree), and jump in and out (echappe).

6)Trepak: This is the Russian music and I let the kids free dance, something that a lot of them seldom EVER get to do, alas & alack.

I wanted noisemakers and saw bells on popsicle sticks glued into star shapes on a craft site(4th of July project). Cardboard stars are sturdier, but if you want to use these longterm I recommend finding a way to wire the bells onto the stars, something I really, really need to do as they often come loose and I'm tired of gluing them back.

7)Coffee: This is one of my favorite dances and gives me a chance to get the kids to try doing something SLOWLY.  These juggling scarves are a little more expensive than some of the other props since I've had to buy 36 of them, again from Oriental Trading, but I use them often during the year, so they are well worth it.
BTW, Johnette Downing's album "The Second Line" is pretty much ALL scarf songs, and it's great music!

When we use the scarves I suggest that the kids try walking slowly with the scarves, that they try waving them in the air, dragging them on the ground,etc. I  have them  finish curled up on the ground with their scarf!

8)Mother Ginger and Her Children: Another excuse for a noisy free dance. This time the props are egg shakers.
You could make these on your own, but I'd recommend buying the nice sturdy ones sold by Oriental Trading or  Lakeshore Learning
Again, these are a more expensive prop, but you can use them year round--start with Nancy Stewart's  "Egg Shaking" song.

The music starts fast, slows down and then gets fast again--great for galloping and jumping and arm swinging.

9) Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy: Even people who have never heard of Tchaikovsky know this music, it's been used everywhere!

You can buy commercial ribbon streamers, but they're expensive. So you are looking at my sub--ordinary straws with a hole punched at one end, threaded with several streamers made of the narrow silk ribbon you can get 2 or 3 for a dollar at the craft stores.

The kids move the ribbons up, down, to the left and to the right and shake them for "snow". They circle with the ribbons. At the end, during the fast music, they gallop & shake the ribbons as hard as they can for lots of snow!

10)FINALE: I play the last few minutes of the finale, and teach the boys how to make a bow & the girls how to make a curtsey.Well done!

And then, after 5 or 6 sessions ranging from 2 year olds and their nannies/parents (oy) to some lovely preschools, and finally my 3-5 year olds and their big brothers and sisters, everything goes back into the box until next year.......

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Story Time Cooks: Pretzels and Preschoolers

Made a test batch of dough at home for my girls!
Through the years I have loved cooking a preschool story times, but the library I work in has no oven. A fridge yes, a dishwasher that doesn't work, but no oven.

We did make mini apple cinnamon donuts some weeks ago with the donut baker I inherited from my late, much missed, mother-in-law. But unless I someday lay my hands on a convection oven, baking is out.

But we can make dough and I can send it home with instructions for home baking, provided it doesn't need a long resting time. And this pretzel recipe, similar to what you might get at the mall, works perfectly:

Pretzels For Preschoolers

Open 3 packages of active yeast.
Pour it into a large bowl. Let the kids smell it--yeast has a strong, beerlike smell that some will like and some won't!
Add 4 Tbs of sugar and  1 1/2 cups of warm water \
Make sure the water is warm--about 110 degrees F. Not tepid, not boiling, or your yeast won't work.

Let everyone take a turn stirring.
Wait about 5 minutes (I sent the kids off to wash their hands), and you will see that the yeast has become foamy.

Add 3 3/4 cups of flour.
I premeasured the flour into a large container and let the kids take turns dipping out a small amount and adding it to the bowl. They also took turns stirring it in.

A wet dough will form. Add a little extra flour and knead the dough.
Even the kids who normally DON'T like to get their hands dirty liked doing this!

Send the kids off to wash their hands again. Add a little corn or canola oil to the bowl and turn the dough to coat it lightly.

Cover the dough, wash your own hands, and head into story hour for about 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into zip-lock bags.
I had about 20 kids and was able to give each a piece about the size of a golf ball.

Send the kids home with baking instructions:

Heat oven to 450 degrees F
Pinch off bits of dough, roll into long "snakes", then shape any way you like.
Place on a greased/parchment covered baking sheet. 
Brush with a little butter, sprinkle with salt or sugar if desired.
Bake for 8-12 minutes until golden brown.
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