Friday, November 30, 2012

Around the World: Literature should be FUN!

Pippi Longstocking!!!!

So, I'm no expert in education or literature, not even close, not even a little.  But I like to read and I was a preschool teacher for many years and I know if you want your kids to love to read then they need FUN BOOKS!!  And if the fun books can also teach them about another place and time then all the better!  So when we were thinking about Sweden and what kind of fun things we could do, I remembered the fun I had as a child reading Pippi Longstocking books!  Did you ever read them?  They were written by Astrid Lindgren in the mid 60s and set in a small village in Sweden.  The main character of Pippi is a wacky girl, stronger then humanly possible, and able to get into shenanigans like no one else.  She and the two neighbor kids, Tommy and Annika, the monkey, Mr. Nilsson, and the horse who lives on the porch (!) have wonderful, naughty adventures.  My daughter and I have started reading it and she is asking so many questions and is so curious about Pippi!  I love it!  This is really our first adventure in chapter books, so I'm not sure if we'll get far ,but so far she is enjoying her taste of Sweden with one of Sweden's most lovable characters.  We ordered the books from Amazon, they are still in print.  Here is a link .  If you are as old as I am, 41 (gasp! I feel old), you might remember the tv movies with Pippi from the 70s. 

 They had them on Amazon too, so we ordered one.  Now, ok, this is not the finest filmmaking in the world, and the english is dubbed (obviously at times) but my 3 year old son made it through most of it and was really enjoying it and I was having my flashback to simpler times.  The movies are a great way to see what the homes and villages of Sweden looked like in the late 60s.  I can vividly remember sitting on our brown plaid couch (the 70s, remember) and watching these movies on Saturday morning on our 20" tv.  Ahhh memories :) 

Speaking of memories, here is my daughter when she was 7 months old already showing her love of Pippi Longstocking!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On the Menu: Swedish Food

Swedish Food: More than Meatballs!

Yeah, Swedish meatballs are awesome. The soft, fluffy meatballs in the creamy gravy...I'm drooling remembering the ones I had at IKEA yesterday.  But there is a lot of other food in Sweden.  They eat a lot of fish, salmon and herring and whitefish, smoked or pickled.  If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm not a fan of fish, so we're not having pickled herring.  They eat a lot of potatoes and beets.  Nope, we're not having those either.  They eat a lot of venison.  Well, Bambi is safe from me because we are having Svenska Tunnpankakor!!  What?!?  Oh, in America that would be Swedish Pancakes! YUM :)  These are very similar to crepes, really thin and folded or rolled.  Since I happened to be at IKEA yesterday, I picked up some Lingonberry preserves and served our pankakor with Lingonberry butter.  They were delicious.  Here is the recipe.  BTW, I found this recipe on a website called so it should be pretty authentic.

Swedish Pancakes (Svenska Tunnpankakor)

For the recipe you will need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 1/3 cups milk
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 3 eggs
  • butter
1.  Add eggs, salt and 1 1/3 cups milk to bowl.  Whisk well.
2.  Add flour and blend until well combined.
3.  Add rest of milk.  The batter is really runny!
4.  Heat frying pan to medium heat and melt some butter in pan.  Add about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter to pan and tilt pan to spread batter evenly.
5.  Cook until top is almost dry and then turn over and cook 30 - 45 seconds on other side.  Transfer to plate and keep warm.
6.  Repeat.  repeat.  repeat.

These were really good and surprisingly filling!  We mixed our lingonberry preserves with some butter and put a dollop on top of each folded crepe.  Then we sprinkled on some powdered sugar.  Then we ate then like a pack of starved wolves because they were so warm and delicious!!  When I say we, I'm not counting the kids, I really thought I was gonna hit a home run with these.  I mean who in there right minds wouldn't eat these??  Well, apparently my children are those people.  Oh well, more for us :)  I may never get to Sweden in real life, but tonight my tastebuds were there...and they were very happy!!!!!

Our delicious pancakes with lingonberry butter, fresh fruit and a sausage!!  The picture doesn't do it justice.  A food stylist I'm not.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Week 19: Sweden

Sweden- Land of the Midnight Sun

Ok, so we're all finished with Thanksgiving and ready to hit our next destination.  Grab your sweaters and warm mittens because we're off to Sweden!  Now, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that all I know about Sweden I learned at IKEA.  I'm pretty sure I could pick it out on the map (maybe) but I know I like their meatballs :)  So here we go, let's learn something about Sweden!!
First, let's find it on a map.  It's located in Northern Europe on what is called the Scandinavian Peninsula.  The capital, Stockholm, is in the southern part of the country, which is also the most populated part of the country.  Stockholm's latitude and longitude are 59.33°N/18.07°E - did you find it?  Was it where you thought it was?  Sweden is the third largest country in Europe (after France and Spain) but still only about the size of California, and has less than 10 million people living in it.  It is officially known as "The Kingdom of Sweden" and King Carl XVI has been ruling since 1973.  King Carl XVI and his Queen Silvia don't have any real authority though, like Great Britain, the country is governed by the laws of the Democratic Parliament.  They rule a country of well educated, peaceful people with some of the highest quality of life statistics. 

Must be the good food that makes them so happy :)  This week we'll be making some of that good, simple food.  Besides the good food, another thing Sweden has a lot of is Moose.  There are supposed to be between 300,000 and 400,000 moose (mooses?) living in Sweden.  For a country the size of California, and considering the size of a moose, that's A LOT!  So expect a cute moose project. Some famous people have come out of Sweden, too.  There's Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite (1866) and the namesake of the Nobel Awards.  So we'll be blowing up some stuff!!! Just kidding, that would be fun but I don't know where I'd get any dynamite (and there's the safety factor).  So we're going back to my old childhood friend, Pippi Longstocking, a fictional character written by Astrid Lindgren.   And lastly, because Sweden is known as "The Land of the Midnight Sun" we will do a little science project with light and dark - maybe learn shadow puppets?!  It should be a fun week - we've already started our research with a little after-school trip to IKEA, Sweden's most famous store! Can't beat a plate of swedish meatballs for $3.99!!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Giving Thanks in the UK

Harvest Festival  

In the UK (England, Wales, Scotland), they give thanks for the bounty of a good harvest in a festival held during the month of September, usually around the time of the Harvest Moon.  The Harvest Moon is the full moon that happens closest to the Autumnal Equinox, usually around September 23rd.  This festival is aptly named the Harvest Festival and is celebrated these days with singing, praying and decorating churches with baskets freshly harvested fruit and vegetables. 

 The Harvest Festival has been celebrated for hundred of years, in those days a successful crop could mean life or death for the farmer who needed that food to feed his family all winter.  Farmers would offer the first cut of corn to the god of fertility and the last cut of corn, which was thought to hold the spirit of the corn, was woven into a doll or other intricate designs.  This corn dolly was given a place of honor at the community harvest dinner and hung from the rafters until the next Spring, when the seeds from it would be the first sown.  By the way, the "corn" is not the same as the corn we have now, back then the word corn could mean any grain, so it could be wheat, barley, etc.  If you have access to wheat stalks and would like to make a simple corn dolly please click here to learn how.

In 1843, the tradition changed to include the church.  Rev. Robert Hawker, of Cornwall England, invited his parishioners to a special thanksgiving mass.  This eventually grew to churches all over England being decorated with gifts of fruits and vegetables and special masses being held on that day.  Most churches donate the food to needy families in the area.  Those who have a lot to give and be thanksful for help those who are in need of help - hmmm, sounds a lot like the first Thanksgiving in America, when the Native Americans gave a helping hand to the Pilgrims who were having troubles getting the hang of things in the New World.  Seems like something we should keep in mind the next time we pass those food barrels for the needy at the supermarket. Just saying.

I hope from the bottom of my heart that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  My dinner for 25 went off without a hitch and we all had a great time.  It feels so good to have your home bursting to the seams with family and to see the smiles and contented groans of everyone after a great meal.  I am blessed to have all we need.  Maybe not all we want, but definitely all we need.  I hope you can say the same.
This is an example of some of the other designs woven from "corn".  There are many different designs all with different meanings. Click here to see more examples of the beautiful craft.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks in Korea - Chuseok

Chuseok - a Korean "Thanksgiving"

In Korea there is a 3-day festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually between September and October.  This festival celebrating the harvest and family is called Chuseok (or sometimes Hangawi).  On the first day, the eve of Chuseok, the entire family will gather together and make the traditional rice cake
called Songpyeon.  These are not like the rice cakes we have in the U.S., they are make with rice flour and filled with a sesame filling and steamed.  It is a contest amongst the family to see who will make the most beautiful Songpyeon because whoever does will meet a good spouse or have a pretty baby (so it's told).  We were going to make some of these for a project this week but I have 25 people coming to dinner tomorrow so it got put on the back burner, BUT, if you'd like to make some here is a recipe.  Hope you make a pretty one.  On the morning of Chuseok, the tradition is to prepare a table with the Songpyeon and other items from that years harvest.  Then there is a memorial service, called a Charye, to honor the ancestors whose goodwill has made the harvest plentiful.  Once the service is over the feast can begin. 
 After the Charye and meal, the graves of the ancestors are visited and cleared of any weeds or debris.  This is known as Seongmyo and is done out of a sense of duty, respect, and to keep the family honor.  It is also customary to buy new clothes during Chuseok, either the traditional robes called hanbok, or the more modern clothes worn today.  The 3rd day of the holiday is for visitng with friends and family and doing other fun activities.  Korean wrestling is a popular sport and villages will have competitions to find the strongest man in the area.  Also popular is a dance called Ganggangsullae. Woman and children dress in traditional costume and dance in a circle under the harvest moon.  If you would like to see a dance please watch this video.  It is about 10 mins. long but sooooo interesting, it tells the story behind the dance and shows the steps and symbolism.  What a beautiful tradition. 

I'm taking a couple of days off to have my own tradition.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  May you enjoy a bounty of love (and food) and have much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving Thanks in Southern India

Pongal Festival

Probably one of the oldest "thanksgiving " festivals is the ancient festival of Pongal.  This festival has been traced back to 200 BC and is celebrated on the 14th of January. That date is chosen because it marks the beginning of the sun's movement North, called Uttarayana, in India.  The festival also marks the end of the farming season and a period of rest for those hard worked farmers!  Bells, drums, and cymbals all make their noise to announce the beginning of the 4 day festival.  The first day, Bhogi, is the day where old clothes are thrown out and new clothes put on to symbolize beginning a new life.  The second day is called Pongal, the word "pongal" means "to boil over" and that is part of the tradition.  To symbolize the abundance of the harvest, people make a porridge with freshly harvested rice and milk in a new clay pot and they let the porridge boil over the edges of the pot.  The porridge, also called pongal, is then eaten by everyone- including the animals!  There are rituals performed over rice in the temples and offerings of sugarcane, vegetables and spices are given to the gods.  Once the food has been offered, the people then eat it in the belief that their sins will then be forgiven.  The third day is a fun one, it is called Mattu Pongal, and that day is to give thanks and celebrate the animals that are so helpful to the farmers. 
The cows and buffaloes that help to plow the fields are given a spa day!  After a bath, their horns are polished and painted pretty colors and they are decorated with necklaces of flowers. Their living areas are cleaned and they are given special treats to eat.  On Mattu Pongal it's good to be a cow :)  That leaves the fourth day, Kanum Pongal, where families go out and spend the day together picnicking or visiting others.  They snack on sugarcane, another symbol of a plentiful harvest.  There are songs and dances traditionally performed during this time and if you are interested in learning some please check out this Pongal Festival website.

I borrowed a poem from the website- a kind of prayer .

Pot rice to Sun God
Sugarcane to cow and ox
Sweet rise to you and me
Good milk to friends and family
-M. Narayanan
I wish you all good milk :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Around the World Thanksgiving!

What are you Thankful for?

I think I need to ask myself this question more often because I often get caught up in the chaos and forget all the wonderful things around me.  Sure, I have 25 people coming to the house in 3 days, I have possible jury duty tomorrow, and a daughter with a cold who is too sick to go to school today, BUT, I'm having 25 members of a wonderful family come to my house for a great (hopefully) meal, I live in a country where justice is a priority, and my kids are actually pretty healthy most of the time!!  Life is good.  Giving thanks is important and it seems like Americans are starting to forget the spirit of the holiday - it's just the day to fuel up with turkey and stuffing before hitting the malls tomorrow at 3 am.  Now, I'm not saying you can't hit the stores at 3am (you can, I'm not), but remember to ENJOY your family this holiday and be thankful for the bounty of food and opportunities that we have in America. 

This week, instead of learning about just one country, we are going to look at a few different countries and their "thanks - giving" holidays.  There were a few to choose from but we decided on the Pongol Festival in Southern India, Chuseok in Korea, and the Harvest Festival in the United Kingdom.  These festivals are all about giving thanks for the bountiful food that the Earth provides, and respecting and loving your families and ancestors.  I hope you all enjoy the posts and I am also thankful to you for reading our blog.  Happy Thanksgiving! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

A "Turtlelly" Cute Project (groan)

The Green Sea Turtles of the Caymans

When Columbus discovered the Cayman Islands they were so crowded with turtles that he named then "Las Tortugas".  Over the years, overfishing and the population growth of the islands have taken a toll on the turtles and they are not nearly as abundant as they were.  Odds are still very good of seeing one while diving in the waters, but if you want a guaranteed experience with turtles, there is only one place to go, The Cayman Island Turtle Farm.  Here you can pet turtles, see the only known trained Sea Turtle, Mertle, and see many other animals of the Caribbean in a very natural environment.  The most common turtle in the Caymans is the Green Sea Turtle.  This large turtle can grow to 5 ft. long and over 400 lbs.  I had always assumed that they were named "Green Sea Turtle" because they were green, right?  Well, apparently, they are mostly brownish/black with a white underbelly!!  They are called "green" because the fat under their shells is green- who knew?  The turtles can be found in many areas, both tropical and subtropical, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  They migrate many miles and travel all over, but when it's time to mate and lay their eggs, the females always return to the same area where they were born.  The female climbs onto the beach, digs a shallow nest, lays her eggs, and then that's it- she's gone!  Not the best mothering but I'm sure she's just following her instincts :) 

Then a few weeks later, a bunch of adorable little baby turtles come climbing out of the nest and wiggle down to the water. Awwww.  One day I would love to witness that, but today I'll have to settle for making my own little Green Sea Turtle. 

Paper Plate Sea Turtles

For this project you will need:
  • Black construction paper
  • oval paper plates
  • black and brown paint
  • sponges and brushes
  • glue
  • googly eyes
  • chalk 
 1. Cut out one head, 2 big flippers and 2 small flippers for each turtle.
2. Paint shell of turtle.  We sponge painted with some brown and black paint.
3. Glue on the flippers and head.  Glue eyes on head.        
4. Use the chalk to draw other features on face and maybe some lines on the shells too.
                                                            Done!  I love turtles.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pirates! Arrrr!

Arrrr! It's Pirate Week in the Cayman Islands!

Being the mom to a 3 year old boy is awesome.  We get to play Star Wars (I'm always Darth Vader), legos, and, of course, Pirates!!  My son discovered pirates recently and we've been having some fun.  He and his sister dig for "treasure" in the dirt section of the yard - to date none has been found.  Mostly we sword fight.  On our trip to Disneyland, while I was waiting in line for corndogs, my husband decided to buy our then 2.5 year old son not one, but two plastic swords.  I must say it kept the crowds at a distance that trip :)  Now he's actually a pretty good little sword fighter.  I'm sure that'll be a handy life skill. (not)  Anyway, I digress, we're supposed to be talking about the Cayman Islands, where it is PIRATE WEEK!!  Right now.  Hurry!  For the past 35 years the Cayman Islands have celebrated the most notorious of their early settlers - the Pirates.  Every year, in November, the 3 islands celebrate with parades, boat races, turtle releases and lots of food, drink and probably some pillaging and plundering too.  So today our post is going to teach you nice civilized folks how to TALK like a pirate, DRESS like a pirate, and EAT like a pirate (a pirate on leave perhaps).  Lets get started....

How to Speak Pirate

Ahoy - Hello           Avast - check that out         Aye - yes
Arrrr- I agree       Parley- a meeting      Bilge Rat - an insult

There now you can speak pirate with the best of them.  Many pirates were from England so maybe an English accent would make you sound a little more authentic - or not.  But one things for sure, if you're gonna talk like a pirate you should look like a pirate!

How to Dress Like A Pirate

To look like a proper pirate you'll need a few things:
  • Poofy or lacy blouse with long sleeves.  Pirates were snazzy dressers.  They might not be clean but they were stylish!
  • Thick belt with large buckle (to hold your sword)
  • For men (boys)- dark colored baggy pants (not ratty) tucked into tall boots.  For the ladies- a full skirt, maybe cinched up a little on one side.
  • 3 pointed captain's hat or colorful scarf tied around the head. Or both!!
  • jewelry - load up on the jewelry.  Not like Mr. T or anything, just very accessorized.
There, you're almost ready.  But boy, all this has made me hungry!  What would a pirate do?  Well, when they were out on the sea pillaging (remember pirates were actually bad guys who stole the cargo from other ships), pirates had to eat a lot of dried meats and fish, hard, dry breads and whatever else they could find.  So when they finally made it back to land to bury their treasure they feasted.  The festivals have many of the traditional foods of the day-

  • Conch stew- a stew made from conch meat (shellfish), dumplings, coconut milk and spices.  Served with rice.
  • Turtle- don't know if I could eat a turtle - they are so cute.  
  • Breadfruit and Cassava - starchy, very nutritious fruits
  • Run-Down - a stew made with seafood or salted beef and potatoes, coconut milk and spices.
Well, conch meat and turtle meat are pretty exotic and, I'd have to assume, expensive so we made a Shrimp Run-down for our hungry pirates.

Shrimp Run-Down

Recipe is blended from a bunch on the internet - can be made with other seafoods or chicken too.  For the recipe you will need:
  • 1 lb shrimp- peeled and deveined
  • 4 or 5 red potatoes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 diced red or yellow pepper
  • 1/2 large red or sweet onion
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 tsp Curry Powder
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp Creole Seasoning
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil or butter
1. Chop potatoes into chunks and partially cook in boiling water for about 8-10 minutes.  Not all the way done but mostly.
2. Cook onions in oil or butter on low so that they caramelize.  When they are browned, add garlic and peppers and cook a few minutes.
3. Add drained potatoes, can of coconut milk, entire can of tomatoes, and seasonings to pan and cook together for 15-20 mins.
4.  Add shrimp and cook just until they are done - normally I'd say until they are pink but it's too hard to tell in the sauce.  They will curl up and looked cooked through when they are done.  Try not to overcook or they get chewy. 

Well, my little pirates didn't eat this for dinner because Mama Pirate got some peppers that I thought were sweet peppers but weren't.  And I might have been a little too heavy-handed with the seasoning(I used the larger amounts on the recipe).  They had rice and some roasted turkey.  No that's a lie.  I served them rice and turkey and green beans but pretty much only the rice was eaten.  However, the adults ate the Run- Down and it was good!!  Really good.  I am going to keep this recipe handy- the sauce was easy to spice up or down to taste and would be good with any type of protein.  We had it on some brown rice but it would be good on pasta too.  Or with some green beans or spaghetti squash in it.  Really, you should try this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Field Trip (well kinda)

A Day at the Beach!

We are lucky, incredible lucky, to live where we do.  We are close to the beach (15 mins.), the snow (4 hrs), the Big City (30 mins.), and the country (1 hour).  However close we are though, our busy lives prevent us from taking advantage of all this very often, so this week I brought the BEACH home!!  On a smaller, more manageable scale that is!  Now we have our own Cayman Island beach in our backyard to play with anytime we want :) Mom and Dad can have a mai-tai and the kids can enjoy a little imaginative play!!

For your own personal beach you will need:
  • clean sand (we wanted that white sand found on the Caymans so we bought ours at Michaels)
  • asst. shells and starfish (also at Michaels)
  • water
  • big bin or water table to hold the mess in
  • shovels, toy fish, Barbies, etc. etc.
1. Pour out the sand to make your beach.  We also made a backdrop with the sun and a palm tree from construction paper.
2. Add the water.  Make your bin or water table tilted so the water stays on one end and doesn't just make wet sand. 
3. Add shells and starfish and whatever else your little heart desires.

4. Make sure Barbie (or actually, in this case, Tinkerbell) has her sunscreen on and HAVE FUN!!
This kept them entertained for longer than I expected and I didn't have to worry about sand in all those uncomfortable places like when you go to the real beach :)
The package of Starfish we bought for $2 at Michaels had all these teeny-tiny starfish!  They were so cute but then we got kinda bummed that they were killed so that people could make crafts.  My daughter is super-sensitive about that kind of stuff.

Friday, November 9, 2012

On the Menu: Thai Food

Our Friday Feast - Thai Style

Oh, it's been a long week!  This time change stuff always makes me feel like the days are so long.  Anyway, I was looking forward to making and eating some Thai food all week so TGIF!!! If you've never had Thai food you're in for a yummy treat.  It's similar in concept to Chinese food and other Asian cuisines but I find it lighter and more flavorful than Chinese.  They use a lot of lemongrass and basil and a ginger-like spice called galangal.  There are curries and stirfries that range from mild to crazy-OMG- hot!!  It's good and healthy- they use a lot of vegetables and herbs and coconut milk which is supposed to be a good fat.  So we made a couple of dishes and bought a few more from our local Thai restaurant (sorry if you don't have one near you) and had a great little feast in front of the fire!  Winter has finally come to Northern California and it's cold so we were looking forward to some spicy food.  The kids were at their cousin's house so they missed out :)

Here is a picture of our feast- we had Tom Kha Kai (chicken and coconut milk soup), Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce (BBQ pork on skewer), Spicy Pumpkin Beef (stirfried pumpkin and beef with chilies and basil), Pad See Ewe (flat noodles, chicken and vegetables), and for dessert Coconut Sticky Rice with Mangoes!!  I made the pork satay, peanut sauce and dessert but if you'd like more recipes I found a great website  Some of the ingredients might be hard to find but worth the effort!  Here are the recipes for the food we made at home -

Pork Satay w/Peanut Sauce
For the recipe you will need:
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 4 T curry powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 t sugar
  • 2 lbs pork sliced into 1/4" strips
  • bamboo or metal skewers
1. Combine all the marinade ingredients and add to sliced pork.  Let marinade for 1 hour at least.
2. While pork is marinating, soak bamboo skewers in water.  This will keep them from burning
3.  Thread pork onto skewers.  Mine made about 10 skewers.
4.  Grill or broil until cooked through.  Since the meat is so thin it doesn't take very long.
5.  Serve with peanut sauce (recipe follows)

Peanut Sauce
  • 1 c  coconut milk
  • 1 T red curry paste (look in Asian foods section)
  • 1 1/2 T fish sauce (also in Asian section or sub. soy sauce)
  • 4 T peanut butter
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 T tamarind paste (I couldn't find this)
1. Combine all the ingredients and tweak the tastes to suit you.  I couldn't find tamarind paste at the Asian market but I thought the sauce was pretty tasty without it.

Coconut Sticky Rice
  • 1 c coconut milk
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 c sticky rice (this might be hard to find- it's a short grain rice)
  • 2 T sugar
1. Soak rice in microwaveable bowl of warm water for 10 mins.  This step is very important.
2. Cover bowl and cook in microwave for 3 mins.
3. Stir rice and microwave for 3 more minutes or until rice is translucent and cooked through.
4. Heat coconut milk in pan until just boiling, reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. 
5. Add sugar and salt and remove from heat.
6. Pour 3/4 of mixture over hot rice.  Rice will absorb it.  Save the rest to drizzle over when serving.
7.  Serve warm or chilled with fresh mangoes.  Yummy!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Floating Lotus

Loy Krathong: The Floating Lotus Festival

On a full moon in the 12th lunar month (usually November), the people of Thailand set afloat little lotus-shaped bowls filled with candies, coins, flowers and a lit candle.  As they set them adrift a wish is made and the longer the flame on your candle stays lit the better chance for the fulfillment the wish and also for the longevity of your life.  Couples make a wish together with the "promise" that this will keep them together always.  The moonlight and the candles and the wishes all make for a very beautiful and romantic night.  This festival is called Loy Krathong. "loy" meaning "to float" and "krathong" meaning "lotus-shaped".  No one was sure when this festival was started but it has been happening since the 13th century.  We made our own floating lotuses...

D I Y Loy Krathong

For this project you will need:
  • paper or foam plates or bowls
  • construction paper
  • glue
  • scissors
  • candies, a candle, and a river to float it on.  We didn't have the last item but that's ok it's not a full moon 'til next week.
1.  On a paper plate draw and cut out a flower shape with pointed petals. This is the base of the flower.
2.  Cut out some large petals and glue them to base so that the petals alternate.  Does that make sense?
3.  Continue to make smaller petals until you've filled your flower. 
4. Write down your wish and glue to center
5. Curl up the edges of the petals to give a more a 3-D look and to hold the offerings in.
6. Go to a river, stream or other body of water.  Light the candle, make a wish and set it off. 

In Thailand they are starting to make the lotuses biodegradable so they don't pollute down river.  Ours will probably never see actual water but our paper plates would dissolve pretty quickly I'm sure. 

Hope your wishes come true!  Our wishes included: a drum, an ipad and an angry birds game.  I'm only betting on one of them coming true (and it's not the drum or ipad).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Animals of Thailand

The Animals of Thailand

The country of Thailand is the home to many,many animals.  Some are huge, like the Asian Elephant and monitor lizard, and some very tiny, like the Bumble bat.  Many live in the rainforests and some right in town.  Let's learn about a few with the most significance in the culture.

The Elephant:  The National symbol of Thailand, the elephant has always been a large part of the culture of Thailand.  It has been featured on the currency, stamps, and until 1917, was on the flag.  Thai kings keep a stable of white elephants because they are supposed to bring luck.  Some Buddhist temples are built on the ground where an elephant has died and many contain shrines to elephants. 100 years ago there were over 100,000 elephants, both domesticated and wild, today there are fewer than 5,000.  This is mainly due to an increase in people and farms, deforestation and conflicts with farmers.  With more money to be made through tourism than logging many elephants are being moved to the cities where they are in danger from the cars and pollution.  Hopefully this beautiful animals numbers can be restored and the symbol of Thailand can regain the respect it is due.

The Monkey: Monkeys are also very special in Thailand because of a character in the epic tales of the Ramayana.  The Ramayana is a Hindu tale that is also important in the Buddhist culture as well.  It is a collection of teachings and lessons in values that have been told for centuries in many countries.  Because one of the heroes was a monkey they are given a lot of respect.  They are rarely chased away and, in fact, are given free reign in many temples.  They are fed by the monks, the people of the village and, of course, the tourists who come to see them.  Some areas train the monkeys to harvest the coconuts from the trees and apparently a monkey can pick 300 coconuts a day!!

The Snake: Called a "naga" in Thailand, the snake plays an important part in Buddhist culture.  In legend a naga changed into a man in order to become a monk, so now a part of the ordination ceremony is confirming that you are indeed a man and not a snake.
Many Buddhist temples have naga decorations on the stairs and the snake is also featured in many superstitions-
  • If a woman dreams about a snake she will find the man of her dreams in the coming days
  • If a woman dreams of being bitten or crushed by a snake she will be united with her true love
  • If a snake crosses your path there is money coming your way
  • If a big snake comes into the temple to sleep it is said to be a spirit returning.
So because the snake is such an important part of the culture and because my daughter has a deep fear of them that I'm trying to get rid of, we are making "Naga" for our craft!

 Paper Plate Naga (Snakes)

For the project you will need:
  • paper plates
  • scissors
  • paint or markers
  • googly eyes (optional but fun)
  • red felt, ribbon or paper for tongue
                                                 1.  Draw a spiral on the paper plate.  Start with a head and make it smaller as it goes. 
2.  Paint, color or whatever you choose to decorate your snake.   Have fun and make up your own pattern or do a little research and copy a real snakes' design.
                                                  3. Cut along the spiral to turn it into a snake.
4.  Glue on eyes and tongue 


Monday, November 5, 2012

Week 16!! Thailand

Let's go to Thailand!

Woohoo!!  Week 16!  We're moving right along and we've come to one of my dream vacations.  I love the food, love the scenery, probably would hate the weather and insects but I'd try not to complain too loudly.  Thailand is beautiful.  Have you ever seen pictures of the beaches in Phuket?  The crazy chaos of people in Bangkok?  There's great food and great shopping and plenty of historical and natural attractions to see.  Located in Southeast Asia, Thailand is the only country never to have been a European colony.  It has a constitutional monarchy and the ruler, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (known as Rama IX), has been on the throne since 1946, making him the longest seated ruler in the world.  They take the King seriously in Thailand, in fact, the movie The King and I is banned in Thailand because they felt it was insulting to the monarchy. 

Thailand is home to many big/ long things:
  • the largest saltwater fish - the whale shark
  • the longest snake - the reticulated python (up to 33ft long)
  • the longest venomous snake- the king cobra (18 ft)
  • the largest lizard - the monitor lizard (7ft long)
  • the largest freshwater fish- the giant catfish (up to 10ft)
  • the longest name for a city - the capital of Bangkok's official name is... Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mhadilokphop Noppharatractchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathaltiyawitsanukamprasit !!  Whew, bet those street signs are big too!!  The name translates to City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of Nine Gems, Seat of the King, City of Royal Palaces, Home of the Gods Incarnate erected by Visvakarman at Indra's Behest.
That is one build up for a city it must be pretty awesome!!  You can find this City of Angels on the map at 13.75°N/ 100.48°E.  This puts the country pretty close to the Equator and explains the hot and humid climate.  The rainforests thrive and the flora and fauna are exotic.  It is said that 1/10th of all the animals in the world live in the rainforests.  We will have to do a whole post just to cover the animals! 

I found a few customs in Thailand that I thought were interesting. 
  • The head is the most important part of the body and you should never touch anyone on the head in Thailand.  If you are in a conversation with anyone older or more important you should also try to keep your head lower than theirs. 
  • Feet are considered lowly.  They associate then with attachment to the ground and human suffering.  In Thailand you should never sit with your feet pointing at a person or a statue in a temple.  When seated you tuck your feet under your body.
  • When going in a temple or home you should remove your shoes.  It is disrespectful not to do so.
  • It is also disrespectful not to eat at least a small bite of any food served to you by a host.
  • To greet someone with respect you should join the palms of your hands and bow your head.

I think we've got a good start to an interesting week!  Hope you'll join us!!