The ‘Little Women’ in Us

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Image courtesy: QuotesGram

The oldest and most conventional March sister, Meg, who is always on the lookout to please the people around her with her good behavior. The headstrong and independent Jo, rebellious at heart and the most outspoken member of her family. Next comes Beth, the bashful and quiet girl, who unfortunately loses her life along the way. Then there’s Amy, the youngest sister who is akin to a perfect lady of sorts and has a mind of her own. And, of course, Mrs. March, without whom the whole family is incomplete.

Today, November 29, happens to be the American novelist Louisa May Alcott’s 184th birthday, the author who penned down the one novel which I have held close to my heart all these years – Little Women. This masterpiece took the author a mere ten weeks to write, and the words in it ring true till date. While Louisa herself was quite like the character Jo in the book, the other three sisters were characterized on her own real sisters. A great number of Broadway plays, ballets, operas, musicals, TV series and seven different movies – these are some of the ways Louisa’s outstanding work took wings in later years.

Why do I love the story so much? Because these lines from the book continue to stay with me even now:

“I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.”

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.”

“Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.”

And last but not the least, this one:

“Let us be elegant or die!”

Here’s hoping that the Little Women in us continue to live on for eons to come!

How to Go Crafty this Thanksgiving

I like to call ours a crafty family of sorts. I won’t say we’re particularly good at it, but we try getting all messy and coming up with handmade crafts and painted stuff to put around the rooms whenever we get the chance. What with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it won’t be very difficult dragging the kids away from their favorite cartoon shows and dragon games in order to do up the house or bake some goodies for the occasion. Since the past few days, I have been on the lookout for fun crafts the kids could enjoy their hands at during the holidays. Here are a couple of ideas I came across which seem ideal for the festive season.

Hand-print Turkey Leaf Mats

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Image courtesy: Parenting

As a kid, I remember drawing the outlines of our hands on a large piece of cardboard, filling in color with crayons and marking an eye and a beak on the thumb part of the drawing to make a turkey which could be hung anywhere around the house. Don’t they say ‘old is gold’? This one is a tried-and-tested idea which can never go wrong. Let’s tweak it a little to make it more exciting. Ask your child to carry out the above procedure and then cut out the ‘turkey’, leaving around 2 inches empty space all along the borders. Now, use some big leaves pressed and preserved between the pages of a book to glue them around the edges of your turkey, just leaving the thumb part (where the head is supposed to be) to denote the feathers. If you don’t have preserved leaves, pluck some today and store them away in an old notebook – Thanksgiving is still a couple of days away!

This way, you can get ready some bright and colorful Turkey table mats for the much-awaited Thanksgiving feast.

Edible Fruit Turkey

Cut out a piece of cardboard the size of a bookmark and make two corners on one side of it curved around the edges using a pair of scissors. Stick on or draw eyes and a beak at the curved edges end.  Now take an apple or a pumpkin and cut about half an inch from the bottom. Now place the cut part upside down as a stand and prop the fruit on top of it. Add about 6-8 toothpicks (depending on the size of the fruit) at the back of it like the hands of a clock from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Add another toothpick at the front to pierce in the cardboard face. Add orange slices on each of the toothpicks in the clock positions and, lo and behold, you have a perfectly healthy, edible turkey sitting expectantly on your dining table!

Here are some more food craft ideas which are pretty easy to whip up.

Hand-painted Pine Cones

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Pine Cones” by bergblau is licensed under CC by 2.0

Young kids love nothing better than getting paint all over their fingers and toes, hair and clothes. My rule at home is: Get yourself as dirty as you want to, provided you do it outside the house. Hand painting pine cones is something which falls precisely in that category of activities which are allowed only outdoors. This can be done with both closed as well as open pine cones. As a first step, use an old toothbrush with hard bristles to remove any dust or dirt settled on the surface of the cones. Hand your kids an angled paint brush each and let them choose their favorite shade of acrylic color to paint the pine-cones. The cones that are slightly open would look better on your mantelpiece if only the tips of their scales are colored a particular shade. This is something which can stay on as a decorative accessory for many, many years to come.

If you can lay your hands on some pine cones, well and good; however, if there aren’t any pine cones in your area, most of the art and craft stores do sell them.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween Safety Tips for Kids

Halloween is fun alright, but amidst all the noise and excitement, one must remember to teach their kids how to keep safe while trick-or-treating, even if, say, it’s just in the near neighborhood. Tips for the same have been in the news lately and hence I decided to share some of the points which seemed very valid to me as a parent, here.

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Cat” by GraphicMama-team is licensed under CC by 2.0

Children should be taught to:

  • Cross over from one street to another only at corners.
  • Note the traffic signals before crossing a road at a crosswalk.
  • Be careful of parked cars suddenly backing out of driveways without notice.
  • Stick to the pre-planned route for trick-or-treating so that the parents are constantly in the know of their whereabouts.
  • Always be in a group of friends or people they know well.

Meanwhile, it’s the responsibility of us parents to make sure that:

  • The kids, if very young, are able to recollect the contact number and address of their parents in case they get lost.
  • Not talk to absolute strangers or follow their instructions, howsoever friendly or trivial they may seem.
  • Their costumes are fire-proof and preferably not flowing so that they don’t get stuck on objects along the way.

Keeping these things in mind, you can be rest assured and eat, drink as well as be as scary as you wish!

3 Fun Ways to Have an Eco-Friendly Halloween

Halloween has a ‘spooktacular’ history of its own. As legend has it, when a drunken farmer called Stingy Jack was turned away from both heaven and hell, he carved out a turnip to make a lantern out of it and find his way in the darkness; hence jack-o’-lanterns came into being. Then there was a myth among the Celtics that if one dressed up as a ghost, all evil spirits would be fooled into thinking the person was one of their own and would not take away their souls. Sinister yet fascinating tales, eh?

The excitement levels of the kids here at home know no bounds when Halloween is around the corner. They will eagerly give up their favorite virtual games to plan their costumes down to the last intricate detail (including the last streak of face paint!) and sometimes even forget to have their meals on time (if not reminded) in the entire planning melee with their neighborhood pals!

This year, I decided we should try and be more environment-friendly while planning the Halloween stuff, from the costumes to the decorations and everything else. Just a bit of extra effort on our part, that’s what it takes. Also, it’s all the more fun when you do things together as a family instead of buying stuff off the shelf.

Here are a couple of fun ways to have an eco-friendly Halloween this time.

Halloween Costumes

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Trick Or Treat” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is licensed under CC by 2.0

 Scary, scary Halloween night…

Dress up in a costume and make sure it can fright!

Getting Halloween costumes ready every year wins hands down as the most entertaining and fun part of the occasion. It all boils down to how creative you can get – the possibilities are endless, especially when it comes to designing your own Halloween outfits instead of picking up a readymade one to be worn just once and discarded. Ghosts are an all-time favorite of kids and there are so many homemade costumes that can turn you into a terrifying one! Short on time? Go for an old bedsheet or a sack too big for you with holes cut out for hands and a cardboard headgear or mask with snake-like slits for eyes. Wish to be a groaning mummy? A dozen rolls of toilet paper to wrap you up will give you that eerie look. Thinking out-of-the-box and want to be a wicked angel with wings? Old wire hangers bent into the shape of wings can be attached to your back for added effect. And don’t forget the broomstick if you’re planning to dress up as a witch!

Halloween Food

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Sweet” by PublicDomainPictures is licensed under CC by 2.0

 Trick or Treat…

Give me something good to eat!

Say the word Halloween aloud and the first image to pop up in most of our minds would be – a spooky old jack-o’-lantern grinning away to glory. When we scoop out the fillings of a pumpkin in preparation for carving it, why unnecessarily throw away the seeds to end up in the dustbin? Roasted pumpkin seeds are nothing short of a delicacy; what’s more, they involve practically no cooking whatsoever. Simply preheat your oven to about 150-170 degrees C, mix the pumpkin seeds in a bowl with salt and a tablespoon of butter and bake till it turns deliciously golden brown. Carved a pumpkin or two too deep to make a perfect jack-o’-lantern? Turn it into a simple pumpkin pie – you just need milk, eggs and sugar to bake it like any other pie. Halloween flavors at their finest!

Halloween Decorations

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Pumpkin” by typopets is licensed under CC by 2.0

 Shadows of a thousand years rise again unseen…

Voices whisper in the trees, “Tonight is Halloween!”

Using natural, biodegradable items to do up your house will in no way make your home appear any lesser scary-looking than if you had used readymade plastic decorations from the neighborhood store.  Old cardboard egg cartons can come in handy – cut out 3 egg cups from the discarded carton, put them upside down, make zig-zag cuts in the bottoms of the two side cups and once you’ve painted them black, you just need to stick on the eyes to have a scary bat staring up at you! Watch this simple tutorial to have a better idea of how to go about it.

Old see-through containers, glass jars lying around as junk or unused mason jars can be a big hit too. Almost all kids have small animal specimens to play around with. All you’ve got to do is pop, say, a grasshopper or a lizard specimen into a jar and fill it up with colored water (use food coloring for the purpose). Broken eyeballs off an old teddy bear or a limb from a worn-out doll or two should be spooky enough too.

Also, scarecrows aren’t just meant to scare birds away from a field where crops are growing, are they? Go dig out clothes from the basement which everyone in the family has outgrown or will never wear (even dirty old ones with gaping holes and blotches on them would do) and get to work tying together bundles of hay to make the arms and legs of a scarecrow. Prop it up on a chair in your front porch, with a glowing jack-o’-lantern as a head and a straw cap on it and voila! No points for guessing whose porch would be the most ghostly of all once night sets in!

Have a good Halloween, folks!

Make Your Own Cloud in a Bottle

The other day it was damp and overcast early in the morning, with a hint of rain in the air. With my steaming cup of coffee, I sat myself down in front of the computer, hoping to get some work done while the kids were still peacefully in bed. And in my quest for simple science experiments which could be easily carried out at home, I chanced upon this interesting experiment in which you could make a cloud in a bottle.

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Image courtesy: wikiHow

Here’s how it works.

What You Need

  • A large mason jar
  • A rubber glove
  • A torch
  • Boiling water
  • Matches

The Procedure

  • Pour a little bit of boiling water into the mason jar – just enough to cover the bottom – and swirl it around a bit gently.
  • Seal the air into the jar by fitting the rubber glove wrist around the mouth of the glass jar such that the fingers point downwards towards the boiling water.
  • After about 10 seconds, insert your fingers into the glove and move it upward so that the fingers are pulled out.
  • Now light a match and drop it into the jar, covering its mouth again with the rubber glove. You will observe smoke forming in the jar and the water at the bottom will put out the lighted matchstick.
  • Again, pull out the glove by inserting your fingers into it. You will observe a cloud forming inside the jar. If you re-insert the glove, the cloud will disappear.
  • Shining a torch into the jar through the glass sides will enable you to observe the clouds better.
  • In about 5 minutes, the cloud formed will gradually disappear with the particles settling down at the bottom.

The Science Behind it:

Inside the mason jar, the warm air is full of water vapor molecules from the boiling water. When the glove is inserted into the jar, it occupies some space; pulling it out frees that space and cools the air inside the jar to a certain extent. The water molecules present attach themselves to the smoke particles emanating from the lighted matchstick, eventually condensing into droplets which form the cloud.  Every time the glove gets re-inserted into the jar, the air present within gets warmed up again and the cloud disappears.

After all, if there can be a storm in a teacup, there can also be a cloud in a bottle! :)

‘A Little Magic Can Take You A Long Way…’

The year 2016 marks the centenary of the birth of British novelist Roald Dahl, touted by many as the world’s number one storyteller and rightly so. To mark the occasion, the Oxford English Dictionary decided to add a range of new words connected to his writings to its ever-increasing repertoire of words – such as ‘splendiferous’, ‘Oompa Loompa’, ‘human bean’ and ‘Dahlesque’ amongst others (read more here). These reminded me of my favorites when it comes to Dahl.

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Image courtesy: Pinterest

Here are three of his classics, which I love to read even today.

‘It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.’

 (The Witches)

This fantasy novel for children elicited the following response from the judges who presented the author with the prestigious 1983 Whitbread Award for his work: “Funny, wise, deliciously disgusting, a real book for children. From the first paragraph to the last, we felt we were in the hands of a master.”

From the very beginning, this story had me chuckling at every other line. ‘Deliciously disgusting’ hit the nail right on the head – how else could you describe a tale that involved witches with claws in the place of finger nails, enormous-sized nostrils, blue spit and heads with no hair? Endearingly deliciously disgusting, I would say. Add to it the wonderfully done up illustrations by Quentin Blake and you have the perfect package of a story; a brave young boy battling England’s witches along with his Norwegian grandmother.

‘We must hurry! We have so much time and so little to do! No! Wait! Strike that! Reverse it!’

(Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

Here is a kids’ story which is silly and fun, as well as dark and serious. Instances of silly and fun – pillows that are made of marshmallow and are edible, chocolate bars that are invisible and hence can be eaten right in front of the teacher in class, a swimming pool filled with fizzy lemonade and many similar objects that will invariably catch any child’s fancy. My younger one remarked the goodies in the story were quite similar to those of the virtual games he plays and was pretty excited to add a couple of new ones to the list.

Talking about dark and serious, one of the chapter’s names itself is ominous in a way; it is called ‘The Family Begins to Starve’ and goes on to talk about how Charlie’s family members are hungry, poor, destitute and cold. But then there are the chanting ‘Oompa Loompas’ – orange complexioned and green haired dwarves working in the chocolate factory who eat cacao beans; punishments perfectly befitting the bad behavior of the kids and pretty comical caricatures alongside the story to keep the kids laughing all through the read.

‘Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.’

(Matilda)

In 2012, Matilda found pride of place in the top 30 all-time popular children’s novels in a survey carried out and published by the School Library Journal. The story revolves around the protagonist – Matilda Wormwood – who is a child prodigy; awe-inspiring, brilliant and unconventional all rolled into one.

Then there’s the much-loved Miss Honey who makes sure newcomers in her class feel at home; the nutty and supposedly wicked headmistress aptly named Miss Trunchbull; the girl with two plaited pigtails who goes by the name of Amanda Thripp and other amusing characters. The story of the little girl is heartwarming yet unpredictable; all in all, a compelling and creative tale which is both a bit funny and a bit sad, in ‘Dahlesque’s’ characteristic way.

Try as I might, I still find it hard to put down any of Roald Dahl’s masterpieces once I begin reading one of his novels. And this line continues to resonate with me even now, years after I read it first:

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Image courtesy: Quotefancy

A Heartwarming Story of Animal Friendship

‘The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell – as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world.’

As I read aloud these lines to my kids at bedtime, a vivid picture gets created in my mind – of farm smells and horses, friendly cows and dilapidated yet sturdy barns. Ring a bell, anyone? These lines are from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, considered an all-time classic of children’s literature. I admit I still enjoy reading the book; perhaps even more so than when I was a kid. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction that the kids seem to enjoy these farm pets more than the virtual pets they usually spend time on. Time and again I have turned the book’s pages, and the pictures are crystal clear in my mind, almost like a world in itself.

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Image courtesy: Harper Collins

The Heart-Warming Story

The story is all about a rambunctious little pig called Wilbur who is born a runt. When Mr. Arable, the little girl Fern’s father decides to let the helpless little pig live (thanks to her), he becomes a lovable pet. As time passes, he again finds himself in danger. However, the hero of our story steps in and Charlotte’s twinkling spider web, which comes into notice first in the morning fog, saves the day for our dear Wilbur. This is a story about life and death, about how friends help each other in times of need, about how one is always sad to lose a good friend but needs to move on.

3 Fascinating Facts about Charlotte’s Web

  • ‘This is a story of the barn. I wrote it for children, and to amuse myself.’

Not many know that the author E.B. White himself owned a farm in Maine where he reared geese, sheep and pigs. Hence, the farm envisioned in the book was as real as it can get, based on his actual farm with a red barn and a swing which found a place in the story as well.

  • ‘At the present time, three of Charlotte’s granddaughters are trapping at the foot of the stairs in my barn cellar, where the morning light, coming through the east window, illuminates the embroidery and makes it seem even more wonderful than it is.’

The author was talking about the offspring of a spider in his barn which made an egg sac; Charlotte, the protagonist, actually took birth in the book from the idea of that real spider.

  • ‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern.

The story begins with these lines from the little girl, Fern. It later came to light that Fern almost didn’t find her place in the book till much after most of the story was written! White contemplated for a long while how the story should begin – with Wilbur, with Charlotte or with someone else but nothing seemed to be working out. Along came Fern and the opening lines which have taken pride of place in one of the most widely read children’s books ever.

Why I Still Love It

I have no clue but Charlotte’s Web seems to have woven a web of magic over me, back from when I heard the story first. I’m fond of the way the geese speak, I laugh at the mishmash of eats Wilbur enjoys, I love the idea of how friendship blossoms between an innocent little pig and a clever, kind-hearted spider. I guess my love for the story finds an echo in others too; that’s why three films (watch the trailer here), a musical and even a video game have come up based on the story’s characters.

And last but not the least, I love it when Charlotte says this.

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Image courtesy: QuotesGram