We were blessed with wonderful house guests this past weekend—friends who were willing to fall into our family rhythm and enjoy some simple pleasures like home meals and nature walks.
There’s nothing like Sacramento in April.
We were able to show them a bit around our neck of the woods, with Lucas bravely leading the way and showing us what all the Waldorf kids know about this stretch of the American River Parkway—like this awesome rope swing …
… and Grandfather Oak, which is simply enormous.
We marched along the cliffs, watching bathers in the river below. Christyn and I geeked about wildflowers a bit. Lucas showed us all the wild fennel. Asher made sure we were aware of the area the kids call “Coyote Cafe.”
We found the pond and watched some Canada geese. Asher got stuck in some deep sloppy mud and Lucas rescued him. Big brothers are great like that!
On the way back we saw a handsome rattlesnake in our path. It was at least three feet long. Lucas saved us then, too, for he was the one to spot it. We were fortunate our fluffy dog was too ditzy to notice and try to mess with it.
After a superb brunch of Dutch baby (pancakes) with fresh fruit, during which we scientifically compared Brian’s family recipe to one from the Organic Family Cookbook, we lazed about for a while and then drove up the hill to the Horton Iris Farm.
It was really fun to share this place with my boys and my friends. Christyn, Brian, and I share a love of gardening and chatting about plants with them was wonderful. We enjoyed finding some unusual specimens.
I ordered this one for later this year. It’s called “Main Street.” I also ordered one that Lucas really liked, “Persian Berry,” and “Fade to Black,” which was Ian’s pick. I wrote down about a dozen names of irises I loved.
I haven’t been to Horton Iris Farm since last May when I went with my mom. I bought her a yellow iris as a gift.
Anyway, it was a lovely, relaxing weekend and I’m still trying to gear up for all the tasks ahead of me this week. Hope you enjoyed the phone photos. Happy Earth Day, everyone. (We’re going with Earth Week around here.)
A mazillion years ago, when Ian lived in Sweden and I was visiting at Easter time, we saw everywhere in Upsala bare branches decorated with colorful feathers. We wondered, is this sympathetic magic? If the Swedish people decorate bare branches with feathers, are they invoking the coming of springtime? Of course, at Easter time, the ice and snow still holds sway, and warm days are still several months away. (As I type this it’s currently 27 degrees F there.)
“The Easter tree, or “påsk ris”, can be seen all over the country this time of year. Outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, outdoors in the neighbours’ gardens.”
I’ve had these bare branches in a vase in my home for a couple of months now. They held hearts on Valentine’s Day and they’ve lingered through the month of March. I’m pretty sure they’ve poked everyone in the eye at least once. I’m also sure that my Ian has wished I would take them away.
But, NO! I had a secret plan, you see. I wanted us to make him a påsk ris as a surprise. Because once, a mazillion years ago after we came home from Europe, I made one of these to decorate our very first apartment together at Easter time, and it was sweet and lovely and back then life was uncomplicated …
So anyway, Lucas, Asher and I made a påsk ris to surprise Daddy.
colorful craft feathers
Get out your low temperature glue gun and your patience and start gluing feathers on. That’s it. It takes a good long while and maybe an extra pair of hands to hold the feather in the warm glue until it sets.
But you can get funny photos while you’re doing it.
And then you can surprise people you live with and people who visit, and they’ll say, “What the heck is that?”
And then you can explain that the symbolism of the Easter tree is not about bringing on the spring, or sweeping out winter, or even about Easter witches—which is a Swedish thing! Really.
“But, apparently the Easter tree has a completely different origin and symbolism. It comes from the 1600′s. Swedish people in the 1600′s used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with them on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. In the 1800′s and 1900′s, they started to be decorated and became a symbolic decoration for Easter.” —from Watching the Swedes
Our St. Patrick’s Day was really different this year, although we did do some of our traditional family celebrating, such as creating this cool party space for the leprechauns.
Ian ran in the Shamrockin’ Half Marathon—his first—and so our boys had an overnight with their besties while the leprechauns partied in our front yard. They all had a blast it seems (boys and leprechauns). Ian and I woke up bright and early on St. Patrick’s Day to make it to Raley Field for the half marathon.
I am so proud of him. Seriously, I am amazed. He’s awakened early nearly every day for five months to train, in part for this event. He’s run in the dark wee hours of the morning, in the winter cold and rain and fog to do this.
13.1 miles. In a row. His time: 02:00:56. Awesome! This is my best shot of him crossing the finish. Bunch of people were in my way, even though I had the best seat open to the public in the whole stadium.
I’m so proud of you, honey!
Afterward, we celebrated with some friends, eventually collected our children, and then came home to this:
Leprechaun gold and golden chocolate coins! The leprechauns must have enjoyed the goodies we left them. And then we ate an Irish family feast.
Crockpot Lamb Stew
This is a recipe for a crockpot Irish stew I found and then altered. I don’t have a pretty photo of it, so you’ll just have to trust me. I made this crockpot version because I needed something that would cook itself while we were at the Shamrockin’ Half Marathon. It was delicious.
1.5 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cubed and browned in a skillet
1 14.9 ounce can of Guinness stout
4 to 5 medium russett potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
2 onions, chopped
2 to 3 medium carrots
8 ounces of sliced crimini or shitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 or 3 stems of fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 bay leaves
10 ounces frozen peas
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
Last Step: I’ll just put this right up front because this is the type of thing I always miss when reading and (not) following recipes: Add the peas in the last hour of cooking.
OK, First Step: Brown the lamb in a skillet. Add it to the crockpot. Add the Guinness, onion, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper, and tapioca. Stir a little. If your Guinness isn’t almost covering your lamb and veg items in the pot, add a cup of water or more Guinness.
Another Tip: Quick-cooking tapioca will make a really thick, luxurious gravy. I had never used it before. I found Kraft Minute Tapioca did the trick. It looks like Bob’s Red Mill also makes some tapioca products.
Cook your lamb stew in the crockpot for 10 to 14 hours. (I cooked mine for 8 hours. Then slept. Then turned it back on before we left for the day to cook for another 6 or 7 hours so it would be ready to eat for St. Patrick’s Day dinner.) I don’t think the extra cooking time harmed it at all. I think you just have to make sure your lamb is tender. Again, add the frozen peas in the last hour or so.
In a shady nook one moonlight night,
A leprechaun I spied
In scarlet coat and cap of green,
A cruiskeen by his side.
‘Twas tick, tack, tick, his hammer went,
Upon a weeny shoe,
And I laughed to think of a purse of gold,
But the fairy was laughing too.
With tiptoe step and beating heart,
Quite softly I drew nigh.
There was mischief in his merry face,
A twinkle in his eye;
He hammered and sang with a tiny voice,
And sipped the mountain dew;
Oh! I laughed to think he was caught at last,
But the fairy was laughing too.
As quick as thought I grasped the elf,
“Your fairy purse,” I cried,
“My purse?” said he, ” ’tis in her hand,
That lady by your side.”
I turned to look, the elf was off,
And what was I to do?
Oh! I laughed to think what a fool I’d been,
And the fairy was laughing too.
—Robert Dwyer Joyce
‘Twas a fine sunny day at harvest time when young Seamus O’Donnell, walking along the road, heard a tapping sound. Peering over the hedge, he saw a tiny man in a little leather apron, mending a little shoe.
“Well, well, well!” said Seamus to himself. “I truly never expected to meet a leprechaun. Now that I have, I must not let this chance slip away. For everyone knows that leprechauns keep a pot of gold hidden nearby. All I have to do is to find it, and I am set for the rest of my life.”
Greeting the leprechaun politely, Seamus asked about his health. However, after a few minutes of idle conversation, Seamus became impatient. He grabbed the leprechaun and demanded to know where the gold was hidden.
“All right! All right!” cried the little man. “It is near here. I’ll show you.”
Together they set off across the fields as Seamus was careful never to take his eyes off the little man who was guiding him. At last they came to a field of golden ragwort.
The leprechaun pointed to a large plant.
“The gold is under here,” he said. “All you have to do is to dig down and find it.”
Now Seamus didn’t have anything with him to use for digging, but he was not entirely stupid. He pulled of his red neckerchief and tied it to the plant so that he would recognize it again.
“Promise me,” he said to the leprechaun, “that you will not untie that scarf.”
The little man promised faithfully.
Seamus dropped the leprechaun and ran home as fast as he could to fetch a shovel. Within five minutes, he was back at the field. But what a sight met his eyes! Every single ragwort plant in the whole field — and there were hundreds of them — had a red neckerchief tied around it.
Slowly, young Seamus walked home with his shovel. He didn’t have his gold. He didn’t have the leprechaun.
And now, he didn’t even have his neckerchief.
(Traditional Irish Legend)
Today was a busy, busy day, but we still took a little time for leprechaun fun. We made some yummy Sugar Shamrocks, then set out some treats. Our leprechaun party is now all ready for the Wee Folk. We have shamrock cookies, milk, and honey for them. Asher brought some pretty flowers to make it beautiful, and we made a wee banner that says “Welcome.” We’ll see what happens during the night.
Congratulations to our Easter giveaway winners—Molly, RaeAnne, and Crystal—and a huge thank you to all those who participated in the first Love in the Suburbs giveaway. I will be contacting the winners privately.
I love St. Patrick’s Day. I love the rainbows and shamrocks, green foods, and stories of leprechauns and magic. Over the years, my kids and I have explored lots of St. Patrick’s Day books and this is a list of our favorites. Some are old, some, new. As usual, my fundamental recommendation is that you steer clear of licensed products. Believe me, although this list is long, lots of books didn’t make it onto this list.
Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Kelly Murphy is a fairly new treasure, published in 2009. This book is full of terrific art and a very clever lass who outwits the greedy King of the Leprechauns, who has stolen all the luck from the land and made the people suffer. Most leprechaun stories involve men or boys, and it’s great to have a heroine in the genre. The moral here is that you must depend on your wits, and not on your luck to be successful.
Clever Tom and the Leprechaun was published in 1988 by Linda Shute, who illustrated the book and adapted a traditional leprechaun story originally published in Legends and Traditions of South Ireland in 1825. Shute’s illustrations are watercolor and pencil and are quite lovely. Clever Tom, unfortunately for him, is not quite clever enough to get the sack of gold from the leprechaun shoemaker he captures one day.
To Sing a Song as Big as Ireland is by Nathan Zimelman and is illustrated by Jospeh Low. This is quite an old book, published in 1967, that we found at our library. The story is long and wonderful. A little boy named Terrence O’Flaherty O’Flynn wants more than anything to sing a song as big as Ireland, but he’s really quite small. He tries and tries to grow bigger so that he’ll have a strong voice, but none of his plans work out, not even standing on the dewy ground and beneath the warming sun, or carrying a goat on his shoulders like the strongest man in the county carries his horse. Finally the boy goes to ask his mother, who advises that he catch a leprechaun and get him to grant the boy his wish. The leprechaun gets it wrong several times before the boy can finally sing his song, and when he does “his song told of all of Ireland—its lakes and its hills and its green land, of every bird that rose on its air and every animal that grazed in its meadows and passed through its forests … it told of all of Ireland’s people, and so it was as big as Ireland itself.”
Too Many Leprechauns was published in 2007. Stephen Krensky wrote it and Dan Andreasen is the artist. I love the opening: “Finn O’Finnegan looked like a rogue and walked like a rascal, so it was widely thought that he was at least one or the other. And his shadow, which followed him closely and knew all of his secrets, might have said he was both.” The leprechauns have overrun the town of Dingle and they’re keeping everyone from sleeping with their endless tap-tap-tapping on their fairy shoes. Well, rascally Finn O’Finnegan will fix them. He finds flaws in the little shoemakers’ work, and they’re so insulted they show him their pile of gold coins earned from their shoe-making. Finn manages to hide their gold from them!
Leprechauns Never Lie, by Lorna and Lecia Balian, is a fun book about two women who are too lazy and old to do their daily work. The young woman, Ninny Nanny, sets out to find a leprechaun to change their fortune. She’s lucky enough to find one, and almost gets a great deal, but in the end, her laziness causes her to miss out on the biggest prize of all. Still, in the process, she and ailing Gram do get their chores done, and that’s a good thing after all. This book was originally published in two colors in 1980; in 2004 it came out again with beautiful full color illustrations by Lecia Balian.
Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk: An Irish Tale Told and Illustrated by Gerald McDermott is worthy of a read. Tim and his wife Kathleen are very poor, and she suggests that maybe he should go and find a job; alas there are no jobs to be found. Although Tim gets lucky enough to stumble upon a group of reveling leprechauns, he gets tricked out of his worthy prizes by neighbors. It’s all because he didn’t do exactly what the wee folk told him to do, and that’s what you get by cutting corners. The wicked, swindling neighbors get their comeuppance in the end, though, and Tim and his bonny Kate do make their fortune through the beneficence of the leprechauns. In these bright illustrations the leprechauns are all cute and charming, wearing green and scarlet.
A Fine St. Patrick’s Day by Susan Wojciechowski with art by Tom Curry might be an outlyer on this list. The story is about two rival towns, Tralee and Tralah, that compete each year to see which one decorates best for St. Patrick’s Day. Six-year-old Fiona Riley comes up with the plan for Tralee to finally win the contest. A leprechaun arrives and asks for help at all the doors, for his cows are stuck in the mud. Citizens of Tralee go to the cows’ rescue, despite their need to finish decorating for the contest, and their generous spirit is rewarded.
St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning, by Eve Bunting features no leprechauns or magic, but it’s magical nonetheless. Little Jamie wakes very early on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day and feels sad that he is considered by his family too small to march in the village parade. But what do they know? He tiptoes out of the house and has a parade all his own with his sweet dog Nell and the slowly waking village. Jan Brett illustrated this sweet book using only three colors, and her pictures of the Irish countryside are charming and evocative. Bunting was born in Ireland and lived there for 30 years. She published this book in 1980.
A Pot o’ Gold is a wonderful anthology of Irish legends, poetry, songs, and even some recipes. It features a legend about St. Patrick, stories with the wee folk, mermaids, fairies, leprechauns, Finn McCool, and more. Works of authors such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Katharine Tynan, Arthur O’Shaughnessy, William Butler Yeats, and Jonathan Swift grace this anthology. If you were to buy only one book of Irish stories for children, this might be the one.
The Irish Cinderlad was written by Shirley Climo and illustrated by Loretta Krupinski, and was published in 1996. This is a male, Irish version of the Cinderella story based on two old Irish tales: “The Bracket Bull” from 1898 and “Billy Beg and His Butt” from 1905. The lad, Becan, is banished to the cow pasture when his stepmother and stepsisters come to live with him and his father. This fairy story features a magical bull, a giant, and an opportunity to rescue a princess from a terrible sea-dragon (à la Andromeda). Becan has his faithful friend, his own courage, and his giant feet to thank for his change of fortune, for no one else can fit into his lost boot.
O’Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott is a great book. The heroine is Kate O’Sullivan and she is a clever one! When the townspeople anger the witch by refusing to help when her beautiful stallion is taken as payment for taxes by the king, the town suffers terribly: cows won’t give milk, fishing nets come up empty, gardens fail, and everyone goes hungry. Kate convinces her da and brothers, Fergus and Kelly, that they should steal back the horse to appease the witch. But they’re not good horse thieves. It’s up to Kate’s storytelling to save them from the hangman’s rope. There are four great stories within the witch-horse-theft story. Leprechauns appear in one of them. But the best part is the unexpected twist at the end.
The Leprechaun’s Gold is a sweet Irish legend about friendship and generosity. The king of Ireland calls for all the harpists in the land to come and play in a contest. Young Tom is a braggart who thinks he is sure to win, but still stoops to sabotage. Old Pat is a kind gentleman who shares his music and meager possessions freely. On their way to the harping contest, they encounter a leprechaun in a bind. Tom refuses to help, knowing leprechauns are meddlesome troublemakers. Pat comes to the leprechaun’s aid and is rewarded for his kindness. “He played the merriest music ever heard, so wonderful that the wind itself stopped to listen. A wild tune it was, which filled the people’s hearts with joy and their lips with laughter.”
S is for Shamrock: And Ireland Alphabet by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Matt Faulkner provides lots of great lore and information about Ireland, including the Blarney Stone, the Claddagh, The Book of Kells, leprechauns, viking raids, and more. This book includes more factual information about Ireland than the storybooks on this list.
The House Gobbaleen is by Lloyd Alexander, published in 1995. Tooley believes he has bad luck, and although his cat Gladsake knows Tooley’s luck is no better or worse than anyone’s, he thinks that a little help from the Friendly Folk is just what he needs. When a curious little man arrives on his doorstep, Tooley invites him in. It’s not long before the wicked little man has taken over Tooley’s favorite armchair, his bed, and is eating him out of house and home. Only Gladsake can save his master from his own foolishness and outsmart the little man.
Patrick Patron Saint of Ireland is by Tomie dePaola, a much beloved creator of children’s books. I’m actually not crazy about her books, but this book offers a comprehensive history of Patrick’s life and covers the miracles he is said to have performed. If you are looking for a kids’ book that covers the religious angle of this holiday, this might be the one for you.
It’s time to think about building Easter baskets. We’ll sow some wheat grass seeds in our Easter baskets on March 14 or so and let the grasses grow up until Easter Sunday. They make a lovely soft bed for pretty eggs.
In addition to fruits and flowers, the Easter Bunny always brings a few presents for our boys and I’m looking for the perfect items for this year. I bought two handmade gnomes from Eve’s Little Earthlings on Etsy and they’re awesome. A small bit of chocolate is always in order, but not too much because there’s always plenty of Easter candy at family celebrations.
Here is a little gallery of wonderful items for Easter baskets from one of my favorite toy companies of all time: A Toy Garden. They have so many lovely, open-ended playthings for kids up to about age 12 or 13.
And now, for the first time, I’m hosting a GIVEAWAY to help you build an Easter basket for your child! A Toy Garden has graciously donated three prizes to three lucky Love in the Suburbs readers. We are giving away a Small Sunprint Kit, a wooden Spring Rabbits Set, and a Rainbow Angels Kit, all of which are pictured above.
Please join me and my family at today’s post on Jump Into A Book. We were delighted to be asked to contribute to this year’s Family Book Festival, which features book reviews and activities by other bloggers, artists, and writers. These wonderful posts are designed to get you and your family reading together and enjoying literature and family time.
We created a project based on The Hobbit: There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkien because we all love the book so much. Just arriving at the decision of what to make was a long journey in itself! We’ve shared our process and a tutorial for making a diorama of a scene from the book. There’s modeling material, paint, gold foil, and dragons! What could be better?
Be sure to browse at Jump Into A Book and read all about the project other families did, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway—you or your school could win 31 Dr. Seuss books! Giveaway closes at the end of March 1st 2012 at 11:59 pm. The winner will be announced on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, March 2nd.
Many thanks to Valarie for inviting us to play in the Family Book Festival!
May I present to you the thoughtful and funny writing of my dear husband, Ian, who describes a fairly typical activity in our home. This is only the second time I’ve talked Ian into letting me publish his writing on Love in the Suburbs. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and welcome him as a guest blogger.
Note: I’m the one with the nasty Diet Coke habit. Sometimes I add whiskey.
At our house, like at many houses, recycling aluminum cans is a way for our boys to get a little pocket money. Of course, cans have to be stored, and it’s best to flatten them in order to store them.
How would an adult handle this problem? Take the cans, put them on the patio, smash them with your foot, put them in a bag, be done. 5 minutes, maximum.
But how do boys handle this?
The smaller brother stands in the wet-bar where the empty cans have piled up. He opens the back door wide and hurls the cans outside. His brother stands outside with a stick, whacking the cans out of the air like Babe Ruth. The cans fly erratically, dripping bits of flat, sticky Diet Coke. Some bounce off the house, some fly into the garden, one came straight back into the house, over the little brother, and careened off the TV hutch.
I could, at this point, interject some paternal guidance into this operation. However, that would take all of the fun out of it. Adult methods, I have come to realize, are quick, efficient, effective, but altogether too much of a drag.
Once the cans are outside they need to be gathered into one place for crushing. This is accomplished by taking whatever tool is handy and hitting the cans with maximum force a la ice hockey. Since the cans have been distributed a great distance an argument is necessary to determine who is responsible for gathering the most distant cans.
While the big brother continues to herd cans, the little brother comes in to find a bag into which the cans may be put. The bags are on top of the clothes dryer, but he can’t find them. They are on top of the clothes dryer, but he doesn’t see them. The clothes dryer! The laundry, they are on the—oh, he found them, good.
The presence of the bag necessitates another argument about who has to pick up the cans. While one can see both points of view, one really doesn’t care, just pick them up.
Finally, the bag of cans is stored in the middle of the walkway in the overcrowded garage, but at least the task is done. Or is it? Stray cans can be found under the rhododendrons, behind the hot tub, and on the lawn. Asking the boys to pick up these cans as well elicits a complaint: “But Dad, we’ve already done the cans!” as if these cans were not part of the original project.
Does your family celebrate Chinese New Year? We have just begun the Year of the Snake. “This 2013 year of Snake is meant for steady progress and attention to detail. Focus and discipline will be necessary for you to achieve what you set out to create.” In the spirit of the Chinese art of paper-cutting, I offer this simple papercut garland craft tutorial for you to decorate your home. If you and the kids can cut a paper snowflake, you can make this.
red square kite paper, red Japanese silk paper, or squared red construction paper
If your paper isn’t already square, make it so.
Fold each square into fourths (in half and then in half again). Cut an interesting pattern into the square, in the same way that you would cut a paper snowflake. Chevrons, stripes, triangle, curls, “snakes,” and hearts are all good shapes to cut. Be sure that you are cutting through all four layers of paper. Although you can cut off the “middle” corner to make a center hole, try to preserve each of the other three corners. This will keep your paper flags square.
If you cut five or seven or more of these, you can string them onto a piece of red yarn to make a festive banner to hang in your home or school. Each flag can be unique.
Your banner will do double duty as a Valentine’s Day decoration, if you cut a few hearts.
See more wonderful festival craft projects in our Festival E-Books, by Eileen Foley Straiton of Little Acorn Learning and myself. The Spring Festival E-Book is coming soon! We are hard at work on this e-book now. Stay tuned!
Hello! Thanks for visiting! I'm Sara, a freelance editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.
Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.