Twelve Last-Minute Gifts for Creative (All) Kids

Bo and the purple (window) crayon Bo and the purple (window) crayon

This week on Mom.me, I put together a last minute gift guide for parents who have done zero shopping until today. Cheers to us! High five! (I am basically dead mom walking after the last four days of parties/concerts/concert parties/parties after concerts/concerts after parties, etc and would like to take a moment to high five every parent down the line because TGIF, man.)

Anyway...  here are TWELVE AWESOME GIFTS FOR CREATIVE (all) KIDS and according to Amazon, there's still time to order them.

Hopefully.

GGC

The Village of Vale: A Storybook Record

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"One of my earliest memories is sitting on my Grandma and Grandpa's velvet couch listening over and over to Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf.' I felt so much fear when the french horns would play the wolf's theme and so much joy when the strings played Peter's. A couple of years ago, I sat down to read 'Peter and the Wolf' to the pre-K students I teach music to here in Brooklyn. I pulled out a beautifully illustrated version of the story and flipped through the illustrated pages as the music played. The kids were completely captivated; I was completely captivated. I realized then that I wanted to create an experience like that for people young and old, told in different ways: an original storybook to hold in your hand and thumb through on the couch, artwork to hang on your wall, music to play throughout your home, a theatrical performance to go out at night to see, each piece coming together to tell the same original story. So I gathered some of the most talented storytellers, artists, musicians, and performers I know to start to build 'The Village of Vale.'" 

- John McGrew, The Village of Vale



***

I felt the same way about Peter and the Wolf. My kids do, too and then my mom made them stick puppets to play out the music as they listened, which is why this project struck such a chord with me... because storytelling is such a limitless medium and I love the idea of advancing traditional storytelling with the technology we are fortunate enough to have in our possession. It is an honor to support John's storytelling project The Village of Vale. 





On their Pledge Music Page:

The Village of Vale is a collection of songs and stories set in an Edward Gorey-meets-J.R.R. Tolkien world. Using symphonic, electronic, and choral music elements intertwined with acoustic guitars, piano, and harmonium, the music of The Village of Vale combines current/progressive styles with the traditions of music-storytelling in folk.

A modern Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ this unique project brings together musicians, artists, writers and performers to effectively tell one story in five different ways. The Village of Vale is at once a collection of new songs, a printed and illustrated storybook, and a multi-dimensional installation and performance art show. 


The Village of Vale is a story of a town that is forever changed when a traveling Trader visits its gates. The Trader trades objects and goods with townspeople in the village who in turn are profoundly changed for better and worse. The world of Vale includes trees that can be burned to the ground to bring back loved ones from the dead, eye glasses that reveal the true nature of whatever the wearer sees, ghosts, lovers, animals, spirits and a boy who watches over it all, caught between a world he knows and the world beyond Vale that he longs to see. 

Your Pledge involvement will see the hiring of our orchestra, our choir, our artists, the recording of the record, the printing of both the storybook and the vinyl, and the installation at The Invisible Dog Art Center in February of 2015. Your support and engagement means the world (of Vale) to us. Our sincerest thanks. 



For more on The Village of Vale, go hereThere are tons of different ways to support the project and get amazing stuff in return. Go, team. 

GGC

Eat Well: Good (Pot) Luck

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks, Mom!
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‘Tis the Season to attend potlucks…and be stressed over what to bring.  Especially at this time of year, it’s hard to make something for a Friday or Saturday night party when you have worked all week. Instead of bringing the generic store bought stuff, though, I like to make easy dishes I can make the night before or, if I am making a lasagna or pot of chili, I’ll make extra and freeze it to have on hand for the next party. And as for “healthy eating,” during the holidays? I hang that hat up when it’s party time. 

The term potluck originated in the 16th century. An unexpected guest was served “the luck of the pot,” or whatever happened to be cooked in the pot that night.  In America, potlucks started appearing in the mid-19th century at church functions, barn-raisings, fundraisers or other communal gatherings. When I was first married, my favorite types of dinners were potlucks. Something about coming together and sharing each other’s favorite dishes felt so warm and welcoming, and it was fun to exchange recipes. Many of my favorites came from my friends’ potluck dishes, although a lot of them are dated…Velveeta, Lipton onion soup, top ramen, Rice-a-Roni, or Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup were main ingredients in the 70’s.  Not exactly “Eat Well” material!

Here are a few of my old and new favorite dishes for easy potluck fare:

Appetizers: 

Hummus
(I make hummus every week, so I’ll just make extra for a party. Homemade hummus is always a hit.)

Knorr Spinach Dip
(This was my favorite dip when I was young. Yes, you can buy a similar thing at Costco, but it isn’t as good!)

Guacamole
(Nothing better than fresh guac.)

Salads

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(You can assemble the night before but add the dressing and the nuts just before serving)

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(Make the dressing the night before and either buy already shredded cabbage or shred it yourself with the carrots, the night before. Add salad dressing just before leaving for the party.)

Quinoa salad(s)
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(The Informal Gathering Salad is Bec's go-to for potlucks.)

Greek Pasta Salad (Make pasta the night before. Add feta, sliced olives, chopped tomatoes, fresh chopped basil. Add Good Seasons Italian salad dressing just before serving. Kids love this!)

Layered Green Salad (There are many variations of this. This one is from my friend, Martha.)

1 bunch spinach (1 bag)
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 head butter lettuce
1 double package herb dressing mix (Hidden Valley Ranch)
2 cups mayo
1 cup sour cream
1 cup plain yogurt
1 10oz package frozen peas
1 bunch green onions (slice thinly)
4 hard cooked eggs – chopped finely
¼ lb Bac-o bits

Wash & dry all greens, break into small pieces. Combine dressing mix, mayo, sour cream and yogurt.  In a 13 x 9 x 2 dish, layer in this order:  spinach, red lettuce, butter lettuce, peas, green onions, eggs, and baco-bits. Press down to compress and spread dressing over top, being sure edges are sealed. Refrigerate overnight.


Main Dishes 

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(This is surprisingly easy if you use canned beans and canned chilies. You can make this the night before and heat up the next day.) 

lasagna
(Make an extra one and keep in the freezer for parties.)

Tortilla Casserole—(This is one of the oldies. I used to make it with chicken but now substitute beans and corn for the chicken.)

ED: if you are making with chicken, put only 2 cans of chilies, substitute 3 cups shredded cooked chicken for beans and corn, and substitute 1 can cream of chicken soup for one of the mushroom cans

4 (4 oz) cans chopped mild chilies
1 cup vegetable broth
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (or other cream of soups such as celery)
1 small onion, chopped
¼ cup chopped cilantro (optional)
1 ½ cups black beans
1 ½ cup frozen corn (thawed)
2 cups shredded cheese
12 warmed tortillas

Butter a 9X14 inch pan. Combine all ingredients except cheese and tortillas. Tear tortillas into pieces. Put half of the tortillas on the bottom of casserole. Layer with half of soup mixture. Top with 1 cup of cheese. Repeat, ending with cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. (This can be made the day before and heated on the day of the party.)

Desserts 

almond toffee
(Everyone loves toffee…it’s special at holiday time and I keep some on hand to give as gifts or take to a gathering.)

Cassata—This is an old timer that I have been making since the 1970’s. I think it came from Bon App├ętit, but I really can’t remember. It is the easiest showy dessert I know and is made the night before.

Cassata

1 9x-5 inch pound cake
2 cups ricotta cheese (I like Galbani)
4 oz semisweet chocolate
1 ounce orange liqueur
1 ½ cups raspberry jam
2 cups chocolate frosting or whipped cream
(You can either make from scratch or buy it)

Make or buy a pound cake. (I made a gluten-free pound cake, which you can find, here.) Chill for one hour. Trim edges and uneven places so that the cake is level on all sides and top. Slice the cake horizontally into ½-inch slices and place base layer of the cake on the serving platter.
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Chop chocolate into fine bits in blender or food processor.
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Mix chocolate bits with liqueur and jam.
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Spread the base layer with a portion of the ricotta cheese and spread the cheese with the raspberry mixture.
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Repeat using all of the layers of the cake, all of the cheese, and all of the raspberry mixture, ending with a top layer of plain cake.
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Press the filled cake gently. Use a spatula to even up sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Before serving, frost cake with a favorite chocolate frosting or whipped cream. Garnish with slivered almonds if desired.
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What are your favorite potluck dishes? I’d love to have a virtual potluck in this space. Ready, set, go!

***

P.S. Here's a link to last year's Eat (not so) Well: Holidays Favorite edition, which includes recipes for gluten-free gingerbread house (a yearly tradition), Reindeer cookies, GF pancakes, Yorkshire Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Pie. 
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Love, 
 WWW

Make New Plans and Break the Old (Sometimes)

The following post was sponsored by Crazy 8. Thanks, Crazy 8! 
First of all, I just have to get this out of the way. When I received my gift cards to purchase clothes for the girls for this post (Thanks Crazy 8!) it was Cyber Monday and I didn't even realize it. I have never shopped on Cyber Monday until this year and I totally get it now, because on Cyber Monday, Crazy 8 was offering a buy one get the second (identical piece) for 88 cents, which is MUSIC to a twin mama's ears, let me tell you. Especially right now because Bo and Revi have been fighting over which dress belongs to whom for the last several months. (I totally get the whole twins-wearing-the-same-thing now, because Bo and Revi will literally try to pull each other's clothes off because THAT'S MY DRESS NO IT'S MINE NO IT'S MINE!)

Anyway. I ended up buying two of everything... two blue shirt dresses and two leopard dresses and two white sweater dresses (for Fable, to someday pass on to her sisters) and two pairs of orange and leopard leggings and two pairs of orange ballet flats and cozy boots and silver boots for next year (see below) and blue sparkle-toe boots for Fable and hats. I am going to link to all the goods (again) as I go, here, but whoa. Mama went shopping.
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I was literally cackling with glee because THIS IS THE BEST SALE EVER and ended up going way over the voucher limit but whatever because I think 75 articles of clothing arrived in my mail later that week and I was like, uh... yes. 
Anyway, I wanted this post to be about holiday traditions so the first idea was to write about Hal's work party because this year it was at Universal Studios and we took EVERYONE. At night. Super late. On a school night. And it was totally fun and we all survived but it was also... I didn't really take any pictures. Not where the cuteness of the clothes could shine, anyway. 
IMG_1272 This photo's pretty epic, though. Just chillin' 687678 hours past their bedtime. Not pictured: Fable asleep on Hal's shoulder. 

So the next day (because we have doubles of everything) the girls wore their ensembles... again. Revi threw on some shades because, you know, late night... 
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And then, this weekend, we bailed on two plans and decided to stay in and make cookies instead. And, you know, frolic around the house/yard/puddles/yard puddles/house. (We were supposed to do The Queen Mary's "Chill" on Saturday but then I made the mistake of reading YELP reviews and got completely turned off because of the whole twins-being-too-small-for-fun-stuff situation. So last minute we cancelled and the kids were like NO! And then I was like, well, we could make cookies instead? And they were like YES! And everyone was stoked.) 
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Knotts Merry Farm was the plan for Sunday and then Archer got invited to see a play with a friend and Fable was invited to make cookies (I sense a theme) with a friend and we were like, YES! Great idea! Because, well, it was a long week and sometimes you just have to stay in.
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Anyway. We stayed in this weekend. We listened to holiday jams and we made cookies for the neighbors and for ourselves and got our clothes filthy dirty and took them off and washed them and had doubles of everything so no big deal.
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Also, the beanie that Fable picked out to go with her dress fits me, too, so (because I ordered two of everything) we can ALSO be twins.
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(Which makes me feel like the coolest.) 
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navy faux fur zip-up = Crazy 8. Bo's chambray shirt dress = Crazy 8 (everything else they're wearing = Crazy 8)
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Special delivery, neighbor friends! It's raining (gingerbread) men!
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What about you guys? What are some fun holiday traditions you rock? Has anyone out there ever been to Chill at Queen Mary? Is it worth going to? What about Knotts Merry Farm? Never done that one either. Fable and I went to Disney on Ice with friends on Friday night and that's always fun. (One-on-one dates are everything.)
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P.S. For the month of December Crazy 8 is hosting a month-long #ShineOnCrazy8 photo contest, encouraging fans to share photos + describing their kids’ personalities in one word and tagging the photo with #ShineOnCrazy8. Fans can upload photos via Instagram, Twitter or direct upload on the Crazy 8 Facebook fan page tab. Crazy 8 will be awarding $88 gift cards to a winner each week during the month of December.

P.P.S. Sidenote on the cookies: I went back and forth on whether making cookies was a good idea because of our whole now sugar policy. I ended up bending the rules for the weekend which I have been known to do at birthday parties and on special occasions and while the last few times Bo and Revi were fine after a cupcake or a cookie, this weekend proved (VERY MUCH) otherwise. And I'm not just talking about Bo. Revi and Bo were melting down left and right and Monday morning was rather disastrous in the "no I will NOT wear clothes to school" department... which hasn't happened for months. So... yeah. Back to the sugar-free life we go...  I am bracing myself for the temptations that these next few weeks will bring sweet-wise. It's going to be a battle for sure.
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P.P.P.S. Thanks again to Crazy 8 for sponsoring this post and having awesome sales. 

GGC
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2/25/14: Old Houses are Like This

For the month of December I'll be reposting certain highlights (and lowlights) of 2014. The following post was first published February 25th and for those wondering, the rats have since gone. (Although Hal still wakes up from time to time thinking he heard something. I think we might be scarred for life.) The main shower, meanwhile, is still caving in. We haven't been able to fix it because it's an extremely expensive repair and we had to prioritize with our roof which was a mess. (We've been using the small shower in the half bath all year.) Thankfully, we were able to fix the roof before last week's storm. The bathroom (and basement) are next. Unless the garage caves in before that. It's endless... this list. It truly goes on. And on. (And on.) I will say that living in an old and storied (and extremely high maintenance) house has served our marriage well. Having something to "work on" as a couple, serves as a convenient metaphor. (Same story with my ever-broken ring.We can look at our house with all its cracks and creatures, leaks and holes and, say, "Okay, so it's imperfect. Let's invest and make it better... " and know we're talking about more than just the house. 
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"Are we falling apart?" he asks in the darkness.

I am lying with my back to him as the word "no" escapes like a reflex.

"It feels like we're falling apart."

"This is a bad time. We've been here before. We'll find a way."



***

There are rats in the house again and he's more afraid of rats than of anything. He's afraid of rats like I'm afraid of confined spaces and when he hears them in the walls he can't breathe.

But I kept rats as pets when I was little so they don't scare me.

Which sickens him and now he feels alone.

I don't want them in the house but he can't live with them here. He is wide awake and I am already sleeping.

And then there is a sound and another sound and "I CAN'T LIVE HERE ANYORE! I'VE HAD IT!"

So I turn on all the lights and check under the bed and in the closet where he swore he saw one scamper but I don't see anything.

"I don't see anything."

"But I heard one."

"We have to sleep now," I tell him.

"But I can't."

"But we have to."

I turn off the light and his eyes don't close. He's awake and he will stay that way for the rest of the night.


***

We are not the same, him and me. I am stubborn and calm and he is sensitive and combustive. I emote through my fingers and in the shower, scream into my steering wheel in an empty van. A tree falling in the forrest when no one is around doesn't make a sound. 

But my silence is a ravine against his mountainous loud. And suddenly we are standing on either side of the Grand Canyon, communicating only through letters that cannot be delivered by post.

"I feel like I'm alone," he shouts against the borders of my whispers.

"You don't understand me," I whisper into the margins of his cries.

I can hear his eyes blink as we turn our backs to each other. He is awake on his side and I am asleep and the line that separates us is made of stone.

He is angry at the things he cannot control and so am I.

But his things are different from my things. And that has become a bigger problem than the things themselves. The jagged edges of our zig zag are impossible to navigate without bruising egos and unraveling strings.

So our backs curl like question marks, dented and dinged, his feet touching mine but only on accident.

Quick, pull away. You can't touch right now, it would be impossible considering the universe that expands between you.


***


The fifth contractor we've seen this week is in our basement. He's put on a hazmat suit because he's afraid of the mold.

He's an alarmist so we won't hire him. He calls us "my friend" and shows us videos on youtube of black mold and what it does to homes and people and families.

I suddenly feel like we're all dying and this is how our story will end.

My eyes sting and I can't stop coughing. I ask the kids if they have headaches.

They do not.

We order an air quality test, anyway.


***

The rat darts across the room while we're eating. Everyone screams and I go to find a shoebox.

"You can't catch a rat in a shoebox," he says but I think I can. 

"Of course I can."

I sneak up behind the bookcase where its tail reveals itself before disappearing behind a box of toys. I pull the box back slowly and away he goes like a shot across the room. 

Everyone screams.

Hal and Archer and Fable and the twins and me screaming loudest of all. 

The rat darts around the room like a pinball until he disappears into the laundry room at the end of the hall. 

"It's okay," I say, "everyone calm down. It's just a rat."

"IT'S NOT OKAY," Hal says, "ENOUGH WITH THE RATS!"

"Everything's fine! We're all fine."

"But Mom," Archer says, "you were screaming, too." 

We skip bath time and the six of us get into Fable's bed and read Tiger Goes Wild three times in a row to change the subject. Bo and Revi know every page by heart and every time they "read" it we all laugh. 

"Tiger goes wild..!" Bo yells. "

"..Tiger goes home!" Revi says. "The end."


***

"I can't live like this," he says. 

He's on the phone with the exterminator and I can see it on his face, the look he gets when he's frustrated and furious and powerless...

On the other side of the kitchen, I whisper for him to breathe.

Please don't raise your voice. It's impossible to hear you when you're yelling. 

He flashes me a look and then, hand to temple, lets out an exhale. 

He speaks calmly to the man. He doesn't yell or accuse or tear into, and when he hangs up the phone he flashes me a look.

"Thank you," I say. 

***

"Is it falling apart?" we ask him.

The kids are dancing to Frozen in the other room, their voices belting "Let it Go" as loud as they possibly can.

"The whole house needs a new foundation. Everything is falling one way. The floors are unbalanced."

"What about the mold?"

"We test it. We make sure it isn't toxic. We take it out. Redo this beam. Demo the damaged areas..."

This particular estimate will be double what the previous four have been so we won't go with these guys either, we'll go with someone who doesn't twist our arms with fear mongering and doomsday scenarios and "if an earthquake hits, your house will be swallowed whole and everyone will die." We'll go with someone who doesn't charge us double for the same job.

We can't afford to fix the beam. Or the bathroom. Or the foundation.

We can't afford not to fix the beam. Or the bathroom. Or the foundation.

We call a new exterminator.

We buy the fancy traps.

We sleep in silence, wide awake...

...

...

...

"What's wrong?" he finally asks. "Talk to me."

"It's nothing," I say. "I don't want to fight. I don't have the energy to fight with you."

He sits up, turns on the light.

Please raise your voice. It's impossible to hear you when you're silent. I can tell you're angry. Please talk to me. 

And that's when I cry, except this time it isn't a whimper into my pillow. I am angry and I can't stop all of the words that prove it. My whispers have become screams until the house is shaking. I'm standing and I'm yelling and the twins are awake now because I woke them with all of the things I need to say out loud to his face.


All of the things he needs to hear out loud in his ears.

This is his language and now he's listening.

"I hear you," he says.

Sometimes it's impossible to meet in the middle. Sometimes we have to learn to speak in voices that are unnatural... so that we can hear each other. So that we can hear ourselves.

"I'm beginning to understand."


***

Our feet touch in our sleep but this time neither of us pull away. We're too tired.

Or maybe it's something else.

Tomorrow, in the wee hours of the morning, after weeks of failed attempts, we'll catch the (last?) of the rats.

And later that day, a new contractor will swing by. He'll bring us down to the basement without masks on. And there, we'll touch the rotten beam with dry fingers for the first time. We'll feel the deteriorated wood against our hands. We'll follow the flashlight's beam across the sinking floorboards, past the darkish mold that grows beneath the broken tile, feel confused when we're told we are lucky...

"Without the rats you might not have known about the leak until it was too late.

This can be fixed.

Old houses are like this.

Beautiful 
and broken,

They all need work," the contractor will say.

And we'll hang onto those words like a railing as we climb the basement stairs in steady silence, toward the voices that sing with all they have.

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GGC