Eight Simple Steps to a Meaningful Hanukkah

Hanukkah or Hanukah or Chanukah – however you spell it, it’s a perfect holiday for reflecting on parenting without fuss. This Jewish eight-day holiday, observed this year beginning at sundown on December 11, is ritually considered to be a minor festival.

Hanukkah’s proximity to Christmas on the calendar has inflated its significance and its reputation for eight days of gifts but at heart, this is a small holiday with a big idea: that thousands of years ago a group of Jews had only enough oil to light the Temple’s Eternal Light for one day, and God made a miracle happen. The oil lasted for exactly eight days – just long enough for a fleet of messengers to travel the distance to retrieve more oil. We light candles for eight nights to commemorate the miracle of the oil, and in that spirit I offer you eight activities for an enjoyable family Hanukkah. [Read more…]

Storytelling Day: The True Story of B-I-N-G-O (yes, Bingo was his name-o)

BINGOPhoto by Weaselmcfee

Has your family adjusted to the shorter days and longer evenings of this season? Dark and chilly evenings serve as perfect backdrops for family storytelling time.  Today, Robin inspires all of us with the true story of B-I-N-G-O:

There was a farmer who had a dog
And Bingo was his name-o.
B-I-N-G-O
?-I-N-G-O
?-?-N-G-O
?-?-?-G-O
?-?-?-?-O
?-?-?-?-?
Yes, Bingo was his name-o.

The farm where everybody in town went to pick strawberries and asparagus in the spring and pumpkins and apples in the fall also had activities that were open all year long. There were hay piles to climb and tractor rides to enjoy and corn mazes once the grains grew tall enough. But everybody’s favorite part of the farm was none of those things: it was the petting zoo.

One day the farmer posted a large sign on the old tractor: New Puppy At The Petting Zoo! Contest! Name Our Puppy!

Immediately, groups of kids began gathering around the fence by the new puppy and his mama. For days, kids came to see the puppy and think about his ideal name.  Weeks passed. The puppy grew and the name contest deadline approached. The puppy grew stronger and bigger and didn’t always stay right near his mama anymore. He began to approach the fence, listening to all the kids and their ideas. It was almost as if he could understand them.  Of course, dogs don’t talk. He couldn’t really understand, could he?

The day came that the farmer stood in the front of the dog yard to collect the kids’ contest entries for the new puppy’s name. A group of boys stood on the right side of the fence and a group of girls stood on the left side of the fence and they all shouted names at the farmer. Several names stood out, and as kids sometimes do, they began narrowing down their own favorites. The boys had one idea and the girls had another idea. The farmer listened to the two groups of kids yell at each other. So did the puppy.

Then the arguing got even worse. The boys couldn’t decide how to spell their name and the girls kept changing their minds about which name they liked best. The farmer stood in the middle of the dog yard, frustrated and unsure of what to do next. He had wanted the contest to be fun for the kids who loved his farm. He wanted the arguing and yelling to stop.

So did the little dog. He ran back and forth on his tiny legs between the two groups, growing more and more distressed.

The girls were yelling names and the boys were yelling letters as they worked out spellings and the little dog ran back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The farmer tried several times to get the kids’ attention. He couldn’t, and he stood there, angry and unsure of what to do.

The little dog took charge. With every shout from a child, he yapped. The girls began to yell a name and he yapped. The boys yelled a letter and he yapped. He yapped with each sound they spoke until they realized they couldn’t hear themselves, they could only hear the little dog. And finally, the kids grew quiet.

The dog looked at them.

The kids looked at the dog.

And then one boy tried again. “How about B- ?” The dog yapped. Nobody heard what he said.

The girls tried to use the quiet to push one of their choices forward. “We think it should be P- .” The little dog yapped loudly.  He didn’t let the kids speak again until they began speaking to each other.

“He won’t let us talk! Farmer, the doggie won’t let us talk! He’s too loud!”

The farmer looked at the puppy and half-smiling, he shrugged. “Maybe he wants you to work together.”

After a little bit of grumbling and arguing, the boys and the girls moved together into one group to talk. As long as they were working agreeably, the puppy stayed quiet. But as soon as any arguing began, the puppy yapped so loudly that the kids could only hear him and not themselves. Certainly the puppy didn’t like their arguing, but it almost seemed as if he wanted to speak himself, like he wanted to help them.

As the kids worked out their choice of name, the dog yapped encouragingly. As they made their decisions, each letter moving forward, each argument erased, the little dog yapped in support. The kids finally realized they had all agreed on a name and a spelling, and that according to the rhythmic ‘yap! yap! yap-yap-yap!’ of the puppy, he liked it, too.

They realized how he had helped them, and what he had taught them.

“The dog and the other animals – they can’t even talk! We should use our ability to talk to work together, not to argue.”

The puppy didn’t move. He waited.

“Letters have strength. They form and fly and make our words, tell our stories.”

The puppy stared at them encouragingly.

“Words have even more strength. They can go anywhere, say anything.”

A very relieved farmer opened the gate to the yard. The small dog ran to the line of children and nuzzled each of their legs.

One of the taller boys asked out loud: “So do we all agree? His name will be Bingo?” Quietly, happily, the kids nodded and murmured yes.

“So let’s try it out. Spell it with me! B! I! N! G! O!” The kids chanted and cheered and the little dog ran circles around them, drawing them tightly into a cluster.  They fell quiet, looking at each other and at the little dog with the big ideas.

Without words, the kids and the puppy locked eyes. They understood each other. They knew they had learned what the puppy wanted them to realize; they knew that he was happy with them and with their choice.

The kids grew excited again. They cheered and high-fived and hugged. “So it’s Bingo! Your name will be Bingo!”

Bingo yapped approvingly.

Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.

Storytelling Day: The True Story of Diddle Diddle Dumpling

diddlediddlepicture
Photo by mare.bowe

Our resident storyteller Robin returns today to continue the saga of Little John Diddle.  I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but today is cloudy, misty, and cool.  It’s a perfect day to curl up with a mug of hot cocoa and let the storytelling commence!  I hope you’ll be as inspired as I am by Robin’s engaging re-telling of timeless stories . . .

Diddle Diddle Dumpling
My son, John
Went to bed with his stockings on
One shoe off and the other shoe on
Diddle Diddle Dumpling
My son, John

Little John Diddle loved his family and their farm, but he didn’t love being the littlest one around. He especially adored his big sisters, and especially didn’t adore being constantly told by them that he was too little to help with milking the cows or feeding the chickens. Little John Diddle spent a lot of time thinking about one thing: he wanted to be bigger.

John tried to grow faster. When he tagged along behind his sister Cara as she milked the cows, he turned a milk pail upside-down and practiced jumping onto it. John hoped he could make his legs stronger so they would grow and Cara enjoyed his company, but the cows didn’t like the clanging noises. He wasn’t good for milk, Cara finally told him. “Why don’t you go play?” she asked him. Everybody was always telling him to go play. Everybody just thought of him as a little kid.

When his sister Sara was gathering eggs from the hen house, John begged her to let him get the hardest eggs. Nobody liked to collect the eggs from the very back of the coops. Anyone who didn’t reach in quickly and retrieve the egg on the first try was sure to get pecked by the hens who did not appreciate having their homes disturbed. Sara didn’t like getting pecked anymore than anybody else, and John was sure that he could make his arms longer, if only he just practiced stretching them enough.  “Please let me?” he begged. Sara couldn’t resist John’s charm and sweet little boy smile for long. “Okay, Diddle Diddle. Be careful- and fast.”

John opened the first coop and stretched as far as he could. An egg! John was pretty sure he felt his arm growing. He opened the second coop and stretched. Another egg- and- OUCH!! “She bit me, Sara!” He pulled his arm back to show his sister the scratch and realized that he had crushed the egg. He knew his sister wouldn’t be happy. “Oh, John,” said Sara. “Let’s clean you up.” She brought him to the spigot. “Thank you for wanting to help, Diddle Diddle, but I think you’re still too little. Why don’t you go play?”

Feeling sad, John walked up the hill to the house. He ran into the kitchen and found his mother. He asked her a question. “Mommy, can I have two vitamins at bedtime tonight?” His mommy turned to face him. “Sweetie, you know you get one vitamin a day. Why would you want two?”

Little John was feeling very frustrated. “But Mommy!” he whined. “What can I do to grow faster? I want to be bigger! I don’t want to be too little anymore.” His mother pulled him toward her in a big hug, and then stepped back. She looked carefully at him. “Oh dumpling,” she said. “You look just the right size to me.”

“But I want to be bigger,” he wailed. “I am going to figure out how to grow faster!”

His mommy didn’t answer him right away. Finally, she said, “I remember how it feels to want to be bigger, and I would never want to stop you from trying to do something you really want. But please remember, dumpling, that I love you just the way you are. Please don’t grow too fast.”

“Okay, Mommy,” he said, and walked out, thinking about her words. John headed down to the quiet spot at the bottom of the hill where the creek gurgled and he practiced his music. John sat down on one of the flat rocks so he could think. How could he grow enough so that nobody would baby him anymore, but not so much that his mommy would be sad at him for growing too fast?

John was still thinking when his sister Dara came wandering down the hill. “Diddle Diddle, what are you doing down here? Mommy said you seemed sad. I finished my chores. Do you want to play hide-and-seek?”

John knew that if Dara was worried about him she wasn’t going to leave him by himself to stay sad. He agreed to play. If he could find a really good hiding spot, he’d have more thinking time to figure out how to grow (but not too fast). “Okay, Dara, let’s play,” he said. He thought he’d try to climb up in the hay loft. Nobody would look for him up there.

“Yay!” said Dara. “I’m counting to 100. Are you ready? One…two…three…” John set off up the hill toward the barn. It was a very big jump for him to reach the bottom lip of the open loft door above his head, but since he’d been stretching his arms and legs all morning he thought he might just reach. It took three tries. John grasped the ledge and was able to pull himself up and into the loft. He’d done it!

The loft was warm and quiet. John sat down on a pile of hay to think. He had a great idea. He’d only stretch one part of his body at a time. That way, he couldn’t grow too fast, and his mommy wouldn’t be upset. He took off his right sneaker, and began practicing jumping using only his left leg. The next day, he figured, he’d switch sides. He jumped and jumped and waited for Dara to find him. Satisfied that his left leg was a little longer from all that good exercise, John lay back on the hay and watched the dust float through a sunbeam. This really was a good hiding place, he thought.

John woke up to the sound of yelling. It was dark in the loft and he could hear all of his family calling for him. “Diddle Diddle? Where are you?” “Dumpling?” As he sat up, his father shone a flashlight into the loft and was surprised to find him there. “John! What are you doing? And where’s your sneaker?”

John smiled. He realized that Dara never found him because she never thought he was big enough to climb into the hay loft by himself. As he explained to his relieved family what he had been doing up there, they hugged him and kissed him and promised never to think of him as too little ever again.

Dear reader: my own girls have a habit of taking just one shoe off, and as such this is a favorite nursery rhyme of theirs. Tell me- what rhymes enthrall your little ones but leave you narratively unsatisfied? What tales shall we twirl next?

Storytelling Day: The True Story of Hey, Diddle Diddle

overthemoonphoto by James Jordan

It’s Storytelling Day again here at Simple Kids.  Today, we welcome back Robin who has crafted a new, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable story to share with your family and to inspire your own storytelling muse.

Hey, diddle diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon.

The little dog laughed
To see such sport
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Pssst: have you ever seen a cow jump? No? Me, neither. Here’s what really happened.

Bill and Jill Diddle had a little farm where they raised cows and chickens on soft, rolling hills: the cows grazed on the north side of the creek that ran through the farm, and the chickens clucked on the south side. They also had a cat and a dog and four kids. The three girls, Sara, Cara and Dara, were always just called “the Daughters Diddle” because they were so close in age and looked so much alike. The Daughters Diddle loved caring for all the animals. There was also one boy. He was much younger than his sisters, who thought he was too small to help with the animals and always sent him off to go play. Almost nobody called him by his real name. His mommy called him “my little dumpling.” Everyone else called him “the little Diddle” or simply, “Diddle Diddle.” Only his daddy, who had always wanted a son, ever used his proper name.

Diddle Diddle always tried to help. He wanted to milk the cows but he accidentally knocked over the pail. He tried to collect the morning eggs from the hens but he dropped two eggs and they cracked. The Daughters Diddle told him what they always told him. “Oh, Diddle Diddle, you’re still too little for all this work. Why don’t you go play?”

They always told him to go play. He didn’t mind too much, though, because he had a secret: Diddle Diddle was going to be a famous musician when he grew up. Whenever his sisters told him to go play, he practiced his music. He always took his guitar with him. Sometimes he took a cow bell. Sometimes he’d take his favorite drum, too. It wasn’t a real drum. It was his mommy’s big wooden salad bowl, but when he propped it against a rock and used the serving spoons as drumsticks it made fantastic boom-boom-buh-boom noises.

Diddle Diddle would go where nobody would see or hear him: down in the valley of the creek bed between Cow Hill and Chicken Hill.  There, the farmhouse and the hen house and the dairy barn all seemed worlds away. There, he could play his music and sing as loudly as he wanted and dream about the day that nobody would tell him he was too little anymore. He drummed and strummed and clanged and sang and imagined himself on stage. His dog and cat always kept him company while he practiced; they were very loyal and they always meowed and woofed appreciatively.

Over time, a peculiar thing happened. Whenever Diddle Diddle came to the flat rock by the creek more animals began to gather to hear his music. The dog and the cat were always there, but a few chickens would cluck down to the bottom of their hill, too. One day, a cow came. The day after that, nine cows and 22 chickens came to hear Diddle Diddle’s music. And they began to dance! At first the chickens two-stepped on their hill and the cows linked tails and swayed on their hill, but the dog and the cat had been listening to Diddle Diddle’s music for weeks and they wanted to party. They ran across the summer-shallow creek waters, encouraging and nudging and gently yipping at tails and tail-feathers until slowly, shyly, all the animals began to dance together.

One afternoon Diddle Diddle realized that all of the farm animals were at the creek dancing to his music. He was playing and singing his heart out and the party was so fun that he didn’t realize he had played right past his dinnertime. All he knew is that he was having the best day. He knew he wasn’t too little to do anything. He knew he would grow up to be a great musician.

The sun was long set and the moon was high in the sky when his family found him. The Daughters Diddle came down from the south hill where they had been to close up the hen house for the night but couldn’t find any chickens. His daddy came down from the top of the north hill. He had gone out to the dairy barn to do the night milking and found that all the cows were missing. And his mommy came running from the farm house where she had been looking for him. It was Diddle Diddle’s bedtime and she was worried!

As all the Diddles met in the moonlight they saw the most spectacular thing. The chickens were clucking and jumping through the grass. The cows were splashing across the creek and swinging the sprightlier hens over the water with their tails. All the animals were dancing together and at the center of it all was the baby of their family, Little Diddle, playing and looking happier than they’d ever seen.

They stood quietly and marveled at his talents. “Look,” Cara murmured. “The way it’s reflecting in the water, doesn’t it look like that cow is jumping over the moon?” Her parents and sisters laughed, and sat down in the grass to enjoy the show. They had always thought of Little Diddle as just that – little, and that night they appreciated him in a brand new way. “Diddle Diddle!” Sara said with new respect in her voice. “That’s my dumpling!” thought Jill. And Bill, the proudest daddy there ever was, said again and again, “look at my son, my John.” There they sat until the last song ended, and together the whole family, including their most amazing little boy, all tucked the animals away for the night together and got ready for bed.

Tired from so much excitement, the Diddles fell asleep quickly. Especially John — he fell asleep dreaming of what Cara had repeated to him: of cows who loved his music, jumping over the moon.

===
Dear reader: you’ve heard of him, right? “Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John? Went to bed with his stockings on?”  I’ll tell you more about him next month.
===

simplekidsRobin1Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.

Storytelling Day: The True Story of Jack and Jill

upahillphoto by meggie

Welcome to the first Storytelling Day at Simple Kids.  Earlier this week, I introduced you to Robin, and today she’ll be sharing her first story with us.  May today’s storytelling inspire fresh, new, and imaginative stories to tell in your own home!

Jack and Jill
Went up a hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after

Up Jack got
And home did trot
As fast as he could caper
To Old Dame Dob
Who patched his knob
With vinegar and brown paper

There once was a lovely little boy Jack, and his best friend was a kind-hearted girl named Jill. Jack lived with his family in a small house in the village, and Jill lived with her family in a small house filled with big windows at the top of a hill. And every day that their mommies said they could play together, Jack would run out of his house and to the end of his street and up the winding path up the hill to see his friend Jill. And Jill would wait at the windows, and call his name.

Sometimes she threw flowers down on his head as he climbed, so he’d arrive in a rainbowed rain of petals. Sometimes she sang songs on the breeze, so the wings of music lifted him to her. And sometimes, because they were good friends who loved each other very much, she’d make surprises for him and he would love every surprise. Sometimes she’d hide behind a door and jump out at him. Because he loved her so much, he’d pretend to be frightened. Sometimes she’d bake him cookies so smells of warmth and yumminess helped him climb. And even if he’d just had breakfast, he’d pretend to be hungry.

One day, on a bright sunny morning, Jill was waiting for her friend Jack to arrive. Jill was gathering the last of the season’s snow from the pale grass. She was building a pile of snowballs for them to play with later. But two important things happened that day. First, the sun was just a little warmer than it had been the day before. And second, Jack was just a little later than when he usually began his climb. (His mommy had asked him to clean up his toys before he left.) So as Jill waited for her friend and the sun climbed higher in the sky, a small trickle of snowmelt began running down the hill.

Jack was almost up to Jill’s house when the snowmelt met the grass under his feet. And he slipped! Jack went tumbling back down the hill. Jill heard his cries and threw herself after him, somersaulting down until they found themselves at the bottom, out of breath and muddy. [Note: this is not unlike the scene in The Princess Bride when Buttercup pushes the Dread Pirate Roberts down the embankment, hears his cry: “aaaaaaaaas youuuuuuuu wiiiiiiiiiish,” and realizes that he is in fact her beloved Westley. In an act of true love she throws himself after him in a heap.]

At the bottom, Jill realized that Jack had a bad boo-boo on his forehead. So she helped him to the front porch of the nearest house, which just happened to belong to Old Dame Dob, the very best boo-boo kisser and bandage-maker in town. She had a secret recipe. She made all of her bandages with vinegar and brown paper and then she decorated them so all the kids could always choose their favorite designs. Jill and Old Dame Dob helped Jack pick a nice Spiderman bandage for his forehead, and just for that day only, they decided it would be best to play at Jack’s house instead of Jill’s.

But it wasn’t long before the best friends longed to play together at the top of the hill. For spring was coming, and the most perfect place for spotting the first signs of spring is always at the top of a hill, looking down into the empty valleys below. The trees and plants reveal their first colors. And so together Jack and Jill returned to the top of the hill, seeking first fruits and gathering flowers and welcoming the birds who returned after winter.

One day after the birds had all built nests and the valleys had filled with green, Jill called to her friend Jack. “Jack! Do you know the best part about living in a house at the top of a hill at the beginning of summer? The valleys all around you fill with fireflies.” And that was just was Jill wanted to watch. So she invited her dear friend Jack up to her house at the top of the hill so they could watch the twinkling evening.

And every night that their mommies said they could play together Jack and Jill would meet at the top of the hill to watch the valleys fill with the magical light of fireflies. They loved the summer of fireflies but one day they realized that evenings were coming faster and the fireflies were almost gone. Jack was heartbroken. But Jill hugged her friend Jack and asked him: “Do you know the best part about living in a house at the top of a hill when fall starts? You can watch all the leaves change to beautiful colors.” Together, the best friends explored on nature walks and collected the most vivid autumn leaves.

But the day came, as you knew it would, when the last leaves were fallen and a icy wind scraped at the air. Ever cheerful, Jill turned to Jack and asked, “do you know what’s the best part about living in a house at the top of the hill when winter comes? The sledding!” As soon as the first snows fell, Jill invited her friend Jack to come play on the top of the hill. And together they would slide down-down-down, and climb up-up-up. And slide down-down-down, and climb up-up-up.

And when they climbed, they always, always held hands. And in that way the two best friends took great care of each other, and nobody ever tumbled down again.

simplekidsrobin1Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.