Easy DIY Kids Activity in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Image source: thespruce.com

Last year, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my preschool class created Cheerios Birdfeeders. The kids enjoyed stringing Cheerios on pipe cleaners, hanging them up outside of our classroom, and watching for birds, but guess what? The birds didn’t eat them! (Maybe we should have used Honeynut Cheerios?–lol)

Instead, this week with Kindness as our theme, we’re going to create a different DIY Kids Activity–Pine Cone Birdfeeders.

Texture, scent, math, and fine motor skills were explored with the pinecones I collected in the Fall. You know what’s fun? Making pinecone prints by covering them in paint and then rolling them on paper. You never know what patterns will emerge.

Steps to Make Pinecone Birdfeeders:

1) Tie yarn or twine around pinecones.

2) Spread Sunbutter over pinecones (no peanut butter allowed in school, although pb, almond butter, or similar will do).

3) Roll sticky pinecones in pumpkin seeds (birdseed, sunflower seeds, etc. can be used).

4) Hang in bushes and trees.

5) Wash hands!

Tips on creating Pinecone Birdfeeders from The Spruce:

  • Work seeds in between the rows of scales.
  • Hang in cool, shaded area so peanut butter (or whichever butter is used–sun, almond, etc) doesn’t melt.
  • “If you want to make multiple pine cone bird feeders at once but don’t want to hang them out simultaneously, they can easily be frozen for several weeks. The feeders do not need to be thawed before hanging, and freezing them first can help them stay firm in warmer temperatures.”

I’ll let you know what the birds think of them!

Pinecone birdfeeder made by a preschooler.
Image source, BBSMI

This poem by Edgar Albert Guest is thought-provoking and meaningful.

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Pretty Party Pieces: Your Guide to Fashion for Festive Occasions, Elegant Lifestyles Magazine, December 2022

Pretty Party Pieces: Your Guide to Fashion for Festive Occasions is the first of two articles I wrote for the December issue of Elegant Lifestyles Magazine. Writing this fashion article put me in the mood for holiday get-togethers and, now that’s it the end of December, I’m happy to say I went to a bunch! The directors of the pre-school hosted a Chanukah dinner, my niece and her husband hosted a family Chanukah brunch, we’ve been out to dinner, the owner of The Red Balloon treated us to a holiday dinner, and we’ve had company here. The best? Visiting our dear friends, their children and extended family on Christmas Eve–think trivia games, Left-Right-Center, and tracking Santa on an app–lol!

Usually, New Year’s Eve is mellow as Hubby and I act as chaperones for our youngest daughter’s annual NYE party. She’s having a party, but this year we’re changing it up. Hubby has planned a “night on the town,” and we’ll be dining and dancing at a restaurant overlooking Times Square! We’re staying in Manhattan overnight, so no need to worry about driving back.

Hon, what should I wear? I better check my article!

Highlights Foundation Word Garden

Highlights Foundation Kidlit writer retreats in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains are said to be magical. I’d head the campus is a place where editors and agents take the time to read and discuss the writers’ work, publishers and writers support each other in their joined goal of creating quality stories for children, there’s space and time to write, imagination is nurtured, and the food is excellent. One writer-friend told me a retreat changed the course of her career.

I’d also been told poems were “written” in the Word Garden, but had no idea what that was. In October, when I attended the “Jewish Symposium 2022: An In-Community Experience for Jewish Creatives,” I found the place where words are engraved into hundreds, if not thousands, of smooth, round stones. There, amongst the nouns, adjectives, prepositions, and verbs, sit “tables” made of flat-topped boulders—surfaces on which to create and communicate associations, poems, stories, wishes, and dreams.

Truthfully, hon, the Word Garden made me emotional. It felt like the words were pleading with me. They wanted to be lifted from the piles, combined with other words, and formed into something funny, catchy, quirky, or meaningful. Something all their own.

It felt like the smooth stones with grey and black engraving wanted what my own words want–to be known as stories that are lyrical, honest, beautiful, and wonderful. Stories which can be read over and over, and each time reveal a little more magic.


When I was ten years-old, I started attending a Girl Scouts sleep-away camp in Shadowbrook, MD. Upon arrival, we were told we could be called whatever name we wanted. My counselors were Clover and Honey, and I asked to be called “Flower.” Thereafter, in the summers I spent at Shadowbrook, I was known as “Flower.” No one knew my other name and I preferred it that way.

As “Flower,” I was free and happy and curious and independent and adventurous. I made friends with the other girls, and also the raccoon who woke me up in the middle of the night when it stood on my chest and spoke to me with its shiny, black eyes. I said hi to the daddy long legs who climbed over my sleeping bag as I slept under the stars. I practically touched the constellations which lit up a dark, wild grasses-filled meadow. I swam every morning at dawn with the Polar Bear Club, tracked animal footprints while hiking in the woods, cooked over an open fire, learned how to use my Swiss Army Knife, and helped out in the mess hall and wherever else I was needed. I wasn’t afraid of the dark or the cemetery adjacent to the camp. I belted out the words to the “The Littlest Worm” and other songs. No one told me to shut up. Or worse. At Shadowbrook, I didn’t have to pretend to be a mouse. I was a lion.

As sweet as a flower, but as strong and brave as a lion. I was who I was meant to be.

When I started writing and illustrating my own picture books, also as a ten year-old, my pen name was “Flower Milsten.” Flower was with me in the Word Garden.

Here and now,

Flower

must make it through

the thicket of bramble

in order to 

succeed in finding

light and water and wind.


			
					

Highlights Foundation Writers Retreat

Lucky me! I recently attended a Highlights Foundation writers retreat in the northeastern Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains. The campus consists of a “5,200-square-foot Retreat Center known as the Barn, 21 cabins, a lodge, and the Founders’ farmhouse, located in Boyds Mills–10 miles from Honesdale, Pennsylvania.”

I’ve known about the Highlights Foundation since I started on the path to publishing Kidlit and, thanks to a generous scholarship from PJ Library, I was able to attend the “Jewish Symposium 2022: An In-Community Experience for Jewish Creatives.” PJ Library, an organization that “sends free Jewish children’s booky to families across the world every month,” is also well-represented in the synagogue preschool where I teach. Everywhere I look…beautiful children’s books!

Hon, I was so nervous when I drove up. Nervous as in major imposter syndrome! What business did I have being there, surrounded by award-winning Kidlit authors, talented illustrators, well-known Jewish educators, and successful literary agents?

The main reason I signed up was because my literary agent Rena Rossner was going to be there. She was wonderful as were the other professionals, writers, illustrators, and educators. My nerves didn’t go away completely, but though it was my first, hopefully it will not my last writers retreat.

The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves.

We do not take lightly what it means to create engaging, authentic stories for children and youth. We believe that you, as storytellers, have profound impacts on the lives of children. This matters a great deal to us as an organization, and most importantly to our world.

Highlights Foundation






			
					

Sorbet for the Soul, Energy

Energy is my buzz-word.

It’s the word people say to me (“You must have a lot of energy” referring to my four children) (“Where do you get all of that energy?” referring to my passions and interests) (“You’re high-energy, aren’t you?” referring to my aura, but not meant in a nice way).

It’s the word I use to describe how I raised those four children along with many other children–on snow days, half-days, and random days off. I filled my car and we drove to the beach, headed to a mountain to ski, rode the train to the city, invited kids to spend a vacation with us, and was “the house.”

And all along the way, I put my mental and physical energy towards writing Kidlit.

Over the last year, I’ve given a lot of thought to the word, concept and reality–where do we put it, how are we using it, is it going to our pursuits and passions, or are we squandering it on unimportant things? We must focus on health, family, and work, but where do we fit in, carve out time, and make a priority our pursuits and passions? Until they become a reality?

Hon, I’m working on it.

Sorbet for the Soul, Resilience

She was right.

A group of moms was catching up, and I said how proud I am of my children. One of my daughters recently moved into her own pre-war, one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and I am so impressed by her ambition, hard work and determination.

Me: “She’s a rock star!”

Other Mom: “We should not be telling our kids that they’re rock stars!”

Me: speechless

Other Mom: “We have to teach our kids how to be resilient! Things will not always work out for them. There will be times they didn’t get that job or were passed up for a promotion because it went to the boss’s relative! Or they’ll have to live at home while they’re saving money! Or they’ll have health issues. Lots of things in life won’t go their way! We have to teach them how to deal with them!”

Me: thinkingThis mom has gone through a horrible tragedy in her immediate family so, although I was taken aback, I listened and said only

Me: “You’re right.”

After the gathering, I felt angry and indignant about Other Mom’s words. But they stuck with me.

The more I think about Other Mom, the more I realize she was right.

I know many things won’t go the way my kids had hoped for. As in the times they already haven’t, when they’re faced with disappointments, hard situations, heartbreak, health issues, and death, we’ll discuss how to deal with them, how to process feelings, where to get help, and the ways in which we can support each other emotionally and practically.

But, hon, I want to tell Other Mom that when things do go they way we hoped, dreamed, wished for and worked hard for, in that moment, it is okay to feel like a rock star!

Sorbet for the Soul, Memorable Moments

I always wear headphones when I run or walk, but often decide not to listen to anything. Same goes for music in the car. As, I’m sure, many of us do, my mind has to process, think, count blessings, and pray.

Outside, I listen to the wind whisper to the treetops until its message reaches the leaves at eye level and they turn to answer.

I’m trying to find out if I’m on the right path in my Kidlit writing journey. And when quiet and concentrating, I whisper my wishes to the leaves at eye-level and send them through the treetops so that the wind will gather them up and then let them go into the ocean-like skies and out into the universe.

I hear blue jays squawk, robins chirp, and woodpeckers drill. Rustling reveals chipmunks and squirrels scurrying and watching, and gobbling spotlights the harem of wild turkeys that lives on our road or the single tom turkey who digs by himself. In the quiet, field mice, groundhogs, raccoons, opposums, deer, foxes, coyotes, a black bear, bighorn sheep, and elk have crossed my path.

One of most memorable moments of quiet was the time Lucy and I were walking in the South Mountain Reservation and we sat down to watch a young male deer. Lucy didn’t bark, I didn’t speak, and the deer sized us up and kept on grazing. After awhile, Lucy and I continued on our walk, and when we came to the field where I let Lucy off-leash to run, guess who joined us? The young, male deer wanted to play! He ran and so did Lucy and I, playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can. Pure joy.

Hon, keep listening. I am.

Transitional Dressing, Elegant Lifestyles Magazine, September 2022

FASHION FLUIDITY IS THE KEY

Though I’m not ready to store my summer clothes just yet, my latest article published in Elegant Lifestyles Magazine is all about transitional dressing–what to wear when the weather is still-summer one day and entering-autumn another. Then there are the days that combine both!

Many years, when heading to our annual Pick-Your-Own-Pumpkin-and-Hay-Ride-Day at Ort Farms in Long Valley, we’d dress for crisp air and then shed layers as the afternoon sun warmed up the fields. We loved deciding which pumpkins would make the best jack-o-lanterns, smell the sweet hay, pet the adorable farm animals, and take home freshly baked apple cider doughnuts. The best part? Spending time together as a family and seeing other families doing the same.

Happy early autumn, hon.


Sorbet for the Soul, Giant Wishes!

There we were, hiking down a trail in Meyer Ranch, Colorado this summer, when we came upon a meadow with the largest dandelions I’d ever seen. It’s like the universe was saying, “Hon, writing and publishing Kidlit is such a herculean ask, you need wishes big enough, loud enough, and strong enough to be carried all the way from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. Take a deep breath and blow!”

Turns out the palm-sized puffballs aren’t dandelions, but Western Salsify whose flowers looks like a yellow daisies. Soon after, we met the infamous llamas, Stardust and OnFire, and that chance meeting was even more spectacular than hiking in the Rockies, discovering golfball-sized dandelion lookalikes, listening to the click-click-click of a flying grasshopper, passing an elderly man hiking uphill with a cannula and portable oxygen, and saying hi to many happy dogs with their people.

Then, a week ago I was on a run and stopped mid-stride to take a pic. I asked the homeowner if he’d put “Don’t Give Up” out just for me and he said, “If that’s what you need…”

It is. It’s what I need.

So, in an effort to take a deep breath and blow my wishes and energy and thoughts and words and characters and layers and stories all the way from my imagination to the page to childrens’ imaginations, I’m posting a series called Sorbet for the Soul–photos and sentiments along with literal and figurative signs which beg for my attention.

Maybe if I take a moment to blow giant wishes and absorb messages and do the thing that informs my life–finding the extraordinary in the ordinary–my herculean ask will one day soon come to fruition.

Western Salsify flower, image source: Wildflowers of the United States.