Thursday, December 24, 2015

Get Out: The Definition of Adventure

Posted By on Thu, Dec 24, 2015 at 8:15 AM

Sarah and Elise hiking at Barr Hill Natural Area - TRISTAN VON DUNTZ
  • Tristan Von Duntz
  • Sarah and Elise hiking at Barr Hill Natural Area
To adventure is to engage in an exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory. That is, according to the dictionary. As a lifelong adventurer, excitement and uncertainty has drawn me to hiking, mountain biking and backcountry skiing. Adventure is something I have always reveled in, spending hundreds of days and nights exploring trails, campsites, and backcountry by foot, bike and ski. I have always loved heading into the unknown.  

Having a baby can put an abrupt stop to adventure and exploration — if you let it. Sure, parenting is an adventure in its own right: That little one is exciting and unknown territory. But my own motherhood experience has to involve adventuring into the outdoors with my child, too. Doing this successfully requires planning, and so that "unknown territory" part of the adventure experience can be hard to come by as a parent of a baby or toddler. It's still possible, though. A recent trek to the Northeast Kingdom provided just the right mix of unknown territory and family fun. 

My family hopped into the car on a warm and sunny Sunday and headed to Barr Hill Natural Area in Greensboro. It was a photo assignment for my partner Tristan (see his pictures along with an article in a recent issue of Seven DaysKids VT's sister publication), and we took the opportunity to explore a new place. A little bit of internet research gave us directions to the trailhead and told us that the views were amazing. We couldn't wait. 

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winter Break Ideas

Posted By and on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 3:00 PM

  • Courtesy of ECHO
  • Lake Brite at ECHO
When the holiday festivities are finished, head out with your family for winter explorations. Here's a run-down of some of the family-friendly events happening over the school break:

ECHO’s Wild Lights Festival provides frosty fun, including a reindeer visit on Saturday, Dec. 26, snowflake activities, owl programs and snowball flings daily at noon and 2 p.m.. Don't miss Lake Brite  — a project which uses more than 7,500 LED lights individually programmed to create a visual interpretation of Lake Champlain data — which lights up on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 4 p.m.

A day trip to Billings’ Farm & Museum's Christmas at the Farm includes either sleigh- or horse-drawn wagon rides (weather-dependent), farmhouse tours and tasty treats.

Bolton Valley Resort's Family Week includes indoor inflatables and video games, camp fires, ice cream socials, kids' movies and balloon sculptures.

For the artistically inclined, Webby’s Art Studio at Shelburne Museum offers themed crafts inspired by the museum's exhibits from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily, Dec. 26-30.  South Burlington's Wildflower Studio offers expanded open-studio hours in their indoor creative play space Tues. Dec. 29-Thurs. Dec. 31.

For choo-choo aficionados, Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury is showcasing an electric-train exhibit, Tues.-Sun. afternoons through Jan. 8.

Montshire Museum's Machine Madness runs Dec. 27-Jan. 1. Families sign up for a building session then have one hour to  construct a chain-reaction machine using materials and tools provided by the museum.  

Finally, if you're looking to burn off some of those holiday treats, don't forget Burlington's FirstRun on New Year's Day, which includes both a 5K and a youth fun run.

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Home Cookin': Millionaire's Shortbread

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 8:30 AM

Millionaire's shortbread - ERINN SIMON
  • Erinn Simon
  • Millionaire's shortbread
The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was British cooking star Nigella Lawson's How to Be A Domestic Goddess. It's still my baking bible — the book I turn to whenever I'm looking for some quick kitchen inspiration.

When I found myself needing some last-minute but impressive treats to give as holiday gifts to friends and co-workers this past weekend, I flipped through the book and found this gem of a recipe for layered shortbread, marked with a scrap of paper. Obviously I'd planned to make it at some point, and it seemed that moment had arrived. They sounded delicious, looked elegant and had only 6 ingredients. Perfect!  

I whipped up a batch to package and distribute to friends, but they were so good my family ate them and I had to start over!

Nigella gives instructions to make the caramel and melt the chocolate in the microwave. I don't own one, so I provided directions for my own stovetop version which, I'm happy to report, was also easy-peasy.  If you're looking for a last-minute holiday treat, you must give these a try.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: Dog vs. Cat

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 at 10:52 AM


From the outset, the picture book Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall capitalizes on the age-old competition between the two most popular pets. The illustrations of Cat and Dog on the inside cover look like a family photo album and vacillate between friendly competition and "I gotcha!" moments. In one, Dog has knocked over and landed on Cat while catching a football. In another, readers see the shadow of a cat ready to pounce on a dog's nose poking through a dog door. A few drawings show more friendly adventures, like Cat and Dog making snow sculptures. The back cover reads: "One dog. One cat. One room. One very big problem." All this sets the stage for a story of friendly antagonism.

The book begins when Mr. Button rescues a pup from the animal shelter while his wife, Mrs. Button, is on the other side of town choosing a cat to take home. The first part of the story plays on the traditional depictions of cat and dog as they navigate their shared space. Dog is good-natured but slobby; Cat is the opposite, maintaining a tidy space on its side of the room. 

The disagreements between Dog and Cat are many. They fight about the most appropriate way to say hello, what to do for fun, the tastiest treat and the best way to spend an evening. All this squabbling develops the characters and story and also provides material that readers who have pets can relate to. At first I thought the pet stereotypes may have been lost on my 5-year-old daughter, Hadley, especially since she adores both our dog and cat. But she smiled in recognition at Cat clawing anything that moved and Dog sniffing even the most unseemly body odors . And she giggled when the animals addressed the "litter-box issue" (Cat has indoor privileges).

At the end of the book, there's no champion that emerges in the war between the furry pets. In fact, the two adversaries realize they actually kind of like each other, just in time to join forces agains a new threat.  The silly pet antics in this story will entertain kids — and amuse any adult who has ever gotten into a cats vs. dogs debate. 

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Great Ski Deal for Vermont Kids

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 1:43 PM

Chase and Giada Willet of Colchester learned to ski last season at Smugglers’ Notch - COURTESY OF VERMONT GOVERNOR'S COUNCIL ON PHYSICAL FITNESS AND SPORTS
  • Courtesy of Vermont Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
  • Chase and Giada Willet of Colchester learned to ski last season at Smugglers’ Notch
A Learn to Ski and Snowboard package costs just 20 bucks for Vermont kids — if you act fast. The deal, offered by the Vermont Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, is available to the first 300 young Vermonters under age 18 who enroll starting today — Tuesday, December 15.

Equipment rental, one beginner group lesson and a lift ticket for beginner trails are included in the $20 package, which you can use in January at 7 participating resorts around the state. Age limits and blackout dates vary by location, so read the resorts’ restrictions before making your reservation. Some allow kids as young as 3 or 4 to take lessons, while others start as old as 13.

The package, which Ski Vermont offers every year, is usually $49 but this winter the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports is chipping in $29 for the first 300 families who enroll, bringing the cost to $20 per child. The council aims to encourage young Vermonters — and their parents — to be active outdoors.

Ski area managers know that kids who enjoy snow sports bring parents and siblings with them. “It's a great way to promote an active lifestyle and spending time with family and friends,” says Josh Arneson, vice president of sales and marketing at Bolton Valley, one of the participating resorts.  

The lessons are geared to first-time skiers and snowboarders, with activities to make sure children have fun on the slope. Children are grouped by age and learn basic moves such as gliding, turning and stopping.

To get the deal, visit this website and fill out the online application form. Within several days you’ll get an email from the Vermont Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports with a coupon code and instructions on how to sign up for the discounted package. Once you receive the coupon code, you’ll go to Ski Vermont’s store to reserve your date and resort. At the payment section, you’ll enter the code to cover $29 and use your credit card to pay the remaining $20.

If you miss the deal or are over 18, don’t worry. You can still get a $49 Ski Vermont beginner package for January, which is nationally designated Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. That’s a bargain considering a beginner lesson with equipment rental and a full-day lift ticket typically runs between 75 and 100 dollars. 

Now let's just hope for snow. 

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Get Out: Everyday Adventure (Christmas Edition)

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2015 at 11:52 AM

Sarah, Elise and their dog, Odin, hunting for "the one" - TRISTAN VON DUNTZ
  • Tristan von Duntz
  • Sarah, Elise and their dog, Odin, hunting for "the one"
One of the ways I keep excitement in my life post-baby is by weaving it into everyday events. That's why I frequently bike on dirt roads from my home in Marshfield to my office in Montpelier. Or run errands to the post office and co-op on my bike. Finding these opportunities for activity and adventure keeps me sane.  

The drive to bring adventure into our everyday life spilled into our annual tradition of getting a Christmas tree this year. Normally we find our Christmas tree at a local farm. It's a picturesque Vermont setting: big red barn, old farmhouse and excited families dotting the expansive hillside of manicured trees. But this year, we decided to head to the Green Mountain National Forest, where finding a tree would be more of an adventure: We would hike and explore to find our tree.  

We packed our hiking gear and a hand saw, and drove south to the Green Mountain National Forest district ranger's office on Route 100 in Rochester, where we found a beautiful building with interpretive nature guides, maps and a friendly staff. We bought a Christmas tree permit for $5 (it's an orange tag that attaches to your tree after you cut it) and set out with a map for Forest Service Road 39 in the Texas Falls Recreation Area. We knew from exploring this area before that it would be a great spot to find a tree. 

In our car, we followed gravel roads up a mountainside past cascading waterfalls and rippling streams, until we gained enough elevation to find spruce trees. We followed a side road to a dead end in a field at the edge of a forest. There, we parked the car and got the family ready: We put our 1-year-old daughter, Elise, in her hiking carrier and decked out our dog,Odin, in blaze orange to protect him from hunters. We scanned the surrounding woods and headed into the forest on a series of old logging roads. We walked up a hillside, visiting stands of spruces along the way.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Home Cookin': Solstice Cake

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2015 at 3:15 PM

I grew up celebrating Christmas, but since marrying my Jewish husband, I've become grateful for Hannukah, too. It's such a beautiful celebration of light, and it really helps me embrace the darkest days of the year. Last year, I decided I wanted to start some traditions to integrate the two holidays and just generally celebrate the season. Being a baker, I came up with a cake, of course!

I made this dense, moist cake with apples and almonds on the Winter Solstice last year, and we all ate a piece after dinner that night. It was a simple and cozy way to mark the longest night of the year — and has become a new tradition. Enjoy! 

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Words at Play: 'Pete's a Pizza'

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 8:29 AM

When I visit home childcare providers through VSA Vermont's Start With The Arts program, I read a book, then do an art-based activity. I really enjoy using the book Pete's a Pizza by William Steig. Steig is best known for Shrek!  but he has written many other wonderful books including Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene and Doctor De Soto. After a long career as a New Yorker cartoonist, he began writing books for children at age 61. All his books feature amazing illustrations and rich vocabulary.

At the beginning of Pete's a Pizza, Pete is miserable because it's raining and he can't go outside and play football with his friends. To cheer Pete up, his father pretends to turn him into a pizza. He kneads Pete, tosses him in the air, covers him with checkers that represent pepperoni and puts him on the couch to bake. Pete runs away before he can be eaten. By that time, the sun has come out and he can go out and play.

After I read the book aloud, each child gets a chance to become a pizza. Our first pizza lies on the floor and all the other children gather round. We open and shut our hands and say '"Knead, knead, knead." Then we pretend to shake on some cheese, then sprinkle on some olive oil. The toppings are next, in the form of handkerchiefs. Sometimes the toppings are what you would expect on a pizza — peppers, olives, mushrooms or tomatoes. But some children pretend to put on macaroni and cheese, peanut butter or ice cream. Once, a boy added a truck! When all the toppings are in place we chant "Bake, bake bake," and I say, "The pizza is smelling good." Three more bakes and I mention that I am very hungry. After the final three bakes, I say, "Time to eat the pizza!" and the pizza runs away, shedding all the handkerchief toppings.

Next we make paper-plate pizzas by gluing cut-up pieces of construction paper on a plain paper plate. You could even just draw on the toppings. Projects don't have to be complicated to be enjoyable for children. Recently I was doing this project at a home daycare provider's house that had a toy plastic oven. The children "baked" their paper-plate pizzas in the toy oven. One girl offered me some, but as I reached out for it she warned me, "Be careful, it just came out of the oven!"

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Camp 4 Me

Camp 4 Me

Waterbury, VT

Camp For Me is a day camp for adopted children and teens ages 7 – 17 held in two one-week sessions in July on the campus of Thatcher Brook Middle School in Waterbury, Vermont. Camp For Me offers traditional summer activities: games sports, arts & crafts, theater, field trips, swimming,…(more)

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