Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: Penguin Cha-Cha

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 12:28 PM


A few years ago, my daughters got really into penguins. We talked and read endlessly about the flightless birds and Hadley, now 5, insisted on a real penguin for her birthday. While I couldn't make that happen, we did take a family trip to the penguin exhibit at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Soon after, I discovered Kristi Valiant’s picture book, Penguin Cha-Cha. The book's cute illustrations, pleasant-sounding text and inquisitive main character, a little girl named Julia, were an immediate hit with Hadley and my younger daughter, Pippa.

The story opens with Julia perched in a tree high above the performance stage at the Romping Chomping Park and Zoo, where the day’s production showcases men and women "hip hopping" and "boogie bopping" on stage. But what really captures Julia’s attention are the sneaky penguins snatching the dancers’ accessories — sashes, bows, hats and feather boas. She follows them to Penguin Cove, where she attempts to dance with them, first by simply walking into the cove, then by disguising herself and a helpful hippo dance partner as penguins themselves. She is met with inhospitable glares from the little black-and-white birds. Finally, she decides the penguins won't be able to resist if she teaches them the cha cha. She cha chas around the cove and wins over the penguins with a few twirls, snaps and claps.

Valiant’s illustrations are similar to ones you might find in an artist’s sketchbook, with the outlines of the initial sketches still visible under the palette of soft colors. For Hadley, who recently declared she wants to be a book illustrator, they provide a window into the artist’s process. She can also identify shapes in the drawings, reinforcing what she's learned in her kindergarten classroom. 

The text is prose but has poetic elements, like the “Step, step, cha-cha-cha, Step, step, cha-cha-cha” repetition during the dancing scenes. There is also a rhythm and rhyme that is almost as sneaky as those penguins, “Julia saw no hats. No clothes. No fans, no bows,” one part reads. The playful language adds to the story's appeal.

The Penguin Cha-Cha is a perfect tale for little listeners who still believe that anything is possible, even dancing with penguins. And since we already knew all about penguins, what did me and my girls do after reading this book? We learned the cha cha, of course!

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Get Out!: A Spring Bike Ride

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Tristan pulls 16-month-old Elise on the Cross Vermont Trail - SARAH GALBRAITH
  • Sarah Galbraith
  • Tristan pulls 16-month-old Elise on the Cross Vermont Trail
The spring-like weather last weekend drew my family outside at every opportunity. We drank our morning coffee in the yard while playing fetch with the dog and took a walk down our quiet dirt road to our neighbor’s sugar house where the sap was flowing like crazy. Of course, being the tremendous biking enthusiasts that we are, we also went on a family bike adventure.

My partner, Tristan, and I are planning to do a few bikepacking trips this summer in which we ride 10 miles from our front door to Groton State Forest, where many miles of trails and five campgrounds await us. The plan is to pull our 16-month-old daughter, Elise, in a trailer, and to pack our gear into frame bags and a second trailer. Our goal is to be self-supported, so we’ll need to carry a tent, sleeping bags, food and more on our bikes. In preparation for these upcoming adventures, we took a shakedown trip on our fat bikes on the Cross Vermont Trail in Marshfield.

The day was warm and sunny, with clear blue skies and a light breeze that seemed to call out, “Get on your bikes!” We obliged by packing our bike trailer and gear into our Subaru, loading our fat bikes onto our hitch rack and heading to the parking area on Rail Road Bed East/East Road in Marshfield, a few miles above Marshfield Village, from where the Cross Vermont Trail enters Groton State Forest. Although our plan is to someday ride from our front door to our campsite – no car involved – we decided that on this day we would use our car as a base camp.

We parked in a pull-off by Bailey Pond. Elise had fallen asleep in the car, and we had hoped to quietly load up and transfer her to the bike trailer without waking her so that she could continue sleeping in the trailer. One challenge we’re expecting with family bikepacking is keeping an active toddler happy for hours in a bike trailer. A strategy we think will work is to do most of our miles during her nap times. But on this day, we woke her accidentally as we loaded her in. We tucked her into her blanket and handed her a favorite stuffed animal, and hoped she would go back to sleep.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Opportunity for Girls to Learn From World-Class Female Athletes this Weekend

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2016 at 2:21 PM

  • Courtesy of Craftsbury Outdoor Center
  • Members of the Women's U.S. Ski Team

Vermont girls have a special opportunity this weekend to meet, play and dance with world-class athletes. On Saturday, March 19, 20 members of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team host a “Champ Chat” at Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Craftsbury Common. The event is part of Fast and Female, a program started by Chandra Crawford, a cross-country skiing Olympic gold medalist from Canada, to encourage young girls to be physically active and engaged in sports.

Girls ages 8-18 will ski on a Nordic obstacle course, participate in relay races and play games on the snow. Craftsbury Outdoor Center has maintained a 4-kilometer trail full of snow for the event. Participants will be divided into teams based on age, and a champion athlete will lead each team through activities designed to foster camaraderie, cooperation and fun. Parents will also learn about resources and get tips for raising fit, active girls.

The roster of athlete volunteers includes Vermonters and Sochi Olympians Ida Sargent, Liz Stephen and Sophie Caldwell, along with fellow U.S. Ski Team members Sadie Bjornsen, Caitlin Gregg and Rosie Brennan, and members of the Canadian, Finnish and Italian ski teams. A Zumba dance session, led by 2016 top-10 World Cup cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, will cap off the day.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Home Cookin': White-Bean Chipotle Enchiladas

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2016 at 9:23 AM

Preparing and rolling tortillas - ERINN SIMON
  • Erinn Simon
  • Preparing and rolling tortillas
For over a year, we've been celebrating Taco Tuesday at my house. We always have guacamole and a choice of soft tortillas or crunchy shells. But we change up what's inside, experimenting  with both veggie and meat filling combinations. We even have a Taco Night tradition with another family — when we get together for dinner, pork-shoulder tacos are always on the menu. But even the best traditions need a shake-up every once in a while. When I’m feeling the need for a taco break, it’s enchilada time.

I make a few different variations, but this one is my current favorite. My family likes it so much, it just might give Taco Tuesday some competition. It’s quite spicy as is, but you can adjust the heat by using fewer chipotles and/or adding more white beans. Serve with a green salad and some guacamole, of course!

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Home Cookin': Puff-Pastry Pizza Twists

Posted By on Wed, Mar 2, 2016 at 11:25 AM

Pizza twists - ERINN SIMON
  • Erinn Simon
  • Pizza twists
After-school hours, weekends and school vacations always bring extra kids to our house to play or, in 12-year-old terms, "hang out."  I love when we have a full house, but lots of kids need lots of snacks. For those times when carrot sticks and goldfish just won't cut it, I like to have a few quick recipes in my back pocket that will please a crowd. This one is my current favorite. 

I first saw a photo of the finished dish on Pinterest. Though I've never been able to discover the origin of the recipe, there are many YouTube tutorials that take you through the process step by step. The directions here are mine, and the recipe is customizable. We are pizza lovers so we usually opt for this version. But try using pesto or salsa instead of marinara sauce or, for a sweet twist, skip the sauce and cheese and use Nutella! 

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iD Tech

Burlington, VT

iD Tech is the world leader in STEM education, with 450,000 alumni and over 20 years of experience. Summer programs for ages 7-19 are held at 150 prestigious campuses including NYU, Caltech, and Imperial College London. Students build in-demand skills for futures in coding, game development, robotics, and creative arts.…(more)

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