Written and images on this blog are Judie Ryan's sole property unless otherwise indicated.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


I don't know a lot about the religious charity or mission group that developed Key of Hope Choir from Africa. My niece who lives in Rochester, Michigan is involved with the group when they perform in her area. These children were born with AIDS, innocent victims of a terrible disease. As I understand when they return home they live in cardboard boxes or other poor quality housing. I don't see how they can look so joyful as they sing after seeing the great wealth while travelling the world, then returning to their poverty and stark lives in Africa. I thought that the holiday season is a good time for people who might be interested to take a look at them.
to tak
e a look at them.


Sunday, December 24, 2017


Thank you Wikimedia Commons and livelearn.ca


Did you know that people celebrate more than Christmas during the holiday season in Canada? By holiday season I mean the period starting from fall to early January. With so many diverse cultures living together in harmony in this country, it is certainly not surprising that many celebrations – religious, secular, or cultural – are celebrated here.
Well I say, the more the merrier! Here are other celebrations this season you may want to know more about:
  1. Diwali (Hindu)

    It is a five-day holiday of lights usually celebrated in the fall as dates depend on the moon cycle. This year, Diwali started on October 19. It will be celebrated on November 7 in 2018. Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness or the triumph of good over evil. Hindus also take advantage of this period to contemplate and dispel the darkness of ignorance. As a symbolic gesture, they display diyas which are small clay oil lamps or candle holders.
  2. Bodhi Day (Buddhist)

    This commemorates the exact moment of Buddha’s awakening (under the peepal, now known as Bodhi, tree). Celebrated on December 8, it is a celebration of enlightenment, and a day for remembrance, meditation and chanting. At the start of Bodhi day, people decorate a ficus tree with multi-coloured lights strung with beads. This symbolizes the varied paths to Nirvana (their ultimate state/goal) and signifies that all things are united.
  3. Hanukkah (Jewish)

    Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah will be celebrated from the evening of December 12 to December 20 this year. It commemorates the rededication and purification of the Temple by the Maccabees after the Jews’ victory over the Greek Syrians in 165 BC. The most well-known symbol of this celebration is the menorah (see photo above), which is a type of candelabra. During the festival, one candle is lighted each day. This represents the miracle during the battle in which the Temple’s candelabrum, which had a limited supply of oil, burned for eight days and nights continuously.
  4. Winter Solstice (various cultures/religions)

    Many cultures all over the world celebrated (and some continue to celebrate) winter solstice even before Christmas came to be. In fact, the term Yule, which is now equated with the Christmas season (yuletide), was derived from an old European holiday at the start of the solar year called the celebration of Light and the Rebirth of the Sun. Other winter solstice celebrations include:
    • Feast of Juul (Scandinavian) – A pre-Christian festival celebrated in December. On this day, a yule log is burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god, Thor.
    • Yalda (Persia/Iran) – Also called Shab –e-Yalda, it marks the last day of the Persian month of Azar during ancient times. It commemorates the victory of light over dark and the birth of the sun god Mithra.
    • Saturnalia (ancient Roman) – Aside from winter solstice, Saturnalia celebrates the end of the planting season. It was marked by games, feasts and gift-giving for several days.
    • St. Lucia’s Day (Scandinavian) – On this day, girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes and wreaths of candles on their heads to honor the saint. It is also called the festival of lights as people light up fires to ward off spirits at night.
    • Dong Zhi (Chinese) – Dong Zhi celebrates the end of harvest and the arrival of winter. In the traditional Chinese celestial calendar, this falls between the 21st and 23rd of December. Families gather together to enjoy a feast in celebration.
    • Gody (Poland) – this is the tradition of showing forgiveness and sharing food. It was part of pre-Christian winter solstice celebrations.
    • Chaomos (Kalasha, Pakistan) – Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people celebrate for at least seven days. It involves ritual baths for purification, singing and chanting, a torchlight procession, dancing, bonfires, and feasts.
    • St. Thomas Day/Sun God festival (Guatemala) – December 21 is the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. However, on this day, Mayan Indians also hold a festival honoring the sun god. It is celebrated with fanfare, including colourful parades and the daring flying pole dance in Peru.
  5. Kwanzaa (African)

    Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday but a celebration of African heritage and culture. It is a seven-day celebration from December 26 to January 1 and features the lighting of the kinara each day, similar to the lighting of the menorah during Hanukkah. Each day is represented by a principle of Kwanzaa: 1st – Umoja (unity), 2nd – kujichagulia (self-determination), 3rd – ujima (collective work and responsibility), 4th – ujamaa (cooperative economics), 5th – nia (purpose), 6th – kuumba (creativity), and 7th – imani (faith). If you want to greet a person celebrating this holiday, you say “Habari gani” (Swahili) and the person will reply with the principle for that day.
  6. Ramadan (Muslim)

    Ramadan is a month of daily fasting during daylight hours that culminates in Eid-al-Fitr, when they break the fast. The period is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar so it can fall on different dates each year. In 2017, it was from May 27 to June 25, next year it will be May 16 to June 14 (the next time it will be in December to January will be in 2030). Aside from fasting, Muslims also give up bad habits during the season, pray more, read the Quran and attend services. Eid-al-Fitr is a time of celebration with the family, giving gifts, and doing charitable works.
  7. New Year’s (secular)

    New Year’s eve December 31, marks the last day in the Gregorian calendar. It is a night of merry-making marked with fireworks, parties and feasts. Many people also observe rituals that are thought to give them good luck and help them start an auspicious year like serving certain food to bring wealth (black-eyed peas in the southern part of the US or seven round fruits in Asian countries), wearing polka-dots, and making noise with fireworks to drive off bad spirits.
  8. Three King’s Day (Christian)

    Also known as Epiphany, this marks the day the Three Wise Men visited the Christ child and brought him gifts. Christians celebrate this on the first Sunday after January 1. In Hispanic cultures, this is a day of gift-giving and other festivities.
  9. Chinese New Year (Chinese)

    Chinese New Year marks the end of winter and the start of spring. It usually falls between January 21 and February 20 based on the lunar calendar. The first day of celebration starts with the New Moon and ends on the Full Moon 15 days later. People indulge in feasts, dragon and lion dances and parades, fireworks, and giving out luck money in red envelopes to children.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


I don't support any products unless it encourages reading, hands-on exploration like blocks or imaginary play like cardboard boxes (and they're free) or wonder like blowing bubbles. I have't seen this product so I don't know about the product quality. The idea itself sounds great like a ready-made fort out of a table and sheets. Watch their ad online and see what you think.  I had a music box that projected mother goose characters, planets and stars to music on my daughter's ceiling. She felt safe to go to sleep and loved to look at books in her crib under the projection. Check it out at: MyDreamTent.com;
See it in use

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Many people don't feel as happy as they think they should at the holidays. My friend's loss brought a little reality about the wonderful things I have in my life this season. The story below was posted on Mary Kole's blog. She is a children's book literary agent.I don't know her well, but the personal story she posted on Kidlit.com is extraordinarily well-written and in its sadness shows how people can somehow find some joy in tragedy.

The Beautiful Life of Nora Pepper

Hello, dear readers! Before Thanksgiving, I wrote about the upcoming addition to our family, a little girl that was born on November 30th, to join big brother, Theo, 21 months. I’ve always been very honest, as a person. And I’ve always shared what I’m going through on the blog. Like the loss of my beloved cat Sushi, or the fertility journey we took to start building our family. Not only is it therapeutic for me, but I genuinely believe that truth brings people together and helps us all feel a little less alone.
It is with deep, deep regret that I’m sharing the following news. You’ll have to excuse the shifting tense. Different parts were written at different times in Nora’s journey.
When we brought our beautiful Nora Pepper home, she was extremely lethargic. We had the doctors in labor and delivery, several pediatricians, a home health nurse, and a lactation consultant on our team, and they all said she was just sleepy because she was born at 37 weeks. That can take a lot out of a gal! They all told us, “In the magic of time, she will wake up.”
And in 99.99% of babies, they would’ve been right. But a week later, she was still not waking up to ask for food, and feeding her from a bottle was an hourlong ordeal every three hours. She was only taking 1.5 ounces each time, and barely. Her weight was down. I had a sinking feeling all along in my mother’s heart, and I finally insisted that we go to the hospital. Luckily, we live 15 minutes from Children’s Minnesota, a world-class facility that sees a lot of very complex neonatal cases.
After ruling out any acute causes of lethargy, like infection, we were left with something much more devastating. A chronic condition. Physically, our wonderful Nora is absolutely perfect. Everything is formed beautifully. And I’m not just bragging as a proud parent about her ten elegant fingers, her curly eyelashes, or the softest newborn hair I’ve ever kissed. We’ve had all the x-rays and MRIs in the book, and she is physically flawless.
But due to a rare, random, and terribly cruel genetic mutation, Nora has a pattern of brain wave activity that is incompatible with life. Or at least a life that involves any cognitive awareness whatsoever. It’s likely that her brain was built like this from the start, has never functioned in any other way, and never will. The evidence-based data on this type of brain wave pattern is invariably grim. In short, this state has been described  as “the worst pattern short of electrical silence” and “a preterminal finding”.
We took Nora back from the NICU, and we had two beautiful days with her. Our plan was to repeat the brain scan after a week and enter hospice care at home if the findings were the same. Nora had other ideas, and she let us know that she was ready to go ahead of schedule. We spent our last hours together as a family, making sure that all she ever knew in her brief time was pure love. She passed peacefully in our arms on December 16th, 2017.
I believe in miracles. I do. Snow on a quiet morning is a miracle. My son’s laughter is a miracle. The overwhelming love and gratitude I feel for Nora, even as her condition has put me on the loneliest and most difficult road I’ve ever walked, is a miracle. Unfortunately, there was not going to be a medical miracle. The sad but simple truth is that, all of these things about life that are miracles, Nora would never have been able to experience. Not in this case. Even in the magic of time, she never would’ve woken up.
My husband, Todd, and son, Theo, and I are tremendously blessed. We have the support of friends and family, we both have meaningful work to help us feel human, we’ve found strength we never knew existed inside ourselves. Because Nora’s prognosis is so rare and so dire, we’ve been invited to participate in a comprehensive research study where her entire genome will be sequenced. Since her condition is coded into her genes, there was no way to help Nora. Even if we found the exact mutation, the die had already been cast. But maybe, in some small way, she will help another family down the road because of what the research team can learn.
This is a post I never thought I’d have to write. All any of us can do when the road turns dark is to keep going. I’m grateful for the opportunity to call Nora Pepper Macdonald my daughter. She always will be. Even as my heart is broken, it is somehow more full than ever. If you’re reading this, you’re part of why. Thank you for listening to our story.
Credit for these beautiful photographs belongs to Sarah Ann Photography, and they were taken before we found out. We are thrilled to have these treasures, we will cherish them for the rest of our lives.
People have been asking, so we’ve decided to encourage friends and family to make a donation to the Children’s Hospital and Clinics Foundation. The incredible people of Children’s, from her neonatologist to her palliative care nurse, were some of the most outstanding human beings we have ever met. We never felt alone for a moment, and we still don’t. You can designate your donation to a specific care area. We would prefer the Neonatal Program, the Neuroscience Program, or the Pain, Palliative and Integrative Medicine Program. Or you can give to a fund for urgent hospital and patient needs. Children’s wasn’t able to help Nora due to her prognosis, but it is our dream as a family that they may help others in her honor. Please be sure to let them know that you are giving in memory of Nora Pepper Macdonald. If you are so compelled, please donate online, or call them at 952-992-5509.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


On December 10, 2017, my friend's 22-year-old son lost his battle with drug addiction. She is a great mother and works long and difficult hours to support her family. Now, she will never see her eldest son marry, have a family, play with his children, travel the world together and he will never get to do those things. He will never enjoy all of life's pleasures and sorrows. He will miss this Christmas and every Christmas from now on. He won't be at his next birthday. For everyone he knew, he will stay 22 forever. Those same people will be swallowed by sadness on those same birthdays. My friend will never bake her oldest son another birthday cake or sing him "Happy Birthday." His younger brother will miss him terribly, for the rest of his life. His mother's birthday was a few days after his death. His funeral was December 16, 2017.

Saturday, December 16, 2017


This library book tree first became a tradition at the library in 1950. Originally local firefighters decorated pine trees on the library grounds. Community members sang carols around them. Then, in 1998 for the new opening of a new library building, former Friends of the Library Executive Board Member, Jackie Winkler, planned this Christmas tree project. This current tree is adorned with fifty handmade, hand-painted book ornaments representing many of the world's classic books.

   Some of these classics include:  

If you  plan to make your own book ornaments remember thecovers can be as complicated as this:
Or as simple as this Winnie the Pooh cover.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

MAKE FAMILY BOOK ORNAMENTS FOR A BOOK TREE (See more at the 12/16/2017 post)

Does you library have a Christmas tree? Volunteer members of one local library created Christmas ornaments like these:

Charles Dickens' David Copperfield

Hans Christian Anderson's Classic Fairy Tales

Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon

It's difficult to imagine that these beautiful covers are painted by volunteers, some artists, some not.  If a library is short on volunteers or non-artists, think about color copies glued to similarly sized boxes or painting over color copies printed on heavy card stock and attaching it similarly. To encourage your students to love books, create a classroom tree featuring your students favorite books, painted by each student. Or to encourage your child or children to read, make a small tree for their bedroom. If they're too young to paint their own favorites, let relatives, older siblings or you and your husband paint them. This makes a great family activity and you can easily create covers on Photoshop to include those computer savvy family members.

Monday, December 11, 2017


1. Bit the bullet, make the investment, buy a KitchenAid mixer. It's worth it. You can buy used, online or off a swap sites, but the full investment is worth it. They last 20-30 years. If you get it use it. The mixer removes all human error. Think about what our great grandmothers could have done, if they'd just set the mixer for ten minutes for perfectly churned butter every time. They would have had a lot more time.

2. Chill your dough in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. One reason that's a good, is that it gives you time to warm-up the oven.

3. Use a cookie dough scoop. It insures that all the cookies are uniform and look the same, and they cook evenly. 

4. Dough cooks best when it's cooked on parchment paper. 
Thank you Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


One Thanksgiving after dinner, we left the nearly cleared table only to return to discover the turkey carcass rebelling against having been eaten. It was standing up, breast bone facing us, stumbling around the table headless, a pair of black paws underneath us.Our Scottie-mix dog had gotten so excited at the thought of turkey leftovers, she had squeezed her entire body inside the turkey and trapped herself. One might guess that she was surprised to be stuck. But noooo! She was very unhappy with us when we tried to get the turkey off her. She wanted to stay right inside and eat every bit she could find.

This Thanksgiving, thinking we knew everything our latest dog might be interested in, we left only parts of a pecan and pumpkin pies on the table while we washed dishes. When we walked into the dining room to check for any silverware we'd missed, this is what we found:

What is he after? We didn't leave any meat.

Oh my gosh! He's finishing off the pumpkin and pecan pie!!

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Since we've already celebrated Thanksgiving with the Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving, here's an idea that was quick and easy way for me to decorate the entry. My girlfriend, who couldn't come, brought me these flowers the day before. I just added Indian corn and a fake glittery pumpkin. The fabric underneath it was a remnant from JoAnn's or Hobby Lobby.

Have a great day!

Thank you Wikimedia Commons for this great Turkey.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


When my daughter was little we always went to Pumpkin Farms and Mazes to buy our pumpkins, gourds and play hide-and-seek in the mazes. One October, we found a prepacked milk-carton sized package of Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip in the farms gift shop. It was spectacular, but ultlmately we came up with our own recipe. It's especially wonderful with pretzel sticks, but works with carrots and mostly anything.

Here's our recipe:
It's quick, easy and delicious!


1 pkg. cream cheese
1 T. pumpkin pie spice
1 c. Libby's pumpkin puree
8 oz, Cool whip
3/4 c powdered sugar.

Use a mixer to blend until there are no lumps. YYUUUUUMMMM!

Thank you for this beautiful watercolor Wikimedia Commons!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Around the middle of November, my cousin's daughter (I just call her a niece, because the actual relationships' once removed, second cousin) are too darn complicated. We drove to North Carolina), stayed a few days and drove 14 hours back. It was a gorgeous wedding, but the wedding pictures aren't done yet. I can show you one though. The one in the middle is the bride. The one on the left is my daughter and on the left, my daughter's fiance.

Later in November:

This is my brother when he was in the army. I was going to post him as my hero for Veteran's day, but as you'll see the month continued with complications, so I didn't get a chance to do that.

My brother was nearly an adult when I was born. He died some years ago of Alzheimer's Disease. Just after I posted to you on November the 7th, his wife died of cervical cancer. Due to some complications in the family, some of us didn't find out about her death until after the funeral was over. Also I couldn't find out, because I was at the wedding in North Carolina.

My brother and she had four adorable children, who are almost my age now. If you can believe so many things can happen all in one month, their oldest daughter, Debbie, died (two weeks after her mother, of a massive heart attack). I have a picture of me at about six-years-old holding baby Debbie. She was the first baby I ever held. I'll post it later if I can find it.

Debbie leaves behind her husband, three children, three siblings and the rest of us. We drove four hours to the viewing. It was not a funeral, because they were not particularly religious. It was very sad, because she was so young.

I used to play the harp in a huge funeral home that had formerly been a grand Victorian home. The home owned two harps and had large rooms for funerals at opposite ends of the house. After playing one funeral, I race upstairs, through the coffin room (Eeeeekk!) and down the opposite staircase to the other side of the house (funeral number 2). Sometimes everyone cried. A few fell into the coffin. Then, because everyone was crying, I'd start crying while playing old time favorites like In the Garden, Amazing Grace, In the Sweet Bye and Bye etc. in the background.  At other funerals, the attendees seemed to be having a party, celebrating a life. Regardless of the kind of funeral, the ministers, all of different religions, always seemed to add a touch of beauty to the services. I missed that gentle touch at Debbie's viewing.

The November finale:

My stepdaughter always works on the holidays, so we have to celebrate Thanksgiving about a week early. We call it the Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving. This year thought, we barely had time to prepare after returning from the funeral. I am still stressed out from the Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving and sleeping a lot. It's probably really because of the whole damn month prewtty much sucked, except for the wedding.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


While these poisonous plants are all spectacular in the fall, attracting kids to pick them, don't forget they are still poisonous all year. When they're green you might not even notice them. This is a picture from my very suburban yard. Can you find the plant that is poison right at my front stoop? What is it? If you can't find it a determine what it is, right me a comment and I'll help you.

I didn't notice this five-leafer crawling up a tree a few feet from backdoor in my yard until it started changing color. Do you recognize it?

The best way to help your kids, especially the youngest, stay safe from poison plants is to create a matching game. Make flashcards. Draw two or three of the same leaf, like poison ivy. Make them as identical as possible.  Mix all the cards together upside down like a commercial matching game. Turn one card and try to  match it by turning another card over. If they don't match turn them back over.  Continue until you get a match. P.S. It's also a memory game. You can so include the berries of each poisonous plant, but color them or make their shape appropriately different. Here's a list of possible cards. 1. Poison Ivy  2. Poison Oak  3. Virginia Creeper  4. Poison Sumac  5. Non-poison sumac (I'll tell you about sumac in a later part.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Trick-o-Treat is always fun. Most kids, at least today, come in a store-bought, commercially inspired costumes, but at least three who visited us, stood out as very creative and thinking-outside-the-box. Wish I could have taken their pictures. The first was an eleven or twelve-year-old who came in a self-made Waldo costume from the Where's Waldo book series. I love book inspired costumes! A little boy about 3 o 4 wore an full body short brown curly-haired suit with ears. Only his face showed. I guess I should have said 'tell me what you are', but I asked, are you a bear or a dog? With an extremely superior, indignant voice he said, "I'm an OTTER!"  I loved that. Later, a 3 year-old girl wearing a red tutu sprinkled with tiny, red gems, a glittering top with red twinkles all over it and a red sequin crown came to the door with her older brother (he was probably about 6). Now, I thought it was obvious what she was, but I said, "And you're a beautiful ballerina." She started galloping in place and said, "No, I'm a horse." Her brother said, "She's a ballerina." She kept right on galloping and said, "No. I'm a horse. I love big dogs and big horses." Off she galloped down the sidewalk, down the driveway and back to her mother, who waved.

I like to go as an endangered species! Excuse the wrinkled, dog-hair covered t-shirt. I forgot I had it on.          

One of my dogs was not very cooperative when we tried to take his picture. He wouldn't keep his ears in the alotted holes. So, his costume head kept falling back. (look closely you'll see he was black nose at the very bottom of the picture and his bangs covering his eyes. That way, you can try to imagine how he looked, though.

My friend made her dog, Sara, a Lion costume. Sara's so proud in her costume, unlike my dog, Bebe. He's usually just as smiley as Sara, but maybe he wanted to be a Lion instead of a Sock Puppet.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Crazy Halloween in our neighborhood 2017



 You can't get by this one without it turning to look at you and moving your way.

 These ghosts are so ephemeral they're almost real!

 I'm going to get you! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

The real thing. Thank you Wikimedia Commons.