Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Easter Season & Celebrations in Lebanon

Easter is the Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and for many Christians, it's the most important celebration. The Christian population in Lebanon, the largest of all Arab countries, is 40% with various communities, including Orthodox Christian, Maronite and Armenian. Though not always on the same dates for the Orthodox Christians (who follow a different calendar), Easter in Lebanon is celebrated similarly as it is in the West with processions, church services and large family gatherings. Special dishes are enjoyed, Easter eggs are decorated and everyone looks forward to the egg cracking game on Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday

Special anise and sesame cookies, called Kaak el Chaanineh, are made especially for Palm Sunday, and you can find a recipe for the below cookies here

Kaak el Chaanineh, Palm Sunday Cookies
Photo Courtesy of Rosanie Nabbout of Glamroz.com

Holy week, the week preceding Easter, begins on Palm Sunday (Sha'nineh in Arabic). Palm Sunday celebrates the path of Jesus Christ's last journey into Jerusalem, when his followers laid palm branches in his path, before his crucifixion. Wearing new clothes, or at least new shoes, families parade with their children, often on their shoulders, in a procession led by a priest. They carry olive branches, branches with palm leaves, and flowers. Children carry special decorated candles, with ribbons and flowers. Children are the main participants in these processions, because Christians believe that children were the first to greet Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. It's also an occasion to celebrate peace and love for one another. Here's a quick video of a Palm Sunday procession.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sundays in France: Poisson d'Avril | With Printable Fish for April Fool's Day

Every Sunday, this blog will explore France, based on our family's virtual explorations in 2011

April 1st is a day of jokes and pranks in many places, including in France. Along with fake stories in the media, everyone loves to play "Poissons d'Avril" (April's Fish). It's simple, silly fun. Children (and the young at heart) tape paper fish to someone's else's back, and wait and see how long it takes for them to notice. When the person notices the fish, the culprit shouts out "Poissons d'Avril!".

Sundays in France - Fast & Fun Facts about France

Every Sunday, this blog will explore France, based on our family's virtual explorations in 2011

Can you find France on a map? It's the largest country in the European Union, and borders Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Monaco and Andorra. 

Paris skyline with Eiffel Tower
Photo Credit: Miroslav Petroska (CC)
  • France is sometimes referred to as "The Hexagon" because of the six sided shape of its borders. 
  • It has a population of 66.6 million people
  • French is the official language and the most spoken, but there are many other regional dialects and languages, like Basque, Alsatian and Breton to name just a few
  • More than 80% of the population is Roman Catholic. 
  • The capital of France is Paris
  • France receives 83 million foreign tourists every year - the most of any country in the world!
Gordes, in the region of Provence, FrancePhoto Credit: Jorge Sanmartin Maissa(CC)
  • The French national motto is "Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité" (Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood).
  • The French flag is known as Le Drapeau Tricolor, or Tricolour for short. 
  • The French government awards medals to citizens who have "successfully raised several children with dignity".
  • France was the first country to introduce the licence plate.
  • France uses 12 different time zones, the most of any other country in the world.
  • There are 350-400 distinct types of French cheese
  • The French can take credit for many inventions & discoveries, including Braille, the metric system, aspirin, bicycles, hot air balloons and the Etch-a-Sketch
The French AlpsPhoto Credit: Bernard Blanc (CC)

Did you learn anything new?

Sundays in France: A peak at our explorations from 2011

We've been exploring countries and cultures since Pea was six years old, with more depth as she grew up. When we met Elle, who was then five, we dragged her into it :). Over the years, we've explored - to a greater or lesser extent- Antarctica, China, Hawaii, Mexico (the first year with Elle), India, Scotland, France, Greece, China (again), West Africa, and now Lebanon. I thought I'd recap our year "in" France - a country chosen by Elle for 2011, who wanted to explore the country of her ancestors.  

As you can imagine with France's reputation for gastronomy, food was a big feature of our year. We tried classic French recipes, dishes the girls were quite proud to prepare from beginning to end, food to challenge our palettes (see those frog legs up there?), lots of cheese, and lots of croissants. 

We also learned about a few of France's great artists, introduced ourselves to the French Revolution, followed the Tour de France, learned about various important historical French figures, and followed the typical French celebrations and festivals. 

All of which I would like to share with you. Along with our experiences, I'll be including resources and activities I've come across since that I wish we'd done (I always have a list of things I wish we'd done come the end of a year). I'll be posting about France on Sundays. I'm hoping to create a bit of a resource for any family interested in getting to know more about France and the French culture. 

A bientot!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Extraordinary Women from the Muslim World | Women's History Month

For Women's History Month, I'd like to bring your attention to thirteen Muslim women from ancient to modern times who have lived extraordinary lives and influenced their communities, often overcoming extreme hardships. These women, from various nationalities and economic backgrounds, have had a positive impact throughout the ages.

We were introduced to them in the wonderful book Extraordinary Women from the Muslim World. From poets to military pilots to nobel prize winners., this book offers an account of the lives of these women in an easy to read, approachable and intelligent storytelling way, each with one full page illustration of their portraits. It dispels stereotypes about Muslim women and offers role models you may never have known. I highly recommend reading this book with your kids, it will inspire them to pursue their goals and dreams. As importantly, it will show them that inspiration can be found in all people, no matter their gender, nationality or religion. Here's a quick introduction to thirteen Muslim women well worth getting to know. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Our Virtual Year Begins | Fast Facts about Lebanon

We are finally headed for Lebanon! 

Did you know where to find Lebanon on a map? It's on the coast of the Mediterranean sea and borders Syria and Israel. It's just the tiniest strip of a country. There are cities and beaches by the sea, and high mountain ranges with forests of pine and cedar trees. I've read that you could be skiing in the mountains while looking out at the sea below. 

Panoramic sunset in Jounieh, Lebanon
Photo Credit: Paul Saad (CC)

  • Lebanon has a population of nearly 6 million people, 87% of which live in urban areas. (There are approximately 18 million Lebanese outside of Lebanon)
  • The majority of the population (95%) are Arabs, though many Christian Lebanese don't identify as Arab but as Phoenicians. 
  • The main religions are Muslim (54%) & Christian (40%)- the highest percentage of all the Arab countries- and altogether there are 18 religious communities.
  • The main languages are Arabic, French, Armenian and English.

In Beirut, the St. George Maronite Cathedral stands right beside the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque.
Photo Credit: Mike (CC)
  • Beirut is the capital and largest city in Lebanon
  • Beirut is the 10th most popular shopping destination in the world
  • Beirut has been destroyed and rebuilt 7 times in its 5000 years due to earthquakes and wars.
  • The first law school in the world was built in Beirut
Temple of Jupiter in Baalbeck, Lebanon
Photo Credit: Paul Saad (CC)
There is quite the rich history in Lebanon (along with the first law school) ...

  • The name "Lebanon" has been unchanged for over 4000 years, making it the oldest known in the world
  • Some of the best preserved Roman ruins are in Lebanon
  • The city Byblos is considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (having been continuously inhabited for 5000 years)
  • The first alphabet was created in Byblos

Did you learn anything new? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

My thoughts on our year in West Africa - and moving forward into Lebanon & beyond

My Thoughts On Our Year In West Africa

We're finally here, the end of our West African exploration. About a month late, based on the fact that we started in late February of 2014 - and 3 months late were I to stick with a regular year, beginning and ending in January. But there you have it, we've explored the fascinating region of West Africa - and barely scratched the surface. It is distinctly possible that by choosing an entire region, I bit off more than I could chew.

Our Winter in a Nutshell

It's been so long since I've written an update on our goings on! In our little corner, we've had quite the winter weather this year. Our east coast province, Nova Scotia, is being dubbed as Snova Scotia -  a little cheesy, but so true! No one remembers having this much snow or snow days home with the kids - between the frozen rain storms and snow storms, the school board considered cancelling spring break to make up for how much school kids are missing. With all this snow, we took advantage of local organizations offering free snow shoe rentals and learned how to snowshoe. In fact, that's how we spent the first weekend of spring - in snow shoes :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Around the World with Pancakes: Irish Boxty

We're trying out pancakes from around the world, looking beyond fluffy pancakes and beyond breakfast food

Just in time for St. Patrick's day, we tried out some tasty Irish boxty. These are traditional Irish potato pancakes that are a typical dish in home cooking in various regions, and have gained popularity in its many versions as an Irish restaurant dish. They're traditionally eaten on St. Brigid's day, in celebration of the beginning of spring. They are so much a part of local culture, they have folk rhymes about them:

"Boxty on the griddle, Boxty in the pan,
If you can't make a Boxty, you'll never get a man."

Take a look at these beautiful scenes of Ireland
Locate Ireland on a map; Right, the Blarney Castle in Ireland. Would you kiss the Blarney stone? (Photo credit Heather Elias - CC adapted into a collage)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Recipe for West African Groundnut Stew

Our first recipe in our year long virtual travel to West Africa was for West African Peanut Soup - which turned out to really be inspired by the dish. We were reminded right away to throw away our assumptions. It seems fitting that as we wrap up these "travels", that we try the authentic recipe - as authentic as a recipe with dozens of variations across a region can be! 

"Groundnut" is the common African word for peanut. Peanuts are a staple food in West Africa and are often used in savory dishes, like this stew. It's a common dish across West Africa, with so many variations, including using fish instead of chicken, making it thick or soupy, and adding a variety of different vegetables - or none at all. It's traditionally served with boiled eggs and various garnishes, such as sliced boiled yam, sliced fruit such as mango, papaya or pineapple, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, coconut, hot sauce, and of course crushed peanuts. We didn't try all the garnishes because I knew most of it would go to waste, but I did include the eggs and tomatoes - and would've had peanuts if Hubby hadn't eaten them all as a snack the night before :)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop | #25

Welcome to the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop! This month I'll be joining Multicultural Kid Blogs and various excellent bloggers in co-hosting a blog hop featuring what I love most: learning about different cultures with kids. This link up is an excellent resource for virtually traveling the world - I hope you'll join us.

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop is a place where bloggers can share multicultural activities, crafts, recipes, and musings for our creative kids. We can't wait to see what you share this time! 

Created by Frances of Discovering the World through My Son's Eyes, the blog hop has now found a new home at Multicultural Kid Blogs.

This month our co-hosts are:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Traditional Masks of West Africa | With roundup of masks you can make at home

Masks are one of the first things associated with Africa. They are an essential part of the traditional culture of Sub-Saharan Africa, and are especially prevalent in West and Central West African societies. 

Although the term "African masks" suggests there is only one African culture, specific uses and representations of masks vary widely across the many cultures that use them. Having said that, there are some general traits that apply to most. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our French Canadian Roots: Recipe for Sucre a la Crème

Sharing our French Canadian heritage with a monthly recipe from our childhood, hoping to inspire similar traditions and memories for our daughters

Anyone following this series must by now realize how much French Canadians from Quebec like their desserts really sweet, either with brown sugar or maple syrup (like in sugar pie or pouding chomeur). This is no exception. Sucre à la crème is kind of like a brown sugar fudge, but I really enjoy it more than fudge. It's a traditional confection from Quebec, generally given as gifts for Christmas. My grandmother still sends my sister and I a box of her homemade sucre à la crème at Christmas, and it's always exciting to take that first bite. It also brings back memories of sneaking extra pieces of it when adults weren't looking - something our girls seem to be following suit :)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

West African Staple Food: Making Fufu at home

Left,  Boy pounding cassava in Benin (Photo credit Dietmar Temps CC); Top Right, Yam fufu being pounded in Ghana (Photo credit Terrie Schweitzer CC);  Bottom Right, Fufu being served with sauce poured over it in Guniea (Photo credit Marta P CC)

Fufu, (or foufou or foofoo) in its many forms is a staple food in many parts of Africa, and certainly throughout West Africa. I read in a memoir that the author knew she was approaching a village by the sound of the pounding.

In West Africa, it's made by boiling a starchy vegetable, either yam, cassava, cocoyam or plaintain (or combination of any of these), then pounding them in a giant wooden mortar with an equally giant wooden pounding stick until it feels like dough. This takes a fair bit of time and effort, and is often a group effort!

Here's a very short video to give you a sense of the work involved!

Pounded fufu in a mortar; Mound of fufu served next to soupPhoto Credit: Right - Flixtey (CC); Left - Londonsista (CC) 

It's typically served as a mound of fufu, either on the side or in the dish with sauce ladled over it. 

Making Fufu at home

Making pounded yam fufu at home

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