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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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Around the World with Pancakes: Italian Crespelles

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

Having recently "ventured" off to Italy, I thought I'd see what kinds of pancakes are eaten there - and discovered the (apparent) age old question of what came first: the French crepe or the Italian crespelle. Italians claim that Caterina de Medici brought the Italian recipe for crespelle to France when she brought her cooks along in 1533 when married to King Henry II of France, and the French have claimed them as their own since. 

Left, find Italy on a map - possibly the most recognizable country in the world!
Right, Two canals in Venice. Isn't that stunning?

 Photo Credit: MorBCN (CC-Adapted into collage)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sundays in France: 1st of May Traditions

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

In a few days time, on the 1st of May, the French will be enjoying a tradition I consider to be truly charming and would love to be a part of: a day off work and the celebration of springtime with the incredible aroma of muguets. They will be celebrating La Fête du Travail (Labour Day) and simultaneously La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day).

For a few days prior, the streets fill with vendors on nearly every corner selling lovely lilys  of the valley, considered symbols of spring and a "bringer of happiness". Friends and family offer sprigs, bouquets and pots of the flowers to each other on May 1 as a token of appreciation and for good luck. In fact the more little white dainty flowers are on the sprig, the better the luck, with 13 flowers being the most auspicious. 

The custom is believed to have begun on May 1, 1561, when King Charles IX of France was given a sprig for good luck. He was so charmed with the idea that he gave lily of the valley each year on the first of May to the ladies of the court.

A vendor selling lily of the valley for La Fete du Muguet
Photo Credit: Sarah MacKenzie (CC)

May 1st is also Labour Day in France, a paid national holiday in celebration of workers rights. Labourers marched on the 1st of May in the 1890s in order to push the mandate for eight hour work days. Originally, they wore a little red triangle in their buttonholes, three equal sides representing equal share of one's day to work, leisure and rest (8 hours each). The triangle was replaced by a wild rose, which became the symbol of the Left. During the years of the Vichy Government (1940-44), the wild rose was replaced with the lily of the valley, entrenching it as as symbol of the first of May. 

By the way, 8 hour work days were ratified in 1919 and Labour Day was declared public holiday in France in 1947.

Wouldn't you just love a bouquet of lily of the valley? (And a day off work wouldn't hurt either!)

Title image credited to: Suzanne Bonnefond (CC - Adapted with overlay)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Language in Lebanon & A Few Basic Words

Marhaaba! Salut! Hello!

These three words, all meaning "hello" should be understood by most people in Lebanon - and in terms of English, especially the youth and urban dwellers.

When greeting someone in Lebanon, it's proper etiquette to ask about their family and health.

The official language in Lebanon is Lebanese Arabic, though many speak French as primary or secondary language (vestiges of their colonial past), and the use of English is growing.

Lebanese Arabic is one of the Levantine Arabic languages and is spoken nearly only in Lebanon. (Just as there are many separate languages descended from Latin - French, Spanish, Italian - there are many different families of Arabic languages, and variants and dialects of those).

What I find particularly interesting is that written Arabic differs from spoken Arabic - in fact, Lebanese Arabic is almost never found in written form except in novels when dialect is used. Formal publications like newspapers, as well as formal speeches, use Modern Standard Arabic, a standardized writing that's recognized throughout the Arab world. Modern Standard Arabic is nearly never heard of in conversation except for use in the news and again in formal speeches. 

Then there's Classical Arabic, the language used in the Quran - many muslims study Classical Arabic with the aim to read the Quran in it's original language. 

Lebanese Arabic is a rather guttural language, with a few sounds that are unfamiliar to us. I can write a transliteration of a word in our alphabet, but it won't give you a sense of it - you need to hear it to learn it. With that in mind, here are two videos from Free Language Videos that can help you learn a few words, like greetings and numbers:

Do you find pronunciation difficult?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Children's Poetry Books to Discover the World | National Poetry Month

Poetry is prose that relies on senses, memories, feelings and rhythm - making it such a great medium to delve into cultural and historical differences, while maintaining a connection between the reader and the author, therefore a connection between ourselves and those we might never have considered.

Then again, with kids it's also just a fun lyrical way to learn something new and to open their eyes to new places!

Here are five books that takes us on a discovery around the world through poetry. They can be enjoyed on their own or as a jumping point to discover so much more. 

Some of these books might be hard to find, I've linked them to Better World Books, who sell new and used books (I am not affiliated) and recommend checking out your local library. 

Around the World in Eighty Poems by James Berry. This great books has poems from over 50 different countries/regions from Inuit traditional poetry to an Australian tree lizard singing for rain - all of which with colorful illustrations. The poetry ranges about so many different subjects that kids will find plenty to appreciate.

Take it further: Take a poem and look up the country/region it's from. Locate it on a map - do you know much about the area? What about the country/culture might inspire this poem.

Let's Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World by Debjani Chatterjee. With bright and colorful illustrations, the poetry in this book introduces kids to 24 festivals and celebrations around the world - familiar ones like Christmas and Chinese New Year, and less familiar ones like Purim and Sikh New Year. There are end notes that describe these festivals and where they take place.

Take it further: Look up one or more of the festivals online to see photographs of the celebration. With many festivals, specials foods are eaten - try your hand at cooking the celebratory dishes.

Around the World on Eighty Legs: Animal Poems by Amy Gibson (affiliate link). This is a whimsical book that introduces kids to the diverse wildlife found around the world. There are short verses for 61 different animals, from giraffe to goanna (you'll have to read it to find out what this is!) and they can be pretty silly, making this a great book especially for younger kids.

Take it further: Look up one or more of these animals, find their region on a map and learn about their habitats.

Voices: Poetry and Art from Around the World by Barbara Brenner. I especially liked this book, though I would recommend it for older kids, ages 10 and up. Spanning all continents, the poetry ranges from traditional to contemporary. There are illustrations and photographs related to each culture, and a few facts about the poets, their cultures and the history of the place. 

Take it further: Use these poems and artwork as a jumping point to learn more about the culture/country they're from. Find folk art from that country and be inspired to create your own.

This Same Sky by Naomi Shihab Nye. This book is an anthology of poetry collected from 68 different countries. It isn't illustrated, it's sheer poetry. I would recommend it for kids 11 or 12 and up, unless you have a child who loves reading and hearing poetry. Many of the poems have such a universal theme, which is what makes reading poetry from around the world so valuable with kids - it bridges that gap of seeing others as "other". The poems are indexed by country, which makes it great to search for poetry from a specific country. 

Take it further: With this or any of the books above, host a "poetry tea". Choose a few poems from the same country or region to be read at tea time. Set the table with snacks and tea (or juice) from country, play traditional music from the country in the background and read the poetry in a relaxed atmosphere. For example, we once had Chinese poetry tea time with Chinese tea, Cantonese egg tarts from a local bakery, and pipa music in the background.

I hope you get a chance to explore the world through poetry!

Find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sundays in France - Introductory Books

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

The first place we start when on a virtual travel is with books - and here are my recommendations to introduce kids to France and use as a reference on what to learn about next. 

France (Been There!)  by Annabel Savery
Told from perspective of a child visiting France, this is a great introductory book. Along with quick geography facts & map, this book takes the reader to the different regions in France, showcasing the diversity and cultural highlights that can be found there. It's an easy book to read, accessible for younger kids with great photos.
There's also an endnote with basic french phrases and instructions on counting to 10 in French. 

Let's Visit France (Around the World)  by Susie Brooks
This is another easy to read book, and it doesn't overlap much with the book above. Like the above book, it's written from the perspective of someone visiting France. With easy to read format and lots of photographs, you'll learn about festivals and markets, food, nature and things to see and do, all with a few French words included in each "area". There's also a recipe for crepes at the end.

France (Blastoff! Readers: Exploring Countries)  by Rachel Grack is another great introduction to the country. It has great facts about France and some of its marvels, and has colorful photos. It introduces the reader to the geography, daily life, major holidays, food, and art and architecture. 

E is for Eiffel Tower: A France Alphabet (Discover the World) by Helen Wilbur can be read as an "alphabet" book with each letter relating to an aspect of the culture, history or geography of France but it also offers some detailed information about each aspect. The more detailed reading is not for one sitting, and might be a little much for younger kids but it's a great resource. Their website offers up even more information about each country that's explored by their books.

France (Festivals of the World) by Susan McKay (may have different cover)
I love this series - each book is such a great introduction to not only the major holidays and festivals, but also with more regional festivals you likely never heard of in a given country. These are usually one of the first books I read through for our explorations to guide our year, and the kids enjoy reading them as well. The books include a quick overview of France with map, another overview of festivals by season, a two to four page spreads about specific festivals - how they're celebrated, their history, and lots of photographs. The books also include an activity and/or craft and a recipe.

With these books, kids will want to head to France immediately!

Find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website. 

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop | #26

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:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Explore Italy with Kids: How to Make Pasta at Home

As part of our afternoon jaunt to Italy, we made our own fresh pasta! It wasn't nearly as much work as I thought, and we all had a great time. Now we're trying to see if we can do this on a semi regular basis.

Every Italian eats approximately 30kg of pasta each year

I've owned a pasta maker for many years, and since the last time I used it Pea was around 3 years old (she's now 16...) it was high time I dusted it off and put it to use. I don't know if it was because we were doing it with the kids, or likely because we didn't go overboard, but it was so much fun and I can't wait to make more. My sister and I enjoyed ourselves at least as much as the kids. 

There are over 350 different pasta shapes. Take a look at this for a few dozen examples.

Because the dough needed to rest for a couple of hours, I made it ahead of time and we got down to the fun of rolling it. If you're going to make pasta dough with kids, it needs a good 10 minutes of kneading, so I would recommend breaking it in smaller manageable portions, and taking turns.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Exploring Italy with Kids | Food, Activities & Books

This year, I'll be taking my 7 year old niece, Kay, and 5 year old nephew, Nox, on afternoons "Around the World". Recently, over Easter weekend, we headed over to Italy and had a wonderful time. I should note that I would love to spend an entire year exploring Italy, so it was difficult to narrow it down to a few short hours! Here's what we did, with a few added resources for a quick, virtual jaunt you can take with your kids. 

I'm joining Crafty Mom's Share in exploring Italy - I hope you'll join us!
There's a link up at the bottom of this post where you'll find more resources to explore Italy - and add your own!

Geography & Language

The first thing we did was locate Italy on a map - Italy being arguably the most recognizable country on any map, looking like a boot kicking a rock. We then learned a little introductory Italian - complete with hand gestures. The kids loved saying Ciao! and Grazie! in our laughable Italian accents. Every word said from that moment on included impassioned hand gestures, accents and a couple of actual Italian words. (Because of the stage of adoption they are in, I can't post photos of Kay, but her hand gestures were spot on - and hilarious!) Considering Italians have nearly developed a language with hand gestures - apparently you could practically have an entire conversation with Italian hand gestures alone - it's possible we were sending contradictory messages between our hands and our words :) While our hands were often raised in this gesture, we learned to great each other, be polite and count in Italian. 

  • I made a printable sheet with a few basic words in Italian to learn at home (seen above) that can be found here.
  • Find a printable map of Italy kids can color here.
  • Find a printable flag of Italy here.
  • Here's another printable, informative coloring sheet of Italy for kids with a few fast facts and interesting tidbits.
  • Find a coloring page of the leaning tower of Pisa here.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Cedars of Lebanon & The Lebanese Flag

The Lebanon Cedar is the national emblem of Lebanon and is found on their flag, coat of arms, government logos and on currency. To the Lebanese, the cedar is a symbol of holiness, hope, freedom and peace.

The cedar of Lebanon is mentioned 77 times in the Bible.

On the Lebanese flag, the cedar stands out to represent peace and holiness.The white stripe represents the snow capped peaks of Lebanon's mountains and is a symbol of purity and peace. The two red stripes represent the blood that the Lebanese have shed to preserve their country against invaders, symbolizing martyrdom and self-sacrifice.

Can you see those people? That's how big Lebanon cedars are!

The cedar forests are the oldest documented forests in history. The trees used to cover a large part of the country. For thousands of years they were an important source of income and heavily used in construction, for example to build ships and temples. Their importance was such that they featured prominently in an ancient Sumerian story, one of the very earliest written records from the third millennium BC.

Lebanese currency from 1988
Photo Credit: James Malone (CC)
Unfortunately, after years of exploitation, there are only a few old trees still found in Lebanon, and only a small portion of the forests remain. There are several reserves in an effort at reforestation, but it's taking time since cedar trees grow very slowly. 

There's a forest of cedars called the Forest of the Cedars of God that's considered a sacred forest. It's in the Qadisha Valley that also holds one of the most important early Christian monastic settlements in the world. The valley and the forest are a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Qadisha Valley, almost 50 km long, filled with monasteries and churches, and home to the Forest of the Cedars of God.
Photo Credit: Sean Long (CC)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sundays in France: Easter Celebrations in France

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

Easter in France is celebrated similarly to North America with secular and religious customs that feature family gatherings and lots of chocolate. There are regional differences and one custom that North American kids might find curious - the Flying Bells.

The Easter greeting in France is "Joyeuses Paques!" meaning Happy Easter!

Cloches Volantes (Flying Easter Bells)

Silent church bells for Easter, ready to fly off to Rome
Photo Credit: Salva Barbera (CC)

France is predominantly Roman Catholic (90%) with every city, town and village having a church, most with bells that ring throughout the year. On Thursday night before Good Friday, all the church bells go silent in commemoration of the death of Jesus. The bells are not to be heard from again until Easter Sunday. This custom goes back to the 7th century when the Pope banned the ringing of church bells between Good Friday and Easter, to ring again after the resurrection of Jesus. Children are told that they're silent because they've flown off to Rome to visit the Pope where they are blessed and filled with chocolates to be delivered to children the night before Easter on their way back to their churches. All deliveries done, they are back and ready to ring in Easter on Sunday morning. When kids hear the bells ringing, it's time to run outside and hunt for the Easter goodies the Easter Bells left behind.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Recipe for Ma'amoul for a traditional Lebanese Easter

This afternoon, the girls and I made ma'amoul to have with our Lebanese Easter dinner. We tasted some from a Lebanese bakery a couple of weeks ago that we all really enjoyed, so I was a little worried to make them at home as part of our Lebanese Easter - but they turned out great! Ma'amoul are a traditional Lebanese sweet made especially for Easter by Christians, and to be eaten at night during Ramadan and for holidays by Muslims. They're made with a semolina crust and have a sweet filling inside - either dates or nuts like pistachios and walnuts. For those celebrating Easter, making these cookies is often a family affair, with everyone helping to make many dozens of these. They're formed on Good Friday, brought to the bakery to be baked on Saturday and eaten on Easter Sunday. 

Left, ma'amoul mold; Right, ma'amoul cookies
Photo Credit: Noema Perez (CC)
Ma'amoul are made with a special wooden mold to get their decorative shapes, but you can still make round ones without using a specialty mold. The dough is unlike any "cookie" dough we've ever made - it doesn't use flour but fine semolina, and includes rose water and orange blossom water (these can be found at Middle Eastern stores). It also has to rest overnight, so planning ahead is important. We made some with date filling and some with a walnut filling. Not only do these pastries taste good, I really enjoyed sitting with the girls, assembling the cookies and chatting - everyone relaxed for the long weekend ahead. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

6 Multicultural Ideas for Your Easter Eggs

Over the years, our family has incorporated lots of different traditions into our Easter from other cultures. Here are a few fun ideas to add a little multicultural flair to your Easter eggs whether it's decorating them, playing with them, baking them or even breaking them.

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