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Archive for December, 2008


Looking for some newfangled carols to sing? The Times and Trib ran our third annual Twisted Carols contest, asking readers to submit their own lyrics to some classic holiday songs. The best of the bunch go online and in print on Thursday morning, but here’s a sneak peek, courtesy of the Acalanes High School choir:

Posted on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
Under: Christmas | No Comments »

HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #11: Top that tree

topper4Growing up, my family always finished off the trees in the same way. We had a blond-haired angel (which seemed odd in a family of brown-haired folks) on the main tree and a lit star on the smaller window tree. It’s likely my parents would still be using the same tree toppers today if my mom hadn’t downsized the main tree and scratched the window tree four years ago.

In my own house, I decided we should try to be different. That’s how we ended up with a teddy bear wearing a green Christmas dress topping our tree. My stepdaughter, Dana, and I wanted an “original.” And truth be told, with so many other holiday decorating items, we couldn’t find a spot for the Christmas bear. Our Do-It-Yourself project was pretty simple. Using thick cardboard, we made a cone, stuck it up around the bears legs and then used safety pins (through the underside of the cone) to attach the bear to the cone. She’s been atop our tree the past three years.

But to avoid getting stuck in a rut, we’ve vowed to retire the Christmas bear next year and make a new tree topper. Fortunately, we’ve found some great online resources for other DIY tree toppers. Here are just a few that sound interesting:

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Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008
Under: Christmas | No Comments »


Orangutan Island (Animal Planet)This week, we’re giving away a pair of kids’ DVDs, starting with Animal Planet’s “Orangutan Island,” which takes place at the world’s largest primate rescue center. Monkey food fights, bad hair, very fun. And we’re pairing it a “Go Diego Go” flick from Nickelodeon called “It’s a Bugs’ World.” Just the ticket for a winter break double feature! All you have to do to win these is click “comments” and tell us about your favorite place to see wild animals – favorite zoo, outdoor adventure or TV show. We’ll draw a winner’s name Sunday night. (P.S. Congrats to Erica, who won last week’s Care Bears DVDs!)

Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008
Under: Contest | No Comments »

PARENT TALKS: Is This a Phase?

Toddler by Rick Nease, MCT Direct“Childhood Matters: Is This a Phase?”
Dec. 27 from 9 to 10 a.m. on Green 960 AM and streamed live on A rebroadcast of the show with host Rona Renner, Helen Neville, RN and author of “Is This A Phase?” and pediatrician Peter Levine discussing the wide range of normal development and ways to know it’s time to get more help.

“Childhood Matters”
Jan. 3 from 9 to 10 a.m. on Green 960 AM and streamed live on Rona Renner, RN and panelists discuss parenting issues.

“East Bay Mom’s Preschool and Childhood Resource Fair”
Jan. 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Center, Oakland
Meet with reps from over 80 preschools and childcare programs across the East Bay, as well as staffers from other local agencies that serve young families. (Adults $6, kids free, resource directory is $5)

Something to add to the list? E-mail us the details or click “comments” and add it right here.

Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008
Under: Parenting Issues | No Comments »

KID Music Reviews

Laurie Berkner BandLooking for some kiddy music reviews? Two of our favorite guest bloggers, Trine Gallegos and Sofia, her adorable music expert, age 6, weigh in on three, brand new CDs, starting with…
The Laurie Berkner Band: “Rocketship Run”
“Ah, Laurie, how we missed ya. It’s been six years since Berkner produced a new CD, and it appears to be dang worth the wait. We seem to be much luckier than the Guns ‘N’ Roses fans who waited for ‘Chinese Democracy,’ but I digress. As with her many other offerings, Berkner fills her CD with plenty of toe-tapping, sweet, folksy and just-plain fun tunes. Resident music critic, Sofia, especially likes the title song, along with ‘Five Days Old’ and ‘Going on a Hunt.'”
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Posted on Sunday, December 21st, 2008
Under: children's music | No Comments »

HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #10: Candy cane cooking

KN CANDYCANES 5 DESomehow, every year we end up with at least two or three boxes of miniature candy canes. They seem to mutate like single socks. I didn’t even buy any this season, and we still ended up with 3 1/2 boxes. With so much excess, my stepdaughter and I had only one choice: get cooking.

We have three candy-canes-included recipes that have become favorites. Each one is simple enough that the kids can help. My stepdaughter, Dana, loves to pound the candy canes with a meat mallet. So, instead of crushed candy canes, often we end up with candy cane powder.

The easiest recipe is one we came up with ourselves. Buy a package of Keebler Grasshopper chocolate covered mint cookies (or bust the Girl Scout Thin Mints out of the freezer). Line them up on plates or cookie sheets. Melt two bars of white baking chocolate in the microwave (about 3 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes). Put a dollop of melted white chocolate in the center of the cookie. Sprinkle with crushed candy cane. Place in the refrigerator for 5 minutes or until set. Store them in an airtight container. (For other recipes, read on:)

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Posted on Sunday, December 21st, 2008
Under: Christmas | No Comments »

HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #9: Deck the house

Staff PhotojournalistFor three years, I’ve had the opportunity to “peek” inside the decorated homes of three readers. I love our annual Holiday Homes Tour in the Home & Garden section because I always walk away wondering, “Could I do that, too?” (No worries, Husband, I won’t go too far overboard.) Last year, I admired how one Moraga resident draped lit garland with cooking-themed ornaments over her kitchen window. At an after-Christmas sale, I found this cute candy-themed string of garland, and this season, I started decking out my own kitchen window.

What’s fun about this year’s trio of homes in the Holiday Home Tour is how some of the decorating ideas are simple enough to be done with the kids (see all the pictures and the article in our Home & Garden section). One of my personal favorites is the reindeer tree (pictured). All it took Marilou Belo of Danville was an antler headband, round red ornament for a nose and a bow for the neck. Simple yet fun. Read on to see some of the other great ideas.

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Posted on Saturday, December 20th, 2008
Under: Christmas | No Comments »

SCHOOLS: Algebra Exam Gets an F, Teachers’ Contract Gets an A

School signBig news out of West Contra Costa where trustees announced a tentative school closures list that includes 13 campuses – 10 elementaries, Kennedy High and Adams Middle in Richmond and Portola Middle in El Cerrito. About half are expected to make the final list and odds are on Kennedy High and El Sobrante and Coronado elementaries being among them, says schools reporter Kimberly Wetzel in this morning’s paper. As expected, the news did not go over well – hundreds of Kennedy High students marched in protest this morning – but the district is faced with an enormous budget shortfall, and closing eight, underenrolled schools could save $3.4 million. The chances of a happy ending to this story are slim.

Meanwhile in East County, shocked school officials and parents just received word that their state construction grants have been frozen. That $20 million was supposed to help revamp Pittsburg High, replace aging portables, and renovate schools in Brentwood as well. This story has more details.

In considerably happier news, after 16 months of negotiating,
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Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2008
Under: Schools | No Comments »

95,000 EVENFLO High Chairs Recalled

Recalled highchairFolks, check your high chairs. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Evenflo just recalled 95,000 “Majestic” high chairs (pictured at left), sold in 2006 and 2007, because the seatbacks can fall off or suddenly recline. The recall comes after 140 instances in which the seatbacks suddenly failed – at least 47 toddlers and babies fell out of the chairs, bumping or bruising their heads in the process, two children suffered broken bones, and 45 others received abrasions, cuts and bruises. Evenflo has also received over 1,000 reports of plastic caps and screws falling out of the high chairs – which is why the backs are falling off. In seven of those cases, toddlers were discovered with loose screws or caps in their hands or mouths, so this recall is being spurred by concerns about both falls and choking hazards. For more information and a free repair kit, call Evenflo (800-233-5921 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday) or visit

Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2008
Under: Toy Recalls | No Comments »

HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #8: Snowflake Cookies

Snowflake Cookie Wreath (courtesy Washington Post)The Washington Post recently tapped Heather Chittum from Hook Restaurant in DC to craft a few sugary fantasies. The results – a Santa’s sleigh filled with ethereal Wedding Cookies, and an icy blue and white snowflake wreath made entirely out of sugar cookies – ran in the Times and Trib this week too – and we couldn’t resist sharing the links and some how-tos! So here’s how to make Heather Chittum’s Snowflake Sugar Cookie Wreath (pictured at left):

1. You’ll need about 30 baked snowflake cookies, preferably of 3 or 4 different sizes (see Heather Chittum’s Sugar Cookie recipe or use your own favorite). For the base, use a thin (½-inch) Foamcore ring that is 10 to 12 inches in diameter; the width of the ring (the surface for attaching the cookies) should be about 2 inches.
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Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2008
Under: Christmas, Cuisine | No Comments »