Family Traditions by Dr. Laura Markham

Rituals and Traditions That Bring Families Closer

“The goal of rituals is connection. Rituals create sacred space designated for togetherness and unity.” – Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D.

Why do families need rituals?

What’s a ritual?  It’s a routine with meaning.  Children love ritual.  Repetition, the comfort of belonging, the sense of wonder, magic, and celebration — all Photo: Phil Cantorcreate a bonding experience that nurtures both kids and parents.  Rituals hold families together.

Why do we need rituals?  It’s primal.  They help us move emotionally from one place to another; they ease pain, acknowledge growth, and create connection. 

Rituals are invaluable to families, as most parents discover.  Daily rituals like bedtime stories and goodbye hugs make separations easier and provide comfort and security. Traditions like taking a picture on the front steps on the first day of school and letting kids stay up till midnight on New Year’s Eve help children integrate the changes of the year. Rituals like bar mitzvahs and Christmas Eve mass communicate values in a visceral way.

In a secular culture, many parents who don’t relate  to organized religion find that rituals and traditions give the sense of meaning and anchoring they seek.  All rituals reinforce values and create connection.

Studies show that happy families not only have treasured traditions, they evolve new ones that help them find their way through the inevitable changes of growing up, as well as create warm bonds and a sense of security.

“The idea of starting a family tradition sounds overwhelming.”

Don’t worry, your family already has its own traditions, from Sunday morning pancakes to observing holidays in a certain way. The way you celebrate birthdays, mark the passing of pet or observe a special day, the way you say goodbye to each other every morning or shop for fall clothes each school year; all are the stuff of which memories are made.


“Ok, but how do I create traditions that nurture family connected-ness?”

Creating new traditions that work for your family is a simple matter.  Try something new, and if you like it, repeat it.  Then begin to talk about it and look forward to it with the whole family.  Eventually, that tradition will take on a life of its own and will become a sustaining part of your family’s culture.

“And what about rituals?  Are they different?”  We might think of rituals as a tradition carried out in a more sacred way, usually the same way every time. Singing the Chanuka blessings or saying Grace before meals are obvious examples, but so are singing Happy Birthday and blowing out candles.  It may not seem that “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” is sacred, but all repetitious chants  are essentially prayers, satisfying a primal human need. Kids love rituals and gain a sense of safety from them.

“Are rituals easy to create?”  You don’t need to do anything fancy. Most rituals use either the lighting of candles or the repetition of a phrase or song as an invocation, or a beginning.  Sometimes that’s all there is to them, as in the case of a particular goodbye saying.  Other rituals, like going around the table at Thanksgiving to say what we’re thankful for, have “content.”  And virtually all have a closing, signaling that sacred space is over and we return to daily life, as when the birthday candles are blown out, or we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer.



Make Your Own Candy Corn!

Cakespy: Homemade Candy Corn

Cakespy: Homemade Candy Corn

Note: Jessie Oleson (aka Cakespy) drops by every Monday to share a delicious dessert recipe.

[Photographs and art: Jessie Oleson]

Ever wondered how candy corn is made? Well, to give you the short answer, with lots of equipment, over a four to five day period. But don’t let the process daunt you, because it is possible to make your own micro-batches of the classic Halloween candy at home.

This surprisingly simple recipe yields large, plump candy kernels infused with a sweet vanilla flavor. I found that using salted butter adds a nice, rich finish. Conclusion? These homespun tricolor treats are definitely worth the time and effort. Once you’ve tasted them, you may never buy candy corn by the bag again.


Cakespy: Homemade Candy Corn

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  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup salted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • red and yellow food coloring


  1. 1

    In a medium sized bowl, combine the sifted confectioners’ sugar and powdered milk. Set to the side.

  2. 2

    In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup and butter. Bring to a boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Once it reaches the boiling point, reduce heat to medium and continue stirring for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the vanilla extract and remove from heat.

  3. 3

    Add the confectioners’ sugar and powdered milk mixture to the wet ingredients; stir well until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated and smooth.

  4. 4

    Let the dough cool until it is firm enough to handle, about 30 minutes to an hour (I just let it cool in the saucepan).

  5. 5

    Divide the dough into three equal parts and set each third into a separate bowl. Add 2 to 3 drops of yellow food coloring to one dish, one drop of red and two drops of yellow to another dish, and leave the remaining dish uncolored. Knead the dough to which you have added food coloring until the color is even (you may want to use gloves to ensure that you don’t stain yourself). If the dough is feeling very soft or sticky, you may want to chill the dough for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator before proceeding with the next steps.

  6. 6

    On top of a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper, use your hands to roll each color of dough into a long, slender rope. You can roll it out to your desired thickness: for larger candies, make each rope thicker; for smaller candies, make each rope thinner.

  7. 7

    Line the three ropes of dough together: white, orange, and yellow. To ensure that they will stick together, lay a piece of waxed paper on top and give them a very gentle rolling with a rolling pin. You just want to adhere them, not to flatten them.

  8. 8

    Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough into triangles. Keep a damp cloth nearby so that you can wipe off the knife if it begins to get a candy residue. This method will result in half a batch of traditionally colored candy corn and half a batch with yellow tips (it’s OK—they taste the same). Let the finished kernels sit for an hour or two (do not stack them on top of one another as they will stick together!) to become firm.


Weston Forum (in full)

When Mary Louise Santacaterina of Weston was growing up, every Christmas her parents would tell her and her sisters a special poem in order to lull them to sleep.

The poem was about the adventures of a chocolate cat, a gingerbread dog, and a magical sugar plum tree where the most delicious candy would grow.

Sisters Karen Parkell, Susan DeAngelis, and Mary Louise Santacaterina of Weston wrote the children’s book The Sugar Plum Tree, based on their family’s storytelling tradition.

Sisters Karen Parkell, Susan DeAngelis, and Mary Louise Santacaterina of Weston wrote the children’s book The Sugar Plum Tree, based on their family’s storytelling tradition.

When the girls woke up the next morning, they would find little candy treats under their beds — proof that the magic of the sugar plum tree had worked!

In an effort to memorialize their family’s special tradition, the sisters decided to update the poem, write it in their own words, and publish it.

The result is the colorful hardcover book The Sugar Plum Tree, available for purchase at Lang’s Pharmacy in Weston Center, Swirl Ice Cream in Georgetown, The Candy Scoop in New Canaan, and online at

The poem was inspired by the works of Eugene Field, a 19th-Century children’s poet. The book’s whimsical illustrations were done by Jan Dolby.

“The theme of the story is that dreams can come true,” said Ms. Santacaterina from her Weston home.

She remembers first hearing the poem at her family’s home in Illinois, where she grew up. It was reserved for special occasions, particularly around Christmastime.

As the girls grew older they became very popular as babysitters by telling the poem to their young charges, and planting little treats for them under their beds.

“One of the great things about this poem is that the magic doesn’t end when you grow up, because you get to recite it and pass it along to the next generation,” Ms. Santacaterina said.


The book took about four years to produce, with Ms. Santacaterina in Weston collaborating with her sisters, Karen Parkell in Texas, and Susan DeAngelis in Florida.

p1-SugarPlum_Book12.5“It was initially Susan’s idea to write the book. We are a big ‘dream’ family, we dream a lot — and in color,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

The idea initially languished for a bit until Ms. Santacaterina had a dream about turning the poem into a book. “I couldn’t stop dreaming about it. I said, ‘We need to do this and get this done,’” she said.

The women talked about the project with their cousins, who were also purveyors of the poem. “Everyone said to go for it,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

So the women put together seed money for the project, and came up with a business plan for the book. They decided to create their own publishing company, LilyLu & TT2 Publishing, to maintain creative control over the process.

The company’s name is derived from the women’s nicknames. “Lily is Susan’s nickname, Lu is my nickname, and TT is Karen’s nickname,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

The Sugar Plum Tree’s author, Katherine James, is a collective pen name, a combination of their parents’ middle names. “We wanted to acknowledge our parents because they were the ones that created this family tradition,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

Divided work

The women divided the work on the book. Since Ms. DeAngelis is the “visual” sister, she oversaw the book’s illustration and the book’s overall layout.

Ms. Santacaterina, who has a degree in creative writing and is a freelance journalist, handled the writing and pulled the words together.

Ms. Parkell, who Ms. Santacaterina said is not an especially creative person, got the “gavel” and authority to say yes or no to everything.

“The project took us four long years. Sometimes we needed a break and wouldn’t talk to each other for a month. We each had our part, and it never would have come together without all of us working together. Our cousins were great and gave us feedback before the book was published,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

Ms. Santacaterina and her husband, Paul, moved to Weston eight years ago. They have three children, Maria, Donald and Sofia, who continue the poem’s family tradition.

She hopes others will be inspired by The Sugar Plum Tree and will memorialize their own family traditions on paper.

“One of the goals for LilyLu & TT2 Publishing is that we can someday be large enough to publish other people’s family traditions in book form,” she said. “Our company’s tagline is ‘Sharing one tradition at a time.’ That’s our dream.”

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8 Scavenger Hunt Ideas!

8 Scavenger Hunt Ideas for Kids

Entertain kids for hours with these fun scavenger hunt games.

Elizabeth SanFilippo, Contributor   |   0 Comments
scavenger hunt map

Warm or cold weather, there’s nothing more entertaining for kids than taking part in a scavenger hunt. And they’re great activities for babysitters to do with kids and can be fun for birthday parties.

“Scavenger hunts teach children to open their eyes to their environment,” Alyson Schafer, a parenting expert and best-selling author, says. “It helps them learn to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. It develops a sense of curiosity and adventure.”

Scavenger hunts can also be a great way to get your kids away from the TV and moving around, says Len Saunders, a health and fitness expert. But he says parents should keep the hunts age- and skill-level appropriate. “If it is too easy, the kids will lose interest right away, so make sure it is a challenge,” Saunders says. “If it is too hard, they may lose interest, so keep it at a level where they will have some degree of success.”Younger children should stick to familiar homes or your local park, while older kids may have a larger area, like your town, to roam to find all the clues. Play to your kids’ interests and your environment. Set up a hunt for one child or many, but keep in mind that as the group grows, so will the craziness.

Get your creative juices flowing with these eight ideas for out-of-the-box scavenger hunts:

  1. Nature Hunt
    No matter what climate you live in, Schaefer suggests you “take a look around your surroundings and see what your kids could ‘hunt’ for and collect in a basket. “Outside it might be as simple as a twig, bark, stone, acorn.” Use this hunt as an opportunity to educate the children about their surroundings and instill an appreciation for nature.
  2. Fitness Hunt
    This is perfect for the cold weather months when kids can’t be outside playing as much. To organize, Saunders recommends attaching each object with a fitness challenge. “For example, if little Johnny finds a tennis ball — which is on his list — he has to read the note attached, which may say, ‘perform 10 jumping jacks.’” Before moving on, he has to do those jumping jacks.
  3. Household Hunt
    “Inside, you can have kids hunt for either household items — so they learn where the broom goes, and what drawer the tin foil is kept — or you collect items and hide them like Easter eggs,” Schaefer suggests.
  4. Puzzle Hunt
    Attach a puzzle piece to each item on your child’s hunt list. This way the fun isn’t over once the pieces are collected. “Children love a theme, so keeping the scavenger hunt simple, yet attractive to them builds more interest,” Saunders says.
  5. Themed Hunt
    Do your kids like pirates? Have them dress up while they hunt for their booty. Or, if they’re into the beach, take them there to find beach-related items, like shells and fossils. Themed scavenger hunts can also be a way of educating your children. “If they love baking, they may love looking for spices in the kitchen cabinets and measuring cups to get the cookie ingredients ready,” Schaefer suggests.
  6. Holiday Hunt
    Time to find Easter baskets or Christmas stockings? Give your kids clues on where the Easter Bunny and Jolly Old St. Nick may have hid them. As the kids get older, put them in harder-to-find places.
  7. Video or Photo Hunt
    Teenagers can be turned loose with their smart phones or a digital cameras to capture moments on video or in still photos, rather than collecting items. Have them find a statue to pose with or play a silly game, like duck, duck, goose in a public park, then laugh at the videotaped results.
  8. Museum Hunt
    As parents, you’ve probably been to a favorite museum dozens of times and know it like the back of your hand. Tap into that knowledge and make a list of exhibits kids must visit to check off their list. This can be more general for young kids (find the T-Rex skeleton!) or specific for older kids (find a painting done in the impressionist style.) It’ll also get you out of the house on a bad weather day.

Now that you’ve got an idea of the type of hunt you’ll stage, don’t let the creativity stop. Whether kids are checking things off a list or going from one clue to the next, clues can include instructions on how kids must navigate to the next clue. Get creative by telling them they need to hop to the next clue or maybe crab walk.

Keep your audience in mind, too. Young kids, for instance, may need picture clues. Older kids can tackle a longer list and clues should be vague and require a little decoding.

Scavenger hunts can be a great way to entertain your kids, no matter their age or the size of the group you’re hosting. Go crazy with the planning and hunting, and you’ll have as much fun as them.

Share your scavenger hunt ideas in the comments section below.

Elizabeth SanFilippo is a freelance writer. Her work can be found here.



Making your own rock candy is a fun and tasty way to grow crystals and see the structure of sugar on a big scale. Sugar crystals in granulated sugar display a monoclinic form, but you can see the shape much better in homegrown large crystals. This recipe is for rock candy that you can eat. You can color and flavor the candy, too.

Rock Candy Materials

Basically all you need to make rock candy is sugar and hot water. The color of your crystals will depend on the type of sugar you use (raw sugar is more golden and refined granulated sugar) and whether or not you add coloring. Any food-grade colorant will work.

  • 3 cups sugar (sucrose)
  • 1 cup water
  • clean glass jar
  • cotton string
  • pencil or knife
  • food coloring (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp flavoring oil or extract (optional)
  • Lifesaver candy (optional)
  • pan
  • stove or microwave

Make Rock Candy

  1. Pour the sugar and water into the pan.
  2. Heat the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. You want the sugar solution to hit boiling, but not get hotter or cook too long. If you overheat the sugar solution you’ll make hard candy, which is nice, but not what we’re going for here. Stir the solution until all the sugar has dissolved. The liquid will be clear or straw-colored, without any sparkly sugar. If you can get even more sugar to dissolve, that’s good, too.
  3. If desired, you can add food coloring and flavoring to the solution. Mint, cinnamon, or lemon extract are good flavorings to try. Squeezing the juice from a lemon, orange, or lime is a way to give the crystals natural flavor, but the acid and other sugars in the juice may slow your crystal formation. Set the pot of sugar syrup in the refrigerator to cool. You want the liquid to be about 50°F (slightly cooler than room temperature). Sugar becomes less soluble as it cools, so chilling the mixture will make it so there is less chance of accidentally dissolving sugar you are about to coat on your string.
  4. While the sugar solution is cooling, prepare your string. You are using cotton string because it is rough and non-toxic. Tie the string to a pencil, knife, or other object that can rest across the top of the jar. You want the string to hang into the jar, but not touch the sides or bottom.
  5. You don’t want to weight your string with anything toxic, so rather than use a metal object, you can tie a Lifesaver to the bottom of the string.
  6. Whether you are using the Lifesaver or not, you want to ‘seed’ the string with crystals so that the rock candy will form on the string rather than on the sides and bottom of the jar. There are two easy ways to do this. One is to dampen the string with a little of the syrup you just made and dip the string in sugar. Another option is to soak the string in the syrup and then hang it to dry, which will cause crystals to form naturally (this method produces ‘chunkier’ rock candy crystals).
  7. Once your solution has cooled, pour it into the clean jar. Suspend the seeded string in the liquid. Set the jar somewhere quiet. You can cover the jar with a paper towel or coffee filter to keep the solution clean.
  8. Check on your crystals, but don’t disturb them. You can remove them to dry and eat when you are satisfied with the size of your rock candy. Ideally you want to allow the crystals to grow for 3-7 days.
  9. You can help your crystals grow by removing (and eating) any sugar ‘crust’ that forms on top of the liquid. If you notice a lot of crystals forming on the sides and bottom of the container and not on your string, remove your string and set it aside. Pour the crystallized solution into a saucepan and boil/cool it (just like when you make the solution). Add it to a clean jar and suspend your growing rock candy crystals. You can watch a video tutorial for making rock candy if you would like to see what to expect.

Kirkus Review (in full)


The Sugar Plum Tree stands at the heart of a magical gardena wonderland for children with good imaginations—in this debut children’s tale.

This picture book is the work of three sisters, working together under the pen name Katherine James. According to the authors, they based it on a bedtime story they were told many times throughout their childhood, in which they traveled to a world made of candy in their dreams. The next morning, they would wake to find that some candy returned with them, in the form of goody bags that they’d find under their beds. Clearly, this book is intended as a bedtime story, as it begins with the phrase, “Come little child cuddle closer to me / as you lay your sleepy head down,” and later adds, “Now sleep little child, dream all through the night to make your wishes come true.” The Garden of Shut-Eye Town, where the Sugar Plum Tree resides, is a candy-loving child’s fantasy, full of chocolates, lollipops, “fizzy pops and zippity-zaps.” The tree itself bursts with as much candy as a child could want. It’s too high to climb, but luckily, a chocolate cat and gingerbread dog are there to help children out. In order to accurately mirror the authors’ childhood tradition, the book closes with a promise of more candy to come: “And when you awake, tradition has said magically there will be / candy treasures beneath your bed, for those who believe… / in the Sugar Plum Tree.” The verse is paired with bold, colorful illustrations. Here, the focus is on the candy, and the bright, cartoonish images make it hard to miss; children, as well as the aforementioned cat and dog, appear largely at the periphery. Although the overall story might be too saccharine for some readers, the bright colors and verse effectively depict the magical land. However, the book does make a promise that parents might be expected to keep when the story is done.

A bright, bold picture book about a world of sweets.


Twin Dad Book Review

Twin Dad Book Review: The Sugar Plum Tree

**DISCLAIMER: The following review is not a paid review, but I received the following book as a gift and wanted to review it.**

I don’t know about you, but we are always looking for good books to get the kids.  We all know our classics, but sometimes we want to step out and get something for them that is different, something that is not know by a lot of people.  If you are like our family, then it always intrigues you when something new and excited comes out.  It’s pointless, in my opinion, for me to review “Green Eggs and Ham”.  You either like Dr. Seuss, or you don’t have kids.

So I’ve had an opportunity, thanks to an acquaintance, to review a new children’s book called “The Sugar Plum Tree”.  You can find the book at its web site,, where you can order the hardback version of the book, and you can even order bags that can have a child’s name embroidered on the bag.  These bags, and especially the book, can make great gifts.

Image courtesy of

The book seems to be based off the poem that most of us have heard about.  It’s a very colorful adventure that makes for a great read at bedtime.  Kids are encouraged to go to sleep and dream of the sugar plum tree, because when they wake up they will find candy underneath their beds.  The book is not very long, maybe 25 pages, and mostly pictures.

My reason for liking the book is that it is written in a very easy-to-follow, rhyming format that helps kids link words together and makes it easier for them to remember the story and reinforces word recognition by anticipating what sounds or words will come next.  Kids love the pictures and find it very visually stimulating.  Even though you can read it anytime, it really seems to fall in line with the holiday season (I keep thinking of the Christmas story “while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads”).

The story is written by Katherine James, which is actually the collective name of three sisters that came up with the idea for the book.  The idea for the story is from the 18th century poem that has been in the family for an obviously long time, and the sisters wanted to publish their own family tradition in the form of a story book for kids.

Image courtesy of

The only downside for the book is that some parents may be turned off by the focus of “sugar”.  I’m not, because for me it’s more figurative than anything else.  I think kids have to be able to use their imaginations…just because you read a book about candy doesn’t mean you have to dump candy in their beds.  But it’s worth noting that because the book focuses on candy, and even has a character called “the Chocolate Cat”, some parents may be a little put-off by the focus.

Having said all of this, I feel as though this is a great book to purchase for your child to enjoy as a bedtime story.  My twins both enjoyed the story and love the pictures in the book.  You can visit the official website at to purchase the book and/or the bags I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  This is also a fantastic idea for a gift, and through the website can be sent to the lucky recipient.  So, if you’re looking for a new story and are interested in reading about a family tradition, check this story out and enjoy with your children!


Hamlet Hub Article

Children’s author, Katherine James, has transformed a century old children’s poem, “The Sugar Plum Tree,” into a 21st century children’s book.

Katherine James, a pen name for 3 sisters from Springfield, IL, (one sister currently lives in Weston, CT) had a crazy plan: to turn their favorite 118-year-old poem, The Sugar Plum Tree, into a book. The sisters modeled their book of off the original American author from the late 1800’s, Eugene Field. The new poem keeps the whimsical feel of the 19th century but brings the story to modern day times.

The Sugar Plum Tree is a fictional story of a magical tree where the most delicious candy grows. The tradition is to read the poem at bedtime to help children go to sleep. James explains, “I remember the joy I had as a child sitting in the living room with my two sisters listening to my mother tell us the story of The Sugar Plum Tree. By the end of the poem we were all excited to go to sleep because we knew the next morning we would find something sweet under our beds.”

The Sugar Plum Tree contains wonderful and mesmerizing visuals that even adults will find playful. Yet, the poem’s 118-year-old message remains intact: to inspire young children to believe that their dreams can become reality.

James emphasizes, “Even though it was a great way for my parents to get three children to sleep, as adults we now see the powerful message behind the poem. It taught us that if we believe our dreams can become reality. And that’s an exciting feeling for young children to know that your dreams can come true.”


Most Popular Kid Gifts 1913 – 2013

Most Popular Gifts in 1913 and 2013
By JOANNA PRISCO via Good Morning America

Christmas Wish List from 1915 Will Make You Feel Materialistic

“Our newspaper collection includes over 120 million pages dating back to 1609, and a quick search using the keywords “Dear Santa” brings really interesting results,” reads the blog. “The further back we looked, the more interesting – and frequently more simple – the requests became. It added color to the lives and times of our ancestors, particularly when we looked at what children are asking for this year.”

Top-Rated Toys of This and Other Seasons: A Gift Guide

Check out the MyHeritage list of the most commonly requested presents from 100 years ago:


1. Candy

2. Nuts

3. Rocking horse

4. Doll

5. Mittens/gloves

6. Toy train

7. Oranges

8. Books

9. Handkerchiefs

10. Skates

Now take a look at the items topping contemporary lists:


1. Furby Boom

2. Teksta Robotic puppy

3. LeapPad Ultra

4. Flying Fairy

5. Bug Hugs Elmo

6. Barbie Dream house

7. Giggly Monkey

8. Nerf Gun

9. Ninja Turtles

10. Lego


Philadelphia National Candy Gift & Gourmet Show

Come see us in Philadelphia! September 7-9

Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic City

Booth Number: 328


A carefully-crafted, beautifully written, children’s book, partners with candy stores, for a new family tradition. “The Garden of Shut-Eye Town, where the Sugar Plum Tree resides, is candy-loving child’s fantasy, full of chocolates, lollipops, “fizzy pops and zippity-zaps.” – Kirkus Review


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