Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chocolate Fest

Last Saturday a neighboring community hosted its annual Chocolate Fest in the village hall's auditorium located in the quaint, historic downtown.

I brought my camera, not realizing the battery was dead. I was glad to have my cell phone, although I'd never used the camera. Eventually I figured it out, and was able to snap a few photos during a break.

Each year, Master Gardeners from the local University of Illinois Extension have a booth at the festival. It's a great way to raise awareness about the Extension and the services it offers to the community. Earlier this month I began Master Gardener training at the extension office, and Chocolate Fest was my first volunteer assignment.

It was great fun! And the day was delightful in more ways than one. After arriving home, upon checking emails I was delighted to learn my youngest daughter and 5-year-old grandson will be returning home to Illinois! As you can imagine, the family is thrilled. We've all missed them immensely and are looking forward to their return. What better way to celebrate than with chocolate!

Our assignment for the day was planting trees with children. We had two sets of tables - one with literature, coloring books, and touchy-feeley stuff like the cross-section of a tree trunk, bark and all. The other tables held our supplies - three tubs of pine seedlings - Ponderosa, Limber, and Southern White Pines - about a hundred seedlings per tray.

We had tubs of soil, cottage cheese containers, soft drink cups, paper lunch bags (where we wrote the name of the variety of tree each child selected for themselves,) and a set of instructions for each tree.

The children scooped soil into the bottom of their cup, and placed their tree in the cup. We supported the trees as they added soil to fill the cup. As they planted, we explained how to care for the trees at home. This shot was taken near the end of the Fest. By this time we had only a few seedlings left.

The kids' eyes lit up with excitement at the idea of taking care of their own little tree and planting it this spring. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon, helping kids connect with nature indoors where it was nice and warm, while a cold, biting wind blew and snow swirled around outside.

Winter is a good time to get a jump on volunteer hours, so I was happy this opportunity came along. Coming home to find a happy email from from my daughter was the icing on the cake. Chocolate and children were a perfect combination for a perfectly delightful day.


  1. Yum ... most impressed with the chocolate entries, Linda! Blessed to have all my children (and 2 grandboys 5 & 7) near, was delighted to hear your good news. Indeed you must be thrilled!

  2. Gardening & chocolate - 2 of my favorite things! Who's the genius who got them together?

  3. Yay, chocolate! And yay for your daughter and grandson moving closer to you! And yay for planting trees. I'm just curious how you told the kids to "store" them until waiting for spring--just to water them, right? At the end of April, I volunteer handing out slightly larger saplings at my county conservation district's tree sale. People with large properties can buy in bulk. They show up with their order and I fill it in a big bag, running back and forth to the piles of trees/shrubs. it's physically taxing, but fun.

  4. Weren't they pretty Joey! I've honestly never had a cake with fondant like those. I like good old-fashioned frosting!

    How lucky you are to have the kids and grands nearby. My oldest two girls have always been near and plan to stay in the Chicago area. I hope the youngest will decide to plant her roots here too! I can't wait to see them.

    Hi MMD, I'm not sure whose idea it was originally. but the MG's around here are pretty active in the community. They've been involved in Chocolate Fest since it started.

    It's a great fit, and February is a great time for this event.

    Hi Monica, we told them to (with their parents' supervision,) poke holes in the bottoms of the cups with a pencil, water them, not too much, but until a little water came out the drain hole. We said to make sure they put their plants on a saucer so they wouldn't get anything wet, then they could put them on a windowsill or under a florescent light, and we told them how to check to see if it was time to water again. Most of the kids had parents with them, and everyone got an instruction sheet in their little bag with their little tree. We had toddlers to teens, so I'm sure in some cases parents will be helping. Realistically, there will be casualties!

    Hopefully the kids have fun with their trees, hopefully some make it and get planted to grow in backyards, and especially, hopefully kids are inspired to develop an interest in growing things.

    Sounds like your April volunteer work with trees is much more strenuous than mine was! Our trees were less than a foot tall. The ones in the photo are Limbers. They were the smallest of the three varieties we had.

  5. Hi Linda, hooray for daughter and grandson to be coming home! I know you are thrilled to be able to see them more often. Chocolate fest sounds like the best thing ever. The tree planting session with the children was fantastic. What a great volunteer activity for you. I know you enjoyed it. :-)

  6. Anonymous7:14 PM

    Linda, I'm so happy for you that you'll have your daughter and grandson close to you again! I know how thrilled I'd be, but at least we're only a few hours' drive apart. :) The cakes are wonderful -- I especially like the one with the teacup! I used to decorate wedding cakes, so I know the work (and sweat!) that goes into them. :)

  7. You're so right Frances - I'm thrilled they're moving back!

    Chocolate Fest was a blast, even if I didn't eat any chocolate! Looking at it was much lower in calories.

    Thank you Nancy! I always hoped they'd be back at some point, and was pleasantly surprised to learn the time is coming soon.

    Aren't those cakes great! I never knew you had that talent. I've watched cake decorators in action, and it's truly an art. They look too pretty too eat. . . almost!

  8. Ditto on what MMD said!:)
    I'm excited for you that your daughter and grandson will be coming home. I am so fortunate to have all my grandkids living close by--and, of course, my kids enjoy the free babysitting:)

  9. Linda, A celebratory post! Yippee! So glad to hear that your daughter and grandson will be coming home to Illinois! Good news indeed! We wish our son wasn't so far away. ~~Haven't cakes come a long way from when we were kids? Astonishing works of art..I hope they tasted as good as they look! ~~Soon you will have a little guy to help you in the garden! it's going to be a busy summer for you!! Another yippee! gail

  10. Thank you Rose! You are indeed fortunate to have your kids nearby, just as they are fortunate to have you close.

    I'm looking forward to babysitting my grandson again. He's a joy to be around!

    Good morning Gail, I'm thrilled they're coming back home. It will be such a joy having them nearby and spending time with them again.

    I know how much you must miss your son, and at the same time how proud you must be of his independence and accomplishments.

    I wonder if those cakes taste as good as look. Either way they sure are fun to look at - truly artistic and astonishing.

  11. Chocolate and gardening ... Linda .. WOW !!!! now why can't Kingston do something like that too ? .. I would be in heaven ? haha .. love the pictures .. making me very smiley this morning : )

  12. It was chocolate heaven there Joy, and a festive occasion that drew lots of people out of winter hibernation for the day. I'm surprised I haven't baked some brownies or something yet - maybe this weekend!

    Glad you enjoyed the photos - I'm glad I was able to figure out the cell phone camera. I took me a few days to figure out how to retrieve the photos after they were taken. It's good to know I have an emergency backup, but next time hopefully I'll be better-prepared with a charged camera battery. Have a great weekend!

  13. Sounds like a lot of fun working with the kids and a great activity for getting them interested in growing things.
    How exciting to learn that your daughter and grandson will be close by. Happy news indeed :)


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