Sunday, February 27, 2011

my super power

We've been discussing the commanding and bossy nature of the four-year-old.  Like our daughter, children of other friends of ours exert intense pressure upon their caregivers to constantly play with them in very precise and demanding ways.  In one recent conversation we were talking about strategies that both appease and fulfill the child's needs as well as allow our requirements for household demands and chores to be met.

Having a daily/weekly/seasonal and annual rhythm helps a great deal.  A familiar pattern in which children (and parents) know what to expect is comforting and helps children of all ages to thrive.  (I'll post about our own rhythm and its undeniable impact on our everyday well-being later.)  Even with patterns and a kind of "soft-schedule" in place though, challenges, of course, arise...

A specific demand often made in our house is that we sit and actively participate in some particular imaginative play for extended periods of time.  Our roles are often spelled out for us very precisely and sometimes even our dialogue is prescribed.  "Now you say..." she tells us...  "Now walk over there and..."

I usually find engaging in her play fascinating.  It's an expression of her inner world that I get to see come to life.  Also, sometimes I just love to play.  But I'm also the mother.  I take care of this wonderful child and I'm likewise a cook, a house cleaner, a launderer, a grocery shopper, a gardener, a payer of bills, a craft organizer, an activity planner and a wife to a hard-working husband.  I've got a few other things to do!  But lately, and this is the challenge so many seem to be having, Naiya will sometimes scream and cry when I attempt to extricate myself from what it is she wishes me to do.

Suggestions given in a recent discussion included 1) investing a really present 3 to 5 minutes with a child before then returning to necessary adult tasks (it's amazing how even a few moments of being really present will fill a child in a way that they can then play for longer stretches on their own) and 2) the idea of along-side play.  This means that while I, for example, wash dishes, Naiya plays at a similar task with a small bowl of soapy water and a bowl and a cup that she can wash herself.   Likewise she can do her own version of dusting as I dust, folding napkins as I fold laundry and so on.

These are both effective tools, especially the latter.  With it I accomplish a great deal and Naiya both embraces her "solitary" tandem play and learns the value of real work as a part of our household.  Sometimes, however, it doesn't seem to work at all.

Yesterday was one of those times.

I had dishes piled on every kitchen surface, crumbs all over the floor, colored rice in every nook of the great room and Naiya just wanted me to sit next to her and wash the one cup in her bowl of soapy water over and over and over.  She was on the verge of tears whenever I tried to leave her side.

This is when I introduced what has proven to be the most magical tool I have.  I have slipped this one from my bag of tricks over the years time and time again yet, surprisingly, I am stunned by its effect on each occasion.

I sang.

Yup.  That's my mommy superpower.
Let it be known.  Let it be spread across the land.
Singing transforms our world nearly every time.

And these are not clever songs I've memorized.  I don't have in my catalog a song for every occasion.  I just make them up on the spot.  Sometimes they're sweet and funny.  Sometimes they're completely absurd.  Occasionally they rhyme but mostly not.  Honestly, they're usually a little dumb.  And it doesn't matter.

Yesterday's went like this:
Here we go washing, washing, washing
Washing all our dishes
Here we go washing, washing, washing
Making dishes clean

Not at all magical, you say?  So it would seem.  But I sang it a few times while sitting next to Naiya until she joined in.  We washed that one cup together while singing the song, washing slowly, inside and out, with great care, and then I returned to my own sink.

I kept singing as I finished washing every dirty dish in the house.  She sang too, while she carefully and with glee washed her own cup and plate.  She even made up a few new verses.

There was no more crying.  We were fulfilled in our individual needs.  Separately playing but tethered together by the joy of a totally stupid song.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

first portland snow of 2011

Naiya woke up early this morning to tell me it was "frosty" outside, "even on the grass!"

By 7:15 we were in our snow gear and building a snow family in our front yard.

Finally, the promise has arrived.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

needle felted mother earth doll

I've been wanting to make a Mother Earth figure for our Nature Table for some time now.  We have some bendy little wooden people who often play there and at times one of them stands in for this universal figure but a larger, softer felted woman is what I have been picturing there in my mind's eye.

I wanted her to be needle felted.  Felting, in case you're not familiar with it, is the process of binding together the microscopically barbed fibers of wool (or other natural fibers) into a solid mass.  There are several methods to accomplish this irreversible process of making solid fabric from individual hairs.  The more common is wet felting in which simple friction and water (sometimes alternating hot and cold) are applied to swell, intertwine, bind and "full" a jumble of strands together.  For this doll though, I used the dry felting method and a single, very sharp, barbed needle that, when pushed through various layers, catches the fibers and entangles them into the chosen shape.  This method is a little like sculpting with a pin.  The fibers stay in place and become more and more solid the more times the needle is poked through a single spot.

This Mother Earth was surprisingly easy to put together using small scraps of wool roving I had on hand and simple needle felting techniques.

I started off with an armature of pipe cleaners molded into a basic skirted person shape (using an existing doll the size I desired as a proportion model).

Then white wool roving was rolled into a ball and tucked inside the head frame and a cone shape tucked inside the skirt.

Wrapped around that ball head, cone skirt and arms were thin, wispy strands of the same roving until the doll shape was in place.  This was then held gently in place by minimal poking with the felting needle.

(I also placed a jar lid inside of the base of the doll to give her some weight and stability at her feet.  In the past I have used flat stones or bits of metal for this same purpose.)

The underdress was a layer of blue roving wound around in wisps in the same fashion to the body.

The hands and head were left white.

I had some long stranded brown roving which I laid on in one piece for the hair. 

It's mostly held on at the hair part where I needled quite a bit.  The main portions of the head were not needled as much so that the look of loose hair could be retained.

For the apron, belt and hair garland, I laid strands of wool roving onto the felting pad and shaped each item before then needling them onto the doll.

The whole project took only about two hours.  The bulk of that was just spent methodically needling the entire doll many times over until the layers compacted to the smoothness and density I desired.

I wanted Naiya to be able to handle and play with her so she's a fairly solid doll.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

birthday thank you

For my birthday my mum and dad had us over for dinner.  We were there late and as we were leaving Naiya said to my parents, "Thank you for making your daughter...  Thank you for making my mommy."

It was perhaps one of the finest gifts I have ever received.  Even better than the purple gardening gloves.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Grotto Labyrinth

We visited The Grotto once again in the
mist and rain of this mid-winter season.
Naiya now remembers it from previous
explorations and looks forward to the
elevator and also to the stone labyrinth
which we walked for the first time on our
stop there last autumn.

The Grotto Labyrinth (pictured above) has been in place since only last year as far as I can tell.  It's a small copy of the medieval cathedral labyrinth of Chartres, France (about an hour outside of Paris).  I went there once and, as I understand is common, it was covered with chairs and so was un-walkable.  (The photo below is from a post card I purchased.)  The Chartres Labyrinth is huge, about forty feet across, while this one is maybe twenty and so much more difficult to traverse.  Like most labyrinths (and unlike a maze), it has a single entrance which is also the exit and it circumscribes a single unbroken path that leads to its center.  Naiya thoroughly enjoys the experience of walking that path and insists on completing the entire journey before we're allowed to leave.

I've done a little reading about labyrinths and there is much speculation written regarding their purposes.  They date back over 2000 years but little contemporary documentation survives of their original objective.  They're mostly thought to symbolize the difficult path returning one to God or the Absolute.  Today, they're generally used for various meditative practices.  I've seen copies of this one and some classic Roman labyrinths made of stone, mown into grass and even sculpted into hand-held clay versions (to be traced with the finger).

For our daughter, it's just a really fun game.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"stained glass" wax valentines

This year for our Waldorf pre-school class Valentine exchange, Naiya and I put together these "stained glass" wax cards.
They were a little involved and used up a couple of days of craft time but we were quite pleased with the final product.  Also, my four year old was able to help with several steps along the way and that always makes creating so much more fun.

To begin Naiya did a little wet on wet water color painting with red and just a touch of yellow and we ended up with several sheets of softly patterned pinkish paper.

I traced a heart within a heart onto these sheets several dozen times and (this was a bit labor intensive) cut out enough of these "frames" to have two for each Valentine.

We then went on to the wax stained glass insert.

Naiya helped me sharpen red, pink and purple crayons with her crayon sharpener and we sprinkled the shavings onto the sheet of wax paper that was sitting on top of a towel (and surface safe for ironing).
(A few shavings go a long way.  If the distribution is too dense, all the colors just melt together and make a dark glob.)

On top of this we laid another sheet of wax paper and another thin towel. 

(It's possible that some of the colored wax will weep through the wax paper onto the towels so choose towels with this in mind.)

We ironed with a fairly hot iron (pressing down, lifting and pressing again, not sliding the iron) until the wax shavings had melted and the paper sheets had stuck together.

I then traced hearts slightly smaller than the outside edge of our paper frames and cut them out. 

The wax paper heart was then glued between the two paper hearts and since Naiya just got this cute butterfly paper punch, we glued on a few butterfly cut-outs and signed her name to finish.

They look especially nice against a lighted window I think.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

valentine's story

I found this story at a Waldorf co-op site and have been telling it to Naiya as we work on the Valentine cards we're making for friends and family...

The Valentine Sparrow
Once upon a time, during the frigid winter months, there lived a tiny sparrow who was very lonely.  Because Father Frost was ruling the land, all the sparrows kept to themselves, fluffing their feathers to stay warm and hiding in the bushy trees for shelter.  They seldom ventured out except for a quick nibble of some seeds or a drink from a puddle of melted snow.  There was hardly any talking or singing because the cold winter air would simply freeze their words and songs before it could ever reach another's ears!
The lonely little sparrow's heart ached for friendship.  She simply could not wait any longer for the Spring Fairies to arrive when there would be much singing and talking and playing and eating.  But what could she do?  She was certain that everyone else must be feeling the same.
Then she had an idea!  Father Frost might freeze spoken words and songs, but surely he couldn't freeze a special note written on birch bark paper.  Carefully and patiently,  the lonely little bird began to create individual notes with special pictures and words for each of her friends.  The more she created, the warmer her heart began to feel and the loneliness began to melt away.  When she had finished, she waited for Father Sun to climb as high as he could so the air would warm a little...then she dashed through the crisp blue sky, darting from tree to tree delivering her beautiful creations.  You should have seen the amazement and joy on all her friends faces as they read her warm words and marveled at her colorful pictures!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

valentine candle and colored rice

We're a candle lighting people.  We light candles at meals when we express our gratitude for the sun, earth, food, farmers and cooks.  We light candles when we tell stories.  We light candles at bed-time to transition our daughter into the envelope of nighttime darkness.  We go through lots of candles this way and we try to come up with inventive candle holding devices.
For Valentine's Day we did some simple decorating of a glass votive that we already use.  Since the tissue paper hearts are stuck on with regular white glue, we'll be able to wash them off after this holiday and re-use the glass holder when Spring and Easter decor is next in order.  The problem with this votive (and also some of the mason jars we often use) is that the bottom is slightly convex and the candle tends to slide off to one side.  I came up with the idea of putting rice in the bottom to level it.  I wanted it to be a bit more festive though so I decided to add some color.

It was so easy and Naiya loves the pink!  (I mixed some white back in for a confetti look.)  Of course, one could color the rice into any shade of the rainbow (that food coloring would allow) and it seems like there could be some fascinating alternative uses for multi-colored rice as well. 

Colored Rice Recipe:
1 cup uncooked white rice
10-20 drops food coloring (depending on intensity of color desired)
1 Tblsp. vinegar
Mix food coloring and vinegar in a plastic bag.  (The vinegar sets the color.)  Add rice.  Seal bag and mix from the outside until rice is evenly coated.  Spread rice onto a cookie sheet and bake at 200 for about an hour.  Once cooled, the color will be set and won't come off onto little hands.

Naiya is also coming up with a number of uses for the pink rice in her play kitchen.  In turn, mommy is coming up with inventive ways to get rice out from all the nooks and crannies into which it rolls.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Naiya loves birthdays, gifts and cards.  She enjoys them for herself, of course, but her pleasure and excitement are equal if not greater in the giving than in the receiving. 
Last year for my birthday we were in the garden department of a local store when she saw some pink gardening gloves.  At the time she had a pink obsession and declared that those must be my birthday gift.  Daddy helped her wrap them for me when we got home. 
Since my birthday is coming up again, she and daddy have been discussing some birthday ideas once more.  A few days ago though, just she and I were at that same store and in the same department as last year.  "Mommy," she says to me in a sly tone, "you have to look over there.  Don't look at me."  I wandered over to the birdseed.  She came over a few minutes later with a pair of purple gardening gloves.  Same as last year.  New color.  "Are these the right size?" she asks.  They're not.  I have giant man-hands so I help her pick out the large.  She brings them back over and puts them in the cart under her hat.  Apparently she has already forgotten that she showed them to me.  "You can't look under here mommy.  It's a surprise." 
Later in the store she can hardly contain herself.  "Do you know what I got you for your birthday!?"  She makes me guess over and over but I just can't figure it out.  At the register she hands them to this great cashier who I whisper to about their secret nature.  The cashier wraps the gloves up in a separate bag so Naiya can carry them home herself.  All the way home she makes me guess more and tells me that she and daddy are going to wrap my present together.  They end up having to make a special trip the next day because they need a particular kind of bow.
The delight she takes in giving is so touching to us both.  She is also surprisingly thoughtful.  I do actually need new gardening gloves almost every year.  For Ryan's last birthday she picked out towels.  At first this seemed like an odd choice.  We were in a store just before Ryan's birthday last summer when she saw them and I figured she just liked the colors or just wanted to give him something and that was what was there when the thought occurred to her.  She explained to me though that she wanted these two particular beach towels because she and daddy often go swimming together and one was for him (the one with flowers like his work shirts) and one was for her (bright pink).  A gift to make more special this activity that they already share. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011


A few years ago, when we started doing our own taxes,  Ryan and I began this tradition.  To offset the tedium and dullness of all those forms, tables and preparation of piles of paperwork, we gather, in addition to all of our financial documents, a plateful of fine chocolates and a bottle of good wine.  We turn on some pleasant music as together we transfer data from box 17a to line 21, et cetera.  We look forward to tax day this way.  For it, we save our best bottle of Troon Zinfandel.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Most of us know today as Groundhog Day (if we know it as anything at all) wherein a furry little creature predicts an early or late Spring.  It is indeed a seasonal turning point.  We’re seeing it in our own yard and community with the first signs of sprouting, an occasional mild warming and the changing of the light.  Just a few days ago Ryan realized that when he drove home from work it wasn’t dark!  The little green leaves of the tulips have begun to wedge their way out of the ground and, were we sheep keepers, I understand that traditionally this would be the time they’d begin to lamb.  That’s why, prior to Punxsutawney Phil or his European badger predecessor, the ancient pagans named this day Imbolc (which means “in the belly”).

It’s mid-winter, or the winter cross quarter day, marking the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  It’s also the celebration day of the pagan goddess Brigid or the Christian St. Brigid’s Day or Candlemas (if you’re Catholic).  It’s a time when people of many traditions celebrate the lengthening of days and the “return of the light” with all its metaphysical implications.  For the earth it is a re-birth.  It’s also a time when many celebrate the light that has been held dear during the dark of winter - both candlelight and the hearth of the home.  We’ve decided today to burn our fading evergreen wreath to send winter on it’s way.  When it’s gone, we’ll clean the fireplace and spread the ashes in the garden. We’ll also make some changes to our nature table, stories, books and play.  Father Frost will stay but will begin to make way for the Children of Spring.  Some changes will wait until the traditional Equinox but we can see it already, the return is approaching!  On this cold winter day, we celebrate for that which is to come...
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