Wednesday, March 30, 2011

puppet shows and simple stories

Last week I was fortunate to have made it to a workshop with Suzanne Down from Juniper Tree School of Story and Puppetry Arts.  It was a very brief introduction to Waldorf style storytelling and a short session of needle felting three doll puppets with which to tell the Spring story of Little Brown Bulb.

What always strikes me about storytelling for very young children is the simplicity of it.  Like many people, I feel intimidated at the thought of making up or even re-telling stories I already know to any kind of audience, four-year-old or otherwise.  But, as Suzanne talked about that morning, the element of storytelling that young children most respond to is wonder.  They don't need elaborate plot lines or even interesting characters.  The effortless process of the world unfolding and revealing itself through one single simple event is story enough.  It's the attention, voice and presence of the teller that touches the child's heart.

The Brown Bulb story is one told holding the doll "puppets" with gentle hands on a stage of silk scarves on one's lap.  It begins with the Bulb sleeping deep within the cold earth of winter.  As the warm rays of Spring reach Bulb, and her friend Ladybug encourages her, Little Brown Bulb awakens and finds her way to a cave (in the folds of the silk) where Mother Earth dresses her in a lovely new gown.  She emerges from the silk transformed into a beautiful Spring flower and she and ladybug celebrate their love of the season together.

For many an adult, this seems hardly a story worth telling at all, but it's amazing how entranced Naiya is with the gentle movements, the tone of the special story-telling voice and the metamorphosis of the plain bulb into the rich and softly colorful flower. 

Often after I have told a new tale, my sweet girl gifts it back to me in her own way.  She'll introduce new characters and even add songs.  Sadly, although I get to hear the stories, I rarely get to see them as they usually take place entirely under a canopy of silk where she is the only witness.  I listen with rapt attention nonetheless and am as transfixed by her story as she was with mine.


Sometimes we move stories with more elaborate scenery out of our laps and down onto the floor.  When she re-tells these I have the pleasure of seeing the characters move about and, more often than not, the play goes on long after the puppet show has ended.

in the blink of an eye - IV

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

quiet time

As a part of our daily rhythm, every day after lunch Naiya has "quiet time".  It's a break as short as fifteen minutes or as long as an hour that we spend each gathering ourselves up apart from one another.  Most often, Naiya determines the length herself.  We instituted this break in our day when we realized (quite early on) that naps were never going to return to our home.  At first I think we hoped that she would use this time to, say, rest... even if there would be no actual sleep taking place.  Of course, that never happened.  Although I occasionally use the opportunity to get some rest myself, Naiya always spends her alone time playing, playing, playing.

Over the years, the aftermath of her playing in a room by herself has become more and more complex.  At first there would be a few dolls, perhaps some clothes and dishes set up for a tea party or various piles of random stones and pine cones set about to represent people or houses or roads.   Recently, however, the scenes are quite a bit more elaborate. 

It may look like chaos or a pile of junk but each item on the trunk was placed there very intentionally by delicate hands and a heart full of wonder.  The animals are wearing clothes of hairbands and are safe within their clothespin or silk houses.  Naiya tells me lunch has been served but the mail has yet to be delivered.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

felted nesting egg heads

I've been wet felting some eggs in preparation for Easter.  (For those not familiar with this basic felting method, I'll post a quick how-to in a couple of days).  At the same time I've been trying to come up with small, non-sweets with which to fill our pastel packets as well as one or two larger items that the Easter Bunny might place in Naiya's basket.

In past years we've put a variety of objects into real, hollowed eggs including painted stones, crystals, little wooden animals, finger puppets, bead bracelets and dried fruit. The real eggs were cut open with a knife leaving a nickel sized hole on one end, emptied, washed, dyed, filled with a small something or other and then had their holes patched with white glue and a bit of grass green tissue.  These were fun for the children to crack open just like a real egg but really work better outside (where they can be crunched right on the ground).  Since our Easter Sunday's are unpredictably rainy and often indoors, I'm going for a mix of the soft felted eggs along with a clutch of the crackin' kind this time around.  (And I'm preparing in advance!)

As I sat last night with soapy hands felting away, I was mostly ruminating about larger items for the basket.  I remembered a beautiful wooden nesting doll that the Easter Bunny left a few years ago, and it suddenly occurred to me that eggs could be nested too!  VoilĂ , with a few needle felted embellishments, the Nesting Egg-Heads were born.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

beeswax polish

My friend Lisa and I were talking about the rhythm of the Waldorf day, "chores" for our children and how her daughter absolutely loves Fridays when they polish all the wooden toys, bowls and spoons in their home.  Once upon a time, Fridays were our toy washing day - when Naiya and I would set up bowls of warm soapy water and gather up the toys that could be submerged for a good cleaning and gently wipe with a damp cloth those that couldn't.  At some point she just really started to dislike this activity for some reason though, so we let it go.

I'd been looking for a way to re-institute a day for Naiya to care for the things with which she plays, however, and I thought the beeswax polishing would be something she'd enjoy.  I set out to find the polish to no avail.  During my next visit to Lisa's house I looked at her jar and the ingredients listed were: jojoba oil & beeswax.  "No problem," thought I, "I can just whip that up at home."

I already had some pure organic jojoba oil which I poured into a measuring cup.  I didn't want to make much so I started with only about 2 ounces.

I then shaved off some beeswax from a block I've been using to make candles and added this to the oil until I had a ratio of about three parts oil to one part wax.

I measured this in the same way my grandmother taught me to measure shortening or butter that didn't come in measured cubes.  Her method was to fill a measuring cup with water then add the fat until the water was displaced by the amount of shortening or butter needed.  Then she poured off the unwanted water.
With the wax I used this same displacement measuring by tossing wax shavings into the cup until the oil level rose by about one third it's original amount.

Then it was heated in a double boiler until the wax had melted. 

(Beeswax has a melting point of about 145° F.  It can ignite if heated to this point so don't put it in the microwave as temperatures there can be unpredictable.  Remove it from the heat source once it has dissolved.)

I poured the melted compound into a baby food jar I had handy.  (I heated the jar with hot water prior to pouring in the hot wax to avoid shattering the glass.)

At this point I got Naiya involved and asked if she could help me stir the polish as it dried.  I don't know if this was necessary but she really enjoyed painting her fingertips with the cooling wax and then rubbing it into her skin.

(I hadn't thought of it but I don't see any reason this "polish" couldn't also be used as lip balm or lotion!)

In the end it was quite a soft, easily spreadable fusion with an absolutely delicious bouquet.  "Can I eat this?" my darling child begged, "It smells soooo good!"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

happy spring

I had all these grand plans for the first day of Spring.  I was going to have root children on the Nature Table weeks before the big day and on the Equinox they would surprise Naiya with their new, colorful flower dresses just like in the story we've been reading.  We would have a lovely Nature Walk and end with a search in our own garden for some sweet little treasures...

Alas, none of this came to pass.  The first day of Spring was rather gloomy.  We hardly went out at all and the root children have yet to manifest.  I've just been a bit ill, a little tired and never got any of it together.

Nonetheless, I am thrilled that the season has arrived and wanted to wish you all the joy, lightness, color and ease this time of year seems to inspire in all of our earth's living beings. 

Since I also failed to produce some quintessentially Spring-y photograph, I thought I'd share some shots of the plant dyeing afternoon I shared with friends at Naiya's school.  These were from the day before the Equinox and the sky and weather then were stunning and warm.  I dyed this very long silk with osage orange and walnut to make a hanging dropped ceiling in the playroom.  (Another unfinished work-in-progress.)  Some folks were also dyeing clothes and wool yarn.  I especially like the shot of Shades of Blue...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

felted farmyard pouf

For the annual fund raising auction at Naiya's school I wanted to contribute some kind of handcraft.  I've never attended this event in the past and was unsure about what kinds of items would interest bidders.  When I asked around I got the impression that it's kind of an anything goes sort of thing.  Since a lot of the crafts I do are common to the Waldorf community and are therefore easy to come by, I wanted to try something different.

A few years ago I had made a footstool for Naiya (that you can see here).  Since it's a quirky and unusual item, I thought it might strike someone's fancy.

My last version was made on a soft foam core which, I didn't realize until I was finished, made for a rather impractical, squishy stool or pouf.  I started this one, therefore, on a sturdy core of rolled cardboard.

I used big cardboard boxes cut into 14" strips that wrapped around each other until I reached my desired circumference.

This circumference was determined by the size of the felted sweater I wanted to use for the cover.

I used the torso portion of a cashmere sweater for the cover as a whole un-cut piece to minimize sewing.

(There are lots of ways folks will describe how to felt a sweater.  I use a really easy method of tossing any wool or other natural fiber garment enclosed in a zippered pillow case into my washing machine.  I set the machine on hot, use a small amount of my usual detergent and just let it cycle through a regular wash cycle.  I've never added balls or any foreign object to aid agitation and it always seems to work out fine with a single washing.  What it does is bind the fibers of the woven fabric into a solid mass that will not unravel when cut.  It also shrinks the original piece by varying degrees depending on the length of the wash cycle and the type of material with which one begins.  The zippered pillow case is to keep the fibers which come loose from clogging and ruining the washing machine.)

I used a second sage green sweater as the grassy hills against the blue sky background of the base.  It went around the bottom portion of the entire blue piece and was sewn on by hand.

I then cut a farm house and grain silo sort of thing from some other sweater scraps I had laying about and sewed them on with a blanket stitch.

The embroidery hoop made this much easier.

After the solid structures were in place I wanted to add the more ephemeral items of the farmyard using the softer look that needle felting gives.

The project was then placed onto a felting pad (which is just a big piece of coarse foam) as I added various embellishments to the scene.

Some of the elements like the larger flowers and sheep were formed and needled on the pad then, in turn, needled onto the sweater base.

Others like the grass, stepping stones, clouds and tiny flower accents were created directly onto the base from the start.

I then wrapped the cardboard with cotton padding (about 1" thick) and slipped the sweater over the whole thing.  Although it was snug it fit perfectly.

I used enough padding to fold the excess over the top of the stool to soften the cardboard edge.  The surplus cotton was torn away until a single flat layer was formed.

On top of this I added two more cotton discs to make a more comfortable sitting surface.

On both the bottom and the top I cut another disc of felted sweater and hand-stitched these in place.

(This photo is the base being held in place by pins.  You'll also notice a little butterfly I needle felted on the bottom.  This was to cover up a hole in the sweater.)

Before I sewed on the top, I added these petals or sun-rays.  They're progressively smaller from outside to inside and were sewn on by hand.

In retrospect, since each layer covers the previously layer, I could have done this bit by machine instead of with needle, thimble and thread and saved a couple of hours.

Before adding the central circle of the sunburst, I blanket stitched it to the final orange sun-shaped piece.

When I took it to drop off as a contribution, the gentleman who accepted it said, "Oh, how sweet...what is it?"

We shall see if it piques any interest or helps the fund raising cause...

her warm embrace

The many bulbs we planted back in Autumn are just beginning to bloom.  Outside our fence we have daffodils, tulips and irises slowly unfurling their brilliance.  Yesterday, in one passing window of sunlight we hustled outside to gaze at these blossoming colors.  I see them and a subtle smile lights my face, but Naiya is so much less reserved.  She got down and just gave those flowers a great big hug.  For good measure, she shared her warm embrace with one of our newer trees as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Now and then before our sweet girl can get ready for bed she has to do the "Energy-Out" Dance.  It's a loony sort of jumping on the bed and twirling number with several costume changes.  The term is one she coined herself.  It is sometimes but not always accompanied by panties on the head.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

our nature table welcomes spring

As in many Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired homes and classrooms, at our house we have a Nature Table that reflects the seasons and upcoming holidays and the stories that come with these both.  We’re always collecting and bringing in various stones, seed cones, leaves, sticks, lichen and whatnot on our daily walks and adventures and, although these are often used in kitchen play or as parts of various games hither and thither, the table is the main accumulation point for our array of natural treasures.   It is a reflection of the outdoors in a little corner of our cozy home.

Sometimes the table is, to me, a beautiful work of art.  It is meant to be played with though and can also turn into messy, dirty, seed and crumbly leaf covered territory.  Nature is like that.  Gritty, grimy and glorious all at the same time.  It’s part of what we love about her.

Because our time courting Mother Nature out of doors of late has been more limited, what our Nature Table is currently reflecting is the stories we’re telling of the coming of Spring.  Our favorite this time around is The Story of the Root Children by Sibylle von Olfers.  In this sweet tale, the root children sleep underground in Winter under the care of wise Mother Earth.  As Spring comes they awaken, sew new dresses and emerge as blossoms into the warming season.  The story follows them through Summer (where they meet our favorite snail, Father Sliffslaff-Slibberslak) and in Autumn they return once more to their home underground.
 I’ve had a few failed attempts at making little bean-bag style root children dressed all in brown to join Mother Earth at the table.  I’m working on a new design though and hope to finish a few before the Spring Equinox arrives and the root children exchange their drab coverings for beautiful Spring flower dresses.  In the meantime, we’ve welcomed Father Sliffslaff-Slibberslak! 

 To make him, we used some sweet smelling Stockmar modeling beeswax and a seashell from our summer collection.  I had been reluctant to embrace the beeswax as a craft for Naiya because it seemed difficult to work with.  It’s hard and warming it in hands takes a long time.  A few days ago though, we took some into the bath and eureka! what others have probably known since the dawn of modeling wax, we discovered in our bath.  To soften it just set it in a bit of warm water.

Monday, March 14, 2011

how to make play dough

A few months ago we were out at a restaurant with my friends Lisa and Patricia and their daughters.  The girls were a squirmy, wild bunch who had difficulty remaining in their seats with the excitement of each others company and, at least in Naiya's case, the novelty of dinner with so many friends.  As is often the case, there were crayons for the girls to play with, but these held minimal interest for them.  Then Lisa pulled from her trusty bag three tubs of play dough.  With forks, spoons, table knives and the new delightful treasure the children cut, carved and sculpted so that we adults had at least some free moments to converse. 

I have since started carrying play dough in my bag for just such occasions.  Since I've been on a "how-to" kick I figured I'd pass along our simple, ten minute, make-your-own play dough recipe.

A couple of dough balls in a mason jar also makes a great gift!

Play Dough Recipe
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/3 cup salt
2 Tblsp. cream of tartar
1 Tblsp. vegetable oil
food coloring

In a medium sized pot mix flour, salt and cream of tartar.  Add water and oil. Stir over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes.

Once the dough forms a ball, remove from heat and allow it to cool. Once cool, knead the dough on a floured surface. 


Separate into various balls (depending on how much of each color you would like).  Indent each ball and drop food coloring into indentation.  (For the colors seen here I used 10 drops.)

Knead until color is distributed evenly throughout dough.  Once the coloring is mixed into the dough it will, oddly, not stain hands or surfaces.  Store in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

squirrel feeder

As a follow-up to the recent post about the pine cone bird feeder we made, I suppose I should add that our backyard is also home to a number of squirrels...

Monday, March 7, 2011

felted flowers

With our very wet and cold weather of late, our daily walks and outdoor adventures have been fewer and shorter.  Our Nature Table, as a result, is looking very sparse and Winter-y but in our hearts we're already dreaming a little bit Spring-y.  I decided, therefore, that the table needed a little brightening up with some "fresh" felt flowers.  I had made a few of these for our wreath during the second week of Advent but what better time to append our bouquet than now when the blossoming of our garden is slowly and delicately revealing its secrets.                         

The blooms I made back in December all fanned out from a central point and didn't overlap so I decided to try something a little different this time around - more like a gardenia or primrose.

I started by cutting a felted wool sweater into petal shapes of various sizes.
(One could use craft felt or wool felt but I have plenty of felted sweater scraps around from previous projects and I like their suppleness and pliancy.)

I folded the smallest petal around itself and stitched it in place with embroidery floss.

I then added petals, one at a time, from smallest to largest.

I wrapped each one around the previous and (rather sloppily) ran random stitches through the bottom of the forming flower to keep the pieces in place.

When the bloom was full enough, I turned it over and pulled the base into a tighter clump by running more stitches through the ends.

I then attached a bit of green felt over this both to suggest a kind of stem and to cover up the sewn clump.

Using the inspiration of the world unfolding around us, a great variety of beautiful flowers may soon adorn not only our table but perhaps some hats and sweaters as well.

These little baubles are so easy to put together. 

I think the construction is even simpler when the petals don't overlap or wind around each other.

And who of us doesn't have jars and baskets full of sweet buttons and beads just waiting for some lovely project to embellish?
(Is that just me?)

Our dear Mother Earth was delighted to find the emerging colors of Spring at her feet.
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