Saturday, October 29, 2011

five little pumpkins

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate
The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late."
The second one said, "There are witches in the air."
The third one said, "But we don't care."
The fourth one said, "Let's run and run and run!"
The fifth one said, "Isn't Hallowe'en fun?"
Woosh went the wind, and out went the light
And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

Naiya brought this little fingerplay verse home from school last week.  We've been collecting these gems from memory, from rhyme books and from Waldorf friends and teachers for years now.  I've finally added them as two separate tabs at the top of my home page.   Enjoy!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

autumn nature table

We've been making lanterns, filling our Nature Table with an array of Autumn goodness (it's rather a jumble) and have begun re-telling this beloved story from year's past as we prepare for our school's beautiful Lantern Walk tomorrow...

There one was a girl called Naiya who had who had been outside in the garden all through the Summer running after the butterflies, jumping like a grasshopper, singing like a bird, and trying to catch the sunlight. One day when she was lying on her back in the meadow gazing up into the sun-filled sky, she said, “Dear Brother Sun, soon the Autumn winds will blow and wail, and Jack Frost will come and make us all freeze, and the nights will be long and cold.”
Brother Sun pushed the clouds aside and said, “Yes, it will be dark and cold. In the deep midwinter, warmth and light live deep within, hidden from sight. In the time of dark and cold, you will tend the Light Within.”
“But,” said Naiya, “How will I tend this Light when it’s dark everywhere around me?” “I will give you a spark of my last Autumn rays once you have made a little house for it, for this spark must be guarded well. It will light the way for you to tend the Light Within throughout the time of dark and cold.”
And then Brother Sun once hid again behind a cloud. Naiya went home and wondered how best she could make a little house for the spark of the sun. She took some tissue paper and some beautiful Autumn leaves and with glue pressed them onto the outside of a glass jar. Then she bound the top with a handle and formed it into a lantern. She took a candle and put it into the middle of her lantern. And, as it was growing dark, she went outside with it.
Naiya held the lantern up above her and said, “Brother Sun, I have made a little home for one of your golden sparks. Please may I have one? I will guard it well.”
Then Brother Sun looked out from behind a cloud and said, “You have made a beautiful home. I shall give you one of my golden sparks.”
And suddenly, Naiya saw how the sides of her lantern were lit up, and as she looked into the lantern, she saw a spark happily dancing on top of the candle. Oh, how happy the light was in her lovely lantern! It shone and shone so brightly.
“Thank you, Brother Sun,” Naiya called out, “Thank you.” And she took her lantern and carried it carefully home singing:

The sunlight fast is dwindling,
My little lamp needs kindling.
Its beam shines far in darkest night,
Dear Lantern, guard me with your light.

(from Autumn: A Collection of Poems, Songs and Stories for Young Children)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

pumpkins, pyramids, flowers and ferries

This year, once again, we visited the Phoenix & Holly Railroad and Pumpkin Patch at The Flower Farmer just outside of Portland in Canby, Oregon.  This adventure starts for us as we take the Canby Ferry over the Willamette River on our drive out to the farm.
The ferry is tiny.  It holds only six cars and takes a scant 3 minutes to cross the river.  It's a novel activity and although I don't get as giddy as Naiya every time, I enjoy the brief ride.
Of course, it's not nearly as fun as the pumpkin train at The Flower Farmer.  Two trains actually run the tracks there that take both kids and adults on a circuit that stops once at a small critter petting area and again at the giant hay pyramid and pumpkin patch.

The pyramid is fun to climb but also holds in its interior a small, dark maze that the children played in for over an hour.

With a bevy of pumpkins from Naiya's birthday already carved up at home, we didn't gather any more but did enjoy the hay, the play, the bursts of sunshine and the crisp Autumn day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

not two heavy pumpkins

"I should feel this," Naiya says, picking up her pumpkins each in turn " see how heavy it is."
"Okay," says I.
 "It's not too heavy," she declares. 
"It's not three heavy," she continues.
"It's FOUR heavy!" she exclaims.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

old woman autumn, la befana and a needle felted doll

A while back I made a needle felted Mother doll for our Nature Table.  Later I fashioned her a little family (daughter and farmer husband) and, as the seasons changed, a Lady Spring joined the clan.  For Autumn I wanted to introduce an older relation.  There was a story I remember hearing of an elderly woman (symbolic of the fading of the year) sweeping away the falling leaves and shushing all the little critters into the warm underground earth.  I thought I'd add both doll and that tale to our growing collection of afternoon puppet shows.  Alas, I couldn't find the story but went ahead and made the doll anyhow.  I figured I'd think up some yarn of my own and use this figure as grandmother in any number of other narratives as well.

Here she is from the back with green shawl and silver braids wrapped round the crown of her head.  Naiya saw her sitting on the mantle but really I wanted to introduce her in action...

When I asked my friend Yvonne if she knew of the story I had been unable to find (I mentioned it had an old woman and a broom), she gave me a copy of the beautiful Italian folktale "La Befana and the Royal Child of Light" as told by Carolyn McVickar Edwards.  It isn't the one I recalled but what a gem it is!  It's actually an Advent/Epiphany story very similar to that of St. Nicholas.

The legend tells of La Befana in her roll as a solitary baker and perpetual house cleaner and sweeper.   One day when a procession passes her home on its way to offer gifts to the Royal Child of Light, La Befana declines to join it but later has a change of heart.  She spends all day baking many delicious offerings, but when she finally finishes, the procession and the child are gone.  With broom in hand, she runs in search of them, is lifted into the air and flies off into the night with her basket of goodies tucked under her arm.  She never catches them, "but she flies each year across the sky, stopping at every house below.  She is looking for the Child who will light up the world.  La Befana is never sure what the Child may look like.  So she leaves her gifts at every home in case the girl or the boy within is the Royal Child of Light."

So while in Germany (and in our home) St. Nicholas sneaks in and leaves small gifts in children's boots on December 6th,  on January 6th in Italy, La Befana flies on her broom and leaves them sweets.

I liked the idea of telling this story now, as the lantern season and Hallowe'en approach.  The Child of Light has yet to enter our tales but the theme of bringing light into the darkness has already come and the imagery of a kindly woman flying on a broom to deliver sweets offers a nice correlation to all the witch lore and depictions we can't help but encounter during the season of goblins and ghouls.

If anyone knows of the sweeping Autumn woman story however, I'm still searching!  We can always use another seasonal narrative and with all the wonderful story-tellers and home-schoolers out there, surely someone must know the one I once heard...  Won't you please leave your Autumn stories and ideas in the comments?

Friday, October 21, 2011

paper star lantern tutorial - revisited

Since it's now lantern season, I thought I would re-post this tutorial I had put up some time ago...

During last lantern season I was looking everywhere for instructions to make these beautiful paper lanterns and couldn't find them anywhere.  I ended up purchasing a lantern that was already made and since I've been struggling with some difficult folds and designs of other paper crafts, I decided to unfold the seemingly simple lantern I bought and figure the thing out for myself.  Like all traditional origami, no glue or cutting (once the basic outside shape of the paper is made) are required.  I feared that once I unfolded my lovely store-bought version I wouldn't be able to get it back together but thankfully it wasn't nearly as difficult as I assumed.

Since in my own quest for instructions I crossed paths with many other people looking for the same thing, I thought I'd do my best to share what I learned.  There may be better ways to do this and certainly my origami terminology will lack a little something but this is how I worked it out:

(Feb 2012 edit note:  A video tutorial of this project can now be found here.)

Begin with a 12" square of paper to end up with a lantern that is about 7" across when complete.  (Those beautiful wet-on-wet water colored paintings our children are turning out each season make for the lovliest lanterns.  Also, 12x12 is the standard size of the amazing array of scrapbook paper found at local craft stores.)

With what will ultimately be the outside of your lantern (the painted side) face up, fold the paper in half horizontally and vertically and then again on each diagonal effectively dividing the page into eight pie wedges. 

For  crisper creases and to help fold thicker card stocks, try using a bone folder.  The more exact the folds, the nicer the finished project will be.

(The dashed and dotted lines shown here are guides for the next step.)

To further divide the paper into 16 wedges, turn the paper over (painted side down so this second set of 8 folds are "valleys" to the first 8 fold's "hills") and make another fold between each of the eight sections by lining up the existing folds and the center point.

To help illustrate I marked the paper with dotted and dashed lines.  The dotted lines (marked on both the front and back of the page) fold to align directly on top of the dashed line.  (For more exact alignment, check the line at 90° and make sure it also aligns exactly with the corner fold underneath it.)

At the same time these folds are being made, lightly mark with a pencil the triangle piece that is sticking out at each of the four corners.  

The only scissor work of this project takes place here.


Cut off  the four marked corners of the paper.

With all of these folds complete and the corners removed, the octagonal "pie" will now have 16 wedges.

With the painted side down, using the existing lines between the eight points as a guide (the dotted lines), fold down the paper edge (on the dash-dot line that connects the end points of the dotted lines). 

For extra visual assistance, note that the solid lines lay one atop the other.

Repeat this fold eight times.

It might be easiest to understand this by first folding in the top, bottom and two sides, creating a square, then unfolding the paper, rotating it 45 degrees and repeating the process of creating a second square.

In the end there will be an eight pointed star formed by the folds (or two squares - one overlaying the other).

Fold in the edges of one of those squares. 

Again, if the paper has a painted side, it is face down for this step.

Flip over the paper (so the outside is up) and fold in the already creased corners.

This is where it gets tricky and the instructions are best understood with paper in hand just trying to work it out I think...

Between each folded-in corner, reach around to the other side of the paper and gently grab the center point (where the arrow is pointing) from the back side.

It will, by nature of the existing folds, turn into a triangle as it is pulled.

Flip that triangle over the edge until it too points to the center of the side of the page that is currently face up.  (For illustration purposes I drew the arrow on both sides of the paper.)

The center of the paper will start to crinkle and this is totally fine.

Continue doing this all the way around.  By carefully cupping the paper and helping pop the folds into their proper place when necessary, the star pattern will begin to take shape.

I have to say that when it all just fell into place I was quite surprised.

Press the project down onto a flat surface to flatten the bottom into a level cup shape.  

The lantern I purchased was coated with oil which increases the translucency (and sort of magical quality) of the paper.  To do this simply rub with any vegetable or olive oil prior to folding and let it dry overnight.  (I would suggest perhaps attempting your first version without. )

Of course, these beautiful pieces are made of paper and so are quite flammable.  I would suggest placing a glass votive around an open flame prior to putting it in the lantern and, as with all burning objects, caution should be used and candles should never be left unattended.

My mum likes to use those little battery powered tea lights and they are, of course, quite safe and a great option for very small children.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

squirrel food

When we saw this squirrel on top of the play house this afternoon we couldn't initially figure out what giant morsel she was enjoying.  Turned out it was one of our old dried out sunflowers...the one's out by the fence that are looking quite ragged and are falling over onto the sidewalk.

I'd like to say that we intentionally and considerately left these lingering in the garden to feed our sweet rodent and feathered friends.  The birds and squirrels are extremely fond of the seedy treats.  In reality, we just hadn't gotten around to pulling them out and now, well, we're considerately leaving them in the garden to feed our little rodent and feathered friends...

backyard eggs

Sometimes when people find out we have our own chickens they get really excited about the idea of fresh eggs.  It is pretty exciting when that first egg comes and it's great to just always have them on hand.  The chickens themselves are rather entertaining too.  Currently we've got five girls in the yard.  Three are young and between them, one egg was produced before laying season apparently came to an end.  At the moment our daily egg search yields zero.  Sadly, it's been that way for a couple of months.  (It is typical for production to slow or cease in the colder months although this has never happened to us in the past.)  Before they and our older girls decided on their current hiatus though, I took this shot of some eggs as we were baking one day.  Since we had so few, we used both a store bought "organic, free range" egg alongside one of our own.  (What "organic, free range" actually means in terms of how the chickens live, eat and die on a big farm probably varies from brand to brand.)
Backyard egg on the left.  Factory egg on the right.
In a blind taste test I don't know that I could tell the difference between these.  The flavor is pretty standard although I wish I could say otherwise.  It's the thing about having chickens that makes it less exciting than we hoped.  An egg tastes like an egg tastes like an egg.  What is striking about an egg from a chicken you feed yourself, hold in your arms and whose name you know is how it looks.  When you scramble these things they're a beautiful, warm sunny orange.  The yolks are firm, stand taller and are harder to break than factory farmed eggs.  Depending on the diet of the hens, the shell can vary from extremely thick and difficult to crack to almost paper thin and quite fragile.

        Jak                                 Juniper                          Persephone                          Amelia                        Jellybean Puffball
Chickens aren't for everyone.  A lot of cities have ordinances against them for reasons I can't fully fathom, getting started can be expensive, they can be messy and they indiscriminately enjoy all the lovely plants in the garden when they escape their appointed area, but we just get so much from our girls even without their eggs.  They're surprisingly relaxing to watch, take advantage of nearly all of our food waste, are so incredibly sweet (and educational) as they grow from tiny chicks, eat all the slugs they can get their beaks on, create a richly fertilized soil and help our daughter learn yet another lesson about where our food really comes from. 
Since our last cat passed, "the girls" (as we like to call them) are our only pets.  Just a few days ago I found out that when my husband puts them in for the night he tells them that he loves them.  Who'd have thought?  Chickens.  They're not just for eggs.  They're part of our little urban family.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

giant potato

Last year we had potatoes growing in the park strip we dedicate to food production. While this year we reaped a magnificent crop of beets from that locale, there were a few potato volunteers that came up as well.  Since it's been so cold and wet we thought we ought to get the stragglers out of there.
We were shocked to harvest almost 30 more pounds of this root crop that we thought we had entirely gathered up or plowed under.  One particular giant weighed in at over 2 1/2 pounds!  Such is the bounty of Nature or, as was said in my favorite line from that silly dinosaur move, "Life...uh...finds a way."

Friday, October 14, 2011

peter pumpkin's house

I recently attended a craft night where some good friends and I gathered for wine and conversation without our children underfoot.  We try to do this now and again to nourish our relationships with each other apart from our kids as well as to share our skills and ideas.
This time we used one of the many wonderful projects included in the monthly newsletters from Suzanne Down of Juniper Tree School of Story and Puppetry Arts.  Suzanne is a frequent contributor to Living Crafts magazine, tours around the country to teach workshops, has her own blog to share many of her delightful stories and adventures and also sends out her seasonally inspiring message which, this time around, included this cute needle felting project and her original Autumn story of Peter Pumpkin's House.

Her stories are meant to be told using the little dolls as "puppets."  (For a post I wrote a while back that gives an idea of how this looks, click here.)  I like to change up our stories each season but tend to tell one for as long as two or three weeks before I move on to another.  Sometimes I just make them up but Suzanne's stories are some of my favorites.

In this latest tale, Peter and his wife have recently moved to a new village where he sets up shop to sell vegetables from his prosperous garden.  The vegetables are loved by all and Peter's heart is warmed by the sight of all the beautiful growing things in his fields.  No matter how he searches the town though, there isn't a house to be found for he and his wife to live in.  One day, however, as he stands admiring his bountiful garden, he sees something hidden under the branches of the willow tree at the edge of the pumpkin patch.  It's a giant pumpkin!  It's spectacular!  With his pocket knife he cuts here and there and scoops out hundreds of seeds into his basket.  Later he brings his wife to the field and shows her, tucked under a willow tree in the corner of the field, her new perfect pumpkin house.  The classic old rhyme of "Peter, Peter Pumpkin-eater, had a wife..." is read as Peter places his bride inside the pumpkin at this point.  In the end, Peter and his wife sell the pumpkin seeds at their shop and the following year, it is told, there is a whole new village of pumpkin houses giving shelter to happy little farming families.
(For the actual tale, try joining the newsletter here.)

Both the large and tiny pumpkins shown above were wet felted for another of Suzanne's stories that we used last year and the little people were needle felted (dry felted) on a pipe cleaner armature using basically the same method found here.

They're fun little friends to put together especially when enjoying wine with regular sized friends on a cozy Autumn night.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

harvest festival

Saturday was Harvest Festival at Naiya's school.  This year the annual celebration had a greater focus on caring for the grounds and the gardens.  I thought I would really miss some of the sweet activities of year's past but with the focus shifting somewhat from recreation to community building and the betterment of our already thriving natural surroundings, we still managed to have a really wonderful day.  In addition to our harvest pot luck, seed and recipe share, the day nourished us in a number of ways.
The high school kids created this amazing mandala from dried grains, beans and seeds.  As always, the enthusiasm, tenacity, thoughtfulness, eloquence and competence of these teenagers impresses me to no end.
These two sheep entertained the young ones the entire day as they were shorn the old-fashioned way with manual shears.  With un-washed but somewhat clean wool, the children were invited to card and spin the fiber with a small wire and their ever-capable hands (after the spinning wheel encountered some kind of malfunction).  With a length of her own two-ply yarn, Naiya fashioned herself a sweet little wool bracelet.

In addition to the spinning, there were still a few really fun activities for the wee ones including pumpkin carving and some gleeful, high-spirited square dancing.

While Naiya and I made merry, Ryan made our family's contribution to grounds keeping by helping spread bark chips on the playground and clearing sod in the orchard.

The children helped in the creation of the school's first larger scale biodynamic compost pile.  Here you can see them sprinkling water with cedar boughs as the pile nears completion.

As the day drew to a close the children were thrilled to be able to play in the cistern (where they normally aren't allowed) to help clear duckweed from the spring source and creek.
Yet another amazing festival from the community we are ever so grateful to be part of.  Happy harvest to all!
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