Sunday, November 27, 2011

making advent wreaths

In preparation for Advent, a few members of our Waldorf community got together to make seasonal wreaths.  My good friend Chrisi has held this tradition, passed down from her grandmother, for many years, but for most of us it was our first foray into creating our own.  It was so surprisingly simple that I wanted to post a tutorial and encourage everyone to try these but with the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow, I don't think I'm going to get to it. 
Perhaps these in-process photos of our festive but relaxing day will inspire folks to look up a how-to elsewhere and give them a go at home.
We gathered in front of a cozy fire with a collection of branches, berries, pods and cones for all to share.  Chrisi, our gracious hostess for the day, gave basic instructions before each of us combined various elements to make unique and attractive wreaths for doors and tables both. 
We worked with pine, fir, larch, cedar, juniper, poppy pods and a few other shrubberies I was unable to identify.
Most of us built on a simple wire circlet (sometimes bent from a wire hanger), laying overlapping short clumps of greenery held on by florist wire.
Such inspired artistry and each one a unique expression of holiday spirit. 

After a delicious Thanksgiving leftover lunch, many warm and intimate hours of relaxed conversation and an inspiring day of story and tradition sharing, we brought home one smaller wreath (to which we'll add four candles) to use for our Advent table and daily celebration and one larger that I think we'll hang over the mantel. 

Thank you again to Chrisi for this wonderful day.  It seems another new holiday tradition has begun.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

dress-up beard

A few days ago we had some friends over and the children were playing Christmas Santa.  This game started off as fancy silk wrapped present delivery game and progressed into making a sleigh from overturned chairs for Santa to sit in as he (she) flew over familiar houses deciding where to drop precious gifts.  There was an Ice Queen complete with fancy dress and crown somewhere in there and when Naiya wanted dress up for Santa, I whipped up this quick beard.  (I have to confess that this idea wasn't my own.  I saw something like it somewhere recently but can't for the life of me recall where that was.)  Surprisingly, Naiya thought it was pretty nifty.  (I say surprisingly because often when I try to interject creations of my own into her games, they're promptly rejected.)

We used this felted wool yarn and simply tied it at both ends to fit around her ears.

We then cut a bunch of shorter bits and looped and tied them along the yarn until the "beard" was full.

These could, of course, be used for gnome or old man play as well, and another cord braided across and attached would serve as a cute little mustache!

I have some friends with boys who love dress up play and although we made this for girls, I was thinking it would be an especially great addition to a small gentleman's wardrobe.

It could even be attached directly onto a gnome hat!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

hanging paper snowflake star

With snow on our minds and winter fast approaching with its accompanying festive mood, I decided to finally figure out these paper stars (which look a bit like giant snowflakes) that I saw in a local shop window last year.  Paper is such a great (and inexpensive) medium for holiday decorations I think, and this particular ornament is relatively easy considering how impressive it looks.
These snowflake stars can be made in any size and color and require only a few supplies (glue, ruler, pencil and scissors) in addition to six square sheets of paper.  In the tutorial below, I used regular printer paper but I'd recommend something thicker to give the structure more support especially if one is making a large version.

Begin by creating a square of the desired size and folding it on the diagonal.
(One could just begin cutting freehand at this point creating a number of lines parallel to the outer edge but I'm not great at freehand, so I pre-mark my cuts using a ruler and pencil...)

Very lightly mark the long folded edge at even intervals with small hash lines.  (I'm using a thick red marker here for illustration purposes.)  When working with an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper cut down to a square, the diagonal will measure exactly 12".  I marked my fold at each inch.
Using those hash lines as an interval guide, lay the ruler parallel to one shorter edge and lightly draw a line from the bottom fold to just short of the center point.  Repeat for the other edge creating guidelines like those shown here in red.

With scissors or an exacto knife, cut up through the fold toward the top point along the lines stopping short of the center by about 1/4" on each side.

Unfold the paper.  As seen below, the un-cut center line holds a number of cut squares together right down the middle. 

Starting with the center square, fold the smallest two triangles together and glue them.  (I used the pencil to help support the rounded shape as the corners were pressed together.)

A glue stick works fine for thinner paper.  For thicker stock a different adhesive and paper clips might be needed to help maintain the bind.  (The paper clips would, of course, just be temporary.)

Turn the paper over and glue the next two triangles on the opposite side.

Continue gluing on alternate sides until the sheet is complete.

It's pretty already isn't it?  Naiya and I painted, glittered and hung a number of these in our windows last year.  We used the squares and also tried diamonds, ovals and even a star shape.  They're lovely as they twirl in the slightest breeze.

To make the beautiful snowflake star though, you'll need to make five more of this same design.

When they're all complete, the six pieces get glued together at the centers as well as at the mid-point corners.  Again, I just used a glue stick.

Thread and hang from one point when complete, then marvel and your handiwork.

a cup of joe, a cup of snow

We're in the midst of Autumn, but last weekend I had some time up in the Cascades and it was my first snow encounter of the season.

I didn't have Naiya with me and felt a little guilty about this first encounter of the year with Father Frost without her to share it.  I wanted to bring something home for my little one and having finished my morning coffee just prior to heading back down the mountain, I packed her up a travel mug of the fluffy, frosty stuff.  I wasn't sure what she would make of it and, I have to say, her initial impulse was a bit of a surprise.  When she opened the cup, she promptly asked for a spoon and ate up her taste of winter wonderland after garnishing it with a splash of maple syrup.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

pocket pals

It's been a little busy here for a few weeks and blogging fell by the wayside to allow for some dedicated family and personal regeneration time.  One of the events that was part of the hectic past few weeks was our school's annual Heart of Advent crafting day.  It's an afternoon for our Waldorf community to come together and share time, ideas, stories, traditions and inspiration for the upcoming holiday season.

This year I was on the organizing committee and so devoted the weeks building up to the affair making sure all the pieces were in place.  I then spent the entire Saturday of our gathering enjoying teaching friends new and old how to make these cute little Pocket Pals.  With St. Nicholas Day fast approaching, I think they make a perfect boot filler but they would, of course, make great stocking stuffers or gift toppers for Christmas as well.

To make these darling play fellows, one will need:
1 16mm wooden bead
2 8mm wooden beads
1 pipe cleaner
a small piece of felt
embroidery floss
an acorn cap (optional)
wool roving for stuffing and hair (optional)
an embroidery needle

Begin by bending the pipe cleaner into the configuration shown here so that the distance from A to B is only slightly wider than the width of the fabric (enough to accommodate the bead hands).  This one is about 3" from tip to tip.  Twist the two loose bottom wires together.

Glue the small beads over the two side ends of the pipe cleaner to make the hands and the larger bead onto the top for the head.
Set aside to dry.

Trace a body pattern onto the felt fabric.  Lay two sheets, one atop the other, prior to cutting or cut each separately to create two identical body pieces.  Feel free to make these two different colors or even to change the body shape.  (At our Heart of Advent table, folks made heart bodies, angel bodies and even one shaped to look like a little Lego guy.)


If desired, embroider a symbol, design, letter or pattern onto one or both body pieces (or sew on a button or patch).  (For Basic Embroidery Stitch instructions search the internet or click here.)

Lay the two body pieces together with embellishments facing out and, using embroidery floss, begin blanket stitching them together just slightly off center (at one side of the "neck").  (For very clear blanket stitch instructions, click here.)

Before turning the first corner (at the wrist), place the pipe cleaner armature inside the two felt pieces.  Stitch around the corner (holding the hand in place) and continue until reaching the next "wrist".

Before finishing off the top of the arm, stuff the figure with a bit of wool roving (or whatever stuffing you have on hand) being sure to pad the pointy wire bits.


Decorate the face and head as desired with wool roving, an acorn cap or even a felt gnome hat.

Gift or keep for yourself and enjoy!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

another mushroom

The day after I published that post about all the cool mushrooms we've been finding, we discovered this behemoth at Naiya's school.  Three days later (when I finally remembered to bring my camera) it's a much subtler shade of orange and starting to crack in places but impressive nonetheless.  At first we both thought it was a garden sculpture and were looking for the accompanying gnome.  Turned out it was real.  We think there must be a whole village of fairies somewhere nearby.

For a sense of the scale of this thing,
here's a shot with Naiya's hand in it!

martinmas - in the spirit of giving

As we transition out of harvest time and celebrating the abundance of the Earth and all her gifts, we move into a season of expressing gratitude for all we have and celebrating the spirit of giving.  This is really how I think of Martinmas which is coming up on Friday.  We decorate our Nature Table with a scene from the popular story of Saint Martin wherein he cuts his cloak in half to save a beggar from freezing in a storm.  The theme of giving carries us nicely from the bounty of Summer's end to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Last year right around this same time, Ryan and I were listening to a talk by Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield speaking on this very subject.  I can't recall his exact words but he was telling about how he sometimes has the impulse to give, second guesses himself, reflects upon what might be personally lost by handing over something (tangible or intangible) that belongs to him and, after much more thought, finally decides for or against the giving.  Actually, he says he used to do that.

He talks about how we probably all have gone through this same process in our own ways.  "Should I donate this sweater to Goodwill?  I might need it...  But it isn't my favorite... but I might wear it if I make it to the snow this year... No, I probably won't.  Okay, I'll donate it...."  "I could go down and volunteer to help at the shelter, but do I really have the time?...  Would a couple of hours make a difference anyway?  Well, maybe next year..."   "A lot of people have a lot more than I do.  Let them be the ones who give away their money, their things, their free time..." 

More or less, I think we probably have all had this kind of internal dialogue.  Jack says at some point in his life though, he made the decision to just always follow the initial impulse to give.  He no longer agonizes over the decision or wonders if it's the right or best thing to do.  He says that when the first inclination of giving arises, he doesn't stop to think about it or reflect on it or weigh the consequences of his actions.  He just does it.  As immediately as possible.

Not once has he regretted it.

A wise approach to living I think.  Something for us all to reflect upon.

Within the fullness of our lives, how might we share our time, our money, our food, our energy and even the oft overlooked but immensely valuable gift of our undivided attention both with those we love and with those to whom we are still strangers?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the three billy goats gruff

 One of Naiya's favorite telling stories is the Three Billy Goats Gruff.  Last weekend when we were walking with some friends in the woods we came to a bridge which inspired an impromptu reenactment of that cherished tale.  Daddy, of course, had to be the troll (although his eyes are NOT as big as saucers, nor his nose as long as a poker). 
We had some hungry goats who needed to travel across to the hillside to make themselves fat.  Trip, trap, trip trap went the bridge...
"Who's that tripping over my bridge?"
"Oh, it is only I, the tiniest Billy Goat Gruff, and I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat," said the little pink and polka dot goat.
"Then I am going to gobble you up," proclaimed daddy troll.
"Oh no, don't take me.  I'm much too little," said the first billy goat. "Wait a bit till the second Billy Goat Gruff comes. She's much bigger."  (Of course, "billy" goats are boys but we work with what we're given.)
"Well, okay then, be off with you..." allowed the big ol' troll.
Trip, trap, trip, trap went the bridge again.
"Who's this now tripping over my bridge?" 
"Oh, it's just me the second Billy Goat Gruff.  I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat." 
"I think I will gobble you up," the troll said.
"Oh no, don't take me.  I'm much too little," said the second billy goat. "Wait until the Big Billy Goat Gruff comes.  She's much, much bigger."
"Well, be off with you then..."

When the third Billy Goat came trip, trap, tripping over the bridge it creaked and moaned under her.   (Well, my friend Lisa is pretty small so there wasn't really any creaking, but she can stamp rather loudly).
"Who's that tramping over my bridge?" roared the troll.
"It is I, the biggest Billy Goat Gruff!" she cried.
"Then I am going to gobble you up!"
"Well, come along!  I've got two spears.  I'll make you live your greatest fears.  I'll throw you into the water cold.  No longer will you be so bold,"  said the last Billy Goat (or something like it) as she pretended to toss big Daddy Troll into the rushing river.
Of course, there were more bridges.  At the next one the troll was petite and had two cute little heads.  Very fierce.

Monday, November 7, 2011

there's a fungus among us

Mushrooms are cool.  They're everywhere around us at the moment.
I also love jokes for five year olds, so... here I am to torture you with two I remember from my youth...
Why did the mushroom get invited to the party?
Because he's such a fungi (fun guy)!
Why did he leave?
Because there wasn't mush room!

Please forgive me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

beeswax leaves

One of our favorite Autumn crafts is beeswaxing leaves.  We do this sometimes a couple of times a week and end up waxing all manner of Mother Nature's treasures.  Last year I found a "Crockette" (mini Crock Pot) at Goodwill for $2.99 and it's one of the most useful items for crafting I've ever brought home.  The Crockette is dedicated to this one use so I never have to clean it out and, as long as we plan ahead (it takes an hour or two to melt the full hardened pot back down to liquid wax), we've got a sweet smelling, entertaining, natural activity at our fingertips.

After a gathering walk, when the leaves (or seed pods, or sticks or whatever) are still fresh, we dip them into melted wax, gently flatten them a bit and leave them to dry on parchment paper.  If we want them extra thick, we dip them in a bowl of cold water to harden the first wax layer then dip them again.  It's easy for kids of all ages and takes no skill at all.
In addition to our Nature Table, we have a Nature Tree in one corner of our living room.  Its branches are filled with butterflies and dragonflies in Spring, flowers and fruits in Summer and waxed leaves in Autumn (held in place with mini clothes pins). 

The wax preserves the leaves for longer than they would normally last but, over time, they still fade and return to the earth as the season passes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Halloween is coming, soon we'll be
Dressed in funny clothes and then you'll see
Pumpkins in the window shining bright
Oh we'll have a good time on Hallowe'en night

I've noticed that a lot of people have really strong feelings about Hallowe'en.  Some folks just can't wait to dress up in crazy, grotesque or provocative outfits, go to all sorts of haunted houses and parties or decorate even more elaborately than others do for Christmas.  Others seem to despise the very notion of the day for primarily religious reasons that I don't quite understand.  To each their own I think.  I can respect both ends of the spectrum.  Me, I'm indifferent to Hallowe'en.  Some years I've even forgotten it altogether and was only reminded when running into costumed folk in the grocery store whilst doing a little late afternoon shopping.

It's fun to see kids dress up though.  We dress up at least three times a week at all times of year  and I think it's kind of thrilling for children to have grown-ups join them in this delightful game they like to play.  Grown-ups, kids, everyone is playing and no one even had to convince anyone else to wear to most ridiculous hat.

Of course Hallowe'en changed for us a few years ago when our daughter became aware enough to know something strange was afoot.  We had our first go at trick-or-treating then and it was somehow much more magical than I had thought it would be.  Perhaps I had merely forgotten having, you know, grown up too much.  It was just fun to roam the streets in the dark with our lanterns and costume silliness and see everyone else doing the same.  That first year I also had the notable realization about what an unusual show of generosity and community this night is.  We dress up, knock on the doors of people we barely know and they welcome and greet us, smile and give us a sweet treat before wishing us well on our way.  Aside from all the ghouls and gore, doesn't it all seem so shockingly hospitable and benevolent considering the age we live in?  Maybe our wholesome experience is somewhat unique since we've spent Hallowe'en night for the past three years in the neighborhood where my parents live.  It's mostly small children out and about and a lot of the houses are quite done up.  It's like an after school special as dusk turns to darkness on tree lined streets with laughing children running hither and thither.  Everyone's just so darn friendly.  And they're giving us candy!  (I had forgotten how unbelievable that seemed to me when I was young.)

As those memories return, they're full of such simple, lighthearted joy.  So, despite some discussion of turning this day into a smaller, more nature based, sugar free affair, we'll likely continue this mainstream tradition.  Of course, we will somehow get rid of most of the candy.  She'll get to keep a few choice pieces of her hoard of tasty treats and the rest are destined to feed the Sugar Sprite.  (For more on the Sugar Sprite click here.)

However you all celebrated, we hope your Hallowe'en was as fun filled, happy and safe as ours.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

autumn celebrations

So much has been happening this past week and I've had hardly a moment to share any of it.  Our school hosted its annual Lantern Walk, there was Hallowe'en, we forgot to even acknowledge Samhain and the Sugar Sprite has a basket of goodies just waiting for her in our kitchen.  (We're still working on composing our letter to that sweet pixie.) I've got a lot of stories to tell and soon I will find the time.

For now, since I opted out of taking the camera on the Lantern Walk, I thought I would share just this one picture I got of Naiya before we left the house in the cute gnome hat made especially for that event.  Of course, she refused to wear it when we actually took our walk through the magical garden but she did bring along both this and last year's lanterns.  More to come on those soon too... 
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