The Last Tomato

August 17th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big.  I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez!  Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.

Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto.  It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.

Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato.  I feel it.  Now it is here.  The time of change.  The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns.  Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.

Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness.  This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday.  If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing.  And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.

Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:

 

I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting.  So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.

 

 

 

 

 

A Bird in the Hand

June 15th, 2011 § 9 comments § permalink

ChickadeeTwenty thousand years ago, before the babies arrived, before the Era of Massive Laundry, I spent some time living in the woods.  It was during this time that I could smell the dusty sweet scent of an approaching storm, could lean on a tree and determine its type by the bark, could work out which direction the fox was heading from its tracks, and could decipher just about every forest snap, cackle, and peek—separately noting, unriddling and interpreting each sound in my mind.  Each revealed something of importance— bird-twittering love, hawk overhead, nestlings being fed—and each evoked a vivid image of feathers or fur and a sense of belonging to it all.

I did this unknowingly.  Would just sit there and listen.

I am rusty now.   And everything takes more work.

Field GuideThis spring at our house we’ve been making homemade field guides for these kinds of things.  And we’ve been trying to get a good look and listen.  We hold hands and hold our binoculars and hold our sharpened pencils and little guides, and we just sit there and listen.

PhoebeThe past two weeks were spent attempting to find out who moved in next door—a hardy fly-catching little guy, with a creamy belly and olive-colored wings.  And just this morning we got a good look at him while heading out to school.  A phoebe.

Looking at nestThere are over 10,000 species of birds in the world.  About 925 have been sighted in North America.  In New York’s Hudson Valley, where we live, there are just over 100 commonly breeding species.  With practice, these birds can, of course, be identified by sight.  But a good birder can identify a species just by hearing their call or song.  There is something to be said about “seeing” a bird with closed eyes.  Some species like our cedar waxwing have just one single simple call.  Others, like our brown thrasher, can sing over 2,000 songs.  No kidding.

NestlingsLearning bird songs takes patience, perseverance, persistence and a great deal of practice.  Ideally, while in training (which could literally, if you are like me, take a lifetime), you would befriend  (or preferably marry) a spirited warmhearted nature-lover, who, energized by your incessant pestering, repeats excitedly, “That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yup, that’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yes, sir-eee, Bob!  That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; You got it!  That’s a Dark-eyed Junco.”  And just when it’s fairly clear you’ve perfected it all—well, just that one single passerine—the same patient friend will suddenly announce “That chipping sound is an alarm call of the Dark-eyed Junco, but the call before that was it’s contact trill note” and so on and so on as the tireless bird goes through its repertoire of 200 zillion sounds.  That’s an actual number.  It is potentially overwhelming.

My birding advice:

  • Listen to one instrument, not the entire orchestra.  Pick out the piccolo, then the oboe, the cello, the bass, etc.  Find individual notes from each instrument.
  • Learn one or two common local birds first.  Use these calls and songs as the standard for new ones that you hear.
  • Imitate what you hear.  If you can, count the notes and sketch the bird and the sound.
  • Use gimmicks.  If a bird sounds like a perky R2D2, then take note of it.  You can use your own gimmicks, putting words to a bird’s song, or you can use the widely accepted ones—called mnemonics.
  • Use field guides and online resources like Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Song Mnemonics, Nature Songs and What Bird
  • Write everything down and keep it close.

Nestling in HandWhy?  Birding provides a fantastic opportunity for us to connect to the natural world.   It allows a deeper understanding of habitat requirements and intra- and inter-species relationships, provides an even playing field—with both parents and kids starting at the same level, actively listening and working together for a common purpose, and requires no fancy terminology, musical training or conceptual framework.  By putting a teeny, feathered face on the world outside us, birding helps foster a sense of unity with nature and prompts interest and involvement in local green issues.  It can help teach an environmental ethic and can demystify basic ecology concepts.

More importantly, it can stimulate curiosity and passion.  Like you’ve never seen before.

Mnemonics we often use:

Bubble, bubble, glee-gleek 

Cheer-a-lee, cheer-up….

Cheer-a-lee….fancy Robin-y song

Cheer, cheer……woop, woop, woop

Robin with sore throat, and Chick burr

Chik-a-dee-dee-dee

Chipping trill (mechanical)

Chirping trill (softer than Chippy)

Chirr, chirr, chirr

Conk-a-ree

Drink your teeeeeeea!

Drop it, drop it!  Cover it up! (repeat)

Fee-bee

Here, here, come right here, dear

Here I am.  Where are you?  (repeat)

Meeee-ew…. and mocking phrases

Oh, sweet Canada Canada Canada

Cheeva, cheeva, cheeva, cheeva

Pee-a-wee…. Pee-yer

Queer, queer, queer

Teacher, Teacher, Teacher

Three-A….. Three-A

Wich-ity, witch-ity, witch-ity

Whinny (downward)

Whinny (evenly-pitched rattle)

Wik, wik, wik, wik, wik, wik

Wolf whistle, squeaky squeal, clucks

Who are you, you, you (sadly)

Yenk, yenk yenk (with a cold)

Zeee-zeee (high-pitched crickets)

Zee-zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee

Zur-zur-zur-zree!! (raspy)

Cowbird 

Robin

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Cardinal

Scarlet Tanager

Black-capped Chickadee

Chipping Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-winged blackbird

Eastern Towhee

Brown Thrasher

Eastern Phoebe

Northern Oriole

Red-eyed Vireo

Gray Catbird

White Throated Sparrow

Tufted Titmouse

Eastern Wood Peewee

Red-headed Woodpecker

Ovenbird

Yellow-throated Vireo

Common Yellowthroat

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Flicker

Starling

Mourning Dove

White Breasted Nuthatch

Cedar Waxwing

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated blue warbler

Just walk outside and listen.


The School Garden

May 3rd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Happy Bean

Early last spring, through a local educational grant, I helped students, teachers, parents and administrators establish a vegetable garden at our small grade school.  Permanent above- and below-ground fencing surrounds our 25’ x 40’ garden to guard it from hungry critters.

MulchingWe designed and installed an underground high-efficiency drip irrigation system to water our 9 rectangular wood-framed raised beds.  Following garden construction, we all helped weed the garden beds, plant seeds, transplant seedlings, maintain the beds and harvest the veggies.

Preparing bedsOur small gardening program provides benefits that reach well beyond the garden gate.  In addition to enhancing the classroom curriculum, the program inspires personal and social responsibility.  It nurtures community spirit, common purpose, and cultural appreciation by building bridges among students, school staff, and local organizations.

Many handsKids learn from maintaining the garden throughout the year: weeding, thinning, fertilizing, mulching, composting, monitoring pests and diseases, and harvesting.  Kids gain a sense of ownership and accomplishment and a willingness to try new foods.  As well, they obtain life skills.

Planting herbsThe kids experience a deeper understanding of natural systems and become better stewards of the Earth by designing, cultivating, and harvesting with their own hands.  Our small garden helps teach an environmental ethic, helps demystify the concept of food production, and helps get kids really dirty.

Garden handsThis week I am busy dirtying many small hands—preparing the beds and planting lettuce, radishes and sugar snap peas.

 

Felted Sweater Mice

March 23rd, 2011 § 13 comments § permalink

Felted Sweater MouseSometimes small fingers (and old fingers) find small projects to be tricky— tying a shoe, handling scissors, zipping a zipper, buttoning a button—they all require precision and a steady hand.  As does hand sewing.  Sewing not only demands dexterity, but also requires patience.  On top of this, it adds the threat of a potential finger prick.  Followed by little watery eyes.  Yowch!

This is incredibly unfortunate, since small people frequently like playing with small friends.  Dollhouse people, finger puppets, Lego people, tiny wooden animals—they are all good company and don’t seem to eat much.  My small people have been captivated by my friend Charlotte’s small friends for quite some time now. This has been a challenge for both them and me since Charlotte’s small friends, remarkably sweet and delicate, are very very small.  They are hand-sewn mice—reflective, contemplative furry friends with strikingly large personalities.  As well, they have microscopic eyes and noses, giving them extra bonus points.

Tortured by the opposing forces of teeny, wild fingers and the love of all things small, my design team and I made futile attempts at replicating Charlotte’s mice.  In the end, we designed a simple, slightly larger pattern with exposed stitching that is just perfect for small fingers.

For this project, you will need a small collection of 100% wool sweater scraps.  Solid, striped or patterned.  As with the Tiny Birdhouse and Swittens projects, add your wool sweater to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal.  This project also requires a needle, thread and some stuffing like organic cotton stuffing, hemp fibers or wool.  We are renowned for borrowing (well, stealing, really) synthetic filling from retired threadbare elderly friends.  Those of you who are fancy may opt to insert a small rice or bean-filled fabric bag in the base of the mouse to provide some weight.

Pattern: Size is up to you.  I recommend that you size your first mouse on a slightly-larger-than-life size (dare I say, rat size?).  As with the Swittens project, I have found that there is a significant positive correlation between successful project outcome and project size, when measured by various indicators, such as big smiles.  Don’t start out too teeny.

Cut the sweater as below.  In addition, you will need a tail.  It should be a long, skinny rectangular piece (that will later be folded and sewn).

Felted Mouse PatternSewing Instructions:  Fold the tail in half and secure with a blanket stitch.  (Just a note:  Futuregirl has a fantastic photo-filled tutorial on blanket stitching.)  With wrong sides together, stitch down the back of the body.  Stitch from the nose down, stopping about ½ inch before the end.  Insert end of tail at bottom of back and secure.  Finish stitching bottom of back.  With wrong sides together, stitch the bottom edge of the body to the oval base, leaving approximately a 2-inch gap for stuffing.

Insert stuffing into the mouse, filling the nose first.  When almost full, insert bean bag and continue stitching to close the back seam.  Fold the base edge of ears in half and secure with a few central stitches.  Flatten the seam and position the ears on the mouse head.  Stitch.  Use a felting needle and wool roving to make eyes and nose.  Use strong button thread for whiskers if you are most able.

(And, “most able” sort of sounds like “vote on Babble,” which reminds me to ask for your vote, since Mossy has been nominated on Babble for an important thingy, and if you enjoy the post you’ve read or any you’ve read in the past, or if you plan to enjoy any posts you’ll read in the future, please give Mossy a “thumbs up.”   It’s just a click.  Here on Babble.  Thank you in advance.  I will mail you a hug.)

Felted Sweater Mouse with CoatNow you have a new small friend.  And you and your family will love your friend more than you ever thought was possible.  I mean love.  More than anyone should.

 

Felted Hairbands

February 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Felted HairbandWhen the snow is fresh and giant feathery snowflakes twist and twirl and can be caught or rolled into snowballs or snow forts or snow people, it’s time to bundle up and head out the door and get some pink cheeks.  But if it’s coming up on March and the effects of the first season’s storm are still visible and you’re facing the third morning of what they call a “wintry mix,” and you’re wondering if Lordy, is it too early for a drink? it may be time to regroup.  Inside.

We’ve had a zillion snow days since the end of December.  (Really, that’s the actual number.)  Because of this, we’ve been forced to be resourceful.  During this special bonding time (I suppose some might call it that), my design team and I have become really good at a few things, including completely dismantling the house.

Not to brag, but we’ve also gotten to be experts at making these Felted Hairbands.  It turns out that, once we got the Felted Wool Ball thingy down, we were itching for some sort of practical application of our newfound skill and Voila!  Note: we don’t attempt perfection.  As with all our other projects, we prefer quirky outcomes over conventional.  That said, we remind ourselves that, in nature, some flowers are more delicate, some are plumper, some grow to the right, some to the left, and some even lose a few petals.  Of course, this uniqueness should be celebrated.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, an elastic hair tie, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.

Zigzaggy Strips

First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets or monster collars.  More on that later.


Hairband Sewing 1

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.

Hairband Sewing 2Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.

Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Hairband Sewing 3Next, and this is optional, use a felting needle, felting pad and wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots (see previous post on Dry Felting).

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.

Attach a hair tie on the leaf bottom with needle and thread.  Ta da!  Project complete.

Now you are ready to fill fields with felted flowers.  Or to, at least, wear one proudly.

Felted Wool Finger Puppets

February 7th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Felted Finger PuppetsOnce you’ve perfected the Felted Wool Ball and your design team is ready to rally, see if you have the technical adroitness to make something super crafty—The Felted Finger Puppet.

For this project, you will need bowl of hot, slightly soapy water, a bowl of cold soapless water, carded wool, scraps of 100% wool felt, a needle and thread, warm water and warm hands.  As posted previously, carded wool (or “wool roving”) can be purchased at local farms, craft stores or online (e.g. Local Harvest, Etsy, Halcyon Yarn, or Peace Fleece).  Peace Fleece offers a “Rainbow Felting Pack” that is perfect for this project.

As with the Felted Wool Ball, pull off a small length of wool and divide it into many thin longish strips.—multiple thin layers will produce the sturdiest felted material.  Wrap one strip as you would wind a ball of string—in thin layers around your index finger making sure you cover the fingertip.  Wrap the remaining wool strips around the first, adding layers until you can no longer feel your knuckle. The wool should be snug, but not too tight (about 1/8 in thick when pressed).

Dip your wooly finger into the bowl of hot, slightly soapy water.  Remove your wooly finger from the water and gently press the wool with the fingertips of your other hand, squeezing gently.  Continue to re-wet and squeeze the wool until you feel the fibers become entangled and you feel the fabric becoming firmer (you will notice this within a few minutes).  When the fabric is very firm, submerge your wooly finger into the bowl of cold (soapless) water to set the fibers and rinse.  Remove excess water by gently squeezing your wooly finger.  Like the Felted Wool Ball project, if your hands are perpetually cold like mine, you will find this project somewhat challenging.  Carefully remove the wool from your finger.

After air-drying the wool for several hours, you and your starry-eyed design team must envision the outcome— cow, wolf, librarian, martian—the brainstorming starts now.  The puppets can be embellished with needle felting (e.g. bumblebee stripes, eyes, nostrils), cut wool sweaters (e.g. lion mane, dragon wings) and embroidery thread.

These little friends, as seductive as they are, often are central to my operation.  With their cheerful banter, they lure my girls into unappealing household tasks such as eating veggies, washing dishes or brushing their teeth.  These little friends are known to appreciate clean plates and good attitudes.  As well, they provide teeny shoulders for us all to cry on after challenging days.

Wool felt is the earliest known form of fabric—therefore the process of felting has been around much longer than any of us—including supertalented felt artists Marjolen Dalinda, Renata Kraus, and Irena Rudman.  Additional tutorials and inspiration for felting projects like the ones we have made here can easily be found on many blogs and craft sites like Wee Folk Art, Rhythm of the Home, Laura Lee Burch and Martha Stuart.  For those in a hurry, finished products can be found on Chickadee Swing, and in many Waldorf catalogs.

Dry Felting

February 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Wet- and dry-felted wool ballsAlso called needle felting, dry felting can be used to embellish your felted work.  Needle felting is used to fuse another layer of fiber onto the felted fabric.  It is slightly magical.  Little in the way of equipment is required to needle felt by hand, though it requires a bit more concentration than wet felting.  In addition to focus, you will also need one of your dry wool balls that you’ve previously felted.  Also, you will need to purchase a felting needle (get a few extra just in case).  I purchased mine online from Paradise Fibers, a family-owned and operated farm in Spokane, WA.  A felting needle is long, barbed and extremely sharp.  Be careful, particularly if you are working with a young design team such as mine.  You will also need a felting pad.  This will allow the needle to go through the fiber and beyond without damaging the needle or the surface below.  You can purchase a fancy schmancy pad, but many experienced needle felters simply use polystyrene blocks, upholstery foam or compressed foam.  I use the head of an old floor brush—this works perfectly.  You will also need thin wool roving in various colors, wool yarn, or cut out pieces of wool felt.  I use remnant wool pencil roving (it is similar to yarn, but not as tough) for most of my dry felting embellishments.

Once you have gathered your supplies, you’re ready to take the plunge.  Start simply by adding stripes or dots to your wool ball (later, you can add an elaborate design).  No matter the design you’ve chosen, you should work in smallish sections.  Place your wool ball on the felting pad before you position the fiber where you’d like it.  The best approach for needle felting is a straight up and down motion with the needle.  This makes it less likely you’ll break the needle.  Start at one end of your design and work your way around.  When is it done?  The longer you puncture the fibers with the needle, the more fused your original work will be with the fancy new wool layer.  Really, doneness is a matter of personal preference.  Keep going until you think it’s time to stop.  Once you start needle felting on a project, it can be a challenge to quit.  There are all sorts of directions you can go with this, in fact you’ll find your brain just whirling.  You’ll be tempted to add shapes, stripes and flashy jazzy stuff just because you can.

And so, at this point you are ready to branch out on your own.  Using the dry and wet felting techniques and a bit of magic potion, you and your design team are well on your way to felting just about anything—flowers, tooth pillows, tea cozies, winter car tires, a good night sleep, etc.

Wet Felting: The Wool Bead Bracelet

January 23rd, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Felted wool bead braceletIf you have perfected the felted wool ball and have a collection of them gawking at you (that are still wet), and now have a somewhat unhealthy confidence in your felting abilities, you and your design team may feel the sudden urge to transform the balls into useful beads.  Now is the time.  Measure a wrist.  To make a bracelet, you will need just enough wool balls to go around it.

You will need the following: your cherished collection of (still damp) felted wool balls, a sharp sewing needle, a large needle with a large eye (a doll-maker’s needle is perfect for this job), and a thin elastic cord.  Pierce a hole through the ball with the sharp needle and insert a toothpick through the hole.  Allow the bead to air dry with the toothpick inside it (rusty old radiators are advantageous for drying).  After completely dry (this will take a day or two), the beads are ready to be assembled into a bracelet.  Thread the thin elastic cord on the long big-eyed needle.  String the beads on the needle, and then onto the elastic cord.  Tie several square knots in the elastic cord and conceal the knot in the hole of a bead.  C’est fini!  Feel free to incorporate smaller beads, buttons, ribbon, etc. into your design to make it flashy.

Felted wool caterpillar

In the end, your innovative design team may have its own ideas concerning final products.  This is fine.

On Teaching

January 18th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Chickadee in HandI am an optimist.  I envision a utopian home in which all family members are empathetic and think before they act.  Despite the obvious obstacles, bumps and stumbles, I maintain my mental focus on my fantasy and figure if they see me on the road to making (often futile) attempts at keeping it real, they will, in turn, follow.

It doesn’t make much sense for me to send my girls to school with a paper bag lunch full of Capri Suns and Lunchables when they are learning that day about recycling in school.  In fact, I am hoping that if my girls see me making an effort to make good choices, they will (ultimately) make good choices—pack an organic waste-free lunch, bundle up and walk to and from school and feel it—the drizzle, the crunchy leaves, the wool scarf—talk about friendships, about concerns, and listen.  Just listen.

It’s about finding the lesson—the value and realness of everything—everything thought, felt, touched, said, eaten—every moment of life is a teacher.

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