Welcome to Wood Nymph Way! I have created this blog with two intentions: (A) keeping our family and friends, many of whom live in lands Far Far Away, up to date with what we've been doing, and (B) as a tool to document and learn from our journey as a Waldorf homeschooling family. Enjoy! And don't forget to check out my resource pages on the right!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So Much Advent and Christmas!

The fourth light of Advent is the light of Humankind
The light of hope that we may learn to love and understand.
~ R. Steiner

So much to do!  So much to do!  Unfortunately,no matter how laid back I try to be about the holidays this week, that seems to be my mantra.  My tasks are not unpleasant, just a little too plentiful!

As we finish our last week of Advent, we are adding human figures to our nativity.  We started with the shepherd and now have two of the Three Kings.  Instead of adding the Three Kings to the scene immediately, they are at a far end of the table, for they have not yet begun their journey to bring their gifts to the Christmas Child.  They will be moving closer each day after Christmas until they arrive on January sixth.  See?  I might not be a religious person, but I've at least done my reading!  It's all in the spirit of keeping it in line with the story.
the shepherd joins his flock on the right

Speaking of stories, we did a little puppet play for one of our Christmas songs yesterday morning during circle time.  That old song, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is such a nice little story and perfect for acting out with a few little dolls and simple props.  The kids thought it was great fun to sing the different parts and move the dolls accordingly.  We used one of the kings and the shepherd from the nativity, along with a cut out paper star with a "golden" tail.  The kings palace and throne were comprised of several plain wooden blocks.
Said the Night Wind to the Little Lamb, "Do you hear what I hear?"
Another nice little activity we've been doing ties in with the story of Mary's Journey.  Mary is up in the heavens gathering silver and golden threads to weave a shift for her baby.  She is wondering if she will finish it in time for the arrival of the baby.  But all ends well, because the children of the earth are doing good deeds.  The children's angels carry news of these deeds to the heavens where new threads are created in a quantity sufficient to complete the garment just in time.  (I was not able to find this story on line to link to, though I'm sure there must be one out there somewhere. The one I have is in our Live Ed curriculum.  Sorry!)

As much as I don't like to admit it, my kids have needed a few more reminders than usual to mind their actions towards one another this week.  So each time they do a good deed by sharing, using kind and loving words, or helping someone, I write their deed on a little paper star with a "golden" thread hanging from it.  The star then gets hung up around a door frame for all to see and to remind them of their good behavior.  I'm happy to say that the door frame is getting quite full of stars!

Tonight we're getting ready to walk our Solstice Spiral.  Many people kick off Advent with a walk in the Advent Spiral, but the appropriateness of walking the spiral on the actual Solstice made more sense, especially with our more nature-based approach to Advent and Christmas.  I believe there's a link to an explanation of the Advent spiral in my first Advent post.  We're taking a less solemn approach to our Spiral walk, and the children will be singing "This Little Light of Mine" as they walk in and out. (We'll be leaving out the Jesus and Satan parts, thank you!)

Lastly, in preparation for Winter, we stripped our nature table of Autumn items and set the scene for the new season.  Our nature table has three tiers, so we took a new approach this season.  Our lower tier represents the underground, where the gnomes are busy at work making and mining crystals, gems, and precious metals.  The middle tier is the surface of the earth, covered with snow (a white silk).  We will be adding King Winter to this part of the scene at a later date (as in when I finish making him!).  The top tier is for the heavens, where the Snow Queen sits on a soft cloud of white wool and makes the snow fall.  We had two little crystal prisms which we hung from this tier to represent sparkly snowflakes and ice.  The effect is quite charming, and the kids thought it was delightful to create.  They especially loved adding special stones and geodes for the gnomes.

our winter nature table

Since I most likely won't get a chance to write again until after Christmas, have a joyous holiday season with your families and love ones!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Week Three of Advent and Animals

~The third light of Advent is the light of Beasts
All await the birth, from the greatest and in least.~
~R. Steiner

The third week of Advent is the one I was most excited to start.  So many fun activities to do!  And we're all about animals around here.  For this week's Advent calendar I made little felt animals for our creche.  I had to use what I had on hand, so I used some felt scraps and even a couple old scarves we had hanging around.  they ended up coming out pretty cute!

In consideration of our animal friends inside and outside, we have several projects to do.  We'll be making little birdfeeders from small pumpkins left over from the fall by cutting them in half, hollowing them out, and hanging them up with twine or yarn.  Then we'll fill them and hang them around the yard.  Peanut butter pinecone birdfeeders are always a hit too, if you live in an area where you can find decent size pinecones.

For our old beagle, we'll make some gingerbread dog biscuits. Our pet hedgehog isn't really into treats of any sort, so we'll just play with her and enjoy her company.

All life is sacred and every creature has something to contribute to our world.  This is a great week to recognize how important it is to care for our planet's wildlife and our companion animals.

So how about going meat-free for the week?  There are some great recipes in Feeding the Whole Family, which is my favorite cookbook.  Another old standby of mine is The Compassionate Cook.  Or pick up the newest issue of Vegetarian Times.  They always have great seasonal recipes.  Don't forget to check out the Vegan Dad blog for some great real-family-life ideas!

Do you have old towels or blankets that you could part with?  Bring them to your local animal shelter.  Most of them are brimming with animals in need of homes, especially in these difficult economic times.  They can always use donations of blankets and food.

If you can donate financially, consider one of these organizations.  They all do their part to help our animal friends. 

The World Wildlife Fund has some great gift ideas, including adopting a panda or other wild animal.  A great gift for a child or teenager who doesn't need more "stuff"!

If you have a vegetarian or vegan in your life, consider shopping at one of these sites for cruelty free fashions, body care items, or yummy treats.  The Body Shop offers cruelty free body care items and has lots of fair-trade items as well.  Sweet and Sara makes the BEST vegan marshmallows!  No gelatin!  My kids love them as a very special treat.  They even come in cool holiday shapes!  Karmavore has great leather-free shoes and bags as well as other animal friendly gifts.

Some good stories to read this week are Annie and the Wild Animals, The Hat, and The Mitten, all by Jan Brett.  The Wynstones Winter book has a lovely story about Robin Redbreast, and The Festival of Stones by Reg Down has a section on the Festival of the Animals.  Links for all of these are available at the bottom of this page in the Winter Reading section.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
~Mohandas Gandhi

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mid-Advent and a Recipe

Our creche at the end of week two.
The kids enjoyed finding plant "treasures" from
around our home to put around it this week.
The "Little Fir Tree" on the right was an Advent gift.
We'll plant it in a bigger pot after the holidays so
we can enjoy it year round.
As we conclude the second week of Advent today, I am pleased at how well our celebrations have been going.  The kids, being the little gnomes they are, have really enjoyed the focus on our natural world.  They are still so firmly connected to it at ages three and five, and I think it has added a whole new level of understanding and meaning for them (and me) around these holidays.

Each morning this week they have received simple plant related gifts: a small bowl of red cherries (that they said looked like little Christmas ornaments!), an amaryllis bulb, baked apples for breakfast, a little flower fairy I made, a few other small items, and a "Little Fir Tree" like the one in the story from the Winter Wynstones book.

In past years, the items in their Advent calendar varied, but were generally in the "treat" type category.  A jelly bean, a few stickers, a small toy of some type.  This year, most of the "gifts" they have received really haven't been for them at all, but were special items for them to place around the creche.  After two weeks, I have not heard one single complaint!  They have been so  joyful about putting their special tokens there for the Christmas Child.  They are caught up in the spirit of giving, and they continue to find little items to give on their own.

We also enjoyed some stories about St. Nicholas this week, as Monday was St. Nicholas Day.  Just like in the stories, he left the kids each some nuts and an apple in their shoes for them to find on Monday morning.  We also baked my new favorite cookie, Pfeffernusse!  Here's a great story to go along with that special cookie.  And here's the recipe I used, too (except I omitted the Anise extract.)  For gifts, (for neighbors, co-workers etc.) we'll be making some Peffernusse and printing out a small version of the story to go with each package.

We also made a batch of butter-mints.  We make these every year along with peppermint bark and a few other sweet items.  The buttermints are easy to make, and they kids really enjoy making their own.  The "dough" they're made with is so smooth and soft, and the kids love working with it.  It's really like playing with playdough for them, except it smells lovely!

Buttermints!  Yummy!

Today I'll leave you with the buttermint recipe I use.  Enjoy!

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, cut into slices, room temperature
1 lb organic confectioner's sugar
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp of very cold water
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp organic peppermint oil
natural food colors (I use India Tree brand)

In a large bowl, cut butter into sugar with two knives, or your fingers.  Add 1 Tbsp ice water, salt, peppermint oil.  Toss with a fork.  Press mixture into a ball.  If it seems crumbly add more water 1 tsp at a time, until dough presses together easily.  Turn out dough onto a clean work surface and knead until smooth and satiny, about 3-4 minutes.  Quarter dough, then tint each quarter a different color with food coloring (use sparingly.  1-2 drops usually does it!)  Roll dough into 1/2" balls and flatten them lightly with your palm (keep remaining dough covered with plastic wrap so it won't dry out.)  Let set for 2-3 hours, uncovered, at room temperature.  Then move them to a covered container in a cool place (where they should ripen for two days to improve flavor and make them easier to handle)before being eaten or packed to ship.  They will keep at room temperature for two weeks and in the fridge for a month.  Makes approx. 1 lb.

F and his mints

S and her mints

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Second Week of Advent and other holiday things

The second light of Advent is the light of Plants
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.
~ R. Steiner

Yesterday marked the start of the second week of Advent.  When the children awoke and came down to open their Advent calender, they found a little note telling them to check near the Advent wreath for a flowery surprise.  There, in a little pot, was a great, big Amaryllis bulb!  What a great way to start our celebration of plants!

Later in the day, we went to a tree farm to choose and cut our Christmas tree.  We decorated the tree, wrapped some evergreen roping around the banister where our stockings are hung, and enjoyed a dinner by candle light.
F and S with their Christmas tree-to-be

I had a bit of a hard time coming up with little Advent calendar gifts for this week.  The bulb was easy, but as much as I would like to, I can't afford to fill the house with a new plant each day!  So what we're going to do is a different plant related actvity each day.  We'll hunt for berries and greens to add to our Creche.  We'll make twig stars to hang around the house, and maybe we'll make some more gifts with the rest of the birch log we hauled home a few weeks ago.

Next week, for the week of animals, I have started sewing little felt beasts for the Nativity.  Two sheep, a donkey, a camel, and an ox.  I think I'll include a few others too, like  the robin from the story of Robin Redbreast from the Winter Wynstones book.

For the final week, I'll make the human and angel figures.

Which brings me to making things in general.  Especially gifts.  As a child, I spent many, many hours at my grandparents' home making Christmas gifts for the members of my family.  I remember making little embroidered pictures, stenciling various useful wooden items, making candle holders from thick branches and many more handmade items.

Now that my children are old enough to participate in gift making, we are taking it on full force!  So far we have made some little birch tree candle holders, and a small birch tree reindeer for my Grampa, who used to make much larger ones evey winter to put on their back porch.  My daughter, who is five, has started to embroider a snowman picture that she drew herself and I traced onto cross-stitch fabric.  And of course, we'll be doing LOTS of baking and cooking in general.
Slices of birch log with a hole drilled for the candle.  Then
the kids glued on some moss, shells, acorns, and
dried apple stars.
Grampa's new reindeer

My greatest delight this year though was making the kids' big present myself.  I made a family of five little gnomes and a tree house for them to live in.  I make the kids little things all the time; dolls and animals, doll clothes, cardboard box castles, even clothes.  But this was a big deal.  I'm sure they'll love it, and I hope someday they'll even come to appreciate all the love and hard work it took to make it.
the kids' gnome home

Like many of you, we're trying to scale back on the holiday excess.  Making gifts requires much more thought, planning, and time than many of us have.  So if you can, please do make something special for a loved one, it will be cherished.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Tales and Other Resources

After finishing last night's blog post, I realized I had neglected to include some of the resources that have been valuable to me this Advent.  So here they are.  Also, please note that today at some point I will be changing the "This is the way we read" section below the posts to reflect current seasonal reading.

Winter-Wynstones Press.  An excellent source of inspiration for the winter holidays.  Songs, stories, and poems.  They make one for each season.  A must have!

All Year Round- Ann Druit. Another excellent book for celebrations year round.  Seasonal crafts, songs etc.  Great family resource.

The Festival of Stones-Reg Down.  Second in the series of the Tiptoes Lightly books.  Sort of a Chapter book, has lovely child friendly short stories of the winter celebrations as the characters celebrate them themselves.  A favorite of ours.

St. Nicholas Center-A website devoted entirely to St. Nicholas.  Information, stories, poems, and history for all ages.  Fascinating, and a tremendous resource!

Live Ed Homeschooling Curriculum-This is what we use as our main curriculum.  The Kindergarten Winter book is a great resource for this season's celebrations.  Can't say enough good things about Live Ed.  Love them!

A few good stories for this season (there are many more, but here's the short list!):

Hansel and Gretel (Grimm's)
The Star Money (Grimm's)
Pfeffernuse (found at the St. Nocholas Center website)
The Elves and the Shoemaker (Grimm's)
Mother Holle (Grimm's)
The Sweet Porridge (Grimm's)
The Story of the Advent Spiral (from Live Ed, but might be found elsewhere)
The Little Fir Tree (Winter-Wynstones)
An Advent Story (Live Ed, but might be found elsewhere)
Mary's Journey (Live Ed, but might be found elsewhere)
St. Nicholas (Winter-Wynstones)
The Cloak (Winter-Wynstones)

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 29, 2010

First Week of Advent (and some other stuff)

The first light of Advent is the light of Stones
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.
~R. Steiner

It has begun!  After getting through Thanksgiving in one piece, I was so excited to start our Advent celebrations.  This is the first year in our home that we will be celebrating Advent.  Until recently, I didn't know much about it except that it was some sort of celebration involving a wreath with four candles, and a way of working up to Christmas.  Upon further research, I was so delighted to find how nature based it can be!  Now this was right up my alley.

I have always celebrated Christmas in a pretty secular way.  We are not religious, and my spiritual inclinations have always been closer to nature based celebrations, such as those of the Solstices or Equinoxes.  I love the idea of the wheel of the year and rejoicing in nature's rhythms.  Needless to say, I always felt a little hypocritical celebrating Christmas at all.  However, traditions are difficult to break or change much.  So what a relief it was to find a way to incorporate my take on things into a holiday that I loved, but in many ways was lacking for me.

Perhaps some of you have been celebrating this for years (lucky you!).  For others, who are fellow novices,  I'll break it down quickly for you.  Advent is a four week celebration leading up to Christmas.  Each week concentrates on a different element of our world.  The first week is stones, the second, plants, the third, animals, and the fourth, humankind.  A candle is lighted on the Advent Wreath at the start of each week.  First one candle for the first week, then two on the second, and so on.

Traditionally, it is kicked off with a walk in an Advent Spiral.  You can read more about that here.  This symbolizes our receiving and returning of light into our world during the darkening days that precede the birth of the Christmas Child (this is how we refer to him, some use a more biblical approach.)  We were going to begin this way also, but decided it felt more appropriate to do the walk on the Solstice, when the light actually does begin its return.  So ours will be a Yule/Solstice Spiral instead.

Since we were going to celebrate Christmas and Advent, I felt it necessary to sort of hop on board as whole-heartedly as my conscience would allow.  Most who know me know I'm really an "all or nothing" kind of person.  If we were really going to have these holidays be a part of our family's traditions, we'd better put some real meaning behind them.

And so...[GULP]... I made a stable for a nativity scene.  (Again, our approach to this is really very symbolic and I see it as a means of telling a really inspiring and meaningful story to my children.)  On the first day of Advent, it stood empty, save for an empty seashell manger awaiting the Christmas Child.  On each day (in the kids' Advent calendar) there will be a small gift that corresponds to the current week of Advent.  These gifts will all be added to the Nativity scene until it is at last complete on Christmas day. 

This week, the children will find crystals, shells, and stones to add to it.  Next week, some bulbs to force in small vases and maybe some seeds or a pretty flower.  I am making felt animals to add for the third week, and on the fourth we will be adding the  shepherds, angels, and the family (including the Christmas Child) etc that I will also be making.  The Three Kings won't show up until after Christmas, in keeping with the story. 

Here's a picture of what it looks like so far.  The kids have added special items throughout the past couple days.

I will now leave you here to celebrate the holidays as you will (or will not).  Either way, enjoy!

And to quote a favorite old show I used to watch:  "And now for something completely different."

St. Nicholas Day is coming up!  Monday December 6th, to be precise.  If you celebrate it already, have fun!  What a great little festive day.  If not, you can learn about it here on this fantastic website!

Friday, November 26, 2010

We Are Thankful

We are thankful for the night
And for the morning's pleasant light
For rest and food and loving care
And all that makes the world  so fair.

Help us do the things we should
To be to others kind and good
In all we do and all we say
To grow more loving every day.

It's been a almost a month since my last blog post!  Yikes!  I completely missed the boat on writing about Martinmas, but this is how it is when we have busy lives with our children.  I'll get to it next year.

The verse above is something I found a few weeks ago from who knows where (my aplogies to the un-named source here), altered slightly, and used as our Thanksgiving blessing.  For the whole week prior to Thanksgiving, the children and I worked on memorizing it.  At our holiday mealtime, we recited it before we ate.  It was very sweet and heartfelt.

There are so many meaningful holidays this time of year and it can be challenging to present them all to the children with a feeling of importance.  Some touch us deeply and others...well, not so much.  Thanksgiving is one of those holidays for me that, quite honestly, I could do without.  It is supposed to be celebrated as a harvest festival, but by the end of November, the harvest season has already come to a close.  And besides, we celebrated the harvest (on time) with Mabon and Michaelmas.  It seems artificial and redundant.

Historically, in the United States, the details of the "first Thanksgiving" are vague at best, and a far cry from the gluttonous practices of today's holiday.

And of course, there's the food issue.  I'm a vegetarian, and we are raising our children as vegetarians.  The mention of "Turkey Day" makes me cringe on several levels.  First of all, isn't this supposed to be a day of, you know, giving thanks?  It is about the huge meal for most, and seems to have lost its meaningfulness in a big way.  Secondly, I don't like the idea of a celebration being centered around the dead bird on the table.  This is not to say that there are not people who have meaningful celebrations of thanks that happen to include a turkey as the main course.  I just think it's sad that it seems to be the focus of the holiday.

For the second year, we had Thanksgiving at our home.  Last year it was a lovely, quiet meal with just my husband, the kids, and me.  This year some family members joined us.  I was determened to have the holiday hold some meaning for my family beyond the opportunity of a huge (albeit turkey-less) meal.

So the kids and I chose our mealtime blessing, made place cards for the table, pored over countless recipes, and otherwise made our house welcoming to our guests.  We read stories with a common theme of gratitude for what we have (excellent preparation for the upcoming Christmas season, I might add).  I even sewed up a special dress for my daughter, complete with matching doll outfit.  These all seem like little things, but to the kids, who were involved to the best of their abilities in the planning of the big day, it built up a sense of anticipation and excitement.

When our guests arrived, my husband and I had just begun cooking.  Shortly thereafter, the kids were happily occupied playing with their uncles and we were able to get a big meal on the table with minimal interruptions.  This in and of itself is a cause for celebration!

So while I am thankful today that Thanksgiving is over and we can move on to Advent this weekend, I am happy that I was able to insert even a little meaning into a holiday that I previously loathed. 

This year I am thankful for my children, who make me search deeper for meaning in every way, and for helping me find the positive aspects of just about every situation.  For this, they have my unending gratitude.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, here's what we ate:

Autumn Green Salad
Pumpkin Mousse and Gingerbread Trifle

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

While the title of this blog may be reminiscent of that old Christmas song, it definitely doesn't pertain to that holiday.  At our house, Halloween is getting to be a big thing.  Autumn tops the list as our favorite season.  Great weather, fall foliage, fabulous food, cool nights for sound sleeping, tons of birthdays and celebrations and an exhausting list of seasonal activities...what's not to love? 

During our school day we've been preparing for the big day by reading lots of great stories and doing lots of really fun activities.  We started the week by telling the story of the Sugar Sprite Fairy, who will come visit us late on Halloween night.  She has a hard time finding sugar to feed her children with this time of year, what with the flowers gone and nectar being scarce.  So children who know about her may leave their Halloween candy (except maybe one or two special pieces) on their doorsteps so she can stock up on sugar for the coming winter months.  In exchange for this kindness, she leaves a small gift for the children.

Some of our other favorite stories for Autumn and Halloween are on the list at the bottom of this blog.  Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor is a favorite, and the children requested that their pumpkin moonshine (jack o'lantern) be a fierce one like little Sylvie Anne's in the book.  So of course, there has been pumpkin carving galore this week.  Our favorite pumpkin piece is our Pumpkin Gnome Home.  Four shepherd gnomes live there, with their two fluffy sheep.  They have a brussel sprout and berry garden and grow flowers in their sea shell window boxes.  They seem to be very happy.  I made the residents a while back with instructions from Toymaking With Children by Freya Jaffke.  We also roasted lots of delicious pumpkin seeds with this simple recipe.

Pumpkin Gnome Home

Sheep by the garden

One of the art activities we did this week was a painting story from Our Little Nature Nest.  I narrated the story, which was breif, and the children and I painted along together all the way to the surprise ending.  Here it is for your enjoyment:

Set up your paper, water, and paints as usual, but mix the yellow a bit stronger than usual.
First paint a large yellow ball, this will be your pumpkin, but do not tell the child.
Next surround the yellow with blue. Try  not to let the blue touch the yellow.
Tell the simple story as you do this. 
Gold  shines from the paper like a golden ball. Red says “let me warm you up a little”.
Paint over the yellow ball with the red. It will turn a golden orange hue.
Blue presses in from all sides, but the glowing orange will not let him touch her.
“Remember, you must leave me room to breathe”  says orange.  So blue comes soft & gentle.
Then yellow shouts out, " Please let me shine out!! I am getting too hot & feel all boxed in.”
“OK,” says orange "I will open some holes so that you can peek out.”
Then show the child how you can lift off color with a clean brush. Make sure you have removed the excess water. Lift off the color in places to look like eyes, a nose & a mouth. Then go back over those places with yellow.
The Jack-o-lantern will be complete. When you begin this activity do not let on that this will be a jack! Allow the suprise to unfold.
S's surprise jack o'lantern

We are preparing now for the day of Halloween, and I'm sure I'll have at least one post before then.  But here are some of the things we have planned, aside from trick or treating.

The night before Halloween we will be at my cousin's pumpkin carving party.  He and his family and friends usually do about a hundred pumpkins or so!  On Halloween day, we will have a little family celebration with Boo-Nilla Shakes, Chips and Guaca-moldy, and yummy Witches Fingers, all recipes from the Halloween issue of Martha Stewart.  Yeah, I know.  __GASP!___Martha and Waldorf?  Whatever.  She does some pretty cool stuff. 

Whatever you do this Halloween, have fun, maybe start a new tradition, and for crying out loud, please carve a pumpkin!
The Pumpkin Fairy's House

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ye Olde Fun Times

F with his spiffy new Robin
Hood hat and fancy
dragon face painting.
Yes!  This past weekend was the much anticipated trip to the Ren Faire!  Okay, Renaissance Fair to the non-geekish crowd.  King Richard's Faire to be precise.  Admittedly, this sort of thing is much more my husband's kind of activity.  I have a thing about people in costumes.  They freak me out.  Especially when they are role playing so sincerely that they question any 20th century word that comes out of someone's mouth.  And they call me "M' Lady."  [[shudder]]

The first time I went was about eleven years ago.  I was so freaked out by all the folks in costume that I actually shelled out a considerable sum of money to buy my own while we were there.  I figured that if I blended in, nobody would bother me.  It worked!  Well, nobody was really bothering me in the first place, but I felt like people were looking at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.  Not the case, I'm sure, but I was very self-conscious.  As it turns out, I had a really great time, and quite got into the spirit of the whole thing.  Plus my dress was fun.  Did I mention that there's a TON of cleavage showing at these things?

We read lots of fairy tales and stories about brave knights and my kids love to spend their time bouncing around the yard on their hoppy horses while "jousting" or "chasing dragons" with their swords and sheilds.  they were excited beyond words to be going to a fair where this sort of thing was the theme.

S goes whizzing by with her sword
as she tries to capture the ring from
the dragon's hand.
They were not disappointed!  As soon as we arrived, we hit the tournament field to watch four knights, one of whom was a woman (yay!), compete at various skills on horseback.  Knocking things over with lances, tests of good aim, etc.  All of which were duplicated the next day in our back yard and living room, minus the bawdy medieval insults from the crowd.  Then we ate some lunch.  Pizza.  Not as medieval as a giant roasted turkey leg, but, hey, we're vegetarian.  If we got hungry later, we could grab a snack at___no kidding___"The King's Nuts." We caught a great story telling of Jack and the Beanstalk, and the kids got to try out a couple of the rides, all of which were man-powered.  These are medieval times after all.  They even tested their skill at knocking over tin knights with little crossbows.  Oh, and they got their faces painted.  Total bonus there.

At this point I feel obligated to offer a few words on all the weaponry.  I am appalled at children's gun play.  I don't let my kids watch anything violent.  They don't watch any TV at all, actually, and do not use the computer.  However, somehow, I am not bothered by the play they exhibit while using their little wooden swords and shields, or even the little marshmallow shooting crossbow which technically belongs to my husband.  It all seems so noble, to be fighting a dragon, or testing their skills at some knightly game.  There seems to be a sense of honor involved, not just fighting for the sake of fighting.  I'm sure I could write a whole blog post on this topic another time.  Just thought I'd mention it.

The kids can't wait to go back next year, and they loved it so much we're thinking of staying for the whole day next time.  And we're definitely going in costume.  The kids were a little miffed that they didn't wear costumes this year.  Honestly, I was going to dress them up with some play silk capes or something, but the weather was iffy and I wasn't sure how much they'd be able to take of walking around in costumes before I ended up shlepping around their stuff.  So next year, costumes it is.  And I might even dig out my own,  cleavage and all.  ;)

S and the big wooden wizard.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Birthdays and Toys and Things

Autumn really hits full force at our house in October.  In addition to the usual autumn activities of cleaning up the garden and yard, getting the house ready for colder weather, and raking the seemingly endless supply of leaves our neighbor's tree dumps in our yard, we have quite a few birthdays to celebrate.  And all within a few days of each other.  As with other celebrations, it has been exciting to see new traditions and rythms emerging in our family.

On each child's birthday, we celebrate as a family with a few small gifts in the morning and the child's choice of dinner and dessert.  This year, with the start of school, we added a special acknowledgement during our morning circle time. 

F looking a little suspicious
at our request to blow out his
candles.  Oh, and he really
liked his "gnome hat."
So here's how it goes on a birthday at our house:  On the day before the child's birthday we set out his/her birthday ring.  I believe this is a German tradition (which we have borrowed) and we all love it.  S and F selected where their candles would sit (there would be five and three this year!) and where the little woodland characters would sit in and out of the ring.  For those of you who are not familiar with this, the birthday ring contains 12 holes to fill with candles (one for each of the child's years up to the age of twelve) and little wooden decorations.  It's lovely to have the child set it up on her own when she's old enough, and to see the candles beginning to fill up the ring.  Plus, I have to say it always seems kind of gross to eat cake that some kid blew all over while blowing out the candles on the birthday cake.  I like to spare my guests that gesture.  This fits the bill nicely.

S at morning cirlce
with her new doll
I'll use S's recent birthday here as the example.  Before breakfast, she got to open her presents as we sang Happy Birthday to her.  During the morning circle, I read her the Birthday Story from Gateways while lighting one candle at each appropriate moment in the story.  It is quite a lovely story, and I regret only having just discovered it.  It will be part of my children's birthday rituals from here on out.  Then F and I sang to her again, and she blew out the candles on her birthday ring.  This will go similarly when it is F's birthday.

In the meantime, we had "The Big Party."  This is one of the only times of the year when we get a fairly large amount of family together (about 20 people or so).  The party has always been just for family, and I think it will remain so.  When S requested to invite a friend from the neighborhood, I explained to her that in our family, we celebreate birthdays as a family.  The kids have been to plenty of "kid" parties, and enjoyed them, but it's not something I ever think we'll do.  She seemed to understand and take it just fine, and we did make an extra party favor in case her friend happened to drop in, as she often does.

As we have only just begun our Waldorf homeschooling journey, I was faced with the expected dilemnas:  What about gifts?  Toys? The whole idea of a huge party in and of itself seems so not...well...Waldorf-y.  So we did our best.  I have seen innumerable posts on Waldorf group sites regarding the toy and gift dilemna.  It seems to be something that we all struggle with.  How can we let people know, without offending them or passing judgement, what we deem acceptable for gifts for our children?  And how do we not fall into the trap of teaching our kids to be greedy and materialistic?  I was tempted to ask people to not bring presents, but after much debating, and for several personal reasons, we decided to go with the giving of gifts.  This is how I handled it. I sent out an e-mail to most of the people who were likely to buy gifts for the kids.  And this is what it said: 

"Hello!  It's that time of year again.  Birthday season.  Some of you have already started asking about what the kids would like for their birthdays, so I have attached a wish list.  The items on the list have been chosen by the children from their very favorite catalogs.  For safety and ecological reasons, we are trying to eliminate or at least cut down vastly on plastic toys in our home.  The toys on the list also fit in nicely with the Waldorf philosophy, which is what we are using in homeschooling the children.  Thanks so much for your support (or at least tolerance!) in this!" 

Hopefully I didn't offend anyone.  If I did, no one mentioned it, and I'm happy to say, that this actually worked!  As people purchased items from the list, I sent out updates letting everyone know what had been purchased.  Seems like a lot of work, but it was so worth it to have the kids get quality toys that they wanted, will last, and fit in with our philosophy.  I should mention that there were a few pleasant surprises too, from those relatives who do really understand where we're coming from.  :)

gnome terrarium!
the cake
In keeping with all of the fairy tales we read, and my kids' (and yes, my own) slight obsession with gnomes, the kids decided they wanted an "enchanted forest" party.  What?  A themed party?  Yikes!  I decided to go with it though, and it was so fun.  For party favors, the kids and I made each child a little gnome terrarium to take home.  I made a cake in the shape of a big mushroom and made little marzipan gnomes (one boy, one girl) on top and the kids scattered leaves they had collected around the base of the mushroom.  It was pretty cute, actually.  S wore her gnome party skirt that I made for her, and F wore his gnome T-shirt that I made for him (at 11:30 the night before the party.)

S with the tree blocks
and some home made gnomes
After the party, the kids were able to sit down and enjoy their new toys, which I had already made room for in the playroom so they wouldn't be overhwelmed by choices the next day.  I have really enjoyed watching the kids' play evolve as they are using more toys from nature.  Baskets of shells, feathers, acorns, stones, and tree blocks have completely overshadowed the more "traditional" toys they used to play with.  They have had playsilks since S was less than a year old, but they are getting more use now than ever.  This comforts me in my decision to be a little more outspoken about what is okay for my kids to have.  I am truly realizing, although I always suspected, that less is so much more when it comes to children's playthings.  I'm looking forward to days ahead when I don't have to purge the playroom of things they no longer play with because the toys they do have will be enjoyed for so many years to come, and through many stages of development.  And I can't wait to see what the kids put on their wish list for next year....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Today, for the first time, we celebrated Michaelmas.  For weeks now we've been working up to our celebration of this holiday.  We've been reading stories such as St. George and the Dragon,  The Shooting Stars, The Strong Boy and other fairy tales about strength and courage.  As Autumn progresses, it is a time of inner reflection and preparing for the months ahead.  In a practical way, at least for me, it means tending the last bits of garden, doing household repairs, canning and preserving food, and otherwise getting ready for the colder months ahead.  In a spiritual way, it means a time of self-reflection and bolstering oneself with the spirit of courageousness and perseverence.

I have mentioned in my previous post, I am not a religious individual, and I don't affiliate myself with any type of organized religion at all.  But I am a spiritual person, and that is one of the reasons why I decided to include the celebration of Michaelmas (and other upcoming holidays) in our lives and curriculum.  I can find the value in the philosophies of many religions and take from these the aspects that I feel most drawn to.  I guess it's kind of a global approach. 

There is an idea that I keep coming across in my readings on Steiner's philosophy, and that is that a parent is a child's first teacher, and children learn by imitation, especially in their younger years.  It is up to us to be worthy of imitation and surround them with others who are also worthy.  This applies to other areas of a child's life too, like choosing what a child sees, hears, and reads.  So much of what children are exposed to today through media and even school, is very much unworthy of imitation.  Nonetheless, children act on what they take in, and even undesirable behaviors are imitated.  As a parent, it is a constant process for me to remember this and make myself worthy of imitation.  I'm not perfect, and neither are my kids, but we're all working on it.

The stories surrounding Michaelmas are those of courage, healing, and strength.  Admirable qualities that are definitely worthy of imitation.  And I have noticed that the kids are catching on.  I "catch" them doing "good deeds" throughout the day, give a little praise (and I mean a little, I don't believe in over-praising kids for doing what is expected and right) and a thank you, and feel incredibly proud of my fine, upstanding little citizens. 

Quick story here:  a couple of days ago, the kids had each gotten a balloon somewhere, I don't even remember where.  Since they were tied to the kids' wrists, we let them bring them in to a store.  F's ballon broke off of the string and floated up to the top of an impossibly high ceiling.  Surprisingly, there was no breakdown of tears or anything, but he was very sad.  A few minutes later we were continuing with our shopping and S turned to me and said, "I'd like to give F my balloon."  I could've cried, I was so proud.  Like I said before, my kids aren't perfect, and there's the usual amount of sibling rivalry.  But this gesture was so self-less and thoughtful (and probably meant more to me than it did to F.  Although he was very thankful to his big sister.

This event gave me a much needed boost in the self-reflection department.  Here was the evidence of something I did right.  Yay me!  Too often, when looking inward, we find flaws first.  Now I know there are other things to find in there, maybe even some things worthy of imitation, if I look hard enough.

How We Spent Michaelmas:

freshly baked pumpkin bread for breakfast
a morning at the park playing games, "jousting", and chasing dragons
an afternoon of stories and songs followed by the
making of our Dragon Bread
a lovely dinnder of pea soup and dragon bread

my brave knights ready to do good deeds

jousting at the park

dragon bread before the oven

dragon bread after the oven