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Treasure

The earth in our back garden is full of treasure and I am like a beady eyed magpie forking through the soil looking for the next brightly patterned piece, another curious shape painted an old fashioned delicate hue.

It all started three years ago, on a family holiday at the Cornish coast, poring over shingle beaches, close to the water’s edge where the tide had lethargically been ebbing out. Here, our treasures are sea glass, polished smooth, semi translucent pebbles just right for holding in the palm of a little hand and turning over and over. If we are really lucky, a bottle blue or mermaid green piece – a prize longed for by our little people especially when a sibling manages to find one and squirrels it quickly away. We fill our buckets and label each one, bringing them home to create pictures. And we are hooked on treasure, me and my little magpies.

This spring, in the new house, we spend hours digging, moving plants and unearthing bulbs. The ground is an unexpected trove of treasure. I dig deep, forking the earth over and over in readiness for raised vegetable beds and my little helpers are keen to spot the treasure every time mamma turns over another forkful of soil.

The girls love the shiny pieces. They wash and polish them in buckets in the mud kitchen.

sun-56239_960_720The little fella is fascinated with their shapes and asks me if I think the pieces will tessellate. I stop digging and we sit on the edge of one of the  sleepers to look through his treasure. I tell him that they can also be called pottery and I share with him my own story of growing up in a pottery town, watching the delicate pieces being painted by hand. He loves his new word and lets it play on his lips over and over while he fingers the muddied pieces. I ask him where he thinks all the pieces came from and I expect a story in return of pirates and treasure like some of his story books. But the one he tells me is an imaginative tale of the old lady who previously owned the house and her precious tea pot that got broken, sending the pieces flying into the garden to be lost forever. He describes to me how she searched for the pieces but to no avail and he promises to dig for forever and a day to rediscover all of the missing pieces so that she will be sad no more.

It is a strange glimpse into the lives of two or three generations past, imagining families eating from the willow-patterned pieces which we unearth. The kilner jar on the kitchen window sill fascinates our visitors, full of an eclectic mix of pottery shards with vivacious colours and teraccota hues. It is a funny thing to get excited about, yet the history behind them sparks the imagination and there is something quite romantic about it all.

I think there is just that little bit of magpie in us all.

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Nature Inspired Art & Craft Celebrations

Nature Inspired Art & Craft Parties (The Mother Magazine)Birthdays in our house are always a time of huge excitement and I usually start the planning stage just as the guests from the previous sibling’s birthday party are making their way home.

With four little ones to celebrate for, we are always rather grateful that their birthdays each fall three months from the previous and within a different season of the year. Our love of home-made parties stemmed from needing to squeeze guests into a small two up two down cottage early on in our parenting journey.

However, as our family grew, it developed into needing to watch the pennies, as well as a growing awareness of the environment and wanting each member of the family, down to the littlest in a baby sling, to be at the celebration too.

Nature inspired art and craft parties at home have become a bit of a tradition with our children.

Nature Inspired Art & Craft Parties (The Mother Magazine)

It all starts with excited family discussions, copious lists of which natural and recycled materials the children would like to collect, how this might fit into a theme, and what they could shape, fashion and create out of the materials we will have collected.

A few crazy months of saving everything and anything recyclable and reusable then ensues, coupled with scavenger hunts to local woods and parks to collect pine cones, twigs, sticks and such like.

The night before usually sees me organising our collections into the largest recycled containers I can find, alongside some old art and craft staple supplies – twine, scissors, glue and pens. On the day, the children are always really keen to get on and make, explore and chat.

At some point we break for something to eat, then they continue, eager to finish their creations and be able to take them home to display. As they leave, imploring mum or dad to please carry their pine cone hedgehog carefully so that it can be displayed at home, no one even notices the lack of customary party bags or sugary treats.

We have many family favourites, chosen time and again.

Salt dough is amazingly easy to make and lends itself to so many creations as it can be manipulated and shaped by the children, left to dry on a warm windowsill or baked in a low oven. We especially love salt dough woodland sprite faces or salt dough mice, complete with twigs, sticks and stones to show facial expressions or to make ears, eyes, nose and tail.

We have experimented with small rounds of rolled out salt dough, stamping them before air drying to create pendants or decorative embellishments for the fronts of cards.

Another favourite is collecting twigs of similar length and tying the corners together to create a frame which can then be decorated or ‘hung’ with leaves, sprigs of flowers, pine cones, feathers and conkers. These look especially beautiful hung by themselves inside or out, with a small piece of twine or coloured raffia and they also make gorgeous gifts.

We love planting too. Whether it be seeds or bulbs, the sense of anticipation in taking home a small pot adorned with a personalised twiggy plant label is just too exciting and the children all love to keep you up to date with how their project is coming along!

I love being a presence at these parties, where the children’s creative language comes to the fore intent on describing to each other what their creations are all about. Not only does creating with nature intensify their descriptive language and observational skills, but also draws out in the children a sense of collaboration and sharing, helping each other to shape a piece of salt dough or cut the twine to the right length.

There is a sense of calm and an opportunity to ground themselves, talk, share ideas and relax. A sense of peace and of being at one with the world.

This year sees a change for us as our eldest daughter moves onto secondary school and birthday celebrations are already feeling as if they will need to take on a different feel.

We are up for the challenge though. Watch this space!

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Enjoying Summer

Here in the American South, summer is settling in all around us. Eighty-five degrees is considered a cool day, there is forever and always a 50% chance of scattered showers/storms. I strive to get my run in before 9am or after 8pm, else it will feel like running in a sauna. It is during this season that I find spending time outdoors with my son to be a bit more challenging. The woods we love romping through are suddenly filled with critters that fly, slither, or crawl out from every corner and even spending a few hours in the garden can leave us feeling spent due to the often high humidity.

Still, I know time outdoors is so important, regardless of the season. And I strongly believe that seasonal adaptation to climate requires spending time enjoying the outdoors in order to adjust/adapt to temperature changes. It’s certainly better than what often becomes the alternative for many children – watching television and/or playing video games.  According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, “Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom.” I find these statistics unbelievable but notice that the higher our temperatures rise, I see fewer children and/or adults enjoying outside time. In our neighborhood, the hum of air conditioners replaces the sound of children running and playing outdoors each evening. It’s suddenly still and quiet. My son asks, “Where is everyone?” 

“Indoors,” I respond. 

The changing seasons are part of the cycle of nature and not something I believe we should shield ourselves from. There are simply too many benefits to spending time outdoors to avoid it for the entire summer! Some of the health benefits include, but are not limited to –  improved concentration; greater levels of happiness and feelings of mental wellbeing; improved overall health through exercise and outdoor play;  creativity (my son created an entire ‘house’ using found objects in our woods last year, a project he worked on for the entire summer!);  a love and appreciation of – as well as knowledge about – the flora and fauna in one’s environment; and according to Harvard Health Publications (via www.health.harvard.edu) with exposure to natural light, you may even heal faster! And that’s just a very brief compilation of the benefits of spending time outdoors.

While summer is upon the Northern Hemisphere and in many places people are flocking to lakes, pools and beaches, in warmer climates like mine the tendency can be to turn up the AC and spend three months avoiding the outdoors as much as possible. However, I have found that the more time my son and I spend outdoors in summer, the easier we adapt to the temperatures as they rise. Our time outside is not always about being physically active or going to some ‘wild’ local. Our time outdoors often consists of simply:

– Taking a long walk in our woods or neighborhood

– Dining outdoors

– Enjoying time on our patio, where we often  just sit and talk

– Working in the garden

– Going to a local park

– Bird-watching at the edge of the pond

– Reading outdoors

There are so many other ways to enjoy all the benefits of being outdoors, even in summer!  Be creative, protect your skin from the sun, and remember to have plenty of water on hand, and get out there!

AACAP quote
©photo by James Young is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Me

Amy L. Alley is mother to one son, works full-time as an educator and is also a freelance writer. Her blog, www.panpanstudios.com, focuses on maintaining a healthy, balanced, holistic lifestyle through embracing simple living; love of the handmade and homemade; quality time with loved ones and quality time just with ourselves; finding everyday adventures; time in nature; making our homes into sacred spaces; trying new recipes and knitting patterns; and finding beauty and joy in the moments that make up our daily lives. She loves to hear from her readers at amialley@hotmail.com, and you can find her on Ravelry.com under Zenmamaknits.

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Celebrating the Spring Equinox

The time of the Spring Equinox (20th March this year)  means and marks many things for us but primarily it is about a time of balance, a brief time of equal dark and light, and Spring really showing her face.

We keep a nature/season table in our front room. It has little things on it that signify the time of year, items crafted over the last few years, things found on walks in the woods or on the beach. There are also some beautiful gifted items from craft swaps we have been involved in. We also have season cards depicting the seasonal festivals which are beautifully painted by an artist called Wendy Andrew.  Having the table as a focus keeps us connected with the time of year and grounds us.

For Spring Equinox we have the Eostre card, a crocheted bowl for bits and bobs, a wooden chick balanced on a mushroom (I know they aren’t spring like but they seem to have become a year round feature!), a green piece of felt underneath to signify the re-greening of the land. Some needle felted root babies, felted eggs, a found birds nest from a couple of years ago, and some felt blossom fairies. The resident gnome changes from white to green and there is a wild and wonderful collection of other ‘stuff’ the boys pick up (including the odd lego figure!).

Ritually we have an egg hunt to mark the season of fertility.  I hide the eggs about the place and then the children go off with little baskets and bags hunting for them. They know how many we start off with so they occasionally come back for clues if they are missing a few.  We have also learned not to let the chickens out before the hunt has completed as they are partial to joining in and stealing the eggs!

Planting seeds is another activity perfect for this time of year. Beans or tomato plants are perfect. As well as planting ones in seed trays try the bean seed and kitchen roll (paper towel) in a jam jar. Young children can be endlessly fascinated by watching the roots and stalk grow out of the same bean.

Eggs of the non chocolate variety feature heavily, either in foodstuffs or again making decorations. You can do all sorts of techniques dip dying, wax resist, using paint, food colouring or natural plant material to give colour. The only limit is your imagination. Display the eggs, offer them to the Goddess of spring, or make a decorative mobile.

Another project perfect for this time of year is an outside altar which can easily be constructed using a large flat piece of wood or slate, a place for quiet contemplation and a place to leave offerings for the fae or your Gods and Goddesses. I have a tea light (fire) on mine with a feather (air), sea water in a sea shell (water) and a bird skull (ancestors of the land) with the actual altar space made with 4 local stones (earth) from the field to create a cave shape, echoing the ancient Quoits in my local landscape.

What will you do this Spring Equinox?

Suggested Books:

Celebrating The Great Mother by Johnson and Shaw,

Circle Round by Starhawk, Baker and Hill.

©photo by Imkemper is licensed under CC BY 2.0

bio picLiz Williams, home educating mother of 2 wild boys. Living in Cornwall being creative with fabulous fabric and trying to balance the many sides of home-ed, mother, partner and business owner at Dark Star Designs.

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