Thursday, September 30, 2010

Little Boy With Pinwheel

It is a beautiful Fall day. The wind ruffles the little boy's hair and spins his pinwheel merrily. He looks up at his pinwheel, proud, happy, and amazed.

It is a joy to watch children play. We made pinwheels last fall and gave one to my little friend to hold. He was mesmerized. Acorn Pies is inspiring me to create art out of some of our experiences of making toys for children, and watching them play. I just listed this print, which is a hand printed and hand colored lino print, in my etsy store.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sand Cake

I am quiet inside. I am quiet inside, and there is quiet all around me because I am busy making something. I am making a beautiful cake which is very smooth on top because I can pat, pat, pat with my white shovel. I can make the white shovel do what I want it to do. When the top is flat, I will press my palm into the cool sand and leave a print. I am making a beautiful sand cake. Do you want to try some?

"Sand Cake" is my new, original lino print, each individually hand-colored using watercolor. Each print is a little different from the others because each one is unique. Each is printed on quality printmaking paper. All of my lino prints are inspired by the pages of Acorn Pies, with young children having fun outdoors playing, creating, and imagining. I will be putting "Sand Cake" into my etsy shop later this week.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grinding Corn

The Native People of America relied on corn as a mainstay of their diet. They grew what we call "Indian corn," the beautiful multi-colored corn which we use to decorate our homes this time of year in celebration of the harvest.

In order to make the hard, dry corn edible, they had to parch it or grind it or both.

In the picture above you can see a reproduction mortar and pestle used by the Native people for pounding corn. Corn was placed in the wooden bowl of the mortar, and the heavy stone pestle was lifted and pounded down repeatedly to reduce the corn to smithereens, making flour or a coarse meal.

Parching was used to remove the tough corn hulls. Native women made a mixture of hardwood ashes and water and boiled them to make lye. Flint corn kernels were added to the lye and boiled some more. Later, the corn kernels were rinsed many times and then rubbed between the hands to remove the hulls. After drying in the sun, the kernels could be eaten as they were, or ground up.

Nocake, or Noohkik, was pounded parched corn used as a trail food by hunters. Here is a picture of a Wampanoag boy having breakfast on the trail in the book "Tapenum's Day" by Kate Waters, a story of a boy in the 1620's.

Nasaump was hot cereal made from unparched corn meal. The English called it "samp." Nowadays we call it hominy. Samp could also be cooled, cut into little cakes, and fried in butter.

Johnny cakes were flat little pancakes made of ground corn, salt, maple syrup, and water, and Southern New Englanders still love to eat them. Other corn-based native recipes, like ashcakes, succotash, and stew, used fresh sweet corn.

Children love to try pounding corn. We made a shallow mortar and pestle so that second graders at my child's school could have a turn. I used an old cutting board as a base, and my husband cut a hole in a piece of plywood to screw to the base. It helped keep the ground corn somewhat contained. Corn is going to fly everywhere, though. So either do this outside, or add a few more layers of plywood to make a deeper bowl.

I found a nice pestle on the beach, and ground one end of it on a rock to flatten it a little. We used Indian corn from a farm stand, but at school a teacher brought in some delicious salted parched blue corn which she got at Whole Foods. I would recommend that you try to find parched corn. It is easier to crush, and we know it is safe to eat. The children will want to try the ground corn, and the second graders loved it. Indian corn used for decorating may be treated with preservatives.

My child tried grinding the corn. It is a little easier to pound it like the Native People and English did, (and messier, too!)

I learned all about how the Native People used corn from C. Keith Wilbur's wonderful book, "Indian Handcrafts."

Now go see the Indian corn necklaces Lisa and her daughter made on

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autumn Constellations

The wonderful story of Perseus is in the sky right above us right now. You can read the whole story in the D'Aulaires' outstanding book of Greek Myths. All of these beautiful illustrations are from their book. You can also see wonderful weekly constellation charts in the New York Times.

Long, long ago in Ancient Greece there was a king named Acrisius. An oracle told him that he was doomed to be slain by the son of his beautiful daughter, Danae. To try to prevent that from ever happening, Acrisius locked his daughter in a prison with only one opening, a hole in the roof. But Zeus, the thunder god, was always looking for pretty maidens, and in the picture below, the thunder god has discovered Danae and is descending to her as a golden shower through the opening in the roof of her prison. Danae became the thunder god's bride and gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named Perseus.

When Acrisius found out that Danae had had a baby boy he was furious and afraid. But he did not dare to harm Zeus' son. He put Danae and baby Perseus into a chest and tossed them into the sea. It they died, it would be Poseidon's fault. But Zeus watched over Danae and Perseus, guiding the chest to an island, where a kind old fisherman caught them in his nets. He took them home and took good care of them for many years. Perseus grew to be a strong and brave young hero.

Unfortunately, the cruel king of the island found out about Danae and wanted her for his wife. Danae refused, for she was already the wife of Zeus, and Perseus defended her. The king decided he had to get Perseus out of the way. He announced that he was marrying a princess from a nearby island. All the men of the kingdom offered gifts in honor of the marriage, all but Perseus, who was too poor. Instead, he offered his services. The king sent Perseus to kill the Gorgon Medusa and bring back her head, knowing that Perseus would probably never return. Medusa and her Gorgon sisters could turn people to stone with their terrible gaze.

Zeus sent Hermes and Athena to help Perseus on his quest. Athena lent him her highly polished shield, and Hermes lent him his sword, which was so sharp it could cut through the hardest metal. The nymphs of the north lent him winged sandals, an invisibility cap, and a magic bag which could hold anything. When Perseus reached the Gorgons' island, he looked into the mirror-like shield and saw the Gorgons sleeping on the beach. He flew down, sliced off Medusa's head, and put it into the magic bag. Out of Medusa's neck jumped Pegasus, a beautiful flying horse. When Pegasus whinnied, the Gorgon sisters woke up. Perseus popped on his invisibility cap and disappeared just in time.

Perseus' adventure was not yet over. As he flew over the coast of Ethiopia he saw a beautiful girl chained to a rock in the sea. Her name was Andromeda, and her parents, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia had had to sacrifice their daughter to a terrible sea monster in order to appease Poseidon. Poseidon was angry at Queen Cassiopeia for boasting that she was prettier than the Nereids, the goddesses of the sea, and he had sent the monster to lay waste to Ethiopia. Perseus made short work of the sea monster, turning the sea red with blood. From then on, it was known as the Red Sea.

Andromeda's former suitor and all of his warriors challenged Perseus as soon as the monster was dead. Perseus whisked out Medusa's head, turning all of the men into stone, and also accidentally killing Andromeda's parents, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. The gods took pity on the king and queen and hung them in the sky as constellations. Read the last bit of the story to find out whether the oracle's prediction came true. Did Perseus kill his grandfather, Acrisius? And look up into the sky this Autumn to see the constellations of Perseus, Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, the Whale (or monster) and Pegasus.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Visit to Oak Bluffs

This weekend we took a ferry from Wood's Hole to Martha's Vineyard. While exploring the bike paths we discovered this beautiful little cottage community, a Methodist campground meeting association.

The tiny cottages were built to replace tents beginning in the 1880's, surrounding a beautiful green with large trees, as open air covered meeting house, and the tabernacle.

Some of the cottages are built so close together, you can probably hear your neighbor spread butter on their toast.

The house colors and gingerbread trim remind me of cake icing.

We could feel fall in the air on the windy ferry ride home.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Birthday Doll

This is one of the last dolls I am making for my etsy shop. It is a commissioned doll for a little girl's birthday in Hawaii.

The mother told me that her daughter likes blue, red, and yellow. I found some fabrics in blue and red which complimented one another well.

The skin is golden and the hair is curly brown. The eyes are green.

It was a joy to make dolls for children to love. Now onto other things!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How to Make a Campfire

We love to make campfires on the beach on the weekend, and in a stone chimney in our favorite park on cold weekday afternoons in the winter. After a few years of campfire fun I have finally found my favorite way to build a campfire. When we are at the beach we make a circle out of large stones and make sure the area is clear of fuel, to keep the fire from spreading. Tonight I used a metal terrace fireplace. I made three piles of sticks: tiny twigs, medium sticks, and thicker sticks. All of these sticks are small enough in diameter for me to be able to break them over my knee. I crumpled a piece of newspaper loosely, and built a chimney around it out of twigs, log cabin style. I lit the paper at the bottom with a match.

I soon had a lively little fire crackling. After it had burned for a few minutes, I added more twigs, criss-crossing them across the top of the chimney. I continued to tend my fire, adding larger sticks bit by bit. My little boy always wants to get close and help. Fire is very attractive and the children need some safety rules. I tell children that they should stay back from the flames and that they are not allowed to add any fuel without my permission. I also have a bucket of water nearby for putting out the fire.

Once it was burning wonderfully well with the largest sticks, I added two small logs. It is important that air moves under and through your fire, or it will smother. This metal fire place has a grate at the bottom which permits air circulation.

We waited patiently for the logs to get good and hot, because we had plans to make dinner on our campfire. I have never cooked anything other than hotdogs or marshmallows on a campfire, so this was an experiment. For cooking, we want low flames, and hot embers.

We put some fireplace pokers and clothes hangers across the fire once the embers were nice and hot and had been raked out, so we would have something to prop our skewers on.

These marinated shrimps smelled so good as they cooked.

We served them with pita bread, sliced tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and some (undercooked) skewered zucchini.

He loved it, and so did I. We are going to make it for my husband this weekend!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Punkin and Sweetie Pie

Mercy ordered Sweetie Pie from my etsy shop today. She already has Teeny Wee, another of my patchy dolls. I thought about how Sweetie Pie, despite her innocent look, can be mischievous, and I thought I had better warn Mercy that Sweetie Pie and Teeny Wee may not always get along. If you have read this story from January, you know why. (Incidentally, Punkin belongs to Layla.)

This is Punkin.

This is Sweetie Pie.

They are Patchy Dolls I recently put in my on-line store. I'm selling them separately. Punkin and Sweetie Pie's names are favorite endearments in my family.

Their favorite word is Zeeble. We don't know what it means, but each time they say it, they laugh.

This is what they do when they are supposed to be napping.

This is what they do when one of them gets hurt.

They have a lot of trouble sharing, though. I saw them them play well together for a few minutes today. Maybe they should stay together as twins, I was thinking, when suddenly,

Sweetie Pie hid the ball.


Sweetie Pie!

I guess I will keep them separated as planned......

Mercy: You've been warned!