Friday, January 28, 2011

Quill Pen

Making a quill pen is a fun activity for children who like the Harry Potter books, or who love to learn how people used to do things.

We made a quill pen a few weeks ago as an experiment.  We had a beautiful feather which my son found in Idaho.  We think it is a hawk's feather.

We weren't at home where I have some ink, and we didn't have oak gall and iron filings to make ink as they did in the Middle Ages!  We used strong tea.  It was a feeble ink, but it was still fun for an experiment.

In this picture my child is using a wonderful quill set made by the American Document Company, which makes quill pens for The United States Supreme Court, 1200 of them per year!  We got it at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum of the 17th century separatists' settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Quill pens were the primary writing instrument from the 6th to the 19th centuries.  Even easier to come by was the wood-nib pen, made out of a twig whittled to a point.  Making a wood nib pen would be a good first whittling project.  It isn't as nice as a quill pen because it doesn't hold much ink and must be dipped frequently.  Children at Plimoth Plantation also used chalk on slate to practice their letters.

 The quill pen set from the American Document Company came with some ink powder, but you can make your own ink, as American school children did, out of walnut shells or berry juice.  We used to make ink out of poke berry juice when we were girls, (which is poisonous, incidentally.)  There are instructions for how to make a quill pen, a wood nib pen, and ink in Steven Caney's wonderful book "Kids' America."  I also found a YouTube video about how to make a quill pen today.  It was filmed at Kenilworth Castle.  Have a look at it if you are think of making one.  Just click on the title of this post.  And I recommend the beautiful award-winning animated film "The Secret of Kells," about a boy monk and a magic wolf-girl, and the power of calligraphy and illumination, though it might be scary for some children.

Now it is time to get out your primer, and practice good penmanship!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Post by Grace of My Year in Haiku

creaking ice melting
dripping off purple table
the water cycle

We all remember haiku from school, right? Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. There are numerous forms of haiku. In fact, if you Google how to write haiku you will discover different types with all kinds of rules and suggestions. Generally, an English haiku contains 17 syllables in three lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the final line goes back to 5 syllables. Nature and seasonal themes are the most common subjects in traditional haiku. Some say you must have a “season” word and a “cutting” word to create a haiku. A “season” word is obvious – words that evoke the seasons (mosquito for summer, daffodil for spring, snow for winter, etc.). The “cutting” word is more complex and difficult to define in English. Simply explained, it is a break or pause indicated by punctuation or a word (English writers often use ellipses).

bare branches lifted
in silent ode to the sky
brown breasted birds sing

In my writing, I just stick to the 5-7-5 rule and let it roll from there. Many of my poems are inspired by nature but some relate to random observations, mundane domestic trials and events, or things my children do. Speaking of children, haiku is a great introduction to poetry and a fun way to learn about syllables with children. My oldest daughter has written several haiku. She likes to create an illustration to go with them like a story.

cold and hazy air
afternoon in the cold fog
patches of green grass

Similarly, I often include a photograph that inspires my haiku. I think the key is to approach it with inspiration. Personally, I cannot decide to write a poem about the wind, or a bird, or a mushroom and just do it. I have to see something, feel something, experience something, hear something and then I become inspired to write. Conversely, when my daughter writes she usually thinks of a subject (horse, owl, or butterfly) and starts from there. It is both challenging and fun to create imagery in three short poetic lines. Limited to so few words, each word becomes important.
I encourage you to give haiku a try. Brevity of form means it won't take too long. Come on – its fun! You might feel the mindful connection to nature when you write. You might have a laugh and bond with your child. You might be awed by the little things in our world. You might be peacefully satisfied by completing a little poem. You might learn something about the way you view the world by focusing on a feeling or a vision.

Come to my blog, My Year in Haiku, to see more samples.  Just click on the title of this post.

All photos and text from this post belong to Grace of My Year in Haiku.  Copyright 2011.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Want to Do Haiku

Having an icy walk this past weekend made me want to write about it in a special way.  Grace is going to teach us haiku here on Acorn Pies in a couple of days with a special post she has prepared.  Grace is the author of the beautiful blog, My Year in Haiku.  I can't wait to try haiku, and share the fun with my child, as well.  Thanks, Grace!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Make a Lovey With Your Child

Some friends and I are going to make lovies with some children in foster care next week.  We got together in my studio to prepare all the materials, and while we were there, one mother made a lovey with her four year old child.  I drew a very simple shape of a cat, with a curved bottom, arms, and pointy ears.  We drew the shape on tracing paper, and then onto pattern fabric, but you can use brown paper bag or manila envelope- anything that won't rumple too easily.  Make your pattern a little bit fat.  When you stuff it, your lovey will get skinnier.

 First the mother cut out the pattern.

The child picked out the cotton flannel fabric she wanted.  We cut out two pieces of fabric placed right sides together, and ironed them.  The mother traced around the pattern with a pencil, onto the wrong side of the fabric, and pinned it on the corners.  A child as young as kindergarten can probably trace the pattern.  You can use a light crayon on dark flannel.  It doesn't have to be perfect, and it shouldn't be!  If it shows your child's hand, it will be cuter and more expressive.  If your child wants the lovey to have a tail, don't forget to design and cut out that, too.

 Also, don't forget to leave a space at the bottom of the lovey when sewing.  Making marks will help you remember not to sew over it.  It has to be wide enough to get your hand inside the lovey for stuffing.  Do not cut your lovey out yet.  That will make it easier for your child to machine sew.

 Now sew on the line.  You kindergartener can probably do this sitting in your lap.  What if the sewing wavers off the line?  It doesn't matter at all, since the cat hasn't been cut out yet.  Backstitch at the beginning and end of the stitching, so that the lovey won't unravel when you stuff it.

 Now cut around your sewn line, about a quarter of an inch or so away.  You don't have to clip curves and corners.  Some children will have the skill to do the cutting.

 Your tiny child can help you turn the lovey inside out.  This is fun.  A chop stick is a handy tool for getting into the pointy ears of the cat.

 Then she can help stuff.  She can decide when it is fat enough.  We are using polyfill for this big project, but at home, if your child doesn't have wool allergy, wool is a wonderful alternative which warms the child when she cuddles her lovey.

 The mother stitched the opening at the bottom closed.  See if you can teach your child to do a whip stitch or a running stitch.

 The little girl stuffed the tail while her mother sewed, using a chop stick.

 In this picture, the child has placed three ball headed pins in the cat's face for the eyes and nose.  Should you adjust the face?  No, you shouldn't.  The child should design the face.  You will both like it better.

 The child selected colors for the eyes and nose, (dark blue for the eyes, and light blue for the nose,) and the mother embroidered them.  Embroidering is easier than sewing buttons for the eyes; some young children will be able to do it, and again, it doesn't have to be "perfect."  If you like your child's drawings, you will like her embroidery, too.  The mother added a friendly smile.

Then, the child showed her mother where she wanted the tail to go.  The mother tucked in the ends, and sewed the tail in place.

 Here it is, with ribbons the child chose tied in all the places she wanted.

She loves it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beautiful Blog Award

My husband was teasing me last night about how much we bloggers love to award one another.  Well, it is true.  We love to encourage one another, don't we?  So I decided to create an award!  It's called the Beautiful Blog Award, and I'm going to pass it on to a few of the blogs I admire! Thank you, Rae, and windingcirclelifeschool, for teaching me how to put text on a photo!

I am giving this award to some of the blogs which inspire me.  They are all quite versatile and unique.  If you decide to accept this award, please tell us about something that inspires you.  I am inspired by color, like the color in this whimsical fabric.

Award as few or as many other blogs as you wish.  I've limited myself to eight, but I could have kept going!  I would like to pass this award onto these blogs, which are all in my blog list:

From Soft Earth's World
Soft Earth's World at, because Marie, a needle felter, shares her love and light and beautiful wisdom through her wool creations, her celebration of seasonal rhythms, and through the kind and encouraging comments which she leaves on many of the blogs I read.  I'm inspired each time I visit.  You can read a wonderful post which she wrote for Acorn Pies by clicking on the button to the right called "Light In the World."
From Magic Onions
Donni at Magic Onions,  Donni never seems to run out of ideas for beautiful natural crafts to do with children, and I have been awed by her wonderful series of articles by guest bloggers, "Discovering Waldorf."  Also, thank you so much for all of the encouragement, Donni!

From Gardenmama
Nicole at Garden Mama,  Nicole is an amazing photographer.  Her blog is like a balm.  Children, flowers, magic, wooden toys, good things to eat, nature, storytelling, and a beautiful home to peep into, I cuddle up on the sofa and let it all take me away.  I keep wishing there were a Garden Mama magazine.

From Down In the Meadow
Suzanne at Down in the Meadow,  Suzanne is another sweet and talented person who lets us peep into her beautiful home, with gorgeous photographs of collections, traditions, celebrations, and her creative children.   I also enjoy the topsy-turvy feeling which I get when I visit summer in South Africa on a day when my thermometer reads 15 degrees farenheit!  I wish she could send me some sunshine, right now!

By Salley Mavor
Salley Mavor's blog at lets me peer into her fascinating creative process as she creates her very unique needle art illustrations for children's books.  Her new book is "Pocketful of Posies."  The original works which illustrate this book are now on tour and you can check her blog for the schedule.  She is also the author of one of my favorite craft books, "Felt Wee Folk."  She wrote a posting for Acorn Pies about Costume Birthday Parties for children.  Click on the post at right to read it!

By Sharon Lovejoy
Sharon Lovejoy, of "Sharon Lovejoy Writes from a Sunflower House and a Little Green Island." ( is the author of one of my favorite books, "Sunflower Houses," a collection of grown-ups' memories of childhood play in gardens and with flowers.  It has lots of old-fashioned ideas for gardening fun, and I love her sweet watercolor illustrations.  I gave her new book, "Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars," a book about playing and creating in the garden with your grandchildren, to my mother for Christmas.  It's a wonderful book, and now I need a copy!

From Farmama
 Farmama and her family run an organic farm.  Her fascinating blog at follows the family's year as they care for the earth on their small farm, striving for sustainability, what they plant and harvest, the chores, the animals, the spinning, knitting, sewing, construction, and the adventures of the farm boys and their little sister.  I love it.

From Aspiring Homemaker
 Last but not least, I would like to honor Mia, a home-schooled girl who creates the blog Aspiring Homemaker at  Mia's blog has an otherworldly feel.  She and her family have created a peaceful home outside of the mainstream, in a little cottage surrounded by gardens in the Southern United States, where Christian faith, respect, simplicity and modesty reign.  I admire the margins full of vintage photographs, Mia's own gorgeous photography, and her evident love for her family.

Marcia, from gave me an award, recently.  Thank you Marcia!  Maybe we should join The Mutual Admiration Society!  I love your poems and photographs and enjoy watching what you and the children create at the Earth School!  I hope we meet one day.  It's altogether possible, since we are both New Englanders.  I also want to thank Sara, Hallie, Nadja, and Phyllis for the awards which they gave me this past year.  I finally put them up on Acorn Pies.  Thank you so, so much for the encouragement.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Visiting an Art Museum With Children

A great way to introduce children to the art museum is through ancient art and myth.  I use our treasured book of Greek Myths by the D'Aulaires.  It has been through two and a half childhoods, and it looks it.  My oldest children learned the myths so well that they could identify all the heroes and Greek gods in paintings and sculpture when we visited art museums.

To prepare to take a den of eight year old cub scouts to The Rhode Island Museum of Art, I visited the newly renovated Greek and Roman gallery by myself to preview the collection.  I wanted to find an illustration for a heroic myth.

This is what I found, a beautiful black figurine amphora (a storage jar, 550-525 BCE) illustrating the moment when Theuseus slays the Minotaur with his bare hands.  I knew the boys would be fascinated.  I also examined the rest of the gallery, made notes about a few other myths and stories from history,  and planned a scavenger hunt.

Illustration by the D'Aulaires
At home I refreshed my memory about Greek gods and some of the Greek myths I had seen depicted, and made some silhouette puppets for telling the Theseus story.

If you are worried about your drawing ability, you could use a projector and do some tracing to make puppets, or just create symbols for the different characters, as I did by creating a crown for Theseus' father, Aegeus, the king of Athens.  But remember, most young children think their parents are wonderful artists.

Illustration by the D'Aulaires
At a den meeting, I told the Theseus myth using the puppets, on a simple stage created between two folding chairs, and using some props, like a ball of string.  My son accompanied the story with some percussion instruments, and the children also contributed sound effects when cued, like the roaring of the hungry Minotaur.  My performance was lackluster in many ways, (I didn't have time to memorize the myth, for example,) but the children were amazingly attentive, and they are normally a super wiggly bunch of vibrant, active, excitable and enthusiastic little boys!  I told them that we would look for a picture of Theseus in the museum during our visit.

The following weekend, we met at the front door of the museum.  I didn't know how many of the children had ever been to an art museum, so we talked about how people are quiet and respectful in an art museum, like people at church or temple, that we must never run inside, we must never touch anything and why, and why the people in the statues wouldn't have any clothes on.  I told them that if they felt tempted to touch anything they could do "museum hands" and put their hands in their pockets or behind their backs.  (Once we were in there, I saw hands dart out to touch sculpture anyway!  Oh, dear!  The guards were scurrying around looking like they had had too much coffee that morning.)

Once inside the gallery, we talked about the sarcophagi which we saw and what the carvings depicted, we talked a tiny bit about the differences between Greek and Roman sculpture, and we had a close look at Theseus and the Minotaur.  I wish I could have taken pictures in the gallery, but it wasn't allowed.  I gave each child a sheet of paper with the scavenger hunt on it after we did a brief tour of the gallery.  It had about fourteen items on it.  ("Find a griffin.")  Most of the children had a parent to work with.  I chatted with some of the children about the exhibits which interested them, told them more stories, and asked them questions, and I was amazed at what some of the children knew.  Then we left.  We didn't spend a lot of time there at all.  Most young children will do best with just a taste of the museum when you visit.  Some exhibits will be more interesting to them than others, and some children will be more receptive to art than others.  My youngest son was fascinated with the contemporary ceramic sculpture which we saw in the exhibit pictured below a couple of years ago.  I think he liked the engineered aspect of the sculptures, the ramps, bridges, and buildings, and the little men climbing all over the structures.  I think it also helped that the sculpture was not behind glass cases, and that he could get very close.

In every case, you should leave the art museum before the children get tired, bored, or physically boisterous.  Now it is time to go outside and run off some of their pent-up energy!  You can go back another time without your child for an adult-paced visit.  One day, they will grow up, and they may like art museums just as much as you do!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Get Cozy

 Outside, the sun is rising on the beautiful snow covered trees.

Icicles are twinkling.

Inside, the hyacinth is beginning to smell wonderful.

 Coffee is brewing.  It's cozy.
 How do you like to get cozy on these frosty winter days?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Make a Snow Lantern

We're snowed in today!  A nor'easter is blowing through.  No school, fathers and mothers home, cookies in the oven, fires in the hearth, soup for lunch, shoveling the walk and driveway, snowball fights and snowmen!  It's great!  If you're snowed in, you might want to make a snow lantern tonight.  It's magic.  This is a re-run from last winter:

The first snow lantern was built out of snowballs in a bee skep shape and had a candle inside. But then my boy had a wonderful idea, and started to turn it into an igloo by adding an entrance tunnel. I love to make things with him. We have fun sparking one another's creativity.

Monday, January 10, 2011


We went for a wonderful walk in the snowy woods this past weekend.  I was looking for wintergreen because I have found it in these woods before.

 The first time I saw wintergreen I recognized it because of a description I had read in "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  "Under the snow on the south slopes the bright red berries were ripe among their thick green leaves.  Almanzo took off his mittens and pawed away the snow with his bare hands.  He found the red clusters and filled his mouth full.  The cold berries crunched between his teeth, gushing out their aromatic juice."

Now, I have never eaten a nice wintergreen berry.  They have always been mealy and dry.  Some people like to chew the leaves for the good taste.  The Native People, and later the colonists, used wintergreen medicinally.  Some people chop the leaves up to make a hot, refreshing tea. 

Almanzo Wilder  and his sister Alice brought home lots of leaves for their mother.  Alice crammed a bottle full of the leaves, and their mother filled it with whisky and set it away.  That was how she made wintergreen flavoring for baking.  But I just like to pick a leaf, crush it in my fingers, and breath deeply.  It is one of the beautiful smells of the winter woods: fresh, bright, cold, and minty.  Mmmmm.