The winter that I was pregnant with Silas there was a Great Horned Owl that visited us every morning. On days that Steve and I were gone to work, we'd catch sight of him as he took flight from our roof as we pulled into our driveway. On the weekends, we'd see him in the morning, perched in the same tree, looking over at us, and we'd drink our coffee together. We wondered what he was doing out and about during the day, but were grateful for his company. One Saturday morning, he swooped down, caught a snake, flew away and we never saw him again. Birds of Prey, in general, hold special significance for me, and this encounter in particular seemed very meaningful. I held onto that image as that pregnancy came to a close and I gave birth to our little boy.

I had intended to knit this Owlie sleep sack and hat for Silas. The pattern was printed and placed in the ambitious stack of things I wanted make for my little one, but it never came to fruition. Early this fall, heavy with a new pregnancy, I rested in the rocking chair one morning while Silas got ready for the day. We heard a riot of crows outside, worrying over something. I told Silas to go to the window to see what the fuss was about. He did and looked for awhile.

"I see an owl!" he said.

"Oh?" I replied, skeptical that that was what he was really seeing, assuming that it was just a clump of leaves in a distant tree or something like that. But, sure enough, when I ambled over to the window to see for myself, there in a very close tree, looking at us, was an owl.

"It's a Great Horned Owl!" he breathlessly said. And again, he was right.

We laid on the bed together and looked out the window at this big, beautiful bird of prey. He looked back at us. We watched each other all morning. I told Silas the story of the Great Horned Owl that had visited us when he was living in my belly.

"I think this must be that owl's baby. He hatched and he grew up and then he came to visit us," he explained to me.

And so I knew that I finally had to make this little owl-embellished set. It's all ready for plenty of newborn snuggles and filled, I believe, with the protective power of our owl friends.

Joining Ginny.

Busy Holiday Weekending

The Tomten had us very busy this weekend. A tuba concert of Christmas Carols on Friday (there was, indeed, dancing involved), an Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble on Saturday, and on Sunday, a visit to the county museum to see the local model railroad club's set-up of trains (the favorite of the weekend, I think).

How was your weekend?

Joining Karen.

Orange & Clove Pomanders

Continuing our celebration of the plant kingdom this week, Silas and I made some orange and clove pomanders. I remember seeing these around when I was a kid, but I don't think that I ever made them myself. It's such a staple of the Christmas holiday season that we had to give it a try.

We actually used clementines instead of oranges. I pre-pierced the holes for Silas and he pushed in the cloves. In all honesty, this was a bit of a tough project for a three-year-old. He was definitely able to do it, but I think he found it a little bit frustrating and was happy to declare himself "done" after finishing two of the four sections on his clementine. So I peeled him a fresh one and he ate it while I finished the spiral design on mine and filled in the rest of his. Now, we'll just set them aside to dry and once they do they'll go on the seasonal table, returning year after year.

Wet Felting Stones

We did this project last week as part of our Festival of Stones. I had envisioned a nature walk where we would gather large stones to wet felt around, but alas, there are very few locations that I could find that had stones that would fit the bill and where we could legally gather them (our state parks, for example, do not allow you to take rocks, which I completely understand). So, I ended up buying a bag of stones at the craft store (although, I'm not at all convinced that those stones were any more ethically gathered than if I had picked them up off of public land myself...c'est la vie). 

The soft wool, the warm bowl of water, the slick soap...this was a wonderfully tactile experience to warm us up on a cold almost-winter morning. The motion of gently transferring the wet stone from hand to hand was incredibly meditative. We followed this tutorial and had great success. I needle felted a spiral of stars onto my stone and as soon as he saw them, Silas declared that his was in need of a moon.

Second Light of Advent: The Light of Plants

"The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower and fruit by whom we live and grow."

As part of our celebration of the second week of Advent, which honors the plant kingdom, Silas chose some plants to bring home that are his and his alone. We totally lucked out and found the shelf and all the plants in the same thrifting trip and so were able to spend an afternoon repotting and getting everything settled.

His watering can lives on the shelf just below and after a single demonstration, he was eager to do it all himself; filling it at the bathroom sink, holding it just so with his thumb over the spout to prevent spills, and walking oh so carefully.

Silas is very much at that stage where he wants to do everything by himself and he is very eager to take on responsibilities and it seems that a few plants that are all his own is a very fitting way to fulfill this need, as well as to add a much needed touch of green at this time of year. 

Introducing St. Nicholas Day

We are slowly incorporating meaningful seasonal celebrations in the rhythm of our lives. This year, we decided to observe St. Nicholas Day, which is on December 6. This is not something that either Steve or I celebrated as children, but we do both have German heritage and there are elements of the St. Nicholas story that really resonate with me. Plus, it's a fun way to kick off the holiday season.

Just like last year, we have a little wooden Tomten who appeared under our tree on December 1. Each night he brings us a scroll with an activity or a kind deed to do that day. This year, he is also bringing us one holiday book each day. These are books that are already in our collection or that I'm checking out from the library; I'm just dolling them out slowly to keep the interest level high.

On the morning of December 5, Silas found a pair of wooden shoes under the tree and the scroll from the Tomten instructed us to prepare for St. Nicholas Day. This involved polishing our new shoes with beeswax polish (I make this recipe with beeswax and jojoba oil). A good deep housecleaning is traditional in Germany as part of the preparations and I would love to include this as well, but, let's be honest, cleaning is far from my strong suite. Maybe next year we'll try to include some light dusting.

Then the shoes went back under the tree. 

As part of our Circle Time that morning, I told a modified version of the St. Nicholas story, highlighting the parts that are important to our family. What I connected with most strongly was his act of distributing food to those who were hungry. This is the central theme of the holiday for our family: sharing food.

My version of the story (I used our wooden figures to act it out as I told it):

Once upon a time in a country very, very far away there lived a kind and gentle man named Nicholas. One day, Nicholas heard about a nearby town in which the villagers did not have enough to eat and were very hungry. 

So, Nicholas called upon his friends and neighbors and said, "bring me the fruits of your garden! Bring me the fruits of your fields and trees! And let us share what we have!" And they did just that.

Nicholas loaded all of the food onto his donkey and made the journey to the town where the villagers were hungry. He arrived in the evening, after the sun had set and the all the windows in the houses were aglow with light. He approached the first house and knocked on the window.

Inside, a little boy was playing and he heard the knock. He went to the window to see who could be calling so late in the evening, but he didn't see anyone. What he did see was two large sacks sitting in front of his house. "Mother! Come look!" he called.

His mother came and looked out the window. She also didn't see anyone, but when she saw the two large sacks, she went to the door and opened it to investigate further. The first sack was filled with fruit and nuts and the second was full of wheat for making bread. She let out a great noise of joy and called to her friends and neighbors in the village to share in this good fortune.

Everyone in the village shared these gifts of food and were soon strong and healthy once again.

This was many, many years ago, but the spirit of Nicholas lives on in each of us. Every year on Nicholas' birthday we set out our shoes and see what happens. If we receive gifts, we have to make certain that we share our bounty with our friends and neighbors.

So, before bed, we made sure the shoes were under the tree and left carrots in them for St. Nicholas' donkey. When Silas awoke he found them filled with chocolate, nuts in the shell, a screw-top nutcracker, a clementine, wool socks, honey sticks, a feather, a golden walnut, and a small wooden car.

The clementine, nuts, and chocolate are symbolic of Nicholas' gift of food and a reminder for us to pass the gift along. These things, as well as the golden walnut, have further symbolism (the most comprehensive St. Nicholas resource is here), and we will introduce these elements of the story in the years to come. 

The other items were chosen as small tokens to help us overcome the particular challenges that we each are currently facing (the lovely book The Gift from St. Nicholas by Lachner is a wonderful way to introduce this concept). So, honey sticks are to sweeten our voices, the feather is to remind us to use gentle touches, the toy is to remember playfulness and joy, and the wool socks help prepare us for the cold winter ahead. These items will change each year as I choose things to address our challenges in that moment.

After snuggling up next to each other on the couch and enjoying our treats, we went as a family to the grocery store to shop for food to donate to the local food pantry. We told Silas that this was a very special trip to the store and that we wouldn't be choosing things to bring home, instead we would be choosing food to give to a family who didn't have enough to eat, just like the villagers in the Nicholas story. He really enjoyed walking the aisles together and picking out what he thought another child might enjoy eating (of course, he had some guidance from mama and papa who themselves had guidance from the "most needed" list from the food pantry).

All in all, it was a very low-key little celebration of what we have and an opportunity to remember to share our good fortune. We are so blessed to have so much and even though we try to model gratitude and giving in our everyday lives, I do think it's important to set aside time to focus specifically on these things. For us, St. Nicholas Day is a wonderful way to do that.

First Light of Advent: Growing Crystals

As part of our Festival of Stones week, we decided to do a super easy science project and grow some crystals. We tried two methods and one was definitely more successful than the other. The first was to suspend pipe cleaner shapes in water saturated with table salt (about 1 cup of boiling water to 4 tablespoons of salt, colored with liquid watercolors) and allow salt crystals to form on the pipe cleaners. This one was a big failure. The pipe cleaners rusted. There weren't really crystals of salt that formed; more of a somewhat gross coating of salt residue that was left behind. Silas still wants to hang them on the tree and we absolutely will, but I think we'll try it again, following a different tutorial that is similar, but uses borax instead.

The second method was, luckily, a smashing success. You just combine 1/2 cup very hot tap water with 1/2 cup epsom salts and stir until all the salt is dissolved. Add liquid watercolors (or food coloring) and then pop in the 'fridge for three hours. Pour off the water and you're left with really beautiful needle-like crystal formations. The red ones we grew in a bowl and I scraped them into a clear jar so that we could display them on our seasonal table and the green ones we grew directly in the clear jar.

Silas thought this whole process was pretty fantastic. We mixed up the solution and put in the refrigerator before we left the house to run some errands and it was pretty magical to find what had formed when we returned home.

Find more of our thoughts on the first week of Advent here.

We Are Made of Star-Stuff

"Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff."
~Carl Sagan

I sometimes struggle to find a way to connect with festivals and holidays that goes deeper than simply spending time with loved ones (although, that is important and wonderful too). I want very much for our family to have a seasonal rhythm and to have traditions to look forward to, but I also want them to be authentic and for us to embrace them on our own terms and not just because "that's the way we've always done it." This is made additionally challenging because we are secular and so have to dig underneath much of the religious symbolism to find nuggets of personal truth to grasp onto.

One way that we are playing with celebrating the winter season is through Advent, specifically the Waldorf version. 

“The first light of Advent is the light of stones.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower and fruit by whom we live and grow.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.
Animals of farm, field, forest, air and sea.
All await the birth in greatest and in least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.
The light of love, the light of thought, to give and to understand.”
~Rudolf Steiner

In this tradition, the weeks leading up to Christmas are not so much a religious holiday, but more of an inner spiritual journey. The four weeks of December are divided into four kingdoms - minerals, plants, animals, and humans - and each are honored in their own right. This week, our festival of stones, is about our very bones, the elements of which we share with every other person as well as this planet on which we live. It's a tangible, but also poetic, way to highlight our interconnectedness.

To talk about how we are all made of "star stuff" with an almost-four-year-old, we've looked at the stars and talked about how their light lives in our hearts; how little bits of star dust are in our bones. To remind us of this, we made a window star for the sun to set aglow. 

Silas chose the pattern and color and I did the actual folding for the blue star. Then he decided to make a brown "moon" of his own design. It was a wonderful collaboration this morning before heading outside to play on this beautiful sunshine-y day.

Thanksgiving Weekending

After several days away visiting family, we are so grateful to have returned to our quiet little home. There was a first train ride on "The Santa Express," playtime with cousins, snuggles with grandparents, aunts, and uncles, a Thanksgiving feast, and a trip to the Christmas tree farm to select the perfect tree. A very full and wonderful weekend, indeed.

On Sunday we celebrated the first night of Advent with candles and gratitude for the earth and all she provides. Following the Waldorf Advent tradition of honoring stones and minerals in the first week of December, I gave each of us a polished rock as we sat down to dinner. We went around, each sharing something that we're grateful for. Steve always sniggers a bit when I do things like this, thinking they're a little hokey. And they definitely can be. But, when Silas very honestly and earnestly said, "I'm grateful for all the hard work you did to make this meal" before placing his stone on the table centerpiece, I think we were both a little bit humbled. 

This year, I've decided to bring out our Christmas books one by one, leaving each under the tree at night for Silas to discover in the morning. Much to my surprise, he informed Steve later in the evening that "Santa" had brought the first book and left it there. We've never promoted the idea of Santa and still aren't quite sure how we want to proceed in that area. We're just trying to keep it fun, I think.