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April 2008



There's something about fleeting moments like these. The ones that are surreptitiously captured on "film" and speak some truth about them as children, as individuals. Such is the case for this snapshot. Two strong, busy little women sharing a moment of tenderness. You have no clue how much this touched me. The two of them together? Let me just say that they make frequent trips to our "Peace Table" to talk about their feelings when one or the other has been wronged. This moment? So beautiful. It's something I've been pulling for, in the hope that all of the "Peace Table" work would bear fruit.

So much of the conflict that I see among young children can be attributed to a not-quite-fully-developed ability to empathize and express one's emotions in a healthy way. I once heard about a little girl who took a pair of scissors to the new Easter pants of the annoying class bully. That same little girl would scratch the arm of other children who were not following the rules or who were being mean. Who was this diminutive devil who couldn't control her emotions or express her feelings in words? As it turns out, I once knew her very well, even though time has muddled my adult memory.  I was her. And somehow, she became me.

Every child has something that he or she needs to work on. For some it's reading. For some math. For others, it's fine-motor coordination. For others, it's self-confidence, and for others it's humility. For me, and for countless other children, our "work" was to learn how to relate to other human beings with empathy and patience. Let me just give a shout-out to my mom and dad, who encouraged and supported me through all of my "work." I think it's been about 20 years since I scratched anybody. Just ask Patrick. No, no - I know what you're thinking - the scratches that he occasionally sports are from the cats. Honestly! 

So yes, every child (and adult) has her own special "work." We wouldn't be who we are without it, and without it life would be just a bit too easy. And, like any other challenge, it's not something that can be overcome with a simple decision, at least not for the child. The young child needs to practice this life skill, over and over, under various circumstances. This work is so personal that no adult can tell the child what to do. The adult can provide a loving example or a helpful routine, but the child must learn by doing. And, like learning to ride a bike, the child will fall. Many, many times. Imagine what your reaction might have been if, as a child learning how to ride a bike, your parents and older siblings got frustrated with your constant falls and eventually told you firmly, perhaps even yelling, that falling off your bike was not allowed, and that you were a bad person for having done so. Would you have tried to ride a bike again? Probably not. Now consider the child who is learning to express and control her emotions. She fails, again and again. Certainly, the best way to help her out is not to yell or devalue her as a person. She needs encouragement and certain helpful tools that will help her get to the point where she can ride out her emotions with confidence. What are these tools? Vocabulary for the emotions and a clear, consistent routine for dealing with conflicts peacefully, such as a Peace Table. Here are some ideas and resources:

How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way.  My favorite part of this book is the chapter on siblings and family life in which the author tells you how to set up a Peace Table.

A stone, tabletop, or hand-held labyrinth.  Offering the child a labyrinth to walk or trace when he feels like he's getting frustrated or angry is an excellent tool for calming and redirecting the onslaught of emotion before the situation escalates out of his control. Once the child has walked or traced the labyrinth several times, he might be ready to use his emotional vocabulary to express his feelings in a respectful manner at the Peace Table.

Emotions cards. Working with these cards gives young children practice in identifying the physical manifestations of emotion, increasing empathy. At the same time they learn the vocabulary they need to express their own feelings. I also love Amanda's idea in The Creative Family of playing a family game of charades with the emotions.

Do you have any other ideas or resources for helping young children learn peaceful conflict resolution? I would love to read about them in the comments.




This little Wee Wonderfuls snail is emblematic of the coming of Spring in the mountains of Creel, Mexico. Pokey. Brown, tan, and a bit of blue sky. Each day I look outside and hope to see evidence that the green leaf fairy has worked her wonders on the bare-bones branches of the trees in my front yard, but I think she's busy greening up in other locales. North Carolina, for example. I'm just crossing my fingers that she'll migrate south sometime soon, as I'm not moving quite yet. Yes, I'm getting a bit weary of all the brown. In times like these, it's wise to reflect on all of the quiet going-ons beneath the dull veneer.

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows' wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, "Early Spring"


oh give me a home ...

... where the wild birds roam, where children among the flowers do play.

sarah p. duke gardens

We've found a home in North Carolina! The lease is signed, and I couldn't be happier (and more relieved.) After my cousin's wedding my Dad and I headed east for the express purpose of securing housing for our upcoming July 7 move. Aside from having a fabulous time with my super cool dad, the trip was well worth it - we found a real gem of a house (I'm going to have an entire room for my studio!). I won't bore you with a myriad of photos of the house (because you'll be seeing plenty come July) but I will say that this might just be the perfect place to raise a family. Get this - we already have a bird feeding frame in our back yard, which is visited by  many wild, feathered friends:

durham homes 041

There is a small nature preserve and trail nearby:

nature trail/preserve nearby

Plus, we have all of the resources of Duke University just a stone's throw away - the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (in the first photo,) The Nasher Museum of Art, and the Duke Symphony Orchestra, to name just a few.

Suffice it to say that I'm really thrilled with Duke and the bike-friendly, eco-conscious neighborhood we will be living in. And don't even get me started on the multitude of international flavors in the area. Perhaps I'm just naive, but did you know there are restaurants that serve food that's not Mexican?! Whoopee! My mouth is beginning to water in gleeful anticipation.

In the next few days I'll try to catch up on my emails and get through my 426-strong blog reader backlog. Have you all been posting daily since I left for my trip? My goodness! I can't wait!

reflections on flowers and lycra body suits

bleeding heart

Greetings from California! Visiting with family is pretty swell - but doing so amongst these stunning blooms is even better. I arrived during prime petal time.

Enjoy the garden tour - I'll try to check in from time to time, but you know how wedding weekends go. Plus, I have to practice walking in high heels - something I haven't done since I played Sandra D in my high school production of Grease, when I had to dance across a counter top in stilettos and a lycra body suit, while singing, in front of an entire auditorium of spectators. Did I mention that the counter top, being a prop and all, was on wheels? Truly, the scariest moment of my life.  Last night, I had a vision of me gingerly walking up to do the reading, teetering dangerously on the top step, and tumbling gracelessly to the ground. I keep on telling myself that walking up church stairs is nothing compared to dancing and singing on top of a wobbly counter in a skin-tight body suit. Ah well. If I do fall, it will make a great story to add to the comical family lore.

giant dutch tulip


daffodils, peach and white

california poppies

zoe the shih tzu chrysanthemum head

Zoe, my parents' chrysanthemum-headed Shih Tzu.

yes, mom, i do wear yellow

simplicity 3835

Even girls with olive-toned skin and blue eyes should be able to wear a yellow shirt every now and then. So what if it makes me look nauseated! So there, Mom! Ha! I made myself a yellow shirt!

This is my first yellow shirt ever. And it brings me such joy. While I admit it doesn't bring out the best in my coloring, that's okay, isn't it?  It would go really well with these shoes in yellow.

The pattern is Built By Wendy's Simplicity 3835. A breeze to make. It took me all of two hours, from ironing and cutting to clean up. Talk about instant gratification! I'll certainly be making more of these - unless, of course, I get sidetracked by other projects and other things, like, say, moving back to the US.

As of late, I've felt like my plate is overflowing. We have only 10 weeks left in Mexico, and the mega-move is closing in rapidly. Because I'm the kind of person who enjoys torturing herself with arbitrary deadlines, I've been understandably feeling tortured. Go figure. I had the best of intentions, the biggest of which was getting the Lola and Elsie Mae apron patterns sent out for testing before leaving for my cousin's wedding in California on Tuesday. It just isn't happening right now. Oh well - a shrug of the shoulders and a big sigh later, I decided work on this yellow shirt project instead. Sometimes you just have to forget about everything and make something fun, you know?

I've determined that the best place to hang out is in the eye of the storm. It's pretty nice in here. And if you put on some good music and do a goofy little dance, you can pretty much forget about the craziness that surrounds you.


flower blossom applique

Much gratitude for your warm welcome to Typepad! It was a big move, and I feel that I can finally wipe that bead of sweat from my forehead (phew!), knowing that so many of you have followed me over here. Thanks for that. 

While the surroundings here in Mexico are slow to 'green up,' I'm finally starting to see some signs of new life. A few blossoms here, a happy bee there. One of my students ran inside today and, almost shocked, told me that there was a bee gathering pollen on the first blossoms outside. I followed her outside and we sat there and just watched in silence for several minutes. In this silent sitting state, it's amazing how many more signs of Spring one can notice. Birdsong, an occasional hummingbird, the bee's buzz, a green blade of grass poking through.

Today I learned that you notice many more things that fly when you are sitting still.

Wishing you all a peaceful weekend!

the creative family, a gift to the earth

the creative family with a cup of tea

Amanda's book, The Creative Family, arrived the other day! The minute it emerged from the packaging it seemed to stick to my hands, not allowing me to put it down until I had read every word. Yes, it's that good my friends!

reading the creative family

We all love Amanda and the genuine warmth that emanates from her blog via her words and gorgeous photography. If you're already an avid Soule family fan, this book is your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If not, well ... then once you've read it you will have been caught hook, line, and sinker.

I very much appreciated Amanda's encouraging yet self-assured voice which, throughout the pages, advocates for a close-to-nature, less-"stuff"-is-more approach to family life. What is also very clear to me, as a Montessori educator, is that Amanda's mindful approach to parenting is wonderfully on the mark. Her respect for, and observation of, the needs and interests of her children are what is most inspiring to me, both as a teacher and a future parent. Amanda arrived at all of these thoughtful, creative ideas due to her ability to be truly present and tuned-in to the pulse of childhood - that constant beat that can be heard even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life which says: "I am a creative, immensely curious person who can teach you so much about the beauty of the present moment. Please walk this path with me as I learn about myself and this world of marvels."

The Creative Family is a happy mix of ideas on leading a creative family life. I love how Amanda defined "creativity" very broadly, including within its definition traditional craft, theatrical productions, living in-tune with nature, imaginative play and thoughtful daily and seasonal rituals and celebrations.  Creative living, in any form, provides intellectual and emotional grounding for adults as well as children, and the act of creating together as a family can create deep, lasting bonds. I came away from the book understanding very clearly that the best gifts I can give to my future children are time and freedom to be creative.

Some of my favorite ideas include Family Drawing Time and the Gift to the Earth, although the Everyday Rituals chapter takes the cake with the oh-so-heartwarming description of the morning "Meeting in Bed," during which you and your children jointly plan the day's creative exploits.

Peppered throughout the book are well-written instructions for a handful of creative projects, such as making children's pants from an used shirt, freezer paper stenciling, dyeing clothing with natural dyes, henna art, beginning embroidery, finger knitting, making your own knitting needles, felting with children, bedtime bags, felt birthday crowns, and more.

But, more than a project book, The Creative Family is a book of ideas - an inspirational manual for living a joyfully creative life with your young children. I can't recommend it highly enough. Of all of the parenting books that I have read (and I've read a lot,) The Creative Family is the one that will be my handbook - the one I will refer back to time and again. Bravo, Amanda, for writing a real Gift to the Earth!

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how to make recycled paper

recycled paper journal 1

I've recently been bitten by the paper recycling bug. My symptoms? Ogling over multi-colored paper scraps and a strong desire to never buy construction paper ever again.
open recycled paper journal

Some of the mothers in my school make beautiful things with recycled paper, such as this journal which is hand-bound with string coated in beeswax. The edges of the cover are delicately burned for a real artisan touch. (You can find beeswax here, which you apply to a single strand of hemp string, working it in with the heat of your fingers. Bind the book by sewing the layers together with a large-eyed needle, then thread some beads on each end.)

let scrap paper soak

The process of making recycled paper varies from one source to the next, which can only mean one thing - the process is the kind that is open to experimentation and variation. I encourage you to do just that. Children will love experimenting with different kinds of paper and procedures.  This little tutorial illustrates what has worked for me thus far.

What you will need:
-Keep a bucket of water handy next to your recycling bins. Shred by hand any used paper (a perfect job for a toddler!) and throw it into the bucket to sit for at least a day.
-An old blender
-Used frames (minus the glass and backing) of various sizes. The size of the frame will determine the size of your finished sheet of paper.
-Very, very fine plastic screening which will be stretched over the frames and used as a sieve
-Thumb tacks for attaching the screening to the frames to make the sieve
-A tupperware bin large enough to so that you can easily submerge the frames in it
-Newspaper cut slightly larger than the dimensions of your frames for blotting
-Absorbent sponge
-Rolling pin

blend well-soaked paper into pulp

1.) With a ratio of about 1 portion of well-soaked paper scraps to 2 cups water, blend into a pulp in your old, trusty blender. Blend in short spurts so as not to burn out the motor. You will need about two half-blender-fulls (shown above) of pulp per tupperware bin batch. *If you would like to make your paper scented, add 6-10 drops of essential oils during the blending of the pulp.

pour pulp into tupperware tub filled with water

2.) Fill the tupperware bin with several inches of water and pour in the pulp. Swish the mixture around so that the pulp is evenly distributed in the water. *You can add dried flowers, leaves, etc. at this point in the process, or you can wait until you have lifted the sieve out of the water and press them neatly onto the paper.

slowly lift framed sieve out of water

3.) Submerge the frame-sieve into the bin and slowly lift out. Place a piece of blotting newspaper on top of the pulp/paper. Using a sponge on top of the newspaper, blot away all of the excess water. Flip over the sieve and carefully remove the paper. It should still be attached to the newspaper on one side. 4.) Place another piece of newspaper on top of the paper. The paper sheet is now sandwiched between two layers of newspaper. Roll out any excess water using a rolling pin. Remove the top piece of newspaper and let the paper dry completely in a sunny spot. Carefully peel the recycled sheet from the newspaper. Here's a video that demonstrates a slightly different way to go about it. Figure out what process works best for you. Before you know it, you'll be planning to write down all of your recipes on recycled paper, too!

it's an aprony april thus far

Amos and Adelaide's Children's Aprons

I think I've gotten myself tangled up in some hard-to-meet expectations. Ever since test-running this new chef's get-up in my classroom, all they can say is "Are we going to have a chef's outfit for baking cookies? And one for baking bread? And one for preparing snack? And one for making granola? And one for cracking nuts? And one for making tortillas?" One child wanted to do his math work in the chef's costume. Hey... now that's a good idea. It might add a bit of pizazz to tax preparation process.

Amos and Adelaide's children's aprons

A few of you might recognize this apron from the earlier version that I sold briefly as a PDF pattern. It's been jazzed up with an appliquéd  kangaroo pocket and will be available in various sizes.  A smock-style child's apron will also be part of the same pattern - I'll post some pictures of it in a few days' time.

Things are getting done here, but why does it seem like the "getting done" occurs at the speed of poured molasses, while the passage of days happens at the speed of light? I must be getting older. I'm reminded of this every time a child says to me something along these lines:

Meg, do you remember when, a long, long, time ago ... when I was REALLY little, and we made ornaments to put on our Christmas trees?

Why, yes. For me it seems like last week that we were making holiday decorations in the classroom. Oh boy. I know what this means. Measuring time as I perceive it, we will be moving back to the US in a little less than a week.

Holy Crimeny!  I'd better get to packing!

***Edit*** We aren't actually moving now. We still have three more months ... but I'm sure these three months will fly by!