Hemlock Hope

Over Christmas break, my son and I were walking through the woods, collecting hemlock branches that had fallen so I could embed the needles in handmade paper.  (Yes, it would have been easier to take the needles straight from the tree, and yes, I know that the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is killing the tree, despite anything we may do, but I won’t harm a tree, particularly one so imperiled.)  I asked him if he had ever seen a healthy hemlock, because I wasn’t sure if he really understood the difference between the hemlocks of my childhood and the hemlocks he knows.  He thought about it and pointed to one that did have more needles than most, and asked, ‘is this a healthy hemlock?’  ‘No, sorry dear.  If you can see through a hemlock, it is not a healthy hemlock.’  A few minutes later, I hear, solemnly, ‘that really is depressing.’

So, here is an image of hope for you, dear child.  That even though your childhood has been colored by the loss of these sleepy summer storybook trees, maybe, just maybe, your children or grandchildren will know their mysterious, peaceful shade.

Young Hemlock


New Year Plans

ReadingLast January, we decided to make individual reading goals and keep a list of what we’ve read. We’ve never made New Year’s resolutions before, but since we were all interested in pushing ourselves to read more it worked. I used one of my ring bound journals, added larger pieces of paper to divide it into four sections and stamped the top corner of each page with the person’s first initial. Keeping the book journal on the living room table made it easy to remember to write down everyone’s books. Until September. When we cleaned off the table. That said, everyone met their reading goal. I read over 110 books. My goal this year is actually to read less and do more art.  Do you make New Year’s resolutions?  What are they?

Rice bucket = 2 days of semi-peace

To the crazy person who thought of giving kids a bucket of dry rice to play with and to my mom who introduced it to me: THANK YOU!  I haven’t thought to get the rice bucket out in a long time, maybe because even when we spread a big sheet on the floor we still have to vacuum all those little grains of rice out of the carpet and who vacuums when they don’t absolutely have to?  The Sage, whose attention span is relatively short, played with it all day yesterday and has been playing with it all day today as well.  When he was little, the rice bucket was just about pouring and the feel of the rice.  Now, I think there’s a battle raging in the rice bucket and I’m a bit concerned that the Lego guy on the skeleton horse is a bit outnumbered.

Homeschooling Ourselves

The J Lane Hawk

The J Lane Hawk

Hurry, scurry

Worry, flurry

There go the grown-ups

To the office, to the store

Subway crush, traffic rush

No wonder


Don’t grow up anymore

It takes

a lot

of slow

to grow.

Eva Merriam Jamboree Rhymes for All Times, quoted in Lucy Calkins Raising Lifelong Learners

We watched the neighborhood hawk for what seemed like an eternity today.  It was right outside our windows.  I wanted to watch, but kept thinking about all that needed to be done before nap.  I was thrilled to see it then wanted it to fly away so we could get back to work.  The King needed to finish his reading and writing, The Sage needed to finish making and cutting hearts.  It is hard to remember the need of not doing, the need of watching, the need to be slow.  As a grown-up, I’m still not grown-up and must remember that it takes a lot of slow to grow.

Chinese Calligraphy and brush practice

The King practicing his the character 'person.'

The King practicing the character ‘person.’

There are two main challenges in watercolor painting: controlling the amount of water/ paint on the brush and controlling the movement and pressure.  We have a great new toy that allows The King to focus on the pressure and movement because it controls the first part for you.  The Pentel Color Brushes are not cheap (about $7 at Hobby Lobby without a coupon), not washable, I don’t know how long they will last, and haven’t figured out if you can refill them, but we really, really like them.  Crayola has also just started making “5 count Brush Paint Pens.”  I have seen these at Michaels and at Target.  They are about $5 for 5.  These would probably be a great treat on an airplane for a kid who loves to paint.

Our wonderful new toy!

Our wonderful new toy!

Working with Chinese calligraphy encourages kids (and adults!) to focus on pressing down to make a thicker line, lifting for a thin line and going slowly to observe and reproduce the line’s curves and length.  These pens are not the proper materials for Chinese calligraphy but do work quite well except when it comes to making some of the little knobs at the ends of the lines.  Our favorite Chinese calligraphy book is Chinese Calligraphy Made Easy, though The King says it should be titled Chinese Calligraphy Made a Little Less Hard!

How to practice with chopsticks

hawk-counting-game-017This is a very easy way to introduce cultural differences, work on motor skills and have fun.  Get 2 bowls, cotton balls, pair of chopsticks, and a child who wants to play.  Use the chopsticks to move the cotton balls from one bowl to the other or pretend to eat dumplings.  We have several different types of chopsticks.  The King did this as a toddler with regular chopsticks, but The Sage finds the cheater chopsticks (top in photo) we got at Doc Chey’s much easier (you can also order them from China Sprout or read Tilt’s explanation of how to rig up your own in the comments).

Here is a wonderful video about how to use chopsticks and Chinese dinning etiquette.

Make your own Chinese Lanterns

lanterns-036The Lantern Festival (February 4, 2009) is the 15th and last day of Chinese New Year but lanterns are used as decorations long before then.   We love Stefan Czernecki’s Paper Lanterns– a story of an old master paper lantern craftsman and the young boy who sweeps the floors and desperately wants to become an apprentice.  And while we greatly respect anyone who can form bamboo and rice paper into fantastic lanterns, we chose the simple road.

There are several ways to make your own paper lanterns.  The first only requires a sheet of card stock or construction paper, scissors and glue or stapler.  Here is a step by step tutorial.  Any child who can cut a generally straight line with scissors can do this one.  We made one when The King was 3.  Next time we make these, I’ll add a piece of yellow tissue paper on the inside to help it look lit up.

The second method is more involved.  You’ll need balloons, white glue or mod podge, a sponge brush, tissue paper or crepe paper and a string or wire to hang it from.  Cardstock, ribbons, paints and glitter glue are optional.  Look at this step by step tutorial first.  I’m leary of fire close to flamable objects, so we will light ours with a string of patio lights, but a friend is going to try a babyfood jar with a tea light in it.  The battery tea lights are not bright enough for this.  A small, but bright flashlight tied at the top might work, too.

Red layer finished, yellow started

Red layer finished, yellow started

You need to use 5-6 layers of tissue paper or crepe paper, torn into strips.  I used mod podge watered down to about half strength, but white glue could work as well.  Use a sponge brush and lightly cover the paper with glue- it is fine if you miss spots.  Try to use as little glue as necessary to make it stick together.  You want at least 2 layers to be red, including the top layer.  I found that alternating the colors made it much easier to keep track of what area still needed to be covered.  Yellow, white, orange, pink would all work well for under layers.  Leave about a half inch to 1 inch around the top of the balloon that isn’t covered in paper.

The King's secret message lantern

The King's secret message lantern

The King's secret message lantern lit up.

The King's secret message lantern lit up.

You can add a secret message by gluing red opaque paper (like cardstock) designs, words or Chinese characters (links below) before you add the last layer of tissue paper.  The message won’t be clearly visable until you add a light inside.  The King did this and decided that it was super cool.  We also did one with black paper so the design shows up when not lit.  You can also paint the lantern after it is fully dry.

After you finish the last layer of tissue paper, brush an even, not to thick layer of mod podge over the entire lantern.  If you start tearing the paper while doing this, let it dry a bit then add the last layer of glue.

Depending on how much glue you used, you’ll have to let it sit an hour or more to dry enough to pull the balloon out.  I put a string on my dinning room light and clothespin the balloon to it.  When the balloon is no longer sticky (it is ok if it is a little cold still), cut the top of the balloon with scissors.  Do not be alarmed if your lantern begins to look like an overgrown raisin as the air is released.  Pull the balloon out and trim the top of the lantern so you can fit your hand inside (about the size of a soup can).  Hold the lantern in one hand and put your other hand inside to help reform it as needed.  Let it sit and finish drying.

When it is dry and firm, you can continue to decorate.  If you paint a design on it, I suggest using a somewhat thick paint like acrylic and not runny watercolor.  Simple Chinese lanterns usually have a small cylinder at the top and bottom (these would both be openings but not in ours) rimmed with gold fringe.  To make the small cylinder, cut a piece of cardstock an inch or so wide and long enough to fit the circumfrence of the opening.  Fold the long side over about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  Then snip this side with scissors about every 1/4 inch.  Doing this will enable the paper to bend more smoothly.  Make two pieces like this for each lantern.  The top piece should be bent so that the snipped tabs stick outward then overlap the ends slightly and glue the ends to make a circle (a clothespin will hold it).  The piece for the bottom should be bent and glued so that the tabs stick inward.  Glue the tabs to the bottom center of the lantern (you may need to keep a hand inside the lantern a few minutes to help it stick).   Put glue on the tabs, then work the top cylinder into the top of the lantern.  Press the tabs against the top inside of the lantern, with the top of the cylinder sticking out.

cylinder for the bottom, cut, folded and glued

Cylinder for the bottom, cut, folded and glued

Once this dries, you can add ribbon, fringe or paint to the top and bottom.  To make a handle, I simply sewed a piece of twine through both sides and tied it.  You could also glue a cardstock handle in the top.

YouTube video: making paper lanterns with folded and stapled paper.
YouTube video: making traditional lanterns with bamboo and paper, step 1.

Chinese characters: coloring pages
Chinese characters: good luck characters
Other Chinese New Year coloring pages
Other Chinese New Year crafts
A good overview of some Chinese New Year activities

Wonderful lanterns made by two young friends.

Wonderful lanterns made by two young friends.