Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seasons Round Exchange

Last year, I was introduced to Waldorf education and fell in love with their preschool. With two children enrolled this year, I knew it was time to start a nature table. I had never heard of a nature table before, but the concept was not new to me. We already had a little nature bowl set aside where the kids could put their outdoor treasures (leaves, sticks, pine cones, acorns). A Waldorf nature table just goes a bit beyond that by adding tiny woolen people and felt animals to signify the changing of the seasons. Like a tiny seasonal scene that depicts what might be happening outdoors. Here are some great examples:

A few months ago, I was thrilled to stumble across this website (actually a blog) called Seasons Round Exchange. Each season, an exchange of 3-5 nature table items is organized between 100 participants. At least one of the items must be handmade, and the others can be from nature, a piece of artwork, or store bought. Somehow I remembered to sign up on the right day and secured a spot in the Autumn exchange! In July, I was paired with my mate, Grace, who uses the Waldorf curriculum to homeschool her three young children. We exchanged friendly welcoming emails to each other, and I was reminded that the internet is truly amazing! I was connected with another mother from across the country with similar interests, and she was going to help me get started on my very own nature table.

I started doing a needle felted tree for her, but soon decided that it was too labor intensive for me to get it done in time. I ended up making one of my little gnomie guys - a stump man with a toadstool hat. He was one of the first things I made when I joined the Handwork Group, and I was known as the toadstool lady for awhile (I had an obsession with toadstools!). He paired nicely with a cardinal I made earlier in the summer, and I felt both were true reflections of me. I cut a simple leaf shape for them to sit on, and added a nut ball for dimension and texture. My kids threw in a hand-picked acorn at the last minute! I was happy with how it turned out, and I really hope that she liked it. I can't wait to see what I receive in the exchange.

Grace keeps two wonderful blogs - I especially loved reading/viewing her blog, near:far. I encourage you to check out her beautiful photos and thoughts on motherhood.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It pays to be nice!

Once or twice a month I receive a convo on Etsy asking me for advice about one thing or another. What promotions work for me? How did I get started? What kind of camera do I have? How do I organize my shipping? Could I critique their shop? I guess having over 1000 sales makes me some sort of expert (boy, do I have them fooled!). Sometimes I still feel like a newbie myself. There are always new things to learn, other ways of doing things, new points of view, -- "whatever works" seems to be my life's mantra.

I always respond to those emails. No matter how busy, how tired, how overwhelmed. I've been there. Sometimes I still feel like I'm there.

Early last week, my inbox was overflowing with these types of emails. I thought "Whoa! What's going on?" It turns out that I was mentioned as an Etsy mentor in a recent online article. Etsy's blog, The Storque, runs a series called "Quit Your Day Job" and featured a shop called Little Sapling Toys. I actually wrote up a little blog post about them back in February. Thank you to Nick and Kimber, for crediting me as your first Etsy mentor!

See, sometimes it pays to be nice. And for the record, I sincerely answered every one of those emails I received. Here's to you, newbies!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Guest Blogger on "Beaver Island"

My friend Trish, who makes those adorable pigs in our Handwork Group, shared this story with me recently, and I thought it was so great that I wanted to pass it on to you. With her permission, of course, I've reprinted the email she sent me:

This year we wanted to try something a little more remote than our usual camping in Michigan State Parks, so we went to Beaver Island, the most remote inhabited island in the Great Lakes and a 2-hour ferry ride from Charlevoix.

As we set up camp, black flies attacked my ankles. Uh-oh. “I hadn’t thought about black flies,” I said out loud. “How could you forget the black flies!?” snapped my husband as he swatted at his ankles. Later, we heard there’d been no black flies until our arrival.

The next day, it poured, but we were dry in our kitchen tent, along with lots of black flies.

Later, we went swimming but I was like "Hey, who put the ice cubes in Lake Michigan?!" The kids plunged right in. I hopped back to shore.

The next night, it rained, but we felt snug and dry listening to it drumming on our tent. My husband had done a good job of rustling up cots and air mattresses for the four of us for our first tent camping experience in eight years. However, there wasn't one extra square inch of space in the tent once we were all zipped into our sleeping bags. So if you had to make a midnight bathroom run, you first had to find your shoes which were somewhere underneath our daughter’s air mattress by the door while balancing over her and being careful not to fall on her, then lean over and unzip two zippers inside and then the outside zipper. By the end of the week, we didn’t bother with the shoes.

Meanwhile, our neighbors had all the most modern conveniences in camping equipment– two spacious tents, two shower tents and their own personal boat toilet. What a compound! They even had pitched a screened tent on the beach because as they told me "When you're at Lake Michigan, you can count on black flies, right?" Er, right. But the item I envied most was this huge inner tube which seemed to me the key to swimming in Lake Michigan because it kept you OUT of it.

The next day it rained again. This time, my pillow wicked in the water, and I had a dampish sleeping bag. That night, it was so cold that around 2 a.m., my husband went to the car and got the wool blanket to put over the kids’ sleeping bags. I had to give him credit; I would have kept it! We put our winter hats on to get through the rest of the night; it's amazing how much better you feel with a warm head. The next night, we went to bed with our hats on and had to pull them off in the middle of the night because we were roasting. Cold one night, warm the next.

The next day, the wind died, and the mosquitoes moved in. Was this Beaver Island or Mosquito Island? When we got home, we counted our mosquito bites; we each had fifty a piece! It seemed like we’d dealt with every Old Testament pestilence. Where were the locusts?!

But on the "up" side, we saw an osprey pair on their nest, a beaver swimming back and forth in his pond (they really are "busy"), the tails of two snakes as they slithered away, lots of monarch butterflies drifting about, swans bobbing up and down on Lake Michigan, a male turkey, a female one with her brood, deer and toads. The kids found some great old trees to climb. There was spongy moss everywhere– kind of like you’d find in a Hansel and Gretel woods.

I was so skanky by our fourth day that I finally plunged into Lake Michigan (after tiptoeing through all the ice cubes) and really found it refreshing. The next day, I took another dip and felt completely human again. Why had I waited so long? I wished I'd gotten the hang of swimming in glacial water sooner.

We had a bonfire on the beach the night before we left. As the fire died down, all the stars came into focus. Are there really that many stars? My son saw his first shooting star. He said after he saw his first shooting star, he would go to bed because he was tired. Smart kid. My daughter stayed up with her dad and saw eight more.

As we passed by a restaurant the next day on the way to the ferry, we heard live Irish music on their front deck. A father sat playing music with his four children as they waited for their lunch to be served, his face beaming with pleasure. The other diners were captivated. His daughter danced a jig, sang and played the tin-penny flute. His other three children played the fiddle, guitar and Irish drum. Many of Beaver Island’s 600 year-round inhabitants are of Irish descent. This family had visited the island to perform that week.

On the way home, we stopped at a rest area on I-75 and made macaroni and cheese for dinner. How remarkably easy to be able to walk in the restroom and turn on the water!. Amazing the way the water flowed right out of the faucet!

As we passed through the downtown area near our metro Detroit home, my seven-year-old son said "Boy, it's really noisy here! I'm going to have to get used to this!" My children took showers and marveled at how they could just go to the next room to go to the bathroom. So, we returned home with a new appreciation of home.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

New technique, new products!

I'm thrilled to announce part of my new line of I Spy Bags - appliqued shapes! This train and dino are just a sample of so many designs floating about my workshop in various states of completion. I'm so excited about this new method because it means I can work on patterns that I previously shied away from due to complexity. Stay tuned! It's December in my studio, and I'm in the holiday spirit :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back to school time...

A recent trip to Target brought back fond memories of back-to-school shopping. I loved getting all new supplies - pointy new crayons, crisp white paper, fully charged markers, shiny folders, and all matter of pencils with a fun press board pencil box to match. I still remember the year that I was old enough to get "college ruled" paper instead of "wide ruled."

I grew up attending art fairs all summer with my parents. By the time fall rolled around, my wardrobe consisted of hand-dyed t-shirts, artsy jewelry, hand-knit scarves, and bizarre winter hats. I loved the prospect of "going back to school" and getting all matter of cool new things to wear to celebrate the occasion. Specifically, I remember my first day of 7th grade. I had gotten this really cool hand-dyed t-shirt at a craft fair - it had clear sequins sewn onto the front. In short, it was AWESOME (I was going into 7th grade, for goodness' sake!). All summer I scouted those art fairs for the coolest stuff.

A picture of me on my first day of Junior High reveals cool handmade bangle bracelets and my sequin tee...

Of course, 24 hours into 7th grade, I realized that my wardrobe was all wrong, and I needed to go shopping again - to buy the same things everyone else was wearing. What was I thinking? It was 7th grade!