Journal

Natural Decorations

Natural Decorations

We’re putting up our tree a little late this year, and I’m in the mood for natural ornaments!

Last year, I came across the idea of apple and cinnamon stick ornaments via someone who discovered them in Europe. All you need is an apple, a cinnamon stick, and some raffia or string (such as hemp). Cut the apple into slices about 1/4″ thick, and let them dry flat on a wire rack, or hang to dry. Punch a hole at the top, tie a knot, put a cinnamon stick on top, and tie another knot to hold the cinnamon stick in place securely. If you want to get a little fancier, you can add a cranberry above and below the cinnamon stick. Eat the discarded parts of the apple, use them in an apple recipe, or dehydrate them for later use.

This year, I tried out the same idea with orange slices.

And then there’s cinnamon ornaments, which I have been making with the children in my life each year without fail. I still have the first batch I made with my own children more than a decade ago. They don’t go bad, although the spicy fragrance fades in time.

You can cover one side with glitter,

leave them plain,

or decorate them with glitter glue or dimensional fabric paint. White fabric paint makes them look like gingerbread cookies with white frosting.

Here is the recipe for cinnamon dough:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cup applesauce (measure then drain in a strainer for several hours, or if straining isn’t possible, use 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons white glue (i.e. Elmers)
  • 1 tsp. glitter (optional; fine glitter is especially nice)

Procedure

In a bowl, mix together the spices and glitter. Then mix in the applesauce and glue. Work the mixture with your hands for a few minutes until it’s smooth, well mixed, and can be formed into a ball. If the dough seems too dry at this point, you can add just a little more applesauce. Or if it’s too wet, add more cinnamon.

Knead the ball on a surface dusted with cinnamon until it holds together well. Then roll out the dough to 1/4″ thickness, and use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Use a straw or toothpick to make a hole for hanging.

Put shapes on a wire rack or cookie sheet, and allow to dry at room temperature for about two days, turning several times. (The room will smell wonderful!) Once they are dry, rough edges can be smoothed with sandpaper if need be. String with raffia, thread, or whatever you have on hand.

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While walking in the woods to take some of the above photos, I came across a patch of nature’s own ornaments that caught my eye. I’m not sure exactly what they are (perhaps the inside of some kind of nut) but found them fascinating.

From certain angles, they remind me of the string ornaments that are made from string dipped in glue and then wrapped around a small balloon (which gets popped and removed after the string has dried in place).

I think we will finish our tree with a string of popcorn and cranberries, unless we decide to put the string outside as a gift for the birds!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Dragonflies in December

Dragonflies in December

Lately, I have been reflecting on some of the images I captured on the river over the summer and remembering my plant and wildlife friends – especially water lilies and dragonflies, which I spent countless hours observing with awe and wonder.

Recently, tragedy struck the family of a child in my life, and in my search for stories to help grieving children, I came across a gem of a booklet called Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Strickland. I requested it through the library and was delighted to finally get my hands on it. The gist of the story is that a colony of water bugs wondered why every now and then one of their own would climb up a lily stalk and disappear, never to be seen again. They got together and came up with a plan: The next one who went up the lily stalk would come back and let the others know what happened. In time, another water bug found himself climbing up a lily stalk and turning into a dragonfly. After zipping about for a while, he landed on a lily pad and noticed his old water bug friends at the bottom of the pond. He wanted to go down to tell them what had happened to him, but since he was now a dragonfly, he wasn’t able to go below the surface of the water. And if they were to see him looking down at them, they wouldn’t recognize him in his new form. So he decided that he’d have to wait until his friends climbed up the lily stalk in their own time, and then they would understand for themselves.

I absolutely love the way the dragonfly life cycle can be used to explain death to children. I remember attending a hospice memorial service one December during my internship and hearing what must have been this very story – but I thought it was about caterpillars and butterflies. It was a powerful story that I loved immediately, although I must have misremembered the details over time.

After reading the little booklet, I recalled one afternoon this past summer when I paddled to the lily pads and arrived just in time to witness a newborn dragonfly fall out of its exoskeleton (which was still clinging to a reed) and onto a lily pad. It was pale and colorless and looked completely disoriented. It just lay there still, and I wondered if it would be okay, hoping the fall wasn’t too much for this tiny creature. (The little booklet mentioned such a fall, so it must be a normal part of the transition.)

 

I felt honored to have witnessed the dragonfly emerging from its nymph state; it felt like a Very Important event to observe despite it being a common occurrence in the natural world.

After seeing the newborn dragonfly resting on the lily pad, I noticed numerous shells, or exuviae, of dragonfly nymphs clinging to reeds and water lily stalks all around me. They were completely motionless and looked like they were sleeping or just resting there. All this time, I had mistaken them for living creatures.

Dragonfly (top) and two clinging exuviae (middle and bottom)

As I read about the dragonfly life cycle, I learned that the exuviae would continue to cling to the stalks. However, they were simply empty shells, ghosts of former selves. Something about this image felt profound to me, and I became fixated on photographing them.

I didn’t understand the power of this image until reading Water Bugs and Dragonflies with the child mentioned above in mind. I realized the exuviae piece could further explain to a child that the body of his/her deceased loved one is merely a shell, not to be confused with the living presence s/he had known and loved.

Although I did not feel it was my place to discuss the dragonfly allegory with the child in question, I passed the information along to someone who is in a better position to do so. The adults with whom I have shared this story since reading it myself were very touched by it, which is why I feel compelled to share it with you. My hope is that it will bring comfort to someone who is in need of it.

 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Finding the Helpers

Finding the Helpers

As a mother and a kindergarten teacher, my heart goes out to everyone affected by today’s tragedy in Connecticut. I remember hearing about the Columbine school shooting when my own children were one and four years old and how it shook me to my core. Now a new generation of parents has to grapple with unanswerable “why” questions and concerns about their children’s safety. You just want to hold them tight and keep them safe.

I recall driving my oldest child home from the hospital 24 hours after she was born. Passing through a crime-ridden section of Albany in the darkness, her newborn life seemed so fragile. Those first days of her life, I kept thinking about how she was going to have to share the world with so many hurting people who, as a result of their own pain, would be capable of hurting her. Protecting her from harm had become my new life’s purpose.

Children are especially on my mind this evening. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a child and to hear about innocent children “just like me” being killed so senselessly at school. Every single day, I use the language of safety in my classroom, reminding my kindergartners that my number one job is to keep them safe, and that the various rules they are expected to follow are there for their physical and emotional safety. School is supposed to be a place of safety. For children with challenging home situations, school is a place of consistent, comforting rhythms and routines, an atmosphere of caring.

I hope families – parents, older siblings, extended relatives – will be mindful of how and to what extent their children are exposed to news about the Connecticut school massacre. Some families will be vigilant in limiting their children’s exposure to the news. Others may have the news on in the background and assume the children aren’t paying attention. Still others may communicate more or less openly with their children about what transpired. Even when families are vigilant, we can’t control what young children may overhear on the bus or from older siblings.

Here is what I wish, most of all, for children to know about tragedies such as this one: Yes, something happened that was very wrong. However, there is more light than darkness in this world. People are capable of fantastic, wondrous things.

I am inspired by a quote from (“Mister”) Fred Rogers that I copied down several years ago:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.  

 
 

May we do everything in our power to nourish the gardens of our children’s hearts and minds with the sunlight of kindness, the pure water of beauty, and the warmth of goodness, and be vigilant in tending to the weeds of fear and sadness as they arise. May we teach them through our example and loving presence to be kind and resilient and to do good work in this world each day. May we expose them to positive role models – the helpers of this world who rarely make front page news but go quietly about the business of filling our world with light, hope, and love. May we bring children’s attention to the goodness that exists in this world and surround them with opportunities for developing kindness, compassion, and caring. May we guide them to feel safe and secure, knowing that many people are looking out for them and safeguarding their well-being and that there is much more good than evil in the world.

I also envision a world in which people who need help have easy, affordable access to appropriate, effective health care.

For the adults struggling with fears, sadness, uncertainties, and unanswered questions, I offer a poem that has comforted me on numerous occasions titled “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

 
 
 
 
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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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