Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beeswax Modelling

WITH much excitement we finally opened our new package of modelling beeswax that we (well, Emma) received for Christmas. We spent a while warming it in our hands to make it soft enough to manipulate. Then Emma took great delight in making 'families of candles', which did really look like the candle she made by dipping the other day. I'm not sure if she made the connection with wax through the word or the distinctive smell, or if it was simply the shapes she rolled that made her creations into 'candles'.

After a while I was finally able to pry enough red away from her to fashion a little cardinal bird. The black and yellow for the face and beak had to wait until later after we'd put the activity away, so I stuck a little piece of each colour in my - ahem - bra to soften as I made dinner (a tip from a message board, which seemed like a good idea). Naturally I forgot about it, until it later dropped onto a very startled Alexander while nursing. Happily, bird and beak have now been united and the cardinal sits proudly in a tree, watching over our Winter nature table.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rose Windows

A lovely new craft found its way into our home! Rose windows as an architectural feature are believed to have originated in the French Gothic period. There are many theories surrounding their meaning, many believing them to be a Western version of the centuries-old Eastern mandala, which represents "expression of human aspiration towards wholeness and coherence". In a church setting, rose windows often use stained glass between stone or metal tracery to depict scenes from the bible, the saints, the seasons, zodiac or other pictures of an instructional or thematic nature. Geometry and proportion also played a significant role in medieval windows, where numbers had a metaphysical significance.

Our windows, made of humble tissue paper and card, have no such worthy meaning. Nevertheless there is great beauty in the symmetry of even the simplest pattern, and the play of light, colour and harmony of form can put one in a very meditative mood.

And, even the scraps make pretty decorations!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Candle Dipping for Candlemas

AT an early Candlemas celebration, we had the opportunity to try candle dipping. This is done with a crockpot full of hot melted beeswax and a bucket of cold water. You dip a wick into the wax, then immediately into the water. Then back into the wax and again in the water. Back and forth, back and forth. It's very rhythmic and with the delicious smell of the warm wax, quite entrancing. We sang our swing song as we dipped, to help keep the motion fluid and the moment special. When the candle reached its desired size, we added small wax decorations. Though possibly odd-looking to an adult eye, Emma was thrilled with her creation and proclaimed that she would never light it because it is so beautiful, she doesn't want it to burn away.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

We Three Kings... and Grandma

WE planned our Epiphany celebration for several days: baking, practising songs, making costumes. In the tradition of the German Sternsinger (see last year's post), we were going to process in costume to the front door and sing, then we would be let in and offered refreshment.

In the afternoon, we spent considerable time assembling our costumes. Then Emma wanted to rehearse. Much as the tradition and idea are reverent, our depiction of this holy happening was anything but. We had Grandma hobbling on a hobby horse (camel), Emma chasing her shrieking brother with an unwanted crown, me trying to save the biscuits from the dog, and Baby Jesus smothered in all kinds of unusual gifts. Oh yes, and lots of laughing. I gave up worrying about meaning, instead enjoying some wonderful family time and memory making.

When it was time for the actual procession in the evening, it was dark, snowing, we were outside in pyjamas and capes, eating special treats at bedtime... the atmosphere was very different. And with the camel safely in his stable we enjoyed a cup of wassail.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wintry Designs

Spellbinding patterns
Only now may be seen
Stripped of distraction
From red, gold and green.
Some were there all along
Lying silent below
Awaiting their turn
Their beauty to show.
Others wait for the cold
For their silent return
Heralds of time
Continuing on.
Steadfast as blossoms
Or colours of fall
These wintry designs
Give comfort to all.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Great Blue

ATLANTA'S largest bird is the Great Blue Heron. We were delighted to see one quite close up two days in a row! The first followed us around a lake, dipping with its beak every now and again for something tasty, then always flying off just at the moment we got close enough for a really good photo. The second was hunkered down, its feathers all fluffed up, trying to keep warm in ridiculously frigid temperatures. I'm quite sure that given the choice we had - stay inside in the heated house or go out for a walk by a lake - it would have made a more sensible choice than we did.
Great blue herons stand over one metre tall and have a wingspan of almost two metres. It is a noble looking creature, though its facial markings make it appear to be frowning. In the second photo you can see how the bird has fluffed up its feathers. This is a bird's answer to layering. It has multiple layers of feathers, and by fluffing them, air is trapped between the layers generating warmth for its body. Notice also the beard in the second shot which is a feature of mature males.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Three Red Birds

SINCE Winter's begun, we've been spending more time at the window watching our bird feeders. I managed to catch a photo of three red birds together - a cardinal, woodpecker and towhee (albeit a lousy photo through the screened window). The towhee's the black blob in the middle. Here's a list of all the visitors we've seen so far:

  • Brown-headed nuthatch

  • Carolina chickadee

  • American goldfinch

  • Carolina wren

  • White-breasted nuthatch

  • Dark-eyed junco

  • House finch

  • White-throated sparrow

  • Eastern towhee

  • Northern cardinal

  • Red-bellied woodpecker

  • Mourning dove

We also frequently see American robins, Northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, blue jays, American crows and an occasional flock of common grackles in other parts of the garden.

Thanks to Common Birds of Atlanta by Jim Wilson and Anselm Atkins for help identifying these. If you're new to birdwatching, I highly recommend a region-specific field guide. It makes it so much easier than wading through pages and pages of 'LBJs' (little brown jobs) only to find the one you've finally settled on only lives on the other side of the country. This particular book is also ordered by size of bird, which I find much more useful than colour or other means of categorisation.

Emma and I were noticing how many seeds fall or are purposely dropped on the ground when birds are at the feeder. When I asked her what she was doing the other day at dinner, sorting part of her food off her plate, she replied that she was eating like the birds: "not yummy, yummy, not yummy, yummy".