Winter's back! Just when we were dusting off our 'welcome to spring' songs, the day grew greyer and greyer and all of a sudden... snow! Snow here in the south is as a rule not very impressive; however this time it put on a pretty good show. Of course all plans for the day were immediately shelved and instead on went the rain suits and boots. The afternoon was spent mostly outside, coming in just for warm apple juice, hot chocolate and snacks. Knowing that it may be gone the next day, we wanted to make the most of every snowflake. So in the evening, we went for a moonlit adventure (well there was no moon, but it was dark) and took a walk, acting out Ezra Jack Keats' A Snowy Day as we went:
"First he walked with his feet out like this.
Then he walked with his feet in like this.
Then he found something that made a third track. It was a stick.
THIS winter we've been enjoying our new fire pit. We haven't been camping much, but that doesn't mean we can't simulate parts of this experience right here at home. A couple of times we've got the grill out for sausages, then sat outside eating all bundled up in coats and hats around the fire. Then of course there are marshmallows and mulled wine. And bannock. I'd never heard this name until recently when I was looking for the recipe, though I was very familiar with the notion of twisting dough around a stick and toasting it over a campfire. Bannock has been a staple food of wilderness explorers, prospectors, soldiers, and trappers for centuries. The most simple bannock recipe consists of just flour and water. Our first attempt included seeds and dried fruits and I have to say it didn't turn out too well. The second time was better, though I'm going to have to work on the recipe to give the marshmallows any serious competition in the children's eyes.
What to do with the leftover fire wood? Well the stack outside our back door has been used for so many things. Habitat for all kinds of pretend creatures, roads for cars and lorries, picnic benches, chopping blocks and - my favourite - seesaws. Everyone had their own personal seesaw, including Baby.
VALENTINE'S Day is not a festival we usually celebrate at home. However, when Emma was invited to bring 21 homemade valentines to school to exchange with classmates, my creative juices took over and we spent several afternoons creating pretty paper decorations to share.
We built on our recent discovery of rose windows and began by cutting out heart-shaped and circular frames. These were covered in a single layer of white tissue paper. Then we tore red, pink, white and lilac tissue paper into tiny pieces and stuck them all over the white background. The top frame piece sandwiched the mosaic together. Other decorations were made by cutting out heart and flower shapes and decorating them in different ways with paper scraps. To those who may protest this was supposed to be Emma's project, let me assure you many of the decorations were entirely her own creation. Her favourite response to any hint of direction these days is: "No Mama; people like to do what they like to do." How very right she is.
In the United States, most people know February 2nd not as Candlemas, but as Groundhog Day. This curious acknowledgement refers to a common earth-dwelling mammal, a type of marmot.
According to folklore, if it is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from his burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow signifying that Spring is soon to follow. If it is sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, he will return to his burrow and Winter will continue for another six weeks. The holiday came from the Pennsylvanian Dutch community, who brought from Europe the belief that hibernating creatures can predict the arrival of Spring. But the original ideas go back way further, with links to the Catholic celebration of Candlemas, which commemorates Mary's purification, the feast of St. Birgid, and in its earliest incarnation, the ancient Pagan festival of Imbolc, which is associated with fertility and weather divination.
The little boy we were babysitting was fascinated by the media frenzy surrounding this small furry animal, so we spent a good part of the afternoon playing groundhog. This involved all kinds of burrowing, foraging for food, checking the weather and singing Winter and Spring songs. No time for candles... maybe tomorrow.
If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.
WINTER is such a good time for looking at the bare bones of nature. Our walks in the woods these days often revolve around finding the best logs to balance on, trees to climb and noticing the different textures and looks of tree bark.
Then there are the various undulations of the land - a mound of earth, ditch or hole provide endless opportunity for jumping, rolling, climbing, splashing and fantasy play. When Emma understood my comment about 'bare trees' to mean 'bear trees', a half an hour of play ensued being bears in the forest. And naturally no self-respecting bear would be without a den. Yet when we looked closer, the trees were not so bare after all. Moss, fungus and lichens abounded and made fine pretend foods for hungry little bears.