As I had stated in an earlier post, I really looked long and hard for an activity that would really bring meaning to our New Year’s celebration. I decided on two. First, it is quite traditional for our Unitarian congregation to burn “regrets” in a glass bowl on New Year’s Day. I worked with my son to gather up our own negative experiences which we would like to burn and never revisit. My son’s list primarily consisted of things like monsters and kids teasing him. We carefully burned up all these experiences. Then, I unceremoniously dumped the remains in the backyard and buried them under some rotting leaves. Good riddance! Second, we focused on realizing wishes for our new year. This was not such a simple matter. For this, we performed a little ceremony with sailboats made out of walnuts.

I had never heard of the walnut boat ceremony prior to some Google searches in late December. As far as I can tell, there is such a ceremony described in a book called All Year Round. Unfortunately, there was not enough information online to reliably recreate the activity, and there was certainly no time left to acquire the book. I had to improvise and quickly. I started off by obtaining what I determined to be the necessary supplies basesd on photos of various people sailing walnut boats:

Walnut Boat Ingredients

Walnut Boat Ingredients

Next, I started to assemble the basin in which the boats would float. I started off by filling the bottom of an aluminum roasting pan with aquarium stones. The stones are actually a clear plastic, and I added them because they would reflect the light of the candles that would appear shortly.

Aquarium Stones

Aquarium Stones

Some blog posts that I came across mention the creation of islands of “hope” and “dreams” and other concepts in the boat basin. Pictures in the blog posts showed little islands of greenery in fairly sizable pools of water. My turking roasting pan wasn’t big enough to accomodate such things, and I didn’t see anything suitable for such island building. Alas, I just added three candles to the mix.

Candles

Candles

The hardest part of this whole affair was cracking walnut shells perfectly in half. Ultimately, I found no means to crack, pry or otherwise perfectly separate the shells. I settled on crushing one half of the walnut shell with a nut cracker. Then, I pried the crushed bits away from the remaining, intact shell.

Cracking Nuts

Cracking Nuts

Assembling the walnut boats was also a bit of a chore. I had to empty out and clean a glass baby food jar. Next, I had to peel labels off and break up crayons. The crayon bits then went into the jar, one crayon’s worth at a time. I then microwaved this jar in the microwave for five minutes to get a single crayon to melt. I finished the whole process by pouring out the wax into a waiting nut shell, and I secured a little toothpick into the wax. This process had to be repeated for each of the four boats I intended to create.

Walnut Boat Ingredients

Walnut Boat Ingredients

Now that I think of it, I recall another account of walnut boats associated with New Year’s Eve. I read somewhere that paper fortunes were assembled around the edge of a tub, and boats were allowed to drift in the tub towards fortunes. Each participant would then retrieve the fortune closest to their boat. At present, I think this idea was presented in my Christmas in the Family book. However, I am not entirely certain, and the book has been misplaced. At any rate, I googled “fortunes” and came up with some fortune cookie sayings and wrote them on strips of red and white paper. I then rolled them up and secured them with tape. The blue ribbons tied around each fortune would be used to attach the fortune to the side of the roasting basin.

Fortunes

Fortunes

We added some sails to the boat and some potpourri and ribbons around the perimeter of the basin.

Ready to Set Sail

Ready to Set Sail

At this point, the only thing to do was add the magic. My son and I wrote one single-word wish for ourselves and one for each other. Then, we set the boats at sail in our basin. We then waited to see whether the boats came to rest close to us or away from us. All the boats came to port quite close to us, and we determined that our wishes would likely come true. We then claimed the fortunes closest to the boats. Looks like new friends and good luck is in our future.

Just Add Magic

Just Add Magic

I adore the simple folktale concerning the Starkind. This is the tale of the orphan girl who is blessed by stars, after she selflessly gives away all her possessions to imperiled beggars. As I was looking for more information regarding the story, I came across an opera with a similar title; Das Sternenkind. I later discovered that this opera had nothing to do with the Starkind story of which I was familiar. Instead, this story contrasts outer beauty with an inner state of ugliness. The titular child in this story fell to Earth as an infant. It was raised by a poor family who admired it for its incredible beauty. Unfortunately, the beautiful child is rotten to the core and ultimately comes to reject its mother who forsook her celestial position to wander the Earth looking for it. By the time the mother finds the child, she has lost her heavenly beauty and has the appearance of a common beggar. The story resolves only when the child loses his beauty and searches the world looking for the mother it rebuked.

This is the full text of the short story on which the opera was based. The following video is a Russian language movie that roughly follows the Oscar Wilde story. However, there are significant changes to the tale, after the mother is rebuked.

New Years is possibly my least favorite holiday barring something like Presidents Day. I have no real interest or attachment to the holiday, and I never have any plans for the eve or day itself. This year, I decided to make a change. I would celebrate the day for the sake of my son. However, I wanted to do something in keeping with our Waldorf spirit. It took quite a bit of time to identify an activity that really spoke to the sorts of activities that we want to pursue in our Waldorf homeschooling experience. In the interim, I came across several crafts that would fill up the day with reasonable fun.

Here is the impromptu “crafts” table that I set up to build the excitement.

Craft Table

Craft Table

Here are the some of the actual settings on the crafts table.

Here, my son’s new 2012 ornaments lay drying. The ornaments consist of glittery pasta glued to cardboard numbers. They will be hung with ribbon once they are dry.

Drying Ornaments

Drying Ornaments

Here’s a completed noise maker created out of a decorated soda can filled with rocks.

Completed Noise Maker

Completed Noise Maker

This is one of those surprise containers that is shaped like a firecracker. I slipped some glowsticks inside, when my son was not looking.

Surprise Inside

Surprise Inside

Here is our little time capsule. My son had an awful time choosing objects to toss into the capsule. He did not like the idea of a permanent separation from any of his little toys or mementos. I intend to store these in the attic until he is at least 18 or 21.

Completed Time Capsule

Completed Time Capsule

Here is my proud little crafter.

Job Well Done

Job Well Done

I had recently visited my favorite Waldorf bookstore, and I came across a very colorful little book entitled “Little Gnome Tenderroot.” The cover was painted in a rainbow of colors in a style evocative of Waldorf wet-on-wet watercolor paintings. The gnomish face poking out of that array of colors was impish and intriguing. What was Little Gnome Tenderroot’s story, I wondered. Better yet, would Little Gnome Tenderroot be of interest to any of the children participating in a bookswap with my child? I was certain they might–not having actually read the book–and I picked up the gnome book fully intending to gift it. However, I thought that I would need two of these books. I couldn’t deprive my son of the joy of this tale, so I inquired about a second copy. Nope. This one little book was it. I hate to admit it, but I decided that my son needed this book more than any of his friends, so I grabbed a copy of the can’t-go-wrong Wind in the Willows and left with my books. Later, I came to the realization that Little Gnome Tenderroot would not make the ideal Secret Santa type of gift.

Once I got past the cute cover, I realized that this was not the typical Waldorf fairy story. Instead, the Tenderroot tale seemed less of a tale and more of a dramatization of Rudolf Steiner’s complex metaphysics. I have read chunks of Steiner’s Nature Spirits, so I got the gist of what Steiner theories were being personified through the gnome, tree spirits and other entities in the narrative. However, I realized that persons with no familiarity of Steiner would not be able to make heads or tails out of the strange goings on. Sadly, I realized any non-Waldorf person receiving this book might think it a cruel regift or some sort of bizarre ramblings. I am not entirely into Gnome Tenderroot as a story. However, I may try to revamp the clunky narrative in my telling and try to incorporate it into our homeschooling adventures in a way that would make sense to a child who is not read up on Anthroposophy. I will also try to read the original author (Jakob Streit) in various translations to see if the story in other narratives seems to fall as flat due to phrasing.

Little Gnome Tenderroot

Little Gnome Tenderroot

Today, as a treat, I drove my son nearly two hours out into the middle of nowhere. The goal was to see Richard Jones staging of Hansel and Gretel for the Metropolitan Opera. This was not live by any means. Instead, it was a film of that production. The trip was nearly ruined due to my iphones directing us to a street of the same name in another town. This caused us to arrive fifteen minutes into the film, but I was determined to see this production. My son was less determined but mostly went along with the plan. What we saw was unexpected and mostly entertaining.

First, I must admit that Opera is not always a good choice for small children. This Opera was sung in English, but the voicing made it difficult to understand the words. I could read the subtitles flashing across the bottom of the screen, but my son did not have this benefit. Second, the contemporary and revisionist staging employed by contemporary, high-brow set designers can be confusing to children. This is an understatement. Hansel and Gretel’s home was a minimalist apartment splashed in shade’s of grey. An empty refrigerator was all that really evoked the hunger of the traditional story. The “woods” in which Hansel and Gretel became lost was yet another obvious room with woodland themed wallpaper and dark trim. Curiously, a very long table split the stage in half and it’s raison d’etre only became obvious during a dream sequence. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Witch’s “House.” There was absolutely NO gingerbread house. Contemporary, avant garde, revisionist or not, there needs to be a gingerbread house. It’s just not the same without it. In it’s place, to really confuse matters was a floor to ceiling painting. It was nearly all red with lips and exposed teeth painted on it. This was essentially a wide open mouth through which a giant tongue came to protrude. On that tongue was a ridiculously large cake. This certainly can’t be making sense to any reader. However, the set was basically a wall with a giant mouth sticking out its tongue with a cake poised on it. Hansel and Gretel couldn’t help but notice this and began to devour the cake while someone off-stage complained about “nibbling” on her house. LOL. Truly not right. About the only thing that would make sense from a child’s perspective was the final “Witch’s Kitchen.” That was a properly constructed kitchen fit for a witch.

Finally, two things really made this production shine in the end. First, the characters were marvelous. The modern parents were a bore. However, the sandman and the “creep-tree” type creatures inhabiting the forest were fantastic. A group of chefs and a fish-headed butler that inhabited a dream sequence were stellar. The witch just stole the whole show. The witch was a gentleman in drag and possible in a fat suit. He was very Monty Python and gave the production the color it needed to end with a bang. Second, food or lack thereof was the central theme of this staging, and the last seen was a veritable food fight and/or food orgy. The characters were literally covered in food, fighting with food and spitting out food left and right. They were absolutely filthy and some of the food gags were revolting. Nevertheless, it was hysterically funny.

If one could see this production live, I would definitely recommend it. The film version is a toss-up. The presence of “making of” scenes interspersed between acts detracted from the magic and showed aspects of the production that would be of no interest to many children. It may be best to leave this for adults or older children who are more experienced with Opera stagings.

One of my favorite Waldorf traditions is the Advent or Winter spiral. The spirals are typically constructed earlier in December. They may consist of pine branches or other natural materials laid out in a spiral formation on a floor or a ground. A lit candle is then placed on the innermost point of the spiral. Once constructed, the spirals are the centerpiece for a simple yet profoundly spiritual event. Participants either arrive past dark (outside spirals) or dim the lights (indoor spirals). Then, one participant will enter the spiral with a candle possibly embedded in an apple. The participant will walk the length of the spiral and then light her or her own candle and begin the trip back. At some point along the way, the participant will place the candle on the ground or floor to lit a little section of the spiral. Hence, light is created in darkness to aid the next walker.

As more and more participants traverse the spiral, their light brightens the spiral with a beautiful effect. Verses, songs or music may heighten the mood of the event, but the increase in light is the key goal. Unfortunately, I seem to forget that many Winter spirals are held prior to the actual Winter solstice. Consequently, I have missed out on two such spirals. This year–due in part to the success of the Krampus event–I decided that anything was possible. I would have my spiral regardless of the number of participants, what little I had to construct it and the lateness of the month. I set about creating the the spiral in a backyard setting with a combination of rocks and bricks. My son helped as well. It took an inordinate amount of time, but the spiral was built.

 Backyard Spiral

Backyard Spiral

I then made a quick run to the store to buy flameless candles and some gold, star garland. I ran the garland around the perimeter of the spiral and placed the flameless candles on the innermost point of the spiral. Flameless candles don’t sound so great, but I didn’t want to risk burning down the house!

Flameless Candles

Flameless Candles

Finally, when the time came, my son and I went out past sunset and we took eight turns each traversing the spiral and placing candles. We also recited versions marking the “getting” of the light and the “bringing” of the light. In a short amount of time, the spiral was brightly lit just as planned.

Voila! Light in the darkness.

Just Look at All That Light

Just Look at All That Light

But wait… There’s more. I just have to include this awesome picture of my son, post-spiral. He was quite proud of his accomplishment both creating and walking the spiral. The creation was certainly hard work. The bricks and rocks were heavy and numerous trips were required to get our creation right. Walking the spiral was difficult both physically and mentally. It’s no easy feat walking a spiral pattern in the darkness. Both of us suffered from some degree of dizziness and disorientation. Prior to the “lighting up” stage, both of us had trouble staying in the right “whorl” of the spiral. The trips were made even harder for my son due to the hollowing wind, shadows and rustling objects. My son became quite fearful of the whole affair about mid-way through. He wanted nothing more to run into the house and lock the door. However, he pushed on till the end. Later, I explained to him the role of light in extinguishing fear, and we reasoned that the early creators of these types of lighting ceremonies possibly designed the events to dispel such things as things lurking in the dark or fear of such things in the dark.

Warming Up, Post-Spiral

Warming Up, Post-Spiral

I had envisioned a Christmas Eve with folks singing Christmas carols, while I played the organ. Hah! That didn’t happen. The idea of singing was apparently offensive to some people. I can’t sing, and I discovered that the book that I was using was only useful if a person plays the organ two-handed. Yes, I know that keyboards are best played with two hands. However, the violin was my instrument of choice, and I only played the notes on the treble clef. Now, I found to my surprise that the music just did not sound right in sections unless one played the notes associated with the bass clef. So much for that idea. I did discover that playing one handed was more than sufficient for playing the many Winter-themed songs in the Wynstones Press Winter book. That will be useful when we return to homeschooling proper and need music for puppet shows and other seasonal activities.

Breaking Out the Organ

Breaking Out the Organ

HABA is one of my all time favorite toy producers. Both HABA and my other favorite producer Ravensburger make some of the best toys for children that can be had. To set the proper mood for Christmas Eve, I broke out HABA’s Sternsammler board game. “Sternsammler” means “Star Collector,” and the game is based on the folktale of the Starkind. Starkind tells the tale of a poor, orphaned girl who goes out into the world on a cold winter’s night with nothing but a bit of bread and the layers of clothing on her back. For whatever reason, she heads into the woods and gradually gives away the bread and all her layers of clothes to various beggars that she meets. Finally, she finds herself in the middle of nowhere with nothing left at all. The stars then shine down on her and shower her with gold coins as a repayment for her exemplary altruism. She emerges from the woods with untold wealth and a new gown made of starbeams or some such gauzy and magical material. Possibly due to lack of name recognition, this game was renamed “Pennies from Heaven” for English speaking audiences. It is a fairly basic game, but it comes with the Starkind story and I read the tale before gameplay to ensure that the Starkind’s lesson informs the gameplay.

Star Collector Box

Star Collector Box

Star Collector Game

Star Collector Game