Felting Acorns in November

Sometimes, it truly makes sense to re-post a blog entry from the same time last year.  There is beauty to seasonal rhythms, and activities that were perfect in November a year ago are likely just right this November too.  Felting in warm soapy water is a wonderful soothing activity for afternoons that are growing colder and darker.  November is the perfect time to search for acorn caps on the forest floor, before the snow covers them up.   Learn about our first acorn felting adventure below, and try it out!

felted-acorns-2The branches of the mighty oak still held onto their golden leaves – some of the only color left in the forest on the cold grey November afternoon.  Our mittened hands brushed away leaves coating the forest floor.  And then there were squeals.  There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a successful treasure hunt.  We filled our pockets with our favorite acorn caps.  Mission accomplished. Back inside, the water had come to a boil.  We picked out pieces of wool roving, sat down, and started felting.  The warm soapy water warmed our hands.  Conversation meandered as our balls of wool felted more and more tightly into little balls. After a night of drying, felted balls were glued into acorn caps, and our special treasures were ready to go home.  What a great fall project for our group – boys and girls from 4 to 10 years old (and the adults) all enjoyed this activity.  And the acorns turned out great!

Childrens-acorns What you need: – Wool (you can buy wool roving at a craft store, or you can ask anyone with a sheep for some raw to wash, card, and use)
– Boiling water
– Bowl
– Dish Soap
– Fork
– Acorn Caps
– Glue

1) Roll a small fluff of wool roving into a ball.  It should be about three times larger than the acorn you’d like to make.

2) Pour boiling water into a bowl.  Drop your ball into the hot water.  Use your fork to push it under, and then lift it up, draining away the hot water (this first step is best done by adult when working with young children).

Felting-balls3) Drip a drop of soap onto your wool, and roll it gently between your palms.  It won’t seem like a ball right away – keep on gently rolling.  Roll it until it cools down, and then drop back into your hot water.

4) Repeat the process, using the fork to take the hot ball out of the water, rolling between your palms and rubbing with fingers, and adding more soap if the suds go away.  The hot and cold temperatures and the friction of your hands will tighten the wool into a felted ball.

5) If your ball has unwanted cracks, add a thin layer of roving around the ball and repeat the felting process.

6) Wash in cold water, squeeze in a towel, and let dry.

7) Drip glue into the inside of your acorn cap and insert your felted ball.  Voila – your acorn is complete!

If you're felting with a group of children, I'd highly recommend our egg-carton organizer idea!

If you’re felting with a group of children, I’d highly recommend our egg-carton organizer idea!


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November in the Garden and Kitchen

Though we did have some cold windy weather and deep frosts, our first two November weekends have been clear and sunny.  Perfect for wrapping things up in the garden!  At our new house, we had part of our field tilled, hoed rows, and spread straw on top of everything.  We’re hoping that the garden will be in good shape for a first planting in the spring.  No doubt we’ll have lots of grass weeding ahead of us, but we’re off to a good start!

Ready to chop cabbage on a beautiful cutting board made by a friend

Ready to chop cabbage on a beautiful cutting board made by a friend

Moving up in the world: My dad made me a sauerkraut tamper with his lathe!

Moving up in the world: My dad made me a sauerkraut tamper with his lathe!

This past weekend I finally had time to turn our end-of-season harvests of kohlrabi, cabbage, and carrots into pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi.  I was excited to be able to use Vermont-grown ginger for the first time in my kimchi!  Maybe I’ll have to add it to our crop list next year.  I happily pounded away at the sliced cabbage with my new tamper and smasher: happy results of my dad’s recent experimentation on his new lathe.  Finally, in a team effort, we erected a fence around our new garden to deter the rabbits and herds of deer that pass through our land on their way from Mt. Philo to Lewis Creek.  It feels good to have all of our outdoor chores crossed off the list.  Bring on the snow – I’m ready for sledding season to start on our sunny slope of Mt. Philo!

Want to make Sauerkraut?  I lay out all the steps in this blog post.

Have other veggies from your last harvest that you’d like to ferment or pickle?  Check out this blog post.

Kimchi from all Vermont-grown veggies ready for the fridge and chopped cabbage on its way to becoming sauerkraut.

Kimchi from all Vermont-grown veggies ready for the fridge and chopped cabbage on its way to becoming sauerkraut.

Our new garden and garden fence!

Our new garden and garden fence!

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The Miracle of Playdough

No, the title to this post isn’t a joke.  Playdough is actually miraculous.  I’d been meaning to make autumn colored playdough with my after school students for several weeks.  I love the idea of using spices to color and scent the dough naturally.  Fall colors (oranges, yellows, and browns) happen to be pretty easy to achieve using common spices.  We finally got around to it on a cold day last week.  Freshly mixed with basic ingredients from the pantry, our cinnamon and turmeric doughs were warm, smooth, soft, smooshy, and smelled delicious.


Having just come in from outdoor play, my fingers were cold and stiff.  Sitting down to work alongside my students, I couldn’t believe how nice it felt to squeeze and squish the warm dough.  In fact, playdough helps build the small muscles of our hands that children will need to use scissors and hold pencils in the classroom.  Playing with playdough is also calming and soothing – easing tension, releasing pent up energy, and focusing the mind.  Furthermore, playdough certainly encourages creativity and imagination.


We had collected leaves from the playground and pressed them into the dough, admiring the beautiful prints that resulted.  Pretty soon we’d collected cups, spoons, and wooden butter knives from the kitchen to shape, cut, and mold the dough.  Such a perfect simple, soothing, and creativity-boosting activity for the end of a long day!

Playdough recipe

  1. Mix 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and 2 tablespoons cream of tartar in a large bowl
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of your spice of choice.  Add more if needed to achieve the color and smell you like.  We did two colors/smells: cinnamon and turmeric.  I’d love to try paprika, nutmeg, and cloves as well!
  3. Pour 1 1/2 cups of boiling water into your mixture. In the future, I’d like to try adding beets or elderberries to my boiling water to increase the natural food coloring options.
  4. Mix the ingredients together to form a dough
  5. Store in a sealed container or tightly wrapped plastic bag
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Boost Your Immunity with Food

Sorry – there still isn’t a magic pill that will cure your cold, sore throat, runny nose, or cough.  There are, however, some delicious foods that have been known to promote healing and boost immunity.  Even better, almost all of them can be grown and made at home from scratch!  Here’s what I reach for when cold and flu season arrives:

home-grown-teasSage Anise Hyssop Tea: We dry tea herbs and flowers from our garden so our pantry is stocked with quarts of home-grown flavors.  Any herbal tea will do when you have a sore throat or the chills.  Sometimes, though, I like to feel like I’m doing something specific about the cold symptom that is really bothering me.  Whenever I have a sore throat or cough, I turn to sage and anise hyssop with a teaspoon each of lemon juice and honey.  Try googleing other common household herbs – oregano, mint, ginger, and cinnamon all have remarkable health-boosting qualities and make delicious teas!

Elderberry Ginger Syrup:  When the Elderberries are ripe in August, we pick, de-stem, and freeze them in gallon bags.  That way we have plenty on hand throughout the winter for fresh batches of Elderberry Syrup.  I love mixing a splash of elderberry syrup and a splash of kombucha or raw apple cider vinegar into a cup of plain seltzer for a delicious and immune-boosting drink.

elderberry-syrup-2+ c. Elderberries
-3 ½ c. Water
-2 T. Ginger Root
-1 T. Cinnamon Powder
-1 T. Echinacea Root (optional)
-½ c.+ Raw Honey (to taste and preserve)

Bring all ingredients but honey to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer covered for about ½ hour. Cool slightly, smash, and strain.  Add honey while warm but not hot.  Refrigerate to store.

roasted-squash-seedsToasted Pumpkin and Squash Seeds:  These delicious snacks are high in zinc, an important mineral for immune system strength.  Gather the seeds removed from your pumpkin or squash into a bowl (the photo shows butternut squash seeds).  Pick out large pieces of guts (stringy slimy orange stuff).  There is no need to rinse – any orange stuff is just giving you more vitamins and will dry out in the oven.  Spread the seeds on a cookie tray, and sprinkle with salt (garlic powder or other spices can be good too).  Bake at 400 degrees, stirring every 5 minutes with a metal spatula.  Listen for popping and/or look for your seeds to turn golden brown – they’re done!  This shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.  Don’t have an oven, cooking in a classroom with kids, or in a rush?  Use a frying pan or electric skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee and fry the seeds until golden brown.

Chicken Broth: Bone broths are healing and nutritious, and they’re very simple to make.  Making broth does take a while – it’s the perfect activity for a cozy day at home.  The warm steam will make your whole house smell delicious.  Use a chicken carcass or parts of the chicken that your local butcher would otherwise throw away.  Feet are especially great for making sure your broth has plenty of healing gelatin.  The pictures below show a broth I made with chicken necks and feet.

chicken-stock-Chicken bones with some meat and skin
-Onion, garlic, carrots and/or celery
-Sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and any other favorite green herbs
-4 quarts of water
-Sea salt and pepper to taste
-Optional: 2 T. vinegar

This works great in a crock pot or on the stove.  If you want to get even more minerals out of the bones, soak chicken parts, water, and vinegar for 30 minutes before cooking.  Next, bring all ingredients – excluding the green herbs (like parsley) and seasoning – to a boil.  I use any old limp veggies from the back of my refrigerator to flavor the broth, so the exact amounts and ingredients change every time.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 to 24 hours.  Strain to remove solids.  I compost the veggies because they loose most their flavor.  Pick the meat off the bones.  Put the broth back into your pot and add picked meat, green herbs, and any additional vegetables you want.  Bring back to a boil and season to taste.

Wishing you a healthy fall and winter!

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Seeds surround us as we transition from summer to winter.  For gardeners, this means that it’s the perfect time to save seeds to plant next year.   Try letting some of your leafy vegetables, like lettuce and cilantro, flower and make seeds for you to harvest and save.  For young nature explorers, this means it’s the perfect time to build burdock structures, make wishes on milkweed seeds, find out how far a thrown “helicopter seed” can travel, and create acorn cracking factories by the forest edge.  Children can also participate in seed saving for the next spring – equipped with an envelope, you’d be amazed by how many seeds can be found in a fall garden or meadow.  For teachers, there are opportunities to investigate life cycles, parts of a seed, and ways that seeds travel through hands-on outdoor exploration and discovery.

Seeds in the garden: sunflower and cilantro/corriander

Seeds in the garden: sunflower and cilantro/coriander

Hitchhiking and velcro seeds: burdock

Hitchhiking and velcro seeds: burdock

Flower seeds: bachelor button and calendula

Flower seeds: bachelor button and calendula

Helicopter seeds: Box Elder Tree

Helicopter seeds: box elder tree

Parachute and wishing seeds: Dandelion and milkweed

Parachute and wishing seeds: dandelion and milkweed

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In Appreciation of Forests

This past weekend I took some time to browse through past blog entries.  I noticed certain seasonal rituals and appreciations repeat themselves year after year.  Every fall, right about now, I renew my love of the forest and trees.


As an adult on an elementary school calendar, September is always a month full of new beginnings, logistics to sort out, and rhythms to establish.  This is often hard work!  By October, my students have settled in and are ready for exploration further from home base, bigger projects, and the chance to enjoy the last sunny warm afternoons before winter sets in.  The forest is a perfect place for all of this.  For me, spending time in the forest is calming and rejuvenating – it reminds me of things to be grateful for, puts recent stressors in context, and stimulates my senses.

Here are some past forest-themed blog posts for you to browse.  Enjoy!

Making a discoveryChildren and Nature: The Forest ~ Why spending time outside, especially in forests, is crucial for children… “Upon entering the woods, the temperature drops noticeably.  The sounds change – whispering leaves and the occasional bird chirp blocks any outside noises from coming in.  Our foot steps are quiet on the soft needle-carpeted forest floor.  The smell of moist leaves, moss, and bark filters into our noses…”  (read more)

Mossy RoofForts and Fairy Houses ~ Discoveries and lessons learned from forest play… “We’ve discovered things that would never be possible (or allowed) in a classroom.  Different thicknesses of sticks make different sounds when banged against the trunk of a mature tree.  Pine needles make for a soft landing after tripping over a raised root.  TONS of different mushrooms and fungi grow on the forest floor after a few days of rain, and most of them are really slimy.  Pine sap is the perfect glue, but it’s better to keep it off our clothes…” (read more)

Foliage Games and Activities ~ Fun ideas for educators looking for active hands-on ways to teach students about leaves, trees, foliage, and the changing of seasons.  (read more)

Fairy-House6Zooming In: Fairy and Snail Houses ~ Fun photos and observations after several fairy and snail house building sessions with children… “Outdoor educators take note!  Fairy, gnome, and snail house building ties right into lessons on observation, habitat, ecosystems,  community, and respect for nature.  Building miniature things will lead students to observe the intricate details of pinecones, the barbs of burdocks, the veining of leaves, and much much more…” (read more) 

Welcome to the Woodlands Clubhouse ~ How the creation of a fort in the woods engaged a challenging mixed-age group of students for months after school.  (read more)

Stumps make steps and chairs for our fort

A Woodlands Playground ~ Great photos and ideas for adding natural forest elements to play spaces for children of all ages. (read more)

Ticks and Poison Ivy Season ~ Adults are increasingly fearful of the dangers of being in nature… “There are many possible dangers associated with all the activities we do every day, including playing and working outside.  I strongly believe, however, that the benefits of time spent outside far outweigh the risks…” (read more)

(reposted from October 2014)
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Delicious Tomato Cobbler


There is a new recipe to slip into our annual September rhythms of making gallons of salsa, canning tomatoespan frying eggplants, eating cherry tomatoes off the vine, and savoring sun ripened fall raspberries.

I came across a recipe for Tomato Cobbler with Cornmeal Chedder Buscuits when looking for a way to use our overflowing basket of sungold tomatoes.  Some of them were cracked and needed to be used up.  Most importantly, more and more were ripening every day and we needed to make a dent in our supply.


I wanted something delicious that didn’t require cutting every cherry tomato in half or any other tedious processing.  This recipe results in a truly mouthwatering meal-in-a- bowl with plenty of garlic and onion.  It highlights the sour and sweet sungold tomatoes complemented by warm fluffy cheesy biscuits on top.   My only adjustment was to soak the flour in the buttermilk a day ahead of time and use masa harina instead of cornmeal.  Ripped up basil leaves add a nice green garnish and an fresh herbal flavor to this delicious baked dish. Mmmmmm!


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