Last session Amie also took classes with my fabulous pottery teacher, Lisa Dolliver. These are some of the pieces she made:

The unicorn is a piggy bank. At the moment it has a clay blue heart sitting in its slot. Aren’t they lovely?

That, by the way, is a Go board: DH and Amie are learning the game together. Amie has quite the knack for it, and loves it. The read the book and play at least two games every night.

These are my pots.

I was very productive: three small plates, three medium ones, one vase, two soup bowls, one tumbler (pic below), and two large bowls, the largest pieces I’ve ever thrown, but I needed help from Lisa to do it. As you can see if you compare with previous sessions, I’ve found a pattern in the glazing. The idea is to make a dinner set. Also to take the pressure off me when glazing – I don’t like glazing much.

They stack up!

Last week I splurged on Wildcraft, a cooperative board game for kids (and adults) developed by HerbMentor, one of my favorite places for herbal instruction. The idea of the game is to make it up the mountain to the huckleberry patch, gather huckleberries, and make it back down again to grandma’s house before nightfall. And not to perish.

In the official game there’s not much chance of perishing. When you land on a cross you get a trouble card – a hornet sting, sore muscles, hunger, or stomach ache. But you start out with four remedy cards and gather lots along the way. It’s usually an easy walk. Usually.

Amie loved the game from the very first. She has played it several times, with us or by herself. She’ll skip around the house telling her doll they should find some Plantain for that bee sting, Echinacea for the sniffles. It’s sweet.

Then yesterday she came up with a variation. She set up the board and invited me to play, but wisely kept the rules to herself until I had committed (you spin that wheel, you’re committed). The variation was this: only trouble cards, no remedy cards.

Painful, to say the least! Our conversation ran thus:

– You’re killing me!

– Don’t blame it on me.

– Well, you’re the one who invented this game.

– Blaming isn’t nice. Oops, now you’ve got diarrhea. Too bad!

She weighed  ailments (diarrhea would be the worst one) and inflicted pain (gleefully handing out the cards) all in the playful and safe setting of a game. She also explored endurance and the extent to which the human body can handle pain and discomfort. At the end of the game, when we finally made it back to grandma’s house, Amie gathered she must be near death. Like so:

Notice the tongue sticking out, a sure sign of near death.

The cards near her head, by the way, were her trouble cards. The long line near her feet, those were mine! She invited me to come lie next to her and be really dead.

I declined, stating someone had to take the picture.

Amie is getting very excited about entering Kindergarten – she has an orientation on the 7th and school starts (only!) on the 10th. But she is also getting a little apprehensive. She remembers how she was comforted by a little seal doll during her first days at her preschool, and requested a new doll that  is small enough to take to school in her gigantic backpack. Thhaam obliged.

Some conversation during the project.

A: What’s that?

T: The navel.

A: The nipple?

T: No, not nipple. Navel. Belly-button.

A: And what is this?

T: Those are the buttocks.

A (smiling crazily): Yuck! Buttocks!

Oops: the hair was put on backwards!

T: Thank goodness you have two grandmothers who like stitching.

A: Oma likes stitching too?

T: Yes, she’s very good at stitching.

A: So if you die, then I’ll still have Oma… But what if you die at the same time, what will I do then?

Me: By then you’ll be able to stitch it yourself – for lack of a better answer.

Amie’s model for the face

T: She has a bit of a bald spot. Is that okay?

A: Yes, that’s what makes her so beautiful!

Meet Anya, the school doll.

A: Thhaam, this is the most beautifullest doll ever made!

What with all the gardening around here it’s been a while since I wrote about Amie’s non-gardening doings and goings. Here are some newer developments.

We’re working on her letters. She recognizes all the upper and lower case and can sound out and read three-letter words:

But writing them is something else altogether, especially those pesky rounded lower cases. Numbers too are a challenge. So this spring break we’re working on all those.

These days Amie sees us writing a lot of checks (unfortunately) and she was curious what that was about. I explained it to her and even found an old checkbook from a defunct account for her to play with. She wanted to write out her first check to me!

– How much do I owe you, Mama? she asked

– Oh, I said, by the time we’re done, mm… about a million

No problem. She asked our co-houser to help her fill it in, and when he – we call him Rabbit, so I’m going to start referring to him as Rabbit as of now – started writing in the amount, she changed her mind. When he had formed “10” she said:

– I want to pay Mama ten million dollars!

When he had added another 0, she said:

– Yes, a hundred million dollars!

She is so very generous!

She has been doing some multiplication with single digit numbers and division by 2. She needs her fingers and concrete things to do it: “If we have 6 ice cream sandwiches and there’s 2 of us, how many do we each get?” works, but “What is 6 divided by 2 make?” doesn’t.

Her Baba also taught her to add up a big and a small number. For instance, 76 + 4. This is how she explains it: You put the big number in your head: 76 (pinches thumb and index fingers together and touches her forehead, turning them and making a creaking sound, as if turning a key in a lock). Then you put the smaller number on your fingers (arranges her hand so 4 fingers are out). Then you count: 76, (takes away one finger) 77, (takes away another finger) 78, (takes away another finger) 79, (takes away last finger) 80!

She is not only a mathematician, like her Baba, but also a metaphysician, like her Mama (used to be). The other day she was acting all grumpy and DH observed that she was becoming a two-year-old again.

– No-o, she said, I can’t go back; I can only go forward.

Our co-houser was very interested in pruning the house of “suckers” – appliances and battery chargers and the like that suck electricity even though they’re not in use. He was pulling them all over the place – especially the microwave, which is mostly my fault. He got so into it he devised a game:


Each member of the household gets a little plate. Each time he or she spots a sucker, he or she gets an object from the central pot – if you spot something you left sucking, you get nothing, but so does anyone else (either does no one else?). The first person to collect five objects gets to chose who will cook her or him a meal of her (or his) choice. Amie was the first to get one!

The other game we’re playing a lot is Max, the cooperative game I wrote about earlier. It is a great game to teach Amie about both strategy and the concept of “luck”. She now understands that Max needs to eat too, and not just treats (which recall Max to his porch when he gets too close to the little forest creatures). Still, that doesn’t stop her apprehension when the fate of the little bird or mouse hangs in the balance:


In this particular game all three creatures got eaten. Afterwards Amie decided to make extra treats for Max (the game has only four: after that the creatures are fair game). She made at least twenty little cards with drawings of catnip and milk, and also grapes, worms, and donuts! I’ll have to explain that Max will get too fat…


One of our Christmas gifts was this game, Max, made by a small family-owned company called Family Pastimes that makes only cooperative games (they even print and make their own boards and boxes).

We must help get the little Creatures safely home before Max, the Tomcat, catches them. In an exciting way, children learn logic, consultation and decision making. An important issue to discuss is also raised: we don’t like Max catching those Little Ones, yet we recognize that he is a natural hunter. How do we resolve this in our minds and hearts? Let’s talk it over.

The game is just at Amie’s level.  She isn’t getting the strategy yet, but a game like this – not too simple, not too complex – is just what will help her understand the necessity of thinking ahead. The duration of the game is also well within her attention span… so there’s time for one more, of course, or two…

It’s also very engaging. Amie gets very concerned about the little creatures – a bird, a chipmunk and a mouse. So much so that she calls Max back to his porch (with a treat) even when he isn’t anywhere close to being a threat. So much so that she tries, very clumsily, to manipulate the dice, which decide who gets to move ahead, the little ones or Max. When I told her she has to leave it up to the dice, she tried hard, but soon I caught her again.

– Amie, we shouldn’t cheat.

– Shhh, Mama! Max didn’t see me do it!

How is that for immersion! I had to put a stop to it after three games. She was getting too excited.

I heartily recommend it anyone with a three to four-year-old, or older child. Also check out Family Pastimes’ other cooperative games: they have them for all ages. Of course I’m putting “Harvest Time” on our urgent wish list!

(I hope this company won’t be adversely affected by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.)


The theme of last Winter Wednesday was snow and well, no shortage of snow around here: a whole lot fell last night and more is on the way.

I requested the book, Discover Nature in Winter, from the interlibrary loan, but it hasn’t arrived yet. But Barb mentioned the following experiment: melt and filter different kinds of snow (new and old), then look at the particles left behind, through a magnifying glass or a microscope.

We were in luck today: the snow that fell was the fluffiest I’ve seen so far – it was a joy to shovel. I scooped some up into a glass, taking care to compress it as little as possible. Then I filled up another glass with some old snow that was underneath – the difference between the two layers was very pronounced. That made two glasses of snow:


And one interested little girl who came a-peeking:


6:07 pm

– What are you doing?

– Experimenting!

– O can I help?

We talked about how these glasses of snow looked exactly the same. What would happen if we let the snow in them melt? And what would happen if we packed it down?

3208353488_d7ce749438 3208354266_49f8e7dc7e

Strange, the new snow was very easy to push down. Its volume was reduced drastically. Not so the old snow. So we got to talk about “compact” and “dense” again. The new snow was very soft and fluffy. That meant there were many air pockets or empty spaces in between the snowflakes or ice crystals, lots of air that was were squeezed out as Amie packed it down.  The snow crystals in the old snow were already packed much closer together, with less air or empty space between them, so it was harder, much less easy to compact even more.

– So (I asked Amie when she had packed both glasses as much as her little fists could stand), is there as much snow in one as in the other?

– No! she said. (It was plain as day, looking at the one glass, still 3/4 full, and the other, only 1/4 full.)

– But, remember, at the beginning they were as full, no?

– Yes.

– How come?

– I don’t know, she said.

I have to laugh at this point. Really I’m not going to pretend that my 3-and-a-half-year-old gets all of this! She just likes playing with the snow. But she did listen, and we did continue our explanations, because we want her to get an idea of this experiment, and of how important and fun it is to experiment, and of how much we value her opinion and think she is capable of understanding.

So the glass with the new, fluffy snow had been filled with more air than snow, and the glass with the old, hard snow had, in effect, a lot more actual snow in it. It also weighed more.

But nothing explains it like a picture, and she and I sat down to make one.


We returned to our melting snow throughout the evening – Amie often pulling on my sleeve to drag me over. Very soon it was obvious that the new snow was melting much, much faster.


6.38 pm

Why would that be? There had been much less snow to begin with. And even after compacting there had probably been a lot of air in it still, which warmed up and melted the snow from within. By 7:14 the new snow had all melted. But the other glass was still half full:


By 9:30 that the old snow too had melted. By then Amie had gone to sleep. I kept the two glasses, with saucers on them, in the kitchen for her to see in the morning. So… to be continued!


I has just reread Lori’s Observational Drawing Lesson on the Camp Creek Blog when I looked up and spotted the perfect occasion for such drawing: Amie sitting at the table, waiting for her grandparents to appear on the troubled webcam, paper and pencil, and a panda bear mask she made in school. Okay, I thought, let’s practice seeing!

Lori advises to start with something simple, so the panda bear mask is perfect.

  1. The shapes are simple, yet varied, and well defined.
  2. There is only black and white, and no shades of gray (except in the details), so we can focus on the shapes.
  3. The alternating rings of black, white and black of the eyes would be a nice challenge for Amie. She often forgets which contour she is coloring in and often looks up to see she has colored in the whole image.
  4. There are only a few details (the staples, the shadows of the indentations around the rim of the plate, the pronounced grain of the wooden handle), and I thought it would be interesting to see if she would see them. But even without the details, the result would easily look like the original and be satisfying.
  5. It’s not too big and there won’t be too much coloring in, which she has little patience for.  I give her only half a letter size piece of paper, to keep it manageable. The drawing could be done in 15 minutes.

To focus on shapes and later on on details, Lori says to use only a plain pencil. Amie has always had recourse to lots of colors, but for drawing she always chose just one of the bunch, so moving to a pencil was no problem for her. The only problem I have with plain pencils is that they don’t scan in very well, as the graphite reflects the scanner’s light.

Amie was so interested in the exercise that she wanted to do a second drawing right away, even though the grandparents had now appeared on the screen (they were happy to watch). Then I left everything on the dining table so the next day when we found ourselves there, she wanted to draw another one, and this morning at breakfast she drew the fourth. Here they are (click on image for larger):

090109panda1 090109panda2 090110panda3 090111panda4

I made sure we used our words, naming all the shapes and discussing their location respective to one another.

  1. We started with the circle of the face. I encouraged her to draw it big enough so there would be room for everything. In the first drawing she couldn’t get the circle quite right, but the next two were pretty close, while in the fourth she wasn’t paying much attention to the circularity.
  2. Then she added the handle underneath: the first time she didn’t get the thickness of it (and she added her own arm holding it), but when with the next drawing I pointed it out to her, she drew it as a long rectangle rounded at the bottom.
  3. Then she added the half-circles of the ears, on top but a bit off to the sides.
  4. Then she moved to the face itself. I suggested we draw the nose first, because it was nearly in the middle. She tried to get its fluffiness down by moderating the pressure on the pencil and going round and round in softer strokes.
  5. As for the mouth, she was more interested in its “thickness” than in its angular shape, and it had to be “smiley”. I pressed her to see and reproduce the shape, not the “feeling” of the expression, and she reluctantly did so in the first drawing but reverted to the smiley aspect in the other ones.
  6. The eyes were the most interesting: in the first three drawings she drew three circles, trying to size and position them right, which is very hard for her to do, motor-wise. Then she colored them in carefully. In the fourth drawing she decided there were four circles. I asked her why. She pointed to a tiny rim around the plastic of the googly eye. What a  detail: I hadn’t spotted it myself!  “That’s sort of whitish and blackish,” she said. “Gray?” I asked. “Yes.”  She colored in that extra circle separately, but in black, so you can no longer see it.
  7. In the third drawing, when she was done, I asked if she had missed something, a detail? She didn’t spot any and I pointed out the staples, which she gladly added.

We worked on these drawings together, only I made sure she drew all the shapes, I just helped with the coloring in. I decided, as we were playing with shapes anyway, to add some writing of letters and numbers.

Unfortunately she discovered the eraser at the other end of the pencil. I tried gently to dissuade her from using it: she is already such a perfectionist! But more than often she erased my mistakes. “Your coloring is terrific, but mine is even better.” We’ll call that “confidence”…

Though the fourth drawing shows perhaps the most likeness, it was obvious from how seldom she looked at the original anymore that she was drawing her idea of the mask, not the mask itself. So it’s time to leave the mask and find something else!

This is a great daily exercise. It fills those 15 minutes when you wait for dinner to be set on the table or some computer to work, or while you’re having a snack or chatting.


Dark-Eyed junco and American Goldfinches

Who knew birdwatching in winter would be more fun than in summer!

We’re experiencing our third snowstorm in five days – or is it the second one come round again? The scene outside is magical, but to me there is also an aspect of danger. I see the trees laden with snow and think: oh, so beautiful! Then the wind blanks out the view and I think: electricity outage!

Amie has been nothing but ecstatic. She has made angels, climbed the snowbanks, eaten the snow (making the funniest faces), threw snowballs (it’s not sticking much, though, so no good for snowmen) and sledded down our front yard hill. Pulling the sled and the child back up was Mama or Bab’s job, as was shoveling and maneuvering the car back up the steep and long and slippery driveway.


The birds at our feeders are just as ecstatic. Except for the Juncos, the Mourning Doves, the Northern Cardinals and once in a while a Downy Woodpecker, many were not to be seen… until the snow came!


Mourning Dove (click on image for larger)


Black-Capped Chickadee


Tufted Titmouse


Red-Bellied Woodpecker


Northern Cardinal

Suddenly there they were again: the Black-Capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, the Carolina Wren and the Blue Jay, the American Goldfinches, the White-Breasted Nutchatches and even the Red-Bellied Woodpecker (who is supposed to live in Florida). The Dark-Eyed Juncos are out in droves, playing in the snow, chittering at one another, performing great feats of on-the-spot flying (we call that “bidden” in Dutch: praying).  No wonder they’re called snowbirds: they love the snow!

It makes for a big hullabaloo at the feeders as they all vie for prime feeding spots. I deny the compost bins our old bread and rotten apples, putting it out for the birds instead. I stand by the bedroom window, watching the woefully overgrown juniper and Rhododendron bushes where they take shelter. I could stand there all day…

It’s supposed to snow more today and this evening, and then there will be a couple of clear and windy days and a deep freeze. I’m sorry we won’t be around for that: I wanted to experience walking on the ice on top of the snow. We’ll be off tomorrow to NY City and then Washington DC until a couple of days after New Year’s. I might be able to post, I’ll do my best!



Here’s what Amie drew today. She is obviously feeling much better, as testified by this springy Tigger. He’s jumping, see, and holding a black balloon, and there’s a tree behind him. She drew this at her little table while no one was watching.

Amie’s Tigger holding a balloon, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Winnie-the-Pooh has become Amie’s favorite. We read a story from the original book every evening. She doesn’t quite understand everything, but loves it nevertheless. She walks around saying “O bother” and pretending all her stuffed and Schleich animals are characters from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Amie Drawing of Christopher Robin, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This is Winnie-the-Pooh on the left, holding a balloon and a branch, with a tree behind him, an Christopher Robin standing in the doorway. Notice the mix still of figures with bodies and those without. I’m really impressed because she used two colors without being asked, and thrilled that she is also adding context spontaneously now.

Someone suggested we buy her a Pooh or Tigger doll, but we don’t see why. It’s great that she can think of her old Sleepy Bear as Pooh, and of her IKEA kangeroo as Roo. Her imagination makes them so, and so much more beloved too because of that investment.