midsummer night

bell flowerIn the PKE (pre-kids era) I never really thought that much about marking the passing of the seasons. The autumn equinox was exciting because that sometimes falls on my birthday, and it’s the only one of the seasons that actually coincides with the weather change. At the end of September you get out your cute jackets and your wooly sweaters and your boots and tights and you just feel totally fallish and cozy. But on the first day of winter, anywhere I’ve ever lived, it’s already been freezing for a good month, and there’s usually no snow accumulation for a few more weeks. It is extremely dark so all the holiday lights and/or candles at least make sense. And the first day of summer is kind of weird. It’s usually well into hot, swimsuity weather by now (got my first sunburn yesterday, in fact), school’s already out, white pants are already being worn, and like I said, the mosquitoes. (And don’t get me started on the cruel joke that is the first day of spring.)

However.

Since having kids and especially since moving to rural Vermont, I have come to realize that celebrating the seasons (and micro-seasons, like lilac-blooming season, blueberry-picking season, and maple syrup season) is not just something to entertain yourself, or your kids. Celebrating seasonal change has actually helped me feel more at peace with the passage of time.  Which is no easy task when you have these phenomenal little creatures growing up around you at the speed of light. (By which I mean my children, not some kind of space-time forest of sea monkeys or something.) It’s like, if I have squeezed every last drop of summer-ness out of summer, then it’s not as sudden and tragic as it used to feel when summer is finally over.

So that brings us to Midsummer. Which, may I say, is a much more sensible name for it because it feels like the longest day of the year should be the middle of summer, not the beginning of it! Anyhow, we had a day of summery sun and fairy fun, and even my un-naturey photo-nerd husband got in on the action.

A few days ago he prepared some water color paper to make cyanotypes with the kids. If you don’t know what cyanotypes are, it’s basically the simplest type of photographic process. The paper is the film, and sunlight will turn it blue. If there is something covering the paper, those places will remain white.

Once the paper’s been exposed long enough, you wash the blue-making chemicals off the paper in running water, and dip it in hydrogen peroxide to heighten the contrast.

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And voila! BEHOLD THE POWER OF THE SUN!Image

(In a funny coincidence, I found out after posting this that a local photographer friend also did cyanotypes with his kid this morning. I guess photo dad + hippie paganesque Vermont  + June 21 = solstice cyanotypes.) If you want to make your own cyanotypes, here’s the full DIY instructions, including how to make the treated paper, or you can just buy pre-made cyanotype paper.

After lunch, we crossed one off our summer wish list by attending a bluegrass concert at the nursing home across from our house. The kids danced and ran around, and when they got too squirrelly, I took them back across the street to get some lemonade from some boys who had a stand on the corner, and then watched the rest while eating snacks from the comfort of our porch.

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We’re lucky enough to belong to a CSA that offers unlimited PYO herbs, and the kids had gathered a bunch of chamomile on Thursday to make tea with. I truly am raising two little old ladies. We had our afternoon tea in the backyard with some leftover chunks of cake and frosting from our other morning project – making a sun cake!

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I came across this Mandarin Orange Cake the other day and when I read this in the description, I was sold: “Most of its charm is deeply rooted in the fact that this cake is not for special occasions. It’s a summer cake, a cake to make at the lake house, or cabin, or eaten while sitting in wet swimsuits while wrapped in beach towels.” I didn’t feel like going out and buying canned fruit and a cake mix, so I just made my go to yellow cake recipe instead, but I’m saving that easy peasy one in my back pocket for a beach vacation dessert. What I did make from that recipe was the frosting – whipped cream frosting, my favorite, with orange zest, and the amazing trick of adding instant pudding to stabilize it! Hallelujah! I mixed in some turmeric for a nice hippie-style yellow color.

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We cooked and ate dinner al fresco, courtesy of ye olde firepit and some hot dogs from The Chopper, as I affectionately call our local low-rent grocery chain. Mitigated slightly by the local organic salad that sat mostly untouched on the kids plates. Thanks to the funny gardening picture book that I picked up at a library surplus sale back in Chicago, Muncha Muncha Muncha, they do love to eat the hearts of the lettuce, at least.

After dinner was as consumed as it was gonna get, I brought out the glorious cake. We decorated it with strawberries and some nasturtiums from our garden. Yum!

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To make the sun shape for the top layer, I just cut a small circle out of the cake, placed it on top of the frosted bottom layer, and then cut triangles out of the remaining ring of cake, placing them around the circle, and  then frosted the whole thing. I am not a frosting master, somebody like my cousin Jorie could probably do something phenomenal with this idea.

After bath and jammies, the kids decided we should leave some sun cake for the fairies too, since tonight is their big to do. We made a picnic table outside their cabin and the kids found little leaves for plates and stones for benches. My five year-old was adamant that ten fairies were going to come, so we left ten tiny chunks of cake on ten leaves for them. Hope they enjoy it as much as we did!

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making fairy houses

fairy cabin and garden

We love fairy houses. After seeing dozens of amazing fairy houses last fall at the Grafton Nature Museum, the kids and I built the above one in our yard last fall and they insisted we also “plant” a garden in front for the fairies. It’s just a bunch of sticks and rocks balanced together but amazingly it is still standing, eight and a half months and 50 bajillion snowstorms and melts later.

More ephemeral was the fairy campout we created to lure fairies to our yard last year on Midsummer’s Eve. I started by pushing four sticks into the ground and the kids turned it into a bed by filling it in with plant fluff (I don’t even know what to call it, these weird flower skeleton things that grow on a shrub in our yard) and placing a maple leaf on top for a canopy. They added a picnic table with acorn caps filled with fairy pudding (squashed yew berries), a bathtub, and a bark dance floor. Sounds like my kind of campout.fairy bed

It’s nearly Midsummer’s Eve again, and when I saw the cute toilet paper roll houses on this woodland folk craft at Tried and True, I knew the littles would love it.

Besides all things fairy house, my kids love making stuff out of toilet paper tubes, so this was sure to be a double win. I cut out a couple of circles, slit halfway and folded over to make the cone-shaped roofs, and hot-glued them onto the toilet paper rolls. The five year-old insisted he need a door that could open and close so he cut that one out himself, while I helped my three year-old do the other one.Image

OK, progressing along, now to gather the decorative materials. I told the kids to go outside and get some buckets to collect sticks and pebbles and stuff. At this point my older child said he needed to make a boat for his fairies. Rolling with it, I stapled the end of one toilet roll shut, cut off half the tube lengthwise, and taped a little semicircle in the back to make a boat shape. Then he insisted it needed to be waterproof so he could sail it in the sand and water table (which the kids finally evacuated of the birdseed garden last weekend). Hmm. My best attempt at waterproofing was to coat it in duck tape. Then he needed it to be a pirate ship, so we made a sail with a toothpick and more tape. The finished boat was deemed too plain, so he spent 25 minutes decorating it with washi tape. The newly adorned vessel was taken immediately for her maiden voyage. By now, two things were obvious: 1) She was not at all seaworthy and 2) it was past lunchtime, and we were going to have to wait until the following morning to finish the fairy house craft.

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I’d say 70% of mama-initiated crafts end up going sideways like this around here. Which is why I have 85 thousand awesome pinterest things but only very occasionally actually execute one of them. But I am really good at collecting amazing projects to think about maybe possibly doing one day perhaps.

Anyhow, the next morning I sent them out to collect things to decorate the fairy houses and this is what they came back with:

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a bunch of sticks and twigs which I trimmed into fairy house-sized pieces, a little heap of strings of brown flowers from our oak tree, leaves at various stages of dried out-ness, acorn caps, pebbles, and pinecones, the largest of which we tore apart to make fairy shingles.

I let my five year-old use the hot glue gun to stick the items onto his toilet paper roll house. Some people might think this reckless but hey, if it’s good enough for Teacher Tom, it’s good enough for me. If you don’t know Teacher Tom, you should go over there and subscribe or follow or whatever to his blog right now. He is an awesome preschool teacher in, I think, Seattle, and he makes this blog full of wisdom about teaching and learning with young children. He’s like a guru of early childhood education.

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The five year-old loved being allowed to use the glue gun himself, and sticking the items onto his house base. Incidentally, I noticed in that Tried and True post that not only does she have the exact same hot pink glue gun as I do, but hers is just as gross and ratty looking as mine is. That makes me feel slightly better about showing it on the internet.

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I have to say, these little cottages turned out pretty rad.

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I helped my three year old with the glueing, but she selected the materials and directed me on placement, so this design is all her:Image

When the fairy houses were complete, my son instructed me to take a picture where it looks like he and his sister are fairies going into their houses. I’m afraid this was the best I could do with a point-n-shoot, but I like that he’s already hip to trick photography and the manipulation of images. Chalk that one up to having a photographer for a father.Image

We tucked the fairy houses into a woodsy nook on one side of our yard, where our fairy cabin sits. We’re getting a regular Hendrickson family compound of fairy houses over there… I guess they’ll be sure to do a campout in our yard this year!Image

That’s right, I just made a reference to a TV show about polygamy and the abuses of crazy fundamentalist Mormons in a post about my children’s sweet innocent fairy houses. That’s how we roll here, folks.