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Nativity in the Snow: a stop motion animation

I’ve always been fascinated with stop motion (or stop action) animation. Stop-motion is the process of filming stationary objects frame by frame to create the illusion of movement. One of the most famous early films to use stop motion animation was the original King Kong, made in 1933. Some of my favorite stop motion pieces are the claymation short films of Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Grommit. Wikipedia has an extensive list of films that use stop motion techniques, which you may read here.

Last month, I filmed a little video with the full nativity set I made with Bossy’s Feltworks, and used the wintery trees from the shop of Natural Kids Team member The Enchanted Cupboard. Other members of the Natural Kids Team are planning to make stop-action animation videos, too, so keep your eyes open for their creations! We plan to share them on this blog.

Happy December!



Farida Dowler is a musical storyteller in Seattle, Washington. She makes wool felt dolls for children and grownups. Her  Etsy shop is called Alkelda. Farida maintains a storytelling and song blog at Saints and Spinners.

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Santa Lucia/Saint Lucy Day 2011

The earliest Natural Kids Team post about the December 13 Swedish festival of light called Santa Lucia Day (also known as St. Lucy, or in Swedish, Sankta Lucia) was written in 2008 by one of the team’s founding members, Haddy2Dogs. You may find that post here. The link includes a recipe for the Santa Lucia saffron buns, also known as lussekatter, or “Lucia cats.”  I myself have used this recipe, and will use it again for this December 13. Good news for those who bake gluten-free: By special request, Nicole Hunn of Gluten Free on a Shoestring has developed a gluten free version of the Lucia buns!

While my family is not of Scandinavian descent, the festival of St. Lucia is special to my family. When my daughter attended a Waldorf school, we looked forward to this particular December festival of light because of the procession of the eldest girl in second grade wearing white with candles on her head, followed by her classmates and teachers (who carried wet rags for safety reasons), singing and bringing Lucia buns to each class.

My daughter would have worn the crown of candles this year, were she still in attendance at that school. We’re still going to have a party, and my daughter will wear one of Haddy2Dogs’s Santa Lucia felted crowns. This year, we’ve invited a few friends to join us at home for Lucia buns, coffee, tea, and cocoa. If we’re organized enough, we’ll even gather enough craft materials to help the children make Star Boy (and Star Girl!) hats. We sent our friends a link to a simplified version of the Santa Lucia song I recorded two years ago. You may listen to the full version here at the Parenting Passageway.

Different members of the Natural Kids Team have made a variety of Santa Lucia dolls for display and creative play. Clicking on the photos will take you directly to the shop links.

Armadillo Dreams has a lovely wooden Lucia:

Armadillo Dreams

Daria Lvovsky’s needle-felted St. Lucia wears a jaunty jacket:

Daria Lvovsky

Heartfeltpassion has created a Star Boy attendant along with her Santa Lucia figure:



I have made a variety of St. Lucia dolls, which you are welcome to view on my Flickr stream here.

Do you celebrate Santa Lucia Day, or plan to do so?  Please let us know what your celebration entails! As always, the Natural Kids Team looks forward to hearing from you.

Farida Dowler works as a dollmaker and musical storyteller in Seattle, Washington. Her Etsy shop is called Alkelda. Farida was trained as a children’s librarian (her super-power), and is powerless to resist a request for information (her super-weakness).


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St. Nicholas Day Memories (with festive punch recipe)

Julie Hunter of This Cosy Life recently published a post on her family’s St. Nicholas Day traditions, which you may read here: St. Nicholas Day- A Day of Giving.

I grew up celebrating St. Nicholas Day, first in rural West Virginia, and then in urban Maryland. On the night of December 5, I would place one of my shoes outside my bedroom door in the hopes of finding a treat in that shoe on the morning of December 6. I learned that the tradition was that “good” children got oranges in their shoes while “bad” children got lumps of coal. One year, I received both an orange and a lump of coal in my shoe. I reasoned that the orange came from St. Nicholas while the lump of coal was a joke played by my parents—after all, my father was a coal-miner and our house was heated by a coal stove. St. Nicholas (known to others as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, depending upon which story I read) came again on the night before Christmas to fill my stocking.

I was grateful to St. Nicholas because he believed that I was basically a good kid.  The logistics of the arrivasl and departures didn’t bother me (Did he come by horse, perhaps? Definitely not by sleigh.). Even after I began to suspect that my parents and grandparents were doing the work of St. Nicholas, I continued to welcome his yearly arrival.

During my first years as a children’s librarian, I worked for a library system that hosted a special storytelling event on St. Nicholas Eve. We set out sweet and savory treats, and made St. Nicholas Eve punch for library workers, local authors, and a featured storyteller. After the merriment of the party, we lit candles and listened with quiet attention as the storyteller performed by candlelight.

I saved the St. Nicholas Eve punch recipe, modified it (if the recipe is supposed to remain secret, it’s still secret—but mine tastes better!), and in future gatherings, placed a bottle of gin or vodka beside the punch bowl so that the adults could have options.

St. Nicholas Eve Punch:


1 liter club soda

1 liter ginger ale

1 liter Collins mix (basically club soda, lemon juice, and sugar)

1 liter bitter lemon mix (use Fresca grapefruit soda or another really tart soda if you can’t find bitter lemon)

1 48 ounce can Hawaiian punch (or one can of frozen and three cans water)

1  12 oz can frozen orange juice

1  12 oz can frozen lemonade (preferably pink)

Frozen strawberries, red raspberries, or both (at least two packages, but not more than 3 per recipe)

Extra club soda/ginger ale to taste


In a large bowl, thaw and mix frozen orange juice, lemonade, Hawaiian punch and berries (do not add water to the orange juice and lemonade). Fifteen minutes before your party, mix the carbonated liquids. Keep extra bottles of soda on hand to keep punch slightly fizzy.

You may find more traditional, less carbonated St. Nicholas Eve beverage recipes here at the St. Nicholas Center’s website.

Happy St. Nicholas Day! May you find oranges in your shoes.

Farida Dowler is a musical storyteller in Seattle, Washington. She makes dolls for the Etsy shop Alkelda and blogs at Saints and Spinners. While she would never put real coal in her family’s shoes,  this year everyone gets a wrapped chocolate marshmallow confection labeled “coal.”


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Martinmas Songs

Three years ago, I started a blog called A Storytelling of Crows, specifically to record the Martinmas songs my daughter’s kindergarten teacher wanted the adults to learn for our annual lantern walk on the Feast of St. Martin. The tradition was to gather at the school around a bonfire, eat pumpkin bread, drink warm cider (apple or pear), and then proceed into the woods with the lit paper-mache lanterns the children had made during school.  Martinmas was a way to greet the cold winds and shorter days with light and joyful song. The teacher gave us sheet music with lyrics to learn the songs. However, we had to memorize the songs, as it would have been too hard to read lyrics by lantern light.

I asked my daughter’s teacher if she would sing the songs for me to record on my video camera. I promised that no one would see her, and used still graphics for the visual. You may hear all of the songs here (including one my daughter sang), as well as watch a little video of the lantern walk I took the following year. The songs are “I Go Outside with My Lantern,” “Glimmer, Lantern, Glimmer,” and “My Lantern! My Lantern!” Do you know more ? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Lantern Walk Gathering

For autumn inspiration, please visit the Martimas treasury, curated by Natural Kids Team member Rjabinnik.

The photo you see to the left is an autumn scene I took last year of my dolls with The Enchanted Cupboard‘s trees and Mamakopp‘s little wooden fire. The lantern carrier is in the foreground dressed in green. While we never had a guitar-player at our Martinmas gatherings, I think a firelight gathering is complete when one has a guitar-player in the midst (i.e. the orange doll with the red guitar in the back).


Farida Dowler lives in Seattle, Washington, USA, and sews wool felt dolls for Alkelda, her online Etsy shop. She has participated in four lantern walks. Only one of them was not rainy.

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Too much candy? The Halloween Fairy wants it.

Every October 31, the Halloween Fairy, sometimes called the Candy Fairy, comes to collect most of the sugary treats my daughter gathered during her trick-or-treat travels in the earlier evening. In return, the Halloween Fairy leaves a present. This tradition started with my daughter’s preschool and carried on through the years. My daughter is a “magic keeper,” in that she knows her parents act as the Halloween Fairy (as well as the Tooth Fairy, St. Nicholas/Father Christmas/Santa Claus, and now, at her insistence, the Easter Bunny), but she won’t ruin other people’s fun in the process.

My daughter at age 3

When I tell other parents about the Halloween Fairy, some of them say, “Hey, that’s a great idea!” while others look at me in bemusement and murmur, “That would never work with my child.”  That’s fine. Every family is going to have different outlooks and needs, and it’s good to have options.

As much as my daughter enjoys a sweet treat, the focus of Halloween has always been about costumes and pageantry for her. Most of the time, she prefers home baked goods to slabs of commercially produced candy. She’s not immune to the allure of the “fun-size” chocolate bars, which is why she keeps a few pieces of candy for herself and puts the rest in a basket so that the Halloween Fairy may build castles of boiled sweets, licorice sticks, chocolate wafers, and chewing gum.

Fellow NaturalKids Team artisan Birchleaf Designs welcomes the arrival of “The Great Pumpkin Fairy” and writes, “Most times, I will do a quick co-op shop of more natural treats that my children will “trade” for the nasty candy. That way, they get a little something sweet to eat on Halloween. Then, they each pick out their favorite color playsilk, wrap up their giveaway candy and leave it out on the porch before bed. In the morning they race to the porch to see what the Great Pumpkin Fairy has left in place of their candy.”

The present the Halloween Fairy leaves is far more wonderful than a basket of candy will ever be. The first year of the Halloween fairy, my daughter received a much-wished-for rhinestone tiara. In subsequent years, I looked for hand crafted items.  I enjoy browsing through my fellow NaturalKids Team members’ for presents. Here are some examples of gifts for inspiration:

Leather Sheath with Strap by Birchleaf Designs

Felt Autumn Fairy Wand by Aux Demilunes

Traveling roll-up rainbow gnomes  by FéeVertelaine

What are your Halloween traditions? Please share in the comments section.

Doll by Alkelda, trees by The Enchanted Cupboard

Farida Dowler is a Seattle storyteller who embroiders wool felt dolls for the Etsy shop Alkelda. She is determined not to filch candy from the Halloween Fairy’s basket, even if peanut-butter cups are involved. Okay, maybe one peanut-butter cup for fortification….


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Ginger Muffins

The allure of muffins is deceptively simple. They’re not cupcakes, so you can rationalize their presence at the breakfast table. They require less commitment and fussiness than a full-sized cake.  You can experiment with different flours and other ingredients with well-placed confidence that the portion-controlled batter will rise, and the results will be edible,  if not downright delicious.

Take these ginger muffins, for example:

A friend of mine adapted a ginger muffin recipe to celebrate the feast of St. Ninian (also known as Kentigern in England and Wales, and Mungo in Scotland). He made the muffins vegan, and wondered if he should have added cayenne powder to give them more of a kick. I brought the butter and milk back into the recipe, but left out the egg. (I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to make the recipe gluten-free, either, especially if you rely upon a fabulous all-purpose non-beany gluten-free flour like Better Batter.) I also chopped up a bit of crystalized ginger and added ginger juice I had on hand. The results of the recipe were tender, spicy, and sweet without being overly so. I should have added some freshly-grated ginger, and will probably do so next time. For now, here is the recipe I used:

Ginger Muffins

Whisk together:

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dried ginger

In another bowl, whisk together:

3/4 cup milk (nondairy okay)
1/2 cup butter (ditto)
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup unrefined sugar
Optional: 2 teaspoons of ginger juice (if you happen to have it)

Mix wet with dry, and then stir in 1/2 cup chopped candied ginger. I used the kind that wasn’t coated with granulated sugar.

Pour into greased muffin tins or ungreased silicone cups and bake approx 20 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I was able to get 13 “medium-sized” muffins out of the batter. I had every intention of freezing half of the recipe results, but word got around, and before I knew it, the ginger muffins were gone.

-Farida Dowler makes embroidered felt dolls for the Etsy shop Alkelda and maintains Saints and Spinners, a storytelling and music blog. Her favorite recipes are ones that allow her to read science-fiction in the kitchen while the concoctions bubble or bake.

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Life Lessons in Folk Tales

When my daughter was two years old, I read her the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf from Jack Kent’s Fables of Aesop. The boy who is supposed to watch the sheep calls out, “Wolf, wolf!” and when all the villagers come running, the boy reveals that it was just a joke. He tries this again, with the same results. When a wolf actually does show up one day, the villagers refuse to answer the boy’s call for help, so the wolf devours a sheep and gets away.

My daughter thought this story was hilarious. “Wolf, wolf!” she exclaimed over the next few days, and brought her “Wolf Book” for me to reread to her. I thought about the times in my public library work where people asked me for children’s books with clear-cut morals, sometimes known as didactic stories. I did my job to help them find the books they wanted, but was grateful when they were open to stories that imparted life lessons in ways that invited the listeners to mull over the implications of the characters’ actions, rather than have the morals handed to them.

Master storyteller Margaret Read MacDonald  has written in picture-book form a number of folktales and fairytales upon which I rely for read-alouds and oral storytimes. When I want to convey that “happiness is wanting what you have,” I tell the British story The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle, which is evocative of The Fisherman and His Wife, but has more humor. For resistance of blind obedience to authority and reliance upon one’s own common sense, I go to the Limba (Camaroon) story of Mabela the Clever. The folktale I quote most often to my daughter is the Balinese story Go to Sleep, Gecko! in which the message is, “Everything is connected. Some things you just have to put up with.”

What stories resonate with you? While you think about that question, please feel welcome to enjoy some of the offerings from the NaturalKids Team that complement the above-mentioned stories as props for storytimes and open-ended play:

For The Old Woman Who Lived in  a Vinegar Bottle:

A purple fairy from This Cosy Life

A blue fairy from Alkelda (that’s me!)

For Mabela the Clever:

A mouse from Woolies

Mice by MuddyFeet

A cat from Pretty Dreamer

For Go to Sleep, Gecko!

A green gecko by Little Elfs ToyShop

This is a small sampling of handmade creations that the NaturalKids team has to offer. Your imagination can turn ordinary household objects into storytelling props, too. How else could the dish run away with the spoon?

Please share in the comments section the stories you like in particular. I really do want to know.

–Farida Dowler is a children’s librarian-turned-freelance musical storyteller in Seattle, Washington. She sews wool felt figures for the Etsy shop Alkelda, makes up silly songs on the guitar, and reads science-fiction.

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Folk and Fairy Tales in Your Home

Children are natural storytellers who will often imagine their own stories based upon their outward surroundings and their internal landscapes. We grownups, however, often need some assistance with reawakening our imaginations.

Here comes the NaturalKids Team to the rescue! Sure, you can tell a convincing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with salt and pepper shakers, condiments jars, plus seven thimbles. However, the talented members of Etsy’s NaturalKids Team have hand-crafted a variety of figures for your folk and fairy tale storytelling as well as open-ended play. All fairy tales in this post link to Sur La Lune

Three Billy Goats Gruff byMuddyFeet

Story: Three Billy Goats Gruff

Snow White and Rose Red by Nushkie (plus you could add a bear by Woolies and gnome— to play the dwarf– by Little Elfs Toy Shop):

Story: Snow White and Rose Red

Cinderella by The Enchanted Cupboard:

Story: Cinderella (Charles Perrault version)

The Gingerbread Man, by lovealittle

Story: The Gingerbread Man (sometimes The Gingerbread Boy)

The Fisherman and His Wife
, by Driaa:

Story: The Fisherman and His Wife

What are stories that you enjoy telling with your children?

–Farida Dowler is a children’s librarian in semi-retirement. She works as a freelance storyteller and makes dolls for the Etsy shop Alkelda.

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Gluten Free Sweet Potato Spice Muffins

Six of twelve muffins

When my daughter started a trial gluten-free diet, she was concerned about all the favorite foods that she would miss. Several days later, she told me that she liked being gluten-free. Here’s why: I’ve returned to the kitchen. When it comes to domestic arts and sciences, I prefer working with textiles to food, but there are some foods I make simply because I want them done right without great expense: spanikopita, baba ganouj, stuffed grape leaves, avocado sushi rolls, for example. There are a lot of gluten-free foods available at my local natural foods market, but they are 2-3 times as expensive as their gluten counterparts. (Besides, those bagels are not bagels– they’re rolls with holes.)

I have a number of cookbooks, but thus far I’ve worked almost exclusively with Gluten Free On a Shoestring, by Nicole Hunn. I’ve made popovers two days in a row (once with dairy, once with almond milk), bagels, pizza, biscotti, and more. Although I’m new to gluten-free baking, I’ve begun to experiment with existing recipes. The following Sweet Potato Spice Muffin recipe is one I adapted from the banana bread recipe found on the Bob’s Red Mill package of all-purpose gluten free flour, which in turn was adapted from Special Diet Solutions by Carol Fenster, Ph.D.

For those unfamiliar to gluten free baking, xanthan gum may be a new ingredient. Xanthan gum is crucial to gluten-free baking because of its viscosity (or stickiness) that gluten molecules would normally provide. Edited to add: xanthan gum is GMO corn-based unless specifically noted on the package. Guar gum comes from guar beans, and is sometimes used in place of xanthan gum.

SWEET POTATO SPICE MUFFINS (gluten and dairy free)


1/3 cup oil (you can use vegetable oil, but I use walnut oil)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract (vanilla is also fine)
1 and 3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon cardamom (cinnamon is also fine)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 and 1/2 cups cooked sweet potatoes, mashed
1 cup raisins (optional—use nuts if you prefer, or other dried fruit)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. The dough is enough for approximately 12 medium-sized muffins; either grease appropriate muffin tins or set out 12 silicone muffin cups (my personal favorite).
3. Cream together oil, sugar, eggs, and lemon extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer.
4. Add gluten-free baking flour mix, xanthan gum, baking powder, and spices to egg mixture, alternating with cooked yams. Beat until smooth.
5. Stir in raisins. Batter will be somewhat soft and sticky.
6. Transfer to muffin cups. Bake 30 minutes. Test to see if muffins are done by inserting a clean knife into the center of each muffin.
7. Let them cool at least a little bit before you eat them.

When I make sweet treats, I like to freeze most of the results so that they are available when the family wants them, and we’re not compelled to eat a whole batch of muffins in several days.

Written by Farida of Alkelda: Dolls For Storytelling
Facebook Page: Alkelda
Blog: Saints and Spinners

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Little Bunny Pin Tutorial

This week’s How-To is a Little Bunny Pin by Natalie, from Woolhalla here on the Natural Kids Team. As part of the Spring and Easter themed tutorials I plan to do in the upcoming weeks I made this easy-to-make little bunny pin to wear. You can also leave the pinback off to use as a tiny play toy (over 3 years due to size).

Little Bunny Pin! Here is a tutorial to make your own little bunny pin. It looks great on a hat or jacket, or even on a spring bulb plant in the house (as you may notice below…). This one was made with a face drawn on, but if the thought of embroidering on the face doesn’t frighten you then go-for-it, and maybe even add whiskers!
To make the Bunny Pink you will need a small piece of wool felt (8 x 8 cm/ 3-1/4 x 3-1/4 inches) in whatever colour you would like your bunny, plus matching thread, pinback, bit of wool to stuff, and a marker for the face (unless you are embroidering). Please remember that the pinbacks are sharp, do not attach to bunnies for young children!
Print out the template below (right click your mouse on the image to print):

Cut out two matching felt bunnies:

Sew a pinback on one piece. Draw the face on the other piece, as shown below, or embroider it on:
Put your two pieces together; pinback on the back and face on the front. Sew around the two pieces and stuff little bits of wool stuffing into the bunny as you go:
Your little bunny pin is now ready to wear (or decorate your plants!).
Happy sewing!!

This tutorial is brought to you by Natalie, of Woolhalla

Please visit me at my blog Woolhalla where you can see my original post, find a few other free craft tutorials, plus other bits of my craft life. I like to work with natural materials, making wool felt toys and waldorf-style dolls and dollhouse dolls. I am a WAHM (Work at Home Mother) of 3 children living in a small town in BC.

My Etsy shop is Woolhalla “Heavenly Wool Creations”.