31 August 2011

Simple Summer Activities - Critter Hunting

I'm planning on putting up a few posts about some of the simple things we pass our Summer days doing. The unplanned, everyday, as you live things. Finding critters is probably at the top of Kaia's list, so we'll start there. She adores little things, she erupts in spastic joy the moment she discovers a little critter to investigate. We try to learn as much as we can about the critters that pass through our lives, and I have gotten quite an education in these researches right alongside her. We discuss habitat, camouflage, how many critters are beneficial to our gardens, habits, and things that make each critter unique, how they effect our lives, and, a tricky one, the food web. Not eating meat ourselves, Kaia still does not understand why many critters eat other critters to survive. I'm not sure I'll be able to explain that to her satisfaction anytime soon, but I try.

Little Katalin loves to meet all the critters, too, and Kaia loves sharing them with her. Here Kaia is showing her a tree frog.

Amphibians have got to be her favourite group. We haven't been able to find any salamanders this year, try as we might, but we have found many frogs, tree frogs, and toads. Toads we especially have in abundance around our home, and Kaia would happily carry them around, in her hands or in a bucket, all day long, talking to them, and involving them in her games, if I let her. I do let her keep them for awhile, but then explain (again, and again, day after day,) that they really would rather be let go in the garden so that they can find bugs to eat and a place to hide. I have discovered her smuggling toads into the house more than a few times.

We've found many tree frogs, and the babies are just too adorable. Quite a few hang out on our corn, for some reason, and we usually have at least one on our living room windows every night. One night we had four! Kaia never gets over their sticky little fingers, (does anyone?) or their ability to leap away from her. She can't quite hang on to them the same as she does toads.

Frogs are a whole 'nother level of tricky for her to catch, and therefor even more rewarding. This kid is impossible to peel away from a pond, and has spent many hours splashing through the water after frogs this Summer.

Caterpillars are another big hit, and we actually have two Milkweed Tiger moths and seven Monarch butterflies all in their cocoons on our mantle right now. The Tiger moths we brought in as young instars, and the seven monarch caterpillars we have now we finally brought in as four eggs, two new hatchlings, and one in chrysalis, which was in an unfortunate location. (The inside of the door on their mud pie kitchen, somewhere it certainly would not have survived had it been left, otherwise I would not have moved it.) We had some tragic experiences with the first handful of caterpillars we brought in at a later instar stage, but that is all for another post. *Ehem.* Here are just a few of the caterpillar varieties we find around our home.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars

Milkweed Tiger Moth

Bronzed Cutworm Moth

White Marked Tussock Moth

I'm not sure the exact name of this little guy, but I believe him to be a member of the Tiger moth family.

It is always fun to find cocoons, too, of course. Here is a Monarch chrysalis. The brown spotting is indication that this poor thing has been parasitized by Tachinid fly eggs, but we didn't know that yet.

After losing our first 7 monarch caterpillars, I was beginning to be surprised that there were any Monarch butterflies fluttering about at all! This one is a male, see the scent spots or his lower wings? That is one way to tell the difference.

Caterpillars, moths, and butterflies are not the only insects that take her interest. She loves any bug. Here are a few of the more interesting ones we have come across this Summer.

We found this stick insect on the same day that we found two different toads, a tree frog, and the Monarch chrysalis. One toad was in the grass and was pretty green, the other was in sand, and a very light tan. We talked about habitat and camouflage, it was neat to compare the two toads and for her to be able to see the way they blended better in their respective environments.

This is the first Stag Beetle Kaia had ever seen. He was a good size, and she was absolutely fascinated by him. She spent a while poking a stick near his face and watching him grasp it with those pincers.

This little guy on Kaia's finger is a Ladybug larva, which I totally did not know until Kaia brought it to me asking what it was, and I had to look it up. This picture doesn't really do it justice, these things are very sweet looking!

Here she is watching the antics of an adult Ladybug.

On the left here is a Honey Bee, and on the right, a Syrphid Fly. Does a pretty good bee imitation, huh? This was another conversation about the ways critters camouflage themselves.

Now this one was completely new to me, and as I ran for a jar, it was fun to revisit those feelings that my 3 year old still experiences on practically every bug find. Discovery, excitement, curiosity, wonder, fascination, something new to investigate, something I had never seen before. We found it hurrying across our driveway just after dark on our way back from getting the chickens in. I was able to capture it when it unsuccessfully tried to burrow into a crack. It is a Mole Cricket, which I gather is not really a cricket at all. Would you look at those beefy arms, though? It is certainly aptly named. I didn't get a side shot of it, but those clawed front diggers look just like a mole's hands, and that is exactly what they are used for. They burrow, live in a network of tunnels, and eat grass roots.

For Kaia, though, it doesn't take something very strange and rarely seen to be exciting. You've never seen a person so thrilled to have a fly land on them. Wait, two!? Could things get any better?? ;)

The Praying Mantis is always a good catch, and another welcome garden visitor. We talk about beneficial insects and critters in our veggie gardens quite a bit.

Speaking of beneficial critters, Kaia brings every worm she finds to our veggie beds. She loves rescuing them off the driveway on rainy days.

Next up, spiders. Kaia has no fear of spiders, and so far is totally oblivious to the fact that many people do. I like spiders, too, although I get worried that she'd pick up a Black Widow if she found one. (We've found four around our house in the last couple years.) I have shown her the ones we've found and talked about never touching them. Being 3, though, I have warned her off of touching any black spiders and asked her to always tell me when she finds one. She does, and so far she has not found a Black Widow. *whew*

Here's the first Black Widow we found. She was big and plump when we caught her, and she laid her eggs that night. She's feasting on a June Bug that one of the cats ever so graciously brought in the house for us.

Kaia found this little miss in their kiddy pool and begged me to save her. I scooped her out. She's a Goldenrod Crab Spider and can change between yellow and white to camouflage herself.

This little Funnel Weaver, or Grass Spider, has built a web right in the back of one of our veggie beds. We chanced upon it when we spotted the Asparagus Beetle you see stuck in the web. We waited around to watch the spider dash out of the funnel to its prey. This was a fantastic demonstration to Kaia on what exactly I mean when I say a critter is beneficial to our garden. This spider's web was in the corner of a door frame right behind our Asparagus plants. We'd been having a plague of these Asparagus Beetles, and it was easy to see the devastation they were causing to our plants. I have explained to her many times before how beneficial critters help our garden by eating the things that eat our plants, but this was an eye-opening experience for her. So much more evident was seeing the blighted asparagus, the asparagus beetles destroying it, and the spider eating them, than any words could represent.

We found this mama Wolf Spider carrying her babies on her back while we were picking strawberries. I wish it were in better focus, but she was fast!

This little guys was on our Kale, and I have not been able to identify it yet. So if anyone knows, please share with me!

This big wolf spider was found in our house. Now, like I said, I like spiders, but this did not make me happy. I like spiders outside. This one could fill the palm of my hand.

Sometime we go to see critters. These horses are along one of the ways we walk, and Kaia always stops to talk to them. There are a couple goats there, too. Kaia desperately wants to give them all a treat, but in all the times we have stopped by there we have not yet met the care takers of these large critters, so no treats yet.

Sometimes critters come to see us. This turkey appears every year with new babies and raises them around our yard. She is mighty big, I have never seen the cats try to catch one of those babies.

And sometimes critters are brought to us. These are a few of the critters I have confiscated from the cats. I have released from them all manner of things, big birds like blue jays and robins, and numerous other little birds, rabbits, moles, voles, mice, squirrels, and so on. Yesterday, just as Kaia opened the front door to go outside, one of our cats bolted in with a chipmunk. The cat was promptly ushered outside and the chipmunk chase began.

This is a little Tufter Tit Mouse. They are so cute!

This is a Cedar Waxwing. Not the best of photos, this bird was astonishingly sleek in colour and design.

Here is Kaia saying hello to a little Deer Mouse before releasing him.

I think that is quite enough critters. What do you like to find?

29 August 2011

Bendy Doll Faerie Family Tutorial

With all the work we've done on Kaia's faerie garden, it seemed time to give it some inhabitants. I've been working on making little odds and ends out of clay to fill it with as well, and I will probably post about those next. I've been interested in making her some bendy dolls for awhile, but the blanks I have found to buy seem a bit too expensive for what you get, and look blocky and clumsy to me anyway. I've seen dolls like these around, they didn't look too hard. They weren't! This is how to make bendy dolls like ours.

The supplies I used to make two bendy doll bodies were:
This is just for the doll bodies, you will find clothes, wings, and baby further on.

pipe cleaners
embroidery floss
embroidery needle
wooden beads
hot glue gun and glue
paint and paint brush (optional)

Kaia picked out the floss with me, and specifically wanted one doll brown and one cream. I painted one bead brown to match the floss for his skin, (the bead makes the head,) and the other I left unpainted, it matched fine as it was. She picked purple and blue floss for their hair..

Start by bending your pipe cleaner gently in half, and thread the bead over both stems, leaving a loop at the top. Cut lengths of floss for hair, making sure you cut it twice as long as you would like the hair end up. This goes faster if you loop it around your fingers, (or whatever,) and cut it off at the top and bottom.

Pull your hair halfway through the loop on your pipe cleaner, and pull the pipe cleaner the rest of the way through the bead until it holds the hair snugly on top.

On the boy doll, I pulled the pipe cleaner clear into the bead, which made his hair stick up, but the pipe cleaner was out of site without the need for a hat.

Now we'll form the body. Take your two loose pipe cleaner ends and give them a few twists to form the neck, then bend them out and double back to form arms. Twist them a few more times to make the torso, and the remaining lengths are the legs. Loop the ends back to make feet. Now select the floss you want for skin, and tie it onto your dolls waist.

Begin wrapping, not too tightly, but securely, and overlapping slightly to cover the pipe cleaner fuzz. This takes a little patience, but I found that turning the floss as I wrapped so that it lay flat, instead of  twisted, as it comes, helped a great deal. (I did also experiment with using floral wire instead of pipe cleaners to avoid the entire fuzz problem, but found that the fuzz really works to add necessary padding, filling them out a bit, and keeps the floss from slipping during play.)

Wrap from the waist up the chest, crossing over the shoulders in both directions, and wrap up the neck and back down to the first arm. Wrap down an arm, passing the floss around both wires. Do not cover it completely, as you will be wrapping back up the arm after completing the hand. (I did wrap it completely the first time, and ended up redoing it. The arm twice wrapped was quite stout!) When you get to the loop, stop, and thread your embroidery needle on to the floss.

You will need to wrap around the single wire for the hand, inserting the needle in the loop, instead of wrapping it together as you have been doing. Do this all the way around the end of the loop, and then begin wrapping both wires together again all the way back up the arm, covering all the pipe cleaner fuzz.

That's really the only part of the process that needs much explaining. Go from the first arm to the second, then down to the legs, doing the feet in the same way as the hands. After wrapping up from the last leg, I wrapped extra around the torsos until they were filled out and a little more shapely, then tied off the floss in back.

Using just a small amount of hot glue, tack the hair down around the sides and backs of their heads. Then give them each a haircut. You are done with your doll bodies!

I've seen people clothe tiny dolls in a variety of ways, but I opted to make very simple clothes out of felt. It reminded me of the clothes I used to make for troll dolls when I was little, except I didn't use any puffy paint! Ha. :) I use recycled plastic eco-felt, as we do not use wool. I selected colours to match their hair and added some earth tones in brown and green. Other than felt, I used a needle and thread, and a few spots of hot glue to make the clothing and wings.

We'll start with our boy. I folded a small, rectangular piece of felt in half, and cut a notch at the top just big enough to squeeze over his head, then cut the rest into the shape of a t-shirt. Across the top of the shoulders is the only place connecting the layers, I took a picture of what it looks like open, as well, so you will see what I mean.

Pull it on over his head, then sew it shut up the sides, and underneath the sleeves. I just used a small straight stitch.

For trousers, I stacked two pieces of felt and cut them both out into the basic trouser shape. The two pieces are not connected. I couldn't resist adding a little patch to the front of one leg before sewing them on. Slap a layer on his front, a layer on his back, then sew them up the outsides, up the inseams, and across the crotch.

I gathered the waist with a little piece of embroidery floss as a belt.

The neckline on his shirt was pretty loose after pulling it over his big head, (perhaps the shirt should simply be done in two pieces as well, but this is how I did this one,) so I cut a small felt "C" shape to make a collar, and stuck it on with a little hot glue.

To make wings, I folded a piece of felt in half so that they would be symmetrical, then had fun with the shape as I cut. I cut some spots out of a different shade and hot glued them on the wings, both front and back, then put a drop of hot glue in the middle of his back to secure them in place. I also cut out a little leaf, with a few stitches through it, to decorate the front of his shirt, and hot glued that on as well.

All done with him. See? I told you they were simple clothes. Now for our lady friend. The dress is cut and sewn up in the same way as the t-shirt, just a slightly different shape. I didn't want to put a collar on her, so I went around her neckline with a long basting stitch and gathered it tight before knotting it off.

I then cut out a handful of darker purple petals and tacked those on with a few stitches each around her waist.

I cut some smaller, cream coloured petals, and layered those over in the same way, just a little higher, and staggered between the larger petals.

I cut a tiny apron out of felt, "strings" and all, and tied it in back, you can see the ties sticking out a bit from behind her. I embellished that with a small flower hot glued on.

To cover the little tuft of pipe cleaner on top of her head, I cut another flower and hot glued it in place as a hat. The wings are, of course, the same process as for our boy, I shaped hers a little differently.

All clothed! Now for baby. Kaia asked for them to have a baby the moment I presented the dolls to her, so I put together a very quick, simple, little wrapped baby. I may try something a little more complex later, however this took but a moment and satisfied Kaia just fine. It was an emergency, after all. ;) Cut one large leaf shape, and one thin, rectangular strip, (I rounded the edges on the side that will show.) Add one small bead. Roll the white rectangle up, and add a dab of hot glued to hold it that way.

Glue the little bead on the top, and place it on the leaf. Hot glue the sides of the leaf up onto the roll...

...then tuck the bottom up and hot glue that down as well. Now Mama and Papa can hold their wee baby. I suppose I will be needing to add a little basket of sorts to the furniture I made for the garden! (UPDATE: I did, and you can find the directions for a little bassinet midway through this post.)

Our family is complete! At least... it is for now. Until Kaia asks for more. :)

I would love to see your dolls if you make some, please leave me a link in the comments if you wouldn't mind!