Friday, April 25, 2008

Earth Day, 1st graders and a Pine Tree Spirit Doll

Last week I didn’t realize it was earth day until I went to the elementary school to talk to the kids about New Mexico’s adopted state tree. Two weeks ago I participated in a science extravaganza. I was very daunted that the 5th graders were tall and the 1st graders were still babies. One of the teachers asked if I could come back to their class when it wasn’t so confusing and invited me for Earth Day.

Ohmigod, she taught 1st grade. I rallied, got all my stuff – clippers so the 22 kids could clip their own pine needles for tea, cheese cloth so they wouldn’t choke on loose needles, big measuring cup so the teacher could boil the needles with water and all 22 could sip a taste of pinion. I brought the pine tree spirit doll that shows everything a pine tree makes so the first graders could carefully pass her/him around (Pinions are both male and female).

When I finally walked into classroom 6, the teacher apologized because she asked that the other two first grade class join us in the big room. Over 60 first grade students and here I was overwhelmed with 22. Silly me.

The last time I spoke to any 1st grader, they couldn’t tell me where they lived. Perhaps they were shy. They were not shy this time. This time I was on their turf.

“Where do you live?” I asked expecting someone to come up with a full address. They finally responded, “Pecos!”

“Where is Pecos?” I prompted, expecting someone to shout out “New Mexico.”

“It’s here. You’re in it!” they countered. They could have easily added “You fool.”

I haven’t a clue on six- year old’s vocabulary. “Does anyone know what the word ‘adopted’ means?” the fool tried.

A boy with orange hair couldn’t contain himself.

“I know. I know. I am!”

“That’s wonderful,” I breathed a sigh of relief. “That means you are very special because your parents picked you out from many others.”

Finally, an easy dovetail. “Well, the state of New Mexico adopted a tree. It is the pinion pine.”

I explained that some pinon taproots burrowed themselves into the ground forty feet. Since each kid measured about 4 feet, I had ten kids lay on the floor feet to head to show how deep the roots could be. It was the quietest those ten kids were for the hour. They still may have associated lying down with nap time.

They passed around the tree spirit doll and discovered a Band-Aid. Another easy dovetail. “Yes, the sap, that sticky stuff that you’re getting all over your hands when you pull the needles off to make tea is sap.” Silly me, the fool clipped off a small piece of pine branch, had all the kids rip off some of the needles and place them in my 8-cup measuring bowl so every one of the 60 plus first graders could have a sip.

The kids noticed a tiny medicine bottle. “The pine tree once was called the medicine tree because it makes cough syrup.” I stated. I may have started loosing them but again, the kids came to my rescue.

“Has anyone ever seen cough drops called ‘Pine Brothers? “ Some nods. “Why do you think they called the cough drops, pine?”

“Cause they are made from pine trees?” the kids guessed. Hallelujah! I didn’t loose all of them.

“How about vitamins? How many of you take vitamins?” About half raised their hands.

“How about vitamin C? Do you know what it does?”

Another boy jumped up unable to control himself. “My brother is doing a report on vitamin C!” Obviously, the kid was impressed with his big brother in 5th grade who was reporting on Vitamin C.

“Have you learned anything from your big brothers report?” Ahh the joys of sharing knowledge.

“It comes in oranges.” So much for the joys of sharing knowledge.

“I know! I know,” She shouted from table 4. (I had the kids count off the tables so one of the table members could be a representative instead of all four, five or six of them crowding around me.) “You take vitamin C when you have a cold. It makes you healthy.”

I swear she wasn’t a shill. I did not plant her in the middle of the throngs of 6 year olds.

“Right you are. And guess what has the most vitamin C than anyone mentioned.”

“Oranges. Apples. Lemon. Bananas.” Shared knowledge rears its head again. The 5th grader made an impression.

A deep voice from a tiny boy child with a Mohawk hairstyle retorted. “Pinion”

Ohmigod. I was getting through.

I blew up a balloon to show the kids how large the throat of a pinion jay could get when it hoarded up to 200 to feed to the chicks. I explained that pinion jays flew in flocks of 50 or more and make a lot of noise. Sorta like 60 or more first graders.

“I saw a blue jay once,” one of the tykes hollered. “It was red!”

It seemed like hours when the microwave bell dinged.

A quiet child raised his hand. I called on him since he raised his hand.

“The bell went off,” he solemnly announced.

Surprisingly, when the teachers ordered, all the kids made a line, held their cups in front of them, and carefully, quietly walked back to their respective tables or floor spot.

They tasted their first sip of pine tea made with their own hands, even if the tea only steeped for three minutes instead of twenty and even though an eight-cup measuring bowl should have had eight teaspoons of broken pine needles, even though sipping tea is a quiet solitary relaxing moment.

“Well, what does it taste like?” one of the teachers questioned.

“Tastes like hot water,” one said

“Tastes like dishwater,” she responded, wrinkling her nose

“I think it tastes a little lemony,” another added

Praise Mother Earth and her Day! We have a new naturalist in Pecos Elementary School, New Mexico.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The gallery held over the doll show and I volunteered to make baby dolls for any kid who wanted. Little did I know that the director of the gallery invited 63 kids to participate in a theater group for the same day.

“They won’t all show up. I expect they’ll be only 40 or so.” It seemed as though there were four thousand or so but I rallied.

Robin, the director broke the kids up in three groups. Two were loudly practicing impromptu acting and the other 19 made dolls.

I couldn’t see the actors but the doll makers were mesmerized by the antics of the theater circles.

Imagine 19 children with needles and scissors listening to me over the din of 40 more kids acting out imaginary scenes.

Nevertheless, about six kids really were interested in doll making. Boys as well as girls.

And they were the ugliest dolls in the entire world. Most did not stuff the tubes (which I made ahead of time) tight enough. One nine year old poked a large needle through the head of the doll as directed and out where she thought the nose should be as directed.

“Look,” she exclaimed, “an automatic nose.” With the large needle, she managed to catch a loose piece of stretch fabric and pull it through to the front of the doll. When it came time to fashion the mouth, I instructed to make a stritch under the nose. She didn’t hear the words ‘where you think the mouth to be’ so the mouth landed up directly under the automatic nose. It came out looking like a shrunken smiling head.

Another girl who didn’t stuff the doll tight enough made the doll’s head similar to a cotton ball except not as tight. She made a tiny little hat even too small for the pinhead. Not to worry, she stuffed the loose cotton ball head into the miniature hat. Even so, the hat continuously popped off. Creatively, she took part of the blanket, which she cut 4 times too big for the baby, and wrapped it around the baby’s head. It looked like an underfed dark skinned infant that Christian Ministries beg to send 80 cents a day to. She couldn’t wait to get home to make a cradle.

One of the boys, destined to become a designer, probably bored with waiting for me to cut the thread of the other 19 kids, began poking his doll body with his needle. I was sure he planned to make a voodoo look-alike for another student who needed much of my time. He did not make the voodoo doll. His was a sweet girl baby, probably the best of the bunch.

I forgot that kids don’t know to keep the thread taut in order to cut it easily. When the small motor skills are not fully developed and when one has a strange sharp instrument in hand, it is nearly impossible to cut a piece of thread. Especially when bunches of kids are playacting 10 feet from large pointy scissors and spiky threaded needles.

Some parents hurried their offspring from the table especially the boy doll makers. I imagine it is difficult being a macho Hispanic Dad watching your h’ijo put the finishing touches on a pink baby girl doll.

All in all, when the kids finally wrapped their baby bundles in bunting and stitched the cap in place, each held their baby doll lovingly in their arms and cooed as only a parent can. Except for the some of the boys who tenderly shoved their creations in their pocket.

Monday, April 7, 2008


The doll show was such a success that it was held over for another two weekends. This Saturday, at a workshop, I’m going to show the visitors:



  • Stretchable fabric – bathing suit lining, tee shirt fabric skin tones
  • Stuffing –fiberfil

  • Heavy duty thread – quilting thread to match stretchable fabric

  • Long needle

  • Two kinds of flannel, one for a hat and one for a blanket

  • Black magic marker


Make a tube from the stretch fabric about 2” in diam.

Tie the top of the tube with quilting thread

Turn the tube right side out Tie the bottom of the tube with quilting thread (It should look like a sausage)

Tie off a neck about 1/3 down from the top. (Now it should look like a sausage with a head)

Thread a needle through the top of the head and come out through the head to about ½ in the middle of the head. This is where the nose will be.
Pinch a little fabric and filling.
Make a stitch from one side of the pinch to the other side of the pinch.
Do this is the same spot about three times. This secures the stitch.
A little further down the ‘nose’ and a tiny bit further apart, do it again.
Keep doing this until the’nose’ is as long as you want it.
Take a tiny stitch where you want the right nostril to be, Do this 3 times, too
Go through the nose to the other side to make the left nostril.
Go back in the head and out through where you want the baby’s mouth to be. Take a stitch about 1” long and pull tight. Do this three times.
Then take the needle out through the back of the doll’s head. (No one will see the back)

With the black magic marker, make two stretched ‘u’s. (Easy?)


  • Cut about a three-four” wide swatch of flannel and as long as the dolls head plus an inch allowance for a seam.
  • Make a tube.
  • Tie the top of the tube with quilting thread
  • Turn the tube right side out and roll up the end (Voila!) A cap for the doll
  • Either glue or sew this to the doll’s head

Lay out the baby doll kitty-corner on the other piece of flannel. Measure a square of this fabric so that the doll can be wrapped in a bunting.(By pulling up the lower end of the blanket to the doll’s chin and criss-crossing the side s of the blanket from left to right, you have a baby bunting. (This was once called a swaddling cloth)
Either glue or sew this to the doll’s body. (That way no one will know the baby doll doesn’t have any arms or legs.)

OPT: The top of the blanket is now sticking up like a thick flannel feather. Tip this down over the doll’s cap. This completes the lovable cuddly baby.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rag-A-Mama Dolls Workshop at the Beloved Pecos Gallery

I’ve been under the weather for the past few days. Now I’m experiencing allergies. It did not affect my participation in the doll show last weekend.

For me, the highlight of the show was teaching some gallery visitors how to make rag-a-mama dolls. Here’s how.

You’ll need:

Neutral cotton fabric scrap
Small ball of fiberfill
Two pipe cleaners
Yarn or string


  1. Rip or cut a piece of neutral fabric about 4” x 6”.

  2. Hold the fabric flat in one hand and stuff a piece of fiberfill into the fabric and tie it with a piece of yarn or string to make a head. At this point, it should look like a ghost.

  3. Rip or cut a piece of the same fabric about 6” long by about 3” wide.

  4. Wrap that fabric around a pipe cleaner.

  5. Tie each end. This will be the hands.

  6. Pick up the ‘ghost’ head and slightly pull apart the ‘neck’ of the ghost. Place the arms between the two parts of the ‘neck and tie in place with another piece of yarn or string. At this point it will start looking like a doll.

  7. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 but this time the wrapped fabric will become the doll’s legs.

  8. Rip or cut a piece of colorful fabric about 2’wide x 3” long and crisscross the pieces of fabric over the chest of the doll. This becomes the shoulders.

  9. Rip or cut another piece of colorful fabric matching or complimentary to the shoulders about 4” wide that will wrap around the doll at least three times.

  10. Gather the fabric around the dolls waist and tie with another piece of yarn or string.

  11. Tie another contrasting triangle around the dolls head as a scarf.

    It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The 8 year old made a fantastic “radio-girl” doll. Instead of tying a bandana around the doll’s head, she took another pipe cleaner and fashioned a headset from the pipe cleaner. The 9 year old chose a flowing silk scarf for a skirt. The 4-year old son made a boy doll with Dad’s help. The boy doll quickly became airplane doll. The other adult went “out on her own”, did not follow the rules and concocted a wonderful, artistic creation. She should be an artist.

    The visitors chose this form of rag-a-mama doll because the primitive folk art doll can sit. An easier way to make a doll is to follow the directions of a corn-husk doll but instead of using corn-husks, cut or rip fabric pieces.