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Many years ago we planted catnip in the garden.  This year, we have an abundance of it so we have been giving the cats fresh, organic catnip (which they enjoy) and drying it.  Sophia also has been hand-embroidering catnip toys for one of her 4-H projects. 

Making your own catnip toys is a great way to be resourceful by using leftover felt scraps as well as use extra catnip.  It also is keeps cats healthy and active since they run and play with the toys.  Healthy cats mean less trips to the veterinarian…another cost savings!

Here’s how to make homemade catnip toys:

STEP ONE: GROW AND HARVEST CATNIP

Olivia Picking Catnip
Olivia picking some catnip early in the season.
The catnip plant is now at least 1.5′ tall.

From one small plant purchased at a garden center many years ago, this has paid for itself many times over.  Each year, the plant comes up and does well on its own. 

This year, there were two other catnip plants that came up in different areas of the garden, so we transplanted them.  Initially, they were wilted and didn’t look like they would make it.  Within a week, they were doing quite well.

Sometimes we pick the leaves off, and other times (if the catnip has grown a lot), we will cut it back by taking down the several inches of leaves and stems. 

STEP TWO: DRY THE CATNIP LEAVES

Drying Catnip
Sophia placing the catnip leaves
on a dehydrator tray.

We have a basic five-tray dehydrator that we use to dry catnip.  Simply place the the leave around each tray in a single layer and with a bit of room around each leaf. Catnip dries quickly – usually in less than a day.

Wanting the Catnip
Lucy taking a dried catnip leaf
before it can be used in a toy.

Remove the dried leaves and place in an air-tight container.  Make sure the leaves are completely dry or else they won’t last.  Keep them whole at this point. Don’t crush them.

STEP THREE: SEW THE TOY – LEAVING OPEN A SMALL HOLE

There are free patterns on the internet that you can use to make cat toys.  Sophia used the bird pattern HERE. She also used a children’s craft book that has patterns in it for small toys. 

Rather than purchasing anything new, she used scraps of felt that were on hand.  Felted wool sweaters also work well for cat toys.

Follow the directions for making the toy, making sure to leave a small opening for the catnip and stuffing.

Placing crushed catnip leaves
into the toy.
Crush a few catnip leaves, and then place them into the toy. 
STEP FOUR: FINISH SEWING THE TOY
Add some wool stuffing, and then finish stitching the cat toy.
Light Gray Mouse - Bring Stories and Rhymes Alive, Nature Table Accessory, or Play Toy
Cat toy in the shape of a mouse.

Wool Felt Cat Toys
Cat toys made from a felted wool sweater
and ribbon.

STEP FIVE: WATCH THE CATS PLAY WITH THE CATNIP TOY

The cats were around Sophia while she made the toys for them.  Needles to say, when she was done and they had a chance to play with the toys, they were so happy. 

Playing with a Catnip Toy
Sophia showing the cats the embroidered
catnip bird she made for them.
They batted the toys around, picked them up and carried them, and tossed them in the air. They were entertained with the toys and we were entertained watching them.

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This week for the Outdoor Hour Challenge we’re doing #44 Mammals: Rabbits and Hares.  The Handbook of Nature Study website is a wonderful resource, and the girls and I have been enjoying incorporating more nature walks and study into the weekly homeschooling schedule.

Two Felt Rabbits Hopping Away
Two hand-embroidered cottontails hopping away.

For this post, typeface in bold is from the Handbook of Nature Study website; typeface in italics is from the book Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock; and plain typeface reflects my own thoughts and words.

1. Read pages 214-219 in the Handbook of Nature Study.  In this case, I would actually mark sections to read to your child about rabbits as a way to introduce them to an animal they probably haven’t seen in the wild. You do not need to read the whole section on rabbits but only as much as you think they will be interested in hearing. If you are using The Burgess Book of Animals, you may wish to skip reading from the Handbook of Nature Study to them altogether.

Although few of us will have access to a real rabbit of any sort to study up close, children will enjoy reading about the rabbit and then remembering some facts about rabbits for any future opportunities that may arise. Be creative and see if you can visit a pet shop that has rabbits that you can observe or let others know that you are studying rabbits and they may know someone who owns a rabbit that you can study with your children.

Below are some interesting facts about rabbits that are in the book Handbook of Nature Study:

The cotton-tail thrives amid civilization; its color protects it from sight; its long ears give it warning of the approach of danger; and its long legs enable it to run by swift, long leaps.

The cotton-tails are night wanderers and usually remain hidden during the day. 

In summer, they feed on clover or grass…herbs…sweet apples and fresh cabbage.  In winter, the long, ganwing teeth of the cotton-tail are sometimes used to the damage of fruit trees…since the rabbits are obliged to feed upon bark in order to keep alive.

Rabbit-Eaten Bark
Branches from an apple tree that the rabbits
ate during the winter.  Rabbit pellets are on the snow as well.

If [the ears] are set back to back and directed backward, they indicate placidity, but…is always on guard; if lifted straight up they signify attention and anxiety; if one is bent forward and the other backward the meaning is: “Now just where did that sound come from?”

The rabbit has an upper and lower pair of incisors like other rodents, but on the upper jaw there is a short incisor behind each of the large teeth; these are of no use now but are inherited from some ancestor which found them useful.

The strong hind legs…enable it to make…jumps, of eight feet or more.

There are five toes on the front feet, and four on the hind feet; the hair on the bottom of the feet is a protection, much needed by an animals which sits for long periods upon the snow.

Rabbit Tracks in the Woods
Rabbit tracks in the snow.

The general color of the rabbit fits in with natural surroundings.

Rabbit Fur
Fur in the snow from a rabbit.

Young rabbits are blind at first, but when about three weeks old are sufficiently grown to run quite rapidly.

Fox, mink, weasel, hawk, owl, snake and occasionally red squirrel all relish the young cotton-tail if they can get it. 

Eagle Eating a Meal
An eagle at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha
being fed rabbit meat during a presentation.

2. Supplemental reading in The Burgess Animal Book for Children: Read Stories 1-3. After you read each chapter, stop and pause for a little discussion about the animals in each story. See if your child can narrate back to you a few facts about each animal. If narration is new to your child, you may need to prompt them at first but it does get easier as you practice. Use the illustrations if you need to get them started.

“The purpose of this book is to acquaint the reader with the larger groups-orders, families, and divisions of the latter, so that typical representatives may readily be recognized and their habits understood.” (The Burgess Animal Book, Preface)

I read the following stories to the girls from The Burgess Animal Book:
– Jenny Wren Give Peter Rabbit an Idea
– Peter and Jumper Go to School
– More of Peter’s Long-Legged Cousins

We all enjoyed learning more about the marsh and swamp rabbits – both of which spend about half their time swimming.  The rabbits that are commonly seen around here (in the northern United States) do not swim.  The rabbits that like to swim are found in the southern part of the United States, according to The Burgess Animal Book.

270/365 swimming Marsh Rabbit!
Marsh rabbit swimming in Florida.

3. Spend 10-15 minutes outdoors on a nature walk. Ask your children where they think that they might see a mammal. If you have snow or mud, look for animal tracks of any kind. Look for any other signs of animals as you walk. Look for gnawing marks on trees and plants. Look for scat or cones or seeds left from a meal.

Don’t forget that you can also observe other mammals if you have the opportunity. Cats, dogs, squirrels, and horses may be available. You can draw attention to the similarities and differences between a rabbit and these other mammals. For example: How are a cat’s and a rabbit’s ears different? Why do you think they are different? How are a cat and a rabbit alike? (both have fur, both have four legs, etc.)

Yesterday, it felt like spring with all the snow melted on the property, the pond at a water level that I haven’t seen in years, and many parts of the pastures and backyard flooded.  Signs of spring – bright green grass and buds on some of the trees – were already emerging.  It rained for most of the day yesterday, turned to sleet, and then overnight began snowing.  This is what today looked like:

Pond in the northwest pasture and six inches of new snow.

Over six inches of snow fell.  Under that is crunchy ice.  Not many people are out and about today.  It’s been very quiet.

Horses behind the barn ready for some corn.
The snow is plastered against the barn.
Hoss eating some alfalfa in the morning. 
The snow is still coming down with no sign of stopping.
After we fed the horses, we went on a short nature walk to look for any type of tracks, particularly ones made from rabbits which have been commonly seen all winter.  We explored part of the east pasture first.  No rabbit tracks.
Sophia by the pine trees in the backyard.

We climbed over the fence into the backyard and walked near the big pine trees.  No tracks near or underneath them. 

Pine cones and needles covered with snow.

We went to the gate that leads from the backyard to front yard.  We all liked the pattern the snow left on the gate:

Snow on the gate.

We walked around the front yard, and found no rabbit tracks in the yard or under the pine trees in the front yard where typically there are many to be found. 

Olivia jumping between sets of dog tracks.

There were dog tracks so I had the girls jump between the sets of tracks to see if they could jump as far as the space between each set.  It was difficult for Olivia, but Sophia could easily make the jump (she’s quite a bit taller than Olivia).

Sophia jumping between sets of dog tracks
with Gretel following closely behind her.

We even checked the brush pile in the middle of the yard where the rabbits hide and eat the apple tree branches.  No indication that rabbits have been active.

Close-up of Rabbit Marks
Branch of an apple tree in the brush pile
that was eaten by a rabbit.

The absence of tracks was just as an important lesson today as seeing evidence of rabbits that we normally do.  It showed us that during winter/early-spring storms the rabbits take shelter. 

We noticed on our walk that the birds have
been eating a lot of the berries.  Not many are left.

4. For your nature journal this week, try sketching two different kinds of rabbits. Use The Burgess Animal Book as a reference or you can Google Cottontail rabbit, Northern hare, Swamp rabbit, Snowshoe rabbit, Jack rabbit.

Olivia chose to draw a cottontail rabbit while Sophia drew a black-tailed jack rabbit.  In Minnesota, we would see a cottontail rabbit, but not a black-tailed jack rabbit (they are found in South Dakota to Washington and south from there to Mexico). 

Olivia’s nature journal entry about rabbits.

Sophia liked the black-tailed jack rabbit because it is the only rabbit that has black on its tail and tips of its ears.

Other rabbit-related activities we’ve done in the past:

Beeswax Bunnies
We made beeswax impressions.  This is one of our favorite designs.

Making Easter Cookies
Making gingerbread cookies for Easter
with rabbit and chick shapes.
Girls Ready for Easter Bunny Visit
Many years ago, the girls set up a place for the Easter Bunny
and made egg collectors with milk jugs and cottonballs.
Sophia's Finished Bunny Egg
The girls made rabbits from a half an egg, carrots slices, and green onion slices.
They used whole cloves for the eyes.
Felt Bunny
This is a hand-embroidered rabbit
I made for the nature table.
Moss on Rabbit Hide
In 2007, the girls learned about Dakota Indians and
how they use to put moss on rabbit hides for babies’ diapers.
This was part of Homeschool Day at the Minnesota History Center.

Dreaming of owning a rabbit

It was about 95 degrees this day in August 2007
with a heat index of like 295 degrees.
It was insanely hot. Sophia is determined to have pet rabbits.

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I’ve been spending some time over the past few days making some new hand-embroidered toys.  I used all natural materials to create the toys:  wool felt, sheep wool stuffing, cotton embroidery floss, and cotton stockinette fabric.

Wool felt zebra…only 3 1/2″ tall.
I made a zebra like this one about a year or so ago that I gave away.  Made another one this weekend for my daughters who enjoy playing with dolls.  Miniature animals – whether they are stuffed, carved from wood, or glass – make their way into the girls’ play time and imagination.  
Since the zebra is for the girls, I decided to make a PDF pattern of the zebra that’s available in my shop (Harvest Moon by Hand) so anyone can make one.
Another thing I made this weekend was a doll.  The pattern is from The Birthday Book – Celebrations for Everyone by Ann Druitt.  I’ve had this book on my shelf for some time now, and just pulled it out recently for some ideas.  I was pleasantly suprised to see all the different patterns for children’s toys.
Walking Star Boy
One of the patterns is for a “walking star boy and jester.”  I started with the walking star boy since that was the first pattern and seemed a bit easier than the jester which requires a bit more sewing/embroidery work.  The doll stands about 8 inches high (with the hat).
I haven’t used stockinette fabric before, so this was my first attempt at trying to make a face and hands.  I chose not to put a face on the doll because then whoever plays with the doll can imagine what it looks like and its expression – the doll can be happy, upset, resting – whatever the girls want the doll to express – rather than having the same expression that dolls typically have when they’re purchased from a store. 
Olivia was sick all day, so she rested in bed while I sat by her and made the doll. She chose the colors of the doll’s outfit and hair; and enjoyed watching the doll-making process. By late afternoon, the doll was completed…just in time for her to hold onto as she rested.
Olivia resting with her new doll
In addition to providing comfort, the star boy provided Olivia with some entertainment while she was laying in bed.  Because the doll has a horizontal slit in the back, two fingers can be placed in the legs. In this way, the star boy can “walk” and move around which is a bit different than other dolls the girls have. 
Star boy kicking some felted acorns

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Each year, the girls look forward to decorating the home for Valentine’s Day.  Last year, I made a variety of window stars that I put on the windows.  After the holiday, I packed them away to use again this year. 

It was so easy this year to decorate the main window in the dining room.  Here’s what it looks like:

As the girls and I looked through the bin of Valentine’s Day decor, we came across the paper cuttings I did last year for each of them.  One chose red paper as the backing and the other chose pink.  We hung the paper cuttings with a couple more window stars in the living room.

Since I just put out the winter nature table scene on the dresser in the dining room about a week ago, the girls and I decided to keep it up.  So this will stay up for a little while longer (perhaps right after Valentine’s Day it will be changed to another scene).

Winter Nature Table
Since we decided to keep the winter nature table where it was, Olivia suggested putting a Valentine’s scene on the bookshelf.  The table is more craft focused rather than nature focused since the winter nature table has the nature elements (e.g., rocks, sticks, pinecone, walnut shell beeswax candles). 

Valentine’s Day Items

The display on the bookcase has hand-embroidered gnomes made from wool felt and sheep wool stuffing from sheep who use to live here.  The elf clogs are hand-embroidered and made from wool felt as well.  I made a pair for each of the girls using their favorite colors.  The wet-on-wet watercolor lanterns are made from watercolor paper, kite paper, and tissue paper.  The girls made them a few years ago.  The two cards are handmade featuring origami designs made from Japanese paper. 

The picture is of Casey who died 3 years ago on the day before Valentine’s Day.  An artist painted the picture in exchange for some of my work.  It’s been a treasured picture…and one that has been the focal point of several displays.

I like to make a few new things each year, so this is a new window star I made.  It follows a base pattern that I use for another star, but I changed things up a bit to create a new pattern.  Here it is:

I also made a couple of miniature bears from a wool sweater that I felted in the washer/dryer.  The bears are holding a paper bunting with Valentine’s Day theme paper.  The bears are available in my shop, but I’m going to make another set so the girls have something else to decorate with in future years. 

Bears (made with a felted sweater) holding a bunting

The other item I just started making are bendy dolls with wire, beads, and wool felt.  I use a length of wire and two different size beads to create a miniature human form.  The clothes are hand-embroidered onto the wire frame.  The hat needed to be hot-glued onto the bead head in order to stay…otherwise it just slips right off.

I’m doing some for my shop as well as some for home.  The girls like them because they can bend and be posed in different ways.  Here is the trio of dolls that I made this weekend:

There are still a couple of weeks until February and some more things the girls and I want to do before then that relate to the holiday….more crafts, recipes to try, and activities to do.  Next week, I’ll post some more Valentine’s Day ideas.
Family room window with winter-white stars

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Bears in Woods
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann

This morning I did a few projects that I’ve wanted to do for some time now.

First, I made a couple of pocket-size bears from felted wool sweaters, cotton fabric, and buttons. Everything is hand-embroidered (the bears’ features, around the edges of the bears, and the fabric to the wool).

Then, I made a trio of gnomes from green, red, and white wool felt. The gnomes are stuffed with wool from sheep that I raised. The first set is for my shop, Harvest Moon by Hand. The second set is going to be for the nature table that I set up for the girls each month.

“Art Every Day Month” is wrapping up in three days. It’s been fun to challenge myself to do something creative each day. Working with wool and embroidery are two things I enjoy doing. I particularly enjoy making natural toys – both for my daughters as well as for customers.

Having open-ended toys like the bears and gnomes along with some simple, natural “props” (like pine cones, gems, rocks, sticks, and colored wool) can open the door to hours of imaginative play. I’m always amazed at the stories and scenes the girls can create with natural elements such as the ones I’ve mentioned.

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I made a variety of gnomes for my Etsy shop, Harvest Moon by Hand. This trio is in autumn colors, and are made from wool felt and stuffed with wool from sheep I raised.

They do not have faces because then children can use their imagination to give the gnomes “feelings” based on what they are playing.

My daughters love to have toys that are more “open ended.” I find that their play is more imaginative when the dolls or toys like these gnomes.

I also include hand-embroidered toys that I make on the nature table so the girls can play with natural elements (e.g., pinecones, stones, sticks) and the toys. It’s amazing what stories they can come up with given a few simple, natural items.

The gnomes are available through Harvest Moon by Hand at http://www.harvestmoonbyhand.etsy.com

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