The Best Tree :: Christy Corp-Minamiji

The dark comes swift and cold this time of year.  

My family’s winter holiday traditions grew from roots firmly planted in European soil with a centuries’ deep layer of Christianity over the pagan bedrock of the feasts and decorations.  But as my children have moved through the Waldorf grades, I’ve watched and listened as they’ve learned that the gifts of light, food, and music in times of darkness and cold transcend cultures and religions.  In addition to the familiar rituals of Advent, they’ve accompanied Santa Lucia on her journey, celebrated Diwali, learned Hanukkah songs on their instruments, and been gifted by St. Nicholas.

Our households are not particularly religious, nor often organized, but certain traditions and a sense of seasonal rhythm (however loose) unites us as family.

Depending on where we plan to gather, individual houses in our family may receive varying degrees of Christmas decoration ranging from the odd pinecone up to the full-on Sugar Plum Fairy treatment.  Our holiday prep follow similar patterns; some years there are weeks of baking and crafting and carols, other years the weeks spin toward the holidays too fast for anything but bare-bones and last minute gifting and cooking.

But, my children know that no matter the upheaval anywhere else in life, one thing will hold true every year.  There will always be a Christmas tree.  

One year, nearly forty years ago, there almost wasn’t a tree.  

My parents are both only children, so family holidays were a combined effort, always including both sets of grandparents, sometimes my great-grandmother, and often the odd great-aunt and uncle.  Even though my sister and I were the only grandchildren, our holidays never felt small.  They bustled and cracked with food and energy and love.  

When I was about six, my family (parents, baby sister, both sets of grandparents) gathered in a rented condominium near Lake Tahoe on Christmas Eve.  I remember the crunch and slip of my tennis shoes on the parking lot snow, the diamond edges of the air, so different from the thick tule fog of home, and the feeling that anything could happen.  As I was shuffled into the condo amid the bags and boxes and enveloped in bear hugs, I looked around and felt something sink.  It didn’t seem possible; part of me believed there was another room somewhere.  But no, nowhere amid the unwieldy 1970s furniture and rust upholstery was the thing that made Christmas real.  The smell I prized above even that of baking cookies had stayed outside.

In all of the adult pre-trip strategizing, a critical element had been overlooked.  No one had brought the tree.

I was heartbroken. I crumpled on the couch in tears.

Looking back with adult eyes, I can imagine the layers of irritation added to the existing unpacking and holiday stresses by a six-year-old meltdown. But I have no memories of anyone giving me the sense that my sorrow was a burden.

My dad’s mother was a fiercely optimistic force of nature.  Holidays were her bailiwick.  Little inconveniences like snowstorms or missing Christmas trees were no deterrent to the perfect holiday. She hustled my father and grandfathers out the door into a snowy and quickly darkening evening to find a tree and sat me down at the table to string popcorn for “when they come back with a tree.”  Not “if.”  Failure was not an option. 

Meanwhile, out in the night, all the tree lots were sold out and closed. 

But several hours later, around the time my mother was making noises about bed, there was a clomping and rustling at the door.  The expedition had returned with a tree -- of sorts. They'd found a woman in a nearby condo unit who had an overly large tree, and as she was throwing out the bottom foot or so that had been lopped off, she gave it to them.

From that sad remnant of pine, my father and grandfathers jury-rigged a tree for me. It was scrawny, and probably rather wobbly, but when it came time to take down the decorations and clean the condo, I mourned that tree more than any other in my life. I remember standing by the dumpster, staring at the little tree and its popcorn-draped branches, sobbing to my grandmother that this was "the best tree ever."

“The first light of Advent is the light of stones, the light that shines in crystals, in sea-shells, and in bones.”  Our traditions represent the bones of family, a solid framework, a core of stability in a sometimes cold, dark, and uncertain world.  Those traditions, whether they be trees, crafts, lights, food, or music warm and hold us through the winters of life.

It's been nearly 40 years, but, for that tree and the love it represented, my children know that no matter where we are or how tightly we are budgeted, there will always be a tree.  Also, Santa will always be left cookies and a beer, but that’s a story for another time.

Christy Corp-Minamiji is our reluctant muse. A mom of three distinctly divine, loved-by-us kids, she takes everything, and mostly herself, with a grain of salt. Blogging veterinarian, freelance writer, runner, and soon-to-be-author, she took our beg and ran with it. Literally.

Zann Carter on Advent in the 80's

last night...

last night...

I've long been charmed by my friend Zann Carter, Waldorf-homeschooling pioneer, knittress, and sisterkeeper. She shared this bit in The Living Home Facebook group the other day, and I felt so moved by the continuum she created. It inspired me to bring a savory follow-thru to the season. I hope it resonates for you, too.  xx, Maya

"Steiner & Waldorf-inspired homeschooling came into my life in the late 80s and by 1992, when we moved to Indiana, we had radically changed our observance of Solstice & Christmas. We began to honor the Light of this season with a long, slow journey through Advent, the Twelve Holy Nights and Epiphany. It wasn't complicated: building up the Nativity scene, gathering most nights to 'do Advent' with candles, stories, carols, cookies. On St. Nicholas Day, our children would find chocolate coins & craft materials in their shoes. 
They absolutely loved this. So much that there seemed to be no disappointment when we pared down the gifts to one request and two surprises plus stockings. Christmas Day became just a slightly more special day among many special days. Because we continued on with activities (the Wise Men journeyed through the house to arrive at the manger on Epiphany - spotting their new position was a daily game...), there was no "day after Christmas let-down." The whole of the season became calm and gentle and renewing. 

I remember standing outside all those years ago, in our new home (cold Indiana instead of warm Florida where I had had all my Christmases before) looking at brilliant stars in a clear sky...and thinking that there was much in these Advent rituals that I could continue to do, that would continue to nourish me, even after my children had grown and left home. And that was true. 
But for the last few years, I have had the delight of sharing a weekly 'doing' of Advent with my granddaughter. It is a deep, deep joy I experience as I get out the handmade song and verse books my children used, as she rings the Advent bell, as we unwrap the same stones and crystals that her father and his siblings unwrapped." 

the hermit...

the hermit...

'Zann. Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

Professor's wife, mother of four, zannma to two. Grew up in Coral Gables, Florida, transplanted to Indiana at age 40, where I saw my first snow and learned to love wool. We homeschooled three of the kids, I helped to create a used bookshop ( Wabash River Books 1996-2005)and became an online bookseller. I started this blog in 2005 to share my mid-life artwork (primarily fiber), poetry and creative explorations. On March 18, 2006 my 20 year-old son Patrick died...and my world irrevocably changed.

I own 63 years now. Life is very mysterious, magickal, beautiful and sweet and sad.

Needle-felted Advent Spiral + Lizards in the Leaves blog // Instagram 

Enjoying the Holidays :: Donna Ashton

"The key is to feel deeply into what you are celebrating in a way that makes you feel joy and gratitude for all the blessings in your life."

photo credits: Donna Ashton

photo credits: Donna Ashton


Do you think of the holidays with a *sigh* and a how-can-I-fit-it-all-in attitude?

How can we manage our regular schedules and all these festivals, gift-making, cookie-baking responsibilities too?

I believe that the holiday season is not something we should be “doing”. It is a state of mind and an experience to be enjoyed. Not something to “get through”.

But how can we enjoy it when we have so much to do?

Spend some time thinking about what you dislike most this time of year and how you can change those negative things.

What are the most important experiences for you and your family?

A few years ago I discovered I wasn't enjoying the holiday time due to all I was trying to accomplish. I greatly reduced projects, commitments and created space to breathe. It was wonderful!

If shopping at the mall is on your list of biggest annoyances, can you shop online or at a local business? Etsy? Handmade? 

What can you prune back? If you normally bake 10 dozen cookies for family & friends, reduce it by half or more. Can a local bakery substitute for your homemade? We have a baking day each season where we spend all of a Saturday baking just 2-3 items. It has become one of our favorite activities. The baking becomes the experience, not the means to an end.

"It may all sound good in November, but when it comes down to it, less is more."

Pick one “event” to attend instead of 3 or 4. This means parades, tree lightings, breakfast with Santa, parties, etc.. It may all sound good in November, but when it comes down to it, less is more. One nice evening with the family caroling and warming hands over a fire can make lasting memories.

Festivals can seem overwhelming during this time! Advent, St.Nicholas, Santa Lucia, Solstice and then the big ones! If you are just starting out in Waldorf chose one that your family can learn about and celebrate.

Festivals are something you don't “have to do”. If the festival doesn’t resonate with you, it won’t with your children, so choose something that feels right and take it slow. These festivals evolve over the years and you can add more as you go.

Winter Solstice has become a family favorite so we make sure to plan that out first. If there is time to do others, we do. If not, it doesn’t matter. The key is to feel deeply into what you are celebrating in a way that makes you feel joy and gratitude for all the blessings in your life.

Gift-giving is large topic, but again I am saying “less is more”. Really take a look at what your kids play with. A few well loved gifts that will get use regularly are a magical addition. I choose to add new art supplies as gifts as well. Beeswax, Lyra pencils and block crayons are staple items and can be added to grandma’s gift list of approved toys.

Each year we make a few small gifts for friends and family and I have found that I enjoy this more and more. I expand each year as my sewing skills and my girls crafting abilities improve. Homespun gifts are treasured and my girls feel so proud to have said “I made that!” (and so do I!)

This is the time of year for the In-Breath. Come in and take time to reflect on the past year. Truly take a night off and just do something you love, but have been putting off. Take time to “be” and you will find the magic of the season.


With Blessings,


Donna Ashton is the founder and CEO of The Waldorf Connection, an online resource that provides workshops, courses, and training for homeschooling families all over the world. She is committed to delivering how-to guidance and support to families seeking to educate their children in a waldorf-inspired, conscious way.

Donna offers mentoring, advice and resources to thousands of families worldwide. To get started with the very basics of homeschooling with Waldorf, download her Starter Waldorf Homeschool kit.  Her book, The Waldorf Handbook, is a step-by-step introduction into how to homeschool with Waldorf-inspired methods.

Interview with Nancy Poer

One of the most beautiful and wise mentors we have had the fortune to know ... Nancy Jewel Poer sits down with Capital Public Radio for an interview about Waldorf Education. I smiled for the entire 15 minutes :) With her usual wit & wisdom she shares her thoughts about what the Waldorf movement rose out of, and why it's still so relevant 100 years later. Pour yourself some tea, find a comfy chair, and enjoy!

You can learn more about Nancy, and her vast body of work, here.



Free tele-class + goodies!

I won't lie. It took me nearly an entire day to write this post.


Between the lingering left-overs of a migraine, and a sick Little One with a new virus, not a whole lot got accomplished at our house today. To top it all off, 2 out of 4 of us missed our schools' Michaelmas play and celebration. Not an idyllic day in this Waldorfish home. 
At least, that's what I was telling myself. And then I looked closer and saw the remnants of homemade chicken broth with rice - for the upset tummy ... and pillows used for snuggling on the couch with a favourite book ... and a nest of even more pillows and some blankets - for a much needed nap, nestled deep.

Possibly a day more idyllic than I was giving it credit for?

In any case, my sick one is now napping, and I can complete this post!  I've been wanting to share with you a great opportunity... 
Donna Ashton from The Waldorf Connection is introducing a brand-new  program to teach families how to “Harmonize Your Homeschool: balance life and school”. Donna created this course as a direct response to the many, many requests she gets for help in this area. 

To get things rolling, she is getting everyone started by offering a free (!) tele-class with her titled, “5 Ways To Bring Harmony To Your Homeschool So Your Child Can Flourish".

If this sounds like just what you've been needing to talk about, you can grab access to the call here. 

In this info-packed call you’ll learn more about:

*Teaching your child through a warm & loving connection
*Filtering Media & PopCulture to Protect the Senses
*Supporting Your Child's Tricky Developmental Track (change of teeth, 9 yr change, 12yr change)
*Getting Everything Done without Exhaustion(rhythm & scheduling)
*Showing Up as the Teacher/Parent You Want to Be

*After the call you'll have an opportunity to sign up for the full course. If you do decide you want to participate in the course, Donna and I are throwing in some free goodies!*

From Donna:

*a copy of her amazing Rhythm & Organization Homestudy (who doesn't need help with rhythm & organization?)and,

*a Ticket to her weekend Live Event in November in Pawleys Island,SC.

From Robyn:

*an audio recording from our Story Starters kit - a chance to learn more about using storytelling in your home, as well as to get a feel for what the Story Starter kit has to offer. For free!

Here’s that link again to access this complimentary call. The full course begins on October 2nd!

With our best (virus-free!) wishes,
~Robyn  (& the rest of the Waldorfish crew)


Some pretty special feedback for the Story Starters kits arrived today :)

Yes, please? Come check out our Story Starter kits here! The goodness includes your own 40-card deck of original images, audio files and an ebook filled with ideas and inspiration, + bonus goodies throughout the year.

The ideal gift for bringing more storytelling and conversation into your home!

chalk drawing (photo) tutorial

I was finishing up my plans today, for a storytelling video I'm working on for the BEarth Institute. It occurred to me that I should probably have a relevant chalk drawing behind me in the background while filming... but of course I didn't think of this 3 days ago when I had all the time in the world to draw it. Needing something "easy" that my brain already has a template for, I opted to recreate a drawing I did when my former class was in the 6th grade. The original version of this particular drawing has been floating around out there in the internet for a few years now, and I often get questions about how it came together on the board. At the time, I didn't think to take pictures of the original work in progress, but I grabbed my camera today. My hope is that having a visual record of this process will be useful to you! Here we go.....




Humble beginnings....a simple wash with orange and then some dark blue layered over the top section. Not thinking too much here....just spreading the colour around.






Starting with the background....clouds. Trying to bring in the colors of the night sky, along with some shadows & depth, aided by black chalk. Love black chalk! The story I'm pairing this drawing with comes from the very beginning of Roman History... it is here in the curriculum that the stories we tell begin to transition from stories to "real", recorded history. We leave behind the mystery, and start looking towards the concrete.





Full moon, partially obscured by the clouds. Tucking the moon behind another part of the background layer helps continue adding depth and interest. More black chalk used.






Beginning to think about the middle ground now. Added a couple of islands sinking into the ocean at the horizon line to add more visual interest. Used white chalk to show moon light/highlights on the sides where it would naturally be brightest (ask yourself - where is the light in my drawing coming from?) And of course, more black chalk ;)







Light blue wash. Layer it right over the's nighttime, it's dark, and water hardly ever looks blue in real life anyway.








Starting the foreground. More white for highlights, and black to emphasize where things overlap + shadows.








At this point I stepped back and realized I was neglecting the right side of my drawing. I'm saving room in the middle of the ocean for the boat, but when I stood back I could see that there was room for a couple of middle ground rocks. I intentionally drew the blue one so that it crosses over the horizon line. Again, visual helps to break up that line a bit.









Speaking of boats....







(Notice that the ship also crosses the horizon line....)









...yes, this isn't a completely accurate representation of a Roman ship. During our second Roman History block, later in the year, we got into vivid stories involving the newly formed Roman navy & their spectacular ships. However, I figured this was safe for the first block. (For the second block, I did a chalk drawing of Hannibal crossing the Alps). 





Look back at the last image, and then at this one. In the previous image, the boat sort of looks like it's in the water....but in this drawing, it really looks like it's IN the water, yes? Using white chalk to highlight the tops of the waves as well as the water right around the boat itself helps to "ground" the boat. This same principle is true when drawing trees, or anything resting on the ground, really. Adding some small plant or grass details around the base of a tree, really helps to solidify its' place in the drawing.




All done! As an afterthought, I added a bit of the moon's reflection in the water, behind the boat.


I hope this is helpful! xoxo-Robyn