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Remember the poor shoe maker whose steadfast, honest work and generosity was richly rewarded by wonderful, little elves?  (Click here to recant this lovely Grimm Brother's fairytale.)  Enchantingly, our local, humble toy maker, Cheryl Smith a.k.a Miss Teapot, has a similiar story to share about a spritely girl whose crafty hands are bringing golden rewards to Miss Teapot's business and heart. 

The story begins with Cheryl Smith, a creative woman who began down the path of “homespun artisan” learning knitting and sewing under her own mother’s wing. In her young teen years, Cheryl ran with her new skills crafting stylish clothing to expand her budget constrained wardrobe. Even designing and stitching her own prom gowns! Cheryl found she loved to work with fibers, but also to create with color, foods, and many other mediums. She left her parent’s home as a young adult to seek out a formal education in Home Economics and Culinary Arts.

After a brief foray into careers such as Interior Designer and Pantry Chef, Cheryl married and birthed a daughter of her own. Her new, innocent, little babe called to her to stay by her side, and Cheryl began a new career as a full-time mother. she began immediately to “home school” this wee girl , determined to raise her daughter in a spirit of appreciation for the magic of the world through adding back one’s own beauty. Drawing from Waldorf and Un-Schooling approaches, Cheryl happily engaged her daughter in outdoor play, fantasy, and of course children’s crafting. Still, her inner tradeswoman yearned to produce and earn…

One day, in preparing for her daughter’s fourth birthday party, Cheryl discovered her new career path. While creating flower crowns and “floaty fairy skirts” for her daughter and friends, she began to think what fun making such toys could be as a create-at-home job. Thinking of the whimsical toys she discovered at the delightful The Ark Toy Company stores in Berkeley and San Francisco, she sought to exclusively sell her crowns through this special venue.

Cheryl carved out a workspace in her home and heart, affirming her need to support her own inner life while providing an important model for own children’s creative manifestations. She found making crowns very rewarding to her own need for whimsy and creativity. Most exciting, she found she could apply many of her skills in crown making – dying, sewing, felting, knitting, paper crafting and more. Now after ten years cobbling crowns, Miss Teapot has made over 1709 crowns for 40 different seasons.

Her wee babe of a daughter, Maddy, is today fourteen and is now joined by a brother, Wes, about to turn ten. These two little sprites have grown up at the feet of their mother the toymaker. Their childhood is infused with the whimsy of living in a toyshop - fairy crowns, wands, flowers, and all of the other magical bits of wool, fabric, glittery beads, and wire float on every surface and ceiling of their home. The children are encouraged, although not pushed, to grab Miss Teapot’s tools and these bits of materials to fashion their own creations.

Through the years this family has dabbled in many creative realms including playing the violin or piano, Scottish dancing, paper making, painting, beading, and much more. The children engage in rich, fantasy play where they hone their imaginations, initiative, tool mastery, handwork skills and appreciation for beauty. Their daily rhythm revolves around having time to dream, process, reflect, and just “be.” Evidence of their resulting creativity are abundant - even toy hamsters in this home get the grand treatment with a tree house, handmade clothes, and party hats to boot!

However, it has only been very recently that our humble toymaker discovered she had a toy making elf afoot…Daughter Maddy no longer needs her mother to suggest projects or provide tools. She’s created her own workspace and began her own handwork – now reading and understanding patterns or how to use tools all on her own.

Maddy’s even running with her own creative spirit and crafting her very own toys. Maddy’s fabulous felted creations show the mistress toymaker in her blood.

Cheryl revels in the idea that her daughter will never have to work for someone else, as she is already displaying she can create something that is “good and sellable.” This little elf is currently at play creating a blog and considering selling her toys on Etsy. Miss Teapot may soon have a business partner!

Tips for Supporting Your Elves

 Create time and space for your own inner life and creativity

 Preserve unscheduled time for kids to dream, process, reflect and  create

 Provide your kids with high quality tools and materials for play and creating

 Celebrate your children’s art by giving it space in your home above and beyond the refrigerator door

The New York Times reports that Disney is offering refunds for "Baby Einstein" DVD's.  The company will refund $15.99 for each DVD for up to 4 movies at Disney store locations.  (Call 707-545-0167 to confirm this rebate program before heading down...) 

It turns out many parents assumed these videos were educational for children, and by offering this "customer satisfaction" refund, Disney essentially agrees that the video titling was misleading.  However the American Association of Pediatrics says this of TV and Toddlers:

"It may be tempting to put your infant or toddler in front of the television, especially to watch shows created just for children under age two. But the American Academy of Pediatrics says: Don't do it! These early years are crucial in a child's development. The Academy is concerned about the impact of television programming intended for children younger than age two and how it could affect your child's development. Pediatricians strongly oppose targeted programming, especially when it's used to market toys, games, dolls, unhealthy food and other products to toddlers. Any positive effect of television on infants and toddlers is still open to question, but the benefits of parent-child interactions are proven. Under age two, talking, singing, reading, listening to music or playing are far more important to a child's development than any TV show. For more information on your child's health, visit"

Waldorf educators also believe that media is not supportive of child development.  Many schools ask families to eliminate media before fifth grade, and ideally until eighth grade.  Read here for a comprehensive article and list of research links.

Another recent product update has parents in a buzz - SIGG water bottles made prior to August 2009 may have been made using BPA.  SIGG also did not offer a "recall" but is instead offering an "exchange" program for customers who were not happy with BPA content of SIGG Aluminum water bottle liners.  (Be sure to get your replacement SIGG bottle before the "exchange" ends on October 31 - details here.) 

Does anyone else find it interesting that these companies aren't admitting to creating any negative social consequence through false marketing or faulty product creation? 

My dear friend Phyllis and her husband Doug just made a trek to the East Coast with high hopes of seeing the reknowned fall display of brilliant foliage.  Ironically, while flipping through a magazine on their return flight to California, Phyllis discovered that our very own Sonoma County is on "top ten" lists for its own fall foliage show!  As CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg says: "You Don't Have to Be in Northeast or Canada!".  He declares Sonoma County as a surprising place to see cascading hills of red, yellow, and orange.

Our large maple tree would laugh at this commentary.  Surely we can see her tribute to Autumn with the abundant leaves she scatters on our walkway each day.  Our garden is hidden beneath her leafy blanket. 

Her sister the Norwegian maple, who grows at our fiber instructor's home, would also shake her branches at us.  How could we need to look beyond her rainbow shower to find any more firery display? 

The Chinese Pistachios that line many of our neighborhood streets and the thousands of acres of grape vineyards scattered throughout our county also shimmer in their tri-color glory in October's fading sun.  They call to us to come out and play, stomp, crunch, and marvel.... especially in the coming week with the warm weather prediction.  

Gather the family and walk, bike, or drive around this weekend to behold the glory in our own backyard!  Visit a pumpkin patch (see the Sonoma Family Life guide for ideas), go to a Farmer's Market (you can make a sugar skull for El Dia de los Muertos at Petaluma's Farmer's Market), or play at a park (the Sonoma Garden Park Harvest Festival is sure to be a winner.)  The City of Geyserville also invites you to it's annual free Fall Color Festival and Vintage Car Show.   Chase the Fall Fairy as she changes local leaves from green to gold and red!

Meet two inspiring women who’ve found success and joy through a balanced blend of raising children, creating art, and generating an income: Isla Corbett and Lisa Fontaine. Trace their paths of finding a winning combination for being both mother and career woman, discover opportunities for buying or selling handmade creations, and try out four mom designed, family-centered, holiday crafts.

Inspiring Mothers: Isla Corbett and Lisa Fontaine

Meet Isla. Isla Corbett is the mother of a three-year-old son AND designer of modern felt accessories. A warm woman with a dashing wit and fabulous Scottish accent, I find I could listen to her humorous stories of learning life’s sage lessons for hours on end. She’s the first woman I’ve ever met who has a degree in 3 dimensional Plastics design, yet also works with ceramics and wood, sews, knits, and creates interior designs with great skill. Color is likely the common thread through Isla’s work, and beauty is the result of all she creates. Isla began creating with her hands by learning to knit at her grandmother’s knee, and continues to find inspiration for her creations through the work of Scottish fiber artists such as those featured through Tait and Style.

Not long ago, Isla used her dining room table as her headquarters for crafting “modern felt accessories” such as purses, hair bobbles, pillows and other items using brightly colored wool felt. Today Isla works from a studio her husband constructed off their garden. Isla started her business venture before becoming a mother, but her work has taken on new structure and meaning under her new guise as both entrepreneur and first time mother.

 “I used to worry about getting things done, but now I just tell myself things will grow as they should…my business…my family…” Isla Corbett

Where to find Isla Corbett:

Isla Corbett items available through Etsy and local stores including: Santa Rosa La Belle Fleur, Cast Away Yarn Shop, and Sprout Children's Clothing.

Meet Lisa. Lisa Fontaine is mother to a four-year-old daughter, blogger, AND creator of homespun accessories, party favors, and other crafts. An entrepreneurial woman with a knack for whimsy and details, Lisa’s work never ceases to inspire and amaze me. (I’m an avid reader of her fantastic blog featuring recipes, craft ideas, and travel recommendations: Picnic.) A degree in marketing and former career as a handbag designer, were a professional follow-up to a childhood growing up with multi-talented, resourceful parents.

“Growing up, my Dad was a semiconductor engineer by day and on the weekends he would spend it making things in his wood shop or under the hood of a vintage car. My Mom was a stay-at-home-mom for the most part but she also worked part-time as a painter and always handmade Christmas gifts, Halloween costumes, birthday presents and party favors. So you can see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Where to find Lisa Fontaine:

Lisa Fontaine’s Picnic Crafts available through Etsy (Pearl and Pirate).

Most inspiring to me about both of these women is the way they manage to not only balance working and mothering, but they both seem to enjoy weaving work and children together! Here are a few of their learned insights for achieving this harmony:

Your Child as a Source of Inspiration. Before children, Lisa was a handbag designer, designing hot items like clutches for 20-something-year-old women. Not many ladies in Lisa’s current life are pulling off clutch purses, so she’s found ways to delight her current audience - children. “Now that I have one, I see what a huge source of inspiration they can be.” Lisa puts her creative energies into projects like creating items designed for children’s parties such as handmade invitations, favors and décor.

Creativity Enriches a Child’s Life. Isla also loves to create for her son. She’s declared she has given up on serial decorating (i.e. trying to create a home that looks like the one in magazines) – unfinished baseboards be darned! However, she recently did a makeover of her garage to create a fresh and fun play space for her three-year-old. Using her sewing, painting, and organizing skills as well as her famed love of color, she created a fantastic kid zone in this often underutilized (or over cluttered!) home space. Tour their lovely back garden, and you’ll find much of the same: dedicated play spaces, order, and beauty. Not only does her son benefit from her bursts of creativity, Isla finds giving her son his own creative spaces allows them to simultaneously busy themselves in their own worlds. Isla is free to create while her boy happily plays!  Or follow Lisa's suit and engage your child in actually making your projects with you!

Work as Refreshment for Mothering. Lisa puts it simply when she says, “My first priority is my child but if I don’t indulge in hobbies outside of parenting, I get bored. And if I’m bored, my kid is bored.” Isla seconds the notion. “Moms need time out to make parenting doable. The image of a super mom can be ridiculous. We need to get out so that we can come back to mothering with exuberance. We need to go on vacation every once in a while so we can make “everyday” life fun again.” For Isla, work is her creative “out.” Lisa claims she has a hard time calling something “work” that fulfills her passion and helps her have fun. Both women say work is essential for them to keep up their energy needed for mothering. Isla reiterates that the goal is to keep balancing your needs and roles making a bit of time for a social life, time for your spouse, time as family, down time, and spontaneity.

Choose Appropriate Projects. Isla notes her workspace, routines, the scale of her work and the fibers she uses also add to her personal fulfillment and success. The scale of her work is conducive to mothering as each of her projects can be transferred from her work table to her lap. The small projects are also completed in a relatively short amount of time – allowing for interruptions and breaks. Isla also finds her work gives her a much needed creative and structured outlet, which in turn provides her more stamina for the sometimes chaotic and droll tasks of mothering. In her workspace, Isla says organization and tidiness are important to her process. Neatening her space allows her to clear her head and focus. Her beautiful space allows her to lose herself in the textures of the fine wools she works with and eventually to create her own piece of beauty to add to the world.

You Can Find Work That Fits in Family Life. Isla learned right away that she needed to set aside daily time for her job that she couldn’t plan over. She started her business before she became a mom in August of 2006, but found she needed to take a brief hiatus to adjust to her new life as a mother. She laughingly said “I had these ridiculous ideas that I’d be back to work by Christmas…” Still, she longed for a way to make time and space for creative work, while not giving up her role as mother. She began her work again by maximizing time at her sewing machine on her dining room table when her (then) baby slept, slowly gaining momentum again. Today she works out of the studio her husband built with large glass windows and doors facing the yard. She installed industrial grade carpeting to allow for her son to go between outside play and playing at her feet. Beloved dog Gatsby also loves the easy indoor outdoor policy, and often curls up in a corner of Isla’s office. Isla happily sews her pillows, purses, and hair accessories, while taking breaks to be play with her boy. When Isla needs more time to prepare for a show, her supportive husband takes their son out for a weekend day on the town. Her family has found a rhythm by holding strong to the value that everyone’s needs are important.

Your Work Serves as a Model for Your Child. Lisa’s sums things up perfectly when she says, “I think it’s important for children to see their parents have interests and hobbies and you may even help inspire some of their own. Luckily, it’s easy for me to involve my child in my hobbies since I love to cook and make stuff. What kid doesn’t like to do that?”

Get the Crafting Bug Now with 4 Great Crafts Just in Time for the Holidays!

1. Gift Wrap

2. Thank You Notes

3. Wool Garland

4. Date Nut Bread

Support Local Moms or Become an Out of the Closet Crafter

Oh, how we love the gilded light of late day in Fall and the many colorful festivals that come with this season of firery leaves.  Early darkness calls for fairies to bring their golden light to make our candles shine bright in the evenings.  A general glow causes us to feel whimsical - possibly even more connected to a mystical realm, as well as a bit nostalgic for the surging life of summer that is now fading.  Local El Día de los Muertos celebrations provide the perfect opportunity for connecting with the "thinning of the veil between worlds," celebrating, and remembering. 

What is El Dia de los Muertos?

"El Día de los Muertos is a ritual time to honor loved ones who have died and to acknowledge death as a part of life."  (Petaluma Arts Council website)  This festival, honored from October 31 - November 2, has ancient Aztec roots and is celebrated by Latin Americans in Mexico, the United States and Canada.  Key elements of the day include: altars, traditional recipes, handmade decorations, and "fiestas" celebrating loved ones who have passed on beyond the earthly realm.

Visit your local library branch and check out two great children's books on the subject:  Pablo Remembers:  The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead or Day of the Day of the Dead by Linda Lowery.  

Or watch this video recommended by Creative Kismet:

Creating a Rememberance Table or Altar

Central to the celebration of El Día de los Muertos is the creation of a rememberance table or altar.  This decorated table serves as the physical gathering place for ethereal symbols - a mescla (or mixture) of the spiritual and worldly.

"The altar consist for four levels and four sides, representing the four stages of life, the four points of the earth, the four seasons, and the four mathematical points upon which the pyramids were built. Bases upon these four points the following items are used."  Click here to read more about this ancient Aztec tradition.
Four life elements are used in creating altars: water (shells or cups), fire (candles), earth (flowers such as marigolds or - on our alter - the "corkscrew" scarlet flowers), and wind (flutes or feathers).

We'll add our own cultural twist by including pumpkins and gourds on our table.  You too can add lovely orbs to your table by joining in Singing Frog Farm's Pumpkin event on Saturday.   (Or check out the Pumpkin Patch guide created by Sonoma Family Life Magazine for information on other local patches and Halloween events.)  Look closely and you'll also see my first ever felted creation on our table- the tiny wool orange pumpkin by the gnomie! 

To learn more about making altars, join the Petaluma Arts Council at the Petaluma Arts Center on October 11 (Sunday) 4:00 – 6:00 pm for an altar making workshop. Come and learn the symbolism of the elements that create an altar and talk with the altar makers as they create their altar for the Art Center. Refreshments and folk art will be available for sale. (For reservations call 769-1647.)

The Sonoma County Museum will also offer an altar making workshop for $15 ($12 members) on Saturday October 24 from 11-12:30.  Scholarships are available and registration is required.  Call 579-1500 x17.


Mole!  The traditional dish served for this fiesta is tamales slathered in a savory, sweet Mole sauce combining chocolate and chiles.  Other traditional foods include pan de muerto and sugar skulls. Both recipes are included in Festival of Bones or El Festival de las Calaveras by Luis San Vicente available through the Sonoma County library.

You can also learn to make a sugar skull at the Saturday, Oct. 24, 2-5pm, Petaluma Farmer’s Market in Walnut Park on the Corner of Petaluma Blvd. South and D Street.

El Día de los Muertos Arts and Craft Ideas

Have fun creating a few of the traditional handmade decorations honoring those who have passed.  Tissue paper decorations "papel picado"  are featured in the book Mexican Papercutting: Simple Techniques for Creating Colorful Cut-Paper Projects  Or download a free pattern and instructions hereEasy paper flowers provide a lovely embellishment to your altar or home.  Try making skeleton or "calaveras" decorations.  For great ideas check out these stamp and drawing links. 

Community Celebrations

Just added events in Santa Rosa and Sonoma: 

Santa Rosa Memorial Park-Crematory, November 1, 2009, 11:00 - 4:00 pm at 1900 Franklin Ave, Santa Rosa, CA.   "Join us for Day of the Dead Celebration including:  story telling, cultural crafts for children, Aztec dancers, beautiful family sponsored altars, special traditional foods.  542-1580 for details.
 The City of Santa Rosa invites you to the Courthouse Square for celebrations Sunday and Monday November 1-2 from 10:00 - 8:00 p.m. daily.  

Sonoma Valley celebrates traditional Day of the Dead on Sunday, November 1 with observances and altars.  Join in viewing elaborate altars and sugar skulls created by community groups from 1:00 - 4:00 at the La Luz Community Center (17560 Greger Street, Boyes Hot Springs.)   Then move over to the Sonoma Valley of Art (551 Broadway, Sonoma) at 4:00 pm for folk music and luminaria lighted procession.   The procession walks to the Sonoma Community Center (276 E. Napa Street) where the lighting and viewing of a community altar and serving of refreshments.

The Sonoma County Museum invites families to attend a free day at the museum in celebration of El Día de los Muertos on Saturday, October 31, from 1:00 - 4:00.  Join the museum for live music, refreshments, and arts activiteis for all ages.  Call 579-1500 or see the museum website for more information.

The Petaluma Arts Council and the El Día de los Muertos Petaluma 2009 prsent: "Flames of the Heart/Llamas del Corazón" October 17 - November 2, 2009. 

For details and more information contact: Margie Helm: or 778-9922 or see the Petaluma Arts Council website.  Sponsored events include:

Oct. 17 (Saturday) 1:00-5:00 pm, Colors of Spanish Colors of Spanish, 55 Maria Drive
invites you to attend an Introduction to El Día de los Muertos. This family-oriented event will introduce you to a multi-cultural celebration which is gaining such popularity here within our own communities! Explore beyond the familiar images of this commemorative event as you and your family learn about the history and some of the interesting traditions celebrated in many parts of Latin America.

Oct. 18 (Sunday) 1:00 – 4:00 pm, El Día de los Muertos Opening, St. Vincent de Paul Church Square
Enjoy Mexican food, St. Vincent de Paul Aztec Dance Group, Santa Rosa Folkloric group Ballet Sonatlan, and Windsor Bloco drum and dance corps from Windsor Middle School.

Oct. 24 (Friday) 5:30-9:00 pm, Las Poemas del Recuerdo,  Petaluma Art Center
(Poems of Remembrance) is an evening of Bilingual Poetry hosted by poets Beatriz Lagos and Terry Ehret with featured readers Jabez Churchill and Geri Digiorno.

Oct. 30 (Friday) 6:00 pm, Procession and Performance, Downtown Petaluma starts at Water Street Bistro
Mariachi Jaliso, Danza Coyolxauqui Aztec drumming and dance grupo, a Folkloric Dance Group and Windsor Bloco will lead our traditional candle-lit procession with giant puppets through Petaluma. Classic Mexican folktale in Spanish and English to follow.

Oct. 31st (Saturday) 3:00 - 5:00 pm, Panpipes Workshop, Petaluma Library, 100 Fairgrounds Dr.
Chaskinakuy (cha-ski-NOCK-wee) presents the Music of the Andes Family Program and a panpipes workshop in the style of Andean village ensembles. Contact: / (707) 571-1377 (Sponsored by The Friends of the Petaluma Library.)

Oct. 31 (Saturday) 11am A Story Time for Preschoolers at the Petaluma Library, 100 Fairgrounds Drive
Lively stories in Spanish and English, songs and poetry for ages 2-5 yrs. and their caregivers.

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