At the Heart of Kith & Kin

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Danielle Allen & Benner Dana at Root 5 Farm in Fairlee, VT.

Three-generations of the Allen family came to the studio this morning to try their hand at Pysanka egg decorating.  My neighbor Jaci had decided to treat her two delightful (grown-up) children, their charming spouses, and enthusiastic grandchildren, Kai and Tegan, to a morning of color, design and sweet hilarity.

It was a crystal, late March day — cold but with a polished, full-blown-blue sky.  My guests walked in the door, carrying with them the first blush of spring.  Everyone admired my egg tree, the grown-ups helped themselves to mimosas, coffee and fresh raspberry danish from King Arthur, and then we got down to serious pysanka business.

I spent the morning watching this lovely family in motion, quietly sharing, perfectly calibrated. Jaci’s son and daughter-in-law, Tate and Suzie, and their children live in Massachusetts, while Jaci’s daughter and her husband, Danielle Allen and Benner Dana, own Root 5 Farm (formerly Your Farm) — a certified organic farm on 28 acres in Fairlee, Vermont .

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Danielle & Jaci Allen and GORGEOUS vegetables from Root 5 Farm at the Farmers Market

Ben and Danielle are refugees from Hurricane Irene, their previous farm in Burlington, VT having been contaminated and ruined by deposits of silt, chemicals and refuse Irene’s floods dumped onto their fields.  With help from many sources, including the Vermont Community Foundation, Danielle and Ben were able to start again, this time on the other side of the state.

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Pysanka involves using raw eggs, big jars of dye, hot wax and lit candles.  Two and a half year-old Kai could not wait to get his hands on all of it.  Jaci had assured me the plan was for her to entertain Kai while the others focused on playing with color and design, and that 7 year-old Tegan was a very competent little girl. But still. I was nervous. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

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Kai, Tegan and Tate learning pysanka.

With the rest of the family bent over their pysanka creations, concentrating on applying swirls and dots of melted wax on the ever-curving surface of eggs, Jaci quietly helped Kai participate in his own way.  Crayons are much easier to handle than a kistka (the tool used to apply the flowing wax to the surface of the egg).  And Jaci, brilliant grandmama that she is, had brought along a dozen hardboiled eggs especially for him.

Of course Kai caught wind of the fact that his eggs were somehow different from the others and wanted none of it.  Without contradicting him directly, Jaci deftly switched out the raw for the hardboiled eggs, just out of his line of sight. She spoke quietly in his ear and maneuvered all kinds of potential disasters out of the way as he wriggled and reached. She helped him have a hands-on experience of his own, while keeping him safe and never once saying “no.”

Indeed, Kai and Jaci were a team. They went for a walk, they came back, they went for another walk… Jaci kept pace with her grandson’s short attention span and never exactly foiled his plans, keeping him entertained and busy while the rest of his family had a couple of hours to focus on their projects. Kai had the opportunity to try and learn new things, and didn’t have to sit any longer than a 2 year-old can reasonably be asked to. It was a little gift Jaci gave to all of them.

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It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of using the kistka.  But once you ‘get’ it, it’s enormously satisfying to use the natural capillary action between shell and flowing wax to achieve the design you’re after.  Dye is applied in layers, with wax applied between each dye bath. The final step is to reheat the surface of the egg to remove all the wax. When the big reveal comes, you get to see how all of your layers have come together. It’s pretty cool.

As they labored over their creations, there was quiet conversation about this and that.  The brothers-in-law discussed approaches to pond building, driveway construction and sliding glass door installation. Tegan asked for help from time to time and her dad was happy to give it.  There is something so sweet about people sharing something new. Kids and grown-ups alike, all on the same plain, figuring out how to make it work.

Kith & Kin is all about celebrating these sorts of connections — between friends (kith) and family (kin), even total strangers.  It’s the whole reason I started Kith & Kin.  The kids got to take home bunny-shaped cookies “to eat after lunch.” Everyone went home with a beautiful Pysanka egg or two.  And I dare say a good time was had by all.

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About Jane

Jane Ackerman is a writer of poetry and prose, and an event designer extraordinaire. She the creative director and CEO of Kith & Kin

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