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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Consider the Easter Egg

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Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken.
― M.F.K. Fisher

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Consider the egg. The architecture: thin layers of calcium and hydrogen carbonate, with palisade columns that allow the egg to ‘breathe.’ The exquisite mathematics of the curve: spherical, oval, elliptical.  The surface: toothy-smooth, shiny, rough, pitted or chalky. Spotted, blotched, uniform. Colors that reflect the sky, the sea, the earth.

To hold the egg in your hand is to experience nature’s true genius. That life can grow safely inside such a fragile structure — protected from the insult of microbes and the assault of the elements, contained, evolving, out of sight, basically secret — is nothing short of astonishing.

There is no door in an egg.  You can’t get invited in. You can only crash in. Or out.

For me, hens’ (and ducks’!) eggs are spring’s canvas. They invite decoration, the application of color — dyes, paint, glitter, decoupage.  The finite size, limited area, the curved surface somehow make it irresistible.

WhiteLoftStudio_pink-000020700031I’ve always been fascinated by the intricate designs of Ukrainian Easter eggs, called pysanka. Long ago, before recorded time, it turns out, someone figured out how to use geometry in the most marvelous way.  The layers of dye force you to think backwards, or inside out, maybe. Each dip into the dye is riskier than the last. The trick is in knowing when to stop. Plus, you are intently making an intricate design on something that could, with one false move, shatter. (Which, if it happens, can teach you all sorts of things about about letting go. Very Zen.)

Stealing directly from Wikipedia here: “A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated using a wax-resist method. Many other eastern European ethnic groups decorate eggs using wax resistant methods for Easter. The word comes from the verb pysaty, ‘to write,’ as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax. 

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“Pysanky are typically made to be given to family members and respected outsiders. To give a pysanka is to give a symbolic gift of life, which is why the egg must remain whole. Furthermore, each of the designs and colors on the pysanka is likely to have a deep, symbolic meaning. Traditionally, the designs are chosen to match the character of the person to whom the pysanka is to be given.

At one time, in a large family, by Maundy Thursday 60 or more eggs would have been completed by the women of the house. (The more daughters a family had, the more pysanky would be produced.) The eggs would then be taken to the church on Easter Sunday to be blessed, after which they were given away. Here is a partial list of how the pysanky would be used:

  • One or two would be given to the priest.
  • Three or four were taken to the cemetery and placed on graves of the family.
  • Ten or fifteen were given to children or godchildren.
  • Ten or twelve were exchanged by the unmarried girls with the eligible men in the community.
  • Several were saved to place in the coffin of loved ones who might die during the year.
  • Several were saved to keep in the home for protection from fire, lightning and storms.
  • Two or three were placed in the mangers of cows and horses to ensure safe calving and colting and a good milk supply for the young.
  • At least one egg was placed beneath the bee hive to insure a good harvest of honey.
  • One was saved for each grazing animal to be taken out to the fields with the shepherds in the spring.
  • Several pysanky were placed in the nests of hens to encourage the laying of eggs.”

This week, Kith & Kin Studio is offering studio time for anyone who wants to play with pysanka or other kinds of egg decorating.  We’ll have all the materials you need to make beautiful Easter eggs.  The charge is $40 per person for two hours.  Kids over 8 years old are welcome.  I can take 6–8 people at a time and the schedule is flexible. I can’t promise that you’ll go home with 60 eggs each, but you will go home with something utterly unique and beautiful.  And you’ll have fun making it.  Send me an email or leave a comment for more details.

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Studio Parties

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WhiteLoftStudio_eggs-000020730008 WhiteLoftStudio_eggs-000020710030WhiteLoftStudio_eggs-000020710023The K&K Studio is open for hands-on creativity for anyone and everyone. Simple projects, with all the materials included, are offered by announcement or appointment.

We paint, glue and create, just for the joy of it.  Refreshments and snacks are included, and you’ll go home with a project in hand, feeling refreshed and relaxed from having spent time with friends, trying your hand at something new and fun.

Great for a girls’ night out, a bridal shower, birthday parties or a moms-and-kids activity. No experience or artistic ability necessary! The studio is also open to children age 6 and up, by special arrangement.  (Studio time is billed at a flat, per person rate. Snacks and materials are included in the price.)


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