We just had our wildly fun and successful August Family Fair! Two of the aspects of this and others of our celebrations that I am most asked about are: “What can we actually do?”, and “How can I introduce the concept of activities to friends and family without it feeling awkward or uncomfortable?”These are very poignant questions and pose an interesting dilemma, and yet you might be surprised at the simplicity of my discovery… it is fun for everyone to be together! And the awkwardness, if it is there at all, dissipates quickly.
Specifically for this holiday, I planned four activities:
- Natural Fabric Dye
- Crafting Corn Husk Dolls
- A Poetry Reading
- A Candle Bonding Activity
Natural Fabric Dye
Working with natural fabric dyes using seasonally appropriate regional berries is a wonderful reinforcement that the early harvest is happening now all around us! The colors, the smells… honestly, they are both refreshing and exhilarating!
Immediately upon arriving I greeted my guests with a rectangular remnant of natural 100% cotton muslin that I had purchased by the yard at Jo-Ann’s Fabrics. Each of these pieces of fabric was already labeled with first names (My sewing machine embroiders letters, so I had stitched and cut out each participant’s name and safety-pinned it to their fabric.) As I completed some last minute dinner preparations, a kind member of my family escorted our guests to the screened tent in our backyard (a wonderful and fairly low cost way to enjoy outdoors while minimizing pesky bug intrusions!) where four buckets were on the outdoor table. Contained within were dyes created from blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. The fourth bucket contained ice water. There they used rubber bands if a tie-dyed effect was desired, or simply chose a color, and submerged their fabric. Then they chatted as the remnants soaked.
The specific clear and easy-to-follow instructions that we used for making these dyes are available in this online article: “How To Make And Use Natural Blueberry Dye” by Crystal Ray. (Note: due to our specific constraints we did work with the dye after it had cooled rather than while is was hot, but we were still quite pleased with the outcome.)
When dinner was ready, I invited everyone in, and completed the setting of their dyed fabrics by tossing them into the dryer as we ate. (In the end, what did we do with the fabric? More on this in a moment!)
Crafting Corn Husk Dolls
This is a wonderful, creative, and fun activity for young and old alike, and it really reinforces not only our connection to the seasonal grain harvest, but also the joys of recycling (by creating toys out of uneaten parts of the corn) and our connection to myth (by the sharing of a retelling of the Native American no-face legend) . Specific instructions, suggestions, and a copy of the wonderful accompanying myth may be found here.
After a delicious and unhurried dining experience but before dessert, we retired to our living room where a table sat before us offering both a visual curiosity and point of focus. On it, pre-printed instructions, materials, and samples of corn husk dolls playfully teased us! It then became very natural to discuss them and move right into creating them (for anyone interested in participating).
As an added bonus, the naturally dyed (and now dry & useable) fabric became a welcomed option for embellishments (like clothing and accessories)!
Not pictured above, I filled the basket on the right with fresh, green, newly shucked corn husks. (The corn was used in several recipes served that evening.) I also placed scissors and string on the table. Having everything laid out and ready is very crucial to the overall enjoyment of the activity.
Reading of Poetry
Poetry reading is a somewhat forgotten but thoroughly enjoyable and in many cases touching experience. Though at first, it may seem like an uncomfortable activity for some, once over their initial self-consciousness, many people truly enjoy sharing this artistic and emotional form of expression. And for those who choose not to read, listening can also be a rewarding and sometimes even a transformative experience.
On a related note: how wonderful it feels as as a parent to help children cultivate an appreciation for the lost art of listening!
I selected a handful of readily available (via Internet) seasonal poems and printed them out in advance. Among them included the following:
- “When on a Summer’s Morn” by William Henry Davies
- “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
- “August” by Mary Oliver
- “Thoughts in a Garden” by Andrew Marvell
- “A Summer Afternoon” by James Whitcomb Riley
- “August Sun” by Rhonda Baker
- “August” by Donna Earle
- “My Little August Bloom” by Nick Kler
The pairings of reader to poem were random, but all selections were magical. In at least one case, a guest was so moved by his poem, he made a point of bringing it home with him.
Candle Bonding Activity
One of the most rewarding traditions we have cultivated in our family is the lighting of candles. For most of our seasonal holidays, we incorporate this activity or one very similar. We arrange candles (usually seasonally colored petite tapers but in this case, harvest-toned votives) on a small round table, and then after dessert, each of us, one at a time, stands up, shares, and lights a candle.
In the case of our August Fair, we shared our accomplishments so far this year, large and small – from making someone happy to realizing a sought after dream. This has been a transformative experience helping us reflect and appreciate our own efforts and our effects on others. It has also helped us to stay in touch with each others’ hopes and dreams and offered us the opportunity of truly supporting one another.
Though this may initially feel awkward, it gets easier each time it is practiced until the point where most of us look forward to this activity as one of our absolute favorite parts of any seasonal celebration.
Gift-giving / Favor Options
Our local winery produces its own native mead (honey wine). A decorated bottle of this sweet and delicious treat inspired by Better Homes and Gardens (instructions) as well small tins of Cavendish & Harvey Wild Berry Drops provided us with loving and seasonally appropriate tokens of our appreciation to those who shared this special day with us!
Keys to Success
My two suggestions for successful activity engagement and maximal participation are as follows:
- Preplanning! This is so important, it is hard to emphasize it enough. Everything needs to have been thought through. All materials need to be laid out; and instructions need to have been learned and understood in advance. Otherwise, chaos ensues and nobody is comfortable.
- Offer choices. Not every one of my guests read poetry nor did they all make corn husk dolls, but they all chose something. Having options allowed them to participate in a way that felt comfortable, enjoyable, and unforced. We actually engaged in these two activities simultaneously, so none felt left out.
Overall, we could enjoy crafting or watching others craft, reading or listening. Regardless of our mode of participation, we shared some lovely heartfelt sentiments of the season while actually working with grains, berries, and seasonally-colored fabrics for a fantastic and most rewarding evening of shared reflection on the bounty of the August harvest and shared thankfulness for our love for one another.
Wishing you all so much of the same loveliness – this August & each and every season!