Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 2014 Garden: Urban Homestead Style

For the first time in years I’m living in an urban(ish) setting. So the garden plans for this year are actually going to incorporate space-saving techniques—something I’ve never had to concern myself with in previous incarnations of our food growing efforts. On the bright side, I’m excited to try out the urban design principles I learned when I did my permaculture design course.

Even though it’s a lot in town, we do have three apple trees and established grape vines. Plus, there’s a decent sized garden space in the backyard.

Last fall, this was all part of the lawn. Then dear old Dad came over to help till up the sod. Then I planted crimson clover as a cover crop. We also put in some garlic in one of the side beds. You can also see the bed devoted to kids play (as I mentioned in my Gardening with Kids post).

So far, I’ve tilled three of the beds, amended two and planted peas along the fence. So there’s a decent sized space, the sunlight exposure is minimal. So this whole space is pretty much going to be limited to greens, which is fine with me because we all know greens are delicious and nutritious.

But that means I have to get creative when it comes time to grow all the sun loving plants…which is actually MOST plants. Here’s what I have planned:

·         Potted pole beans along the deck railing. These will still be in the backyard, but being elevated on the deck, they’ll escape the shadow of the fence on the East side of the yard and get morning and afternoon sunlight. The deck railing provides a built-in trellis.

·         Carrots and beets in straw bales in the back yard next to the garden beds. Not only will planting into soil covered straw bales eliminate the need to break up the sod underneath, it’s much easier to grow carrots in straw bales in areas like ours where the soil is prone to rapid compacting on top due to our heavy spring rains and clay rich soil. (If you want your carrots to be perfectly straight, you might want to try straw bales too, since there’s a gauntee that there are no rocks to grow around.)

·         Potatoes grown vertically using wire cages. Last year I crafted some potato containers out of hardware cloth to grow vertical potatoes near the house. Our garden happened to have had some potato pests so I couldn’t grow them in the fenced off garden area. Incidentally, they’re perfect for urban gardening. I’ll post some pics when I get them going at the beginning of May.

·         Squash in containers. I’m contemplating using recycled, repainted tires for this, but I want to do some more research into the potential toxicity. I recall reading something a while back claiming that no significant levels of toxins were leached into soils from tire containers, but you never can be too careful.

·         Sunflowers on the south side of the house, up against the house. Placing them against the house will keep these tall plants from shading out any other growing space.

·         Medicinal herbs and edible flowers will go in along the south facing sidewalk in the side yard. The area has great southern exposure, but I’m a little nervous about pilfering passersby and even more so our canine neighbors taking a wiz on the spinach on their way by. So this space is going to be devoted to medicinal, edible flowers, and plants for the bees: borage, calendula, bee balm, lemon balm…

I’ve got most of the seeds already and now it’s just a matter of waiting for the last frost date to really get planting. The seedlings in my newspaper pots are growing fast, I’ve got kale and chard and one little catnip plant in them. I’ll do another round when it’s time to get the squash started.

There’s a few more things that I would like to do, but I’m not confident I’ll get to this year: raised beds of tomatoes and perineal medicinals on the strip between the sidewalk and the road. I feel more comfortable having these in raised beds since I’ll know that the soil in the beds has been brought in and not contaminated by years along the side of a street. Plus, the street we’re talking about isn't all that busy.

I saw some adorable mason bee houses when I was at the farmers market last weekend, so I’m inspired to make one of those for the yard too. I’m also dreaming of urban chickens and might endeavor to try to craft some kind of chicken tractor. These projects feel daunting considering I’m not so handy when it comes to woodworking. But a girl can dream right?

Well, if all goes according to plan we’ll have a lot of delicious homegrown produce this year. But just in case, I’m planning to sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) from one of our local farms, and frequent the farmers markets to pick up masses of produce to preserve.

What are your garden plans this year? Have any great space saving strategies that you use?

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Strong Wills: Learning Boundaries with Toddlers



It’s the mantra of toddlers. When my first son began chanting this word and supplying it as an answer to every question I didn’t feel particularly troubled by it.


I had a context for his no-way attitude. He was two. That’s what two year olds are supposed to do to exercise their developing wills. I had heard about this phase from every toddler mom I talked to, not to mention in parenting books and the media. We’re all familiar with it. The “no” phase is infamous.


A few months after “no” started, “yes” also entered my son’s vocabulary. I smugly counted another parenting victory. I had weathered the storm of no’s. We had peacefully coexisted as my son learned to express his own will appropriately. Check.


Then something started that I must have missed in consulting all my aforementioned parenting resources. Shortly before his third birthday, my son began experimenting with boundaries. And by experimenting, I mean to say pushing my boundaries to their limits and beyond.


No matter how hard I tried, I kept losing my patience with him and parenting in ways I never thought I would. I bribed, I used time out, I yelled.


I felt awful. My parenting ideals were shattered, and I felt like a total failure.


I talked with other moms about it.  There was some good advice: reminders to breathe deep and stay calm.


Mostly though, it was a lot of reassurances that I wasn’t doing anything wrong and it was just a phase. Yes, we can’t all be 100% patient 100% of the time. Yes, they too felt like their toddlers pushed their boundaries. I was reassured that I didn’t need to beat myself up about it, that even the most loving patient parents have limits.


This was the ugly phase subsequent to all the “no’s”. It wasn’t quite my son’s fault, I thought, but he was pushing me. It was a phase and it would pass.


Only it didn’t pass as quickly as I wanted it to.



Our family practices attachment parenting. My first son spent not just the first hour of his life in skin-to- skin contact, he was skin-to-skin for the first three days and every night for the first month. We held him and took him with us everywhere. During tummy time I would sit next to him talking and touching all the time. We were absolutely synched up, during the wonderful and the hard times. We shared our daily routine. We even shared our moods.


As much as I love him, and as wonderful as it is to have a newborn this time was also hard for me. I craved my independence at the same time that I deeply believed in being there for my son. The second time around things were different, I was more comfortable in my role as a mother and the circumstances of our life also demanded that I keep up work when my second was a newborn. But that first time, learning to care for new life consumed all of my energy.


Sure, I read books that fed my interests in during his naps. I even took a doula training course that allowed babies in arms when he was a few months old. But I hadn’t mastered doing everything one-handed. I missed being active and having my own un-interrupted thoughts.


So when he finally started walking and became more independent, I finally felt more independent too. I could work on my own projects without feeling guilty for not holding my son. His transition to walking felt like a natural step toward independence for both of us. He still needed a lot of attention from me, but I enjoyed my new found freedom. As long as he was walking around having a good time, I could comfortably focus.


Again, when he became more verbal, it was another step for both of our independence. He could ask other people for help with his needs, for one thing, but his attention span for interests outside of mama time had increased dramatically. I finally felt like I could commit to bigger projects and take on more work commitments.


His boundary pushing, and often breaking, was proving to be more than “just a phase” I could patiently sit through and let pass. After the intentionally (and at time painfully) orchestrated first two years of his life where I had taken every opportunity to be a gentle and loving mother, I was devastated to find myself yelling and requiring my son to spend time by himself when he acted up.


Somehow, I felt like there was still a missing piece of the picture.


Was it really my son pushing me?


As we had each become more independent, we were becoming less of a synched up dyad, and learning to be two individuals in relationship. Was I the victim of his developmental stage? Or was I contributing to it, the way I was relating to my son?


Now I was back to feeling guilty for not having enough patience. But I also knew that it wasn’t always just about patience. When it’s a matter of safety, I never feel impatient about asserting a boundary that exists for his immediate well-being. Where I was struggling the most was with boundaries set for matters within our household: tooth-brushing, the end of cozy book time, leaving the park to come home and make dinner.


And then it hit me, the issue was not that I wasn’t patient enough, it’s that I wasn’t setting myself up to exercise that patience successfully. Just like my son, ecstatic in his newfound ability to walk, was not stopping for anyone who asked him to go slower with his little cart through the grocery store, I was too enthusiastic about my own independence and was running around with my own metaphorical miniature grocery cart.


My expectations of myself had become too high. I was over-committing myself to projects and work. Not only was my child learning about his capabilities and their natural boundaries, I was feeling out my personal capabilities and limitations as a mother.


Now as a four-and-a-half-year-old my son still pushes, and I still set certain limits-- No he cannot have whipped cream for breakfast. No we cannot go to the park right now, it is brother’s nap time so we’ll have to go tomorrow—and still has a hard time accepting them sometimes. He will persistently ask about the same thing over and over.


But when I feel myself losing patience, I ask myself ‘What boundaries I’ve set for myself that are being pushed up against?’ Is my to-do list for today way too long? Am I expecting to get this project done more quickly than what is actually workable for my family? Does the laundry really need to be folded before we go to the library, or can it wait?


When I’m willing to renegotiate my own expectations of myself, it’s easier to be more flexible. Requests that might change my timeline a little bit, like five more minutes of playtime before coming home to make dinner, become east to accommodate. At the same time I experience more clarity in asserting boundaries when I do feel it’s necessary. I don't feel guilty about the boundaries I’m enforcing, and I don't feel pressured enough by my own expectations to lose my patience.


Being able to give up my own expectations in heated moments of conflicting wills has freed me to make the kinds of parenting decisions that support and guide my son, rather than coerce him. Things still get really tense sometimes and my patience is still tried, but now it’s so much easier to take all that good advice about deep breaths and just being present with my son while he has his own feelings of disappointment about butting against a boundary.


It turns out that learning boundaries and personal limitations isn’t just a phase toddlers go through, moms have to figure it out too.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Bilingual Learning

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Homeschool Blogging Carnival hosted by Lisa at The Squishable Baby and Keisha at Unschooling Momma. This month our participants are talking about Multiculturalism. ***    

Being bilingual (or even multilingual) is a life skill. As of the 2012 census, 155,374 of people in our state and 13,748,260 people in the US speak only Spanish.

Learning Spanish is an important part of our homeschooling cirriculum, except that I have the vocabulary of the three-year-old when I’m speaking Spanish, complete with all of the grammatical errors. So I do have some basis for beginning to teach my kids the language, although for the most part I’m learning right along with them.

Research on language learning shows the immersion learning is the best way to learn a new language. I learned the basics this way traveling in Peru and Central America, which is to say enough Spanish in Peru and Central America to get by in casual conversations with people I met. I could understand what they were saying, even though I’m sure they were dumbing it down for me. It was helpful for me that Peruvian Spanish has a relatively mild accent (compared with Mexican or Chilean Spanish). Immersion made learning so much faster than if I had started with classes or those language learning CDs. But now that I am at home, I’m back to the CD’s myself to try to brush up and expand my vocabulary.

While experience helps, it’s not necessary to know the language. You can learn right along with your kids.

Since it’s not possible for us to do full immersion at home, here’s a list of strategies that you can adopt to simulate the immersion experience.


1.       Read.

 Find some good bilingual books, and some books that are just in Spanish. This is a great way to build vocabulary for you and your kids. Picture books are the best, for any age since you can learn a lot of new words without having to look them up.

You can also pick up some grown-up reads for yourself. A novel you are familiar with translated into Spanish is a good way to start. Even something at a lower level like Charlotte’s web can be a great way to build fluency when you’re not practicing face to face. I loved Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea and Isla Bajo del Mar.



2.       Listen to stories.

Familiar stories can be helpful since it’s easier to figure out some of the main words from the context. We’ve probably listened to The Three Little Pigs, or Los Tres Cerditos, about 100 times. Don't be afraid to listen to these on repeat.


3.       Sing.

Singing in another language is a great way to learn. Find a song that you like and listen to it enough, before you know it you’ll have it stuck in your head and you’ll be singing all the words. Probably like a toddler would sing words to an English song at first all misprounounced with the words switched around. But you’ll get better with time. Your kids will too.

My favorite song in Spanish is Pa Mayte by Carlos Vives.


4.       Speak simple phrases with each other throughout the day.

“¿Quieres un pl├ítano?” Use phrases that can be understood easily within the context of the moment. Your child will understand that you’re asking if they want a banana as you ask with the fruit in your outstretched hand.


5.       Refer to objects in Spanish.


Before you’re ready to use simple phrases, you can practice using the Spanish word for single objects. Make a game out of it. Who can find five things that they can name in the room? Or play with colors. Say “roja” and have your child go touch something red. 



6.       Use Spanish and English word labels on objects around the house.

All you need is a few index cards, markers, and clear tape. Or simplify by using masking tape, but in my experience it doesn’t stick as well. (When it’s time to remove sticker residue, rub it down with oil first, then use very soapy water. Razor blades work well on flat surfaces too.)


7.       Sing the Spanish Alphabet song.

There are a few Spanish Alphabet songs out there, this one is designed for English speakers because it includes the rr that is not normally part of the Spanish alphabet. It’s call and response style. It’s the one I like the most.




8.       Count and do arithmetic in Spanish and English.


9.       Watch movies.

We don't do a lot of this since my kids don't watch videos (yet), so I don't have specific recommendations for kids. But as for grownup recommendations, Pan’s Labyrinth is my favorite.


10.   Practice your skills with simple conversations.


Go out to dinner at a family-owned restaurant or shop at a local tienda where you know folks speak Spanish. Be polite. Explain that you’re trying to learn Spanish and ask if they would they be willing to practice with you. Be genuine and don't expect people to want to talk to you just because you’re excited about learning their language. You also shouldn't assume that someone speaks, or doesn’t speak, Spanish from how they look. Don't let your enthusiasm cloud your normal social intelligence. Think of it as a way to make new friends.


11.   Volunteer.


Consider volunteering with local groups that advocate for immigration rights or provide English language tutoring.


Our Favorite Books

We try to look for books that are written by Latino Authors that are reflective of cultures in different countries and of Spanish speaking families in the US doing everyday things. Some books are favorites originally in English that have been translated.


  • Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora

I like that this is a book about gratitude. “Gracias” is an important word to know.


  • Fire Fuego Brave Bomberos by Susan Middleton Elya

This book is Chobie’s favorite. Most bilingual books that we’ve come across have the whole text in both English and Spanish, but this one mixes both languages within a single text. It’s a rhyming book that is surprisingly fun to read.


  • Sali de Paseo by Sue Williams


This book is available as a board book and is a good one for young children. I like reading it with Bee.

  • Nochecita by Yuyi Morales

Written in Spanish, this is a sweet story with beautiful pictures that will keep your kids interested even before they fully comprehend the words of the story.


  • Let’s Eat!/A Comer by Pat Mora


This is another pretty simple bilingual book that is good for preschoolers. It is full of visual cues from the illustrations that help build Spanish vocabulary.
  • Mis Colores Mi Mundo by Maya Christina Gonzales


This book is my favorite of all the ones listed here. The illustrations are enchanting.


  • Huevos Verdes Con Hamon by Dr. Suess


Green Eggs and Ham in Spanish. It is really fun to read Dr. Suess in Spanish.


Closing Thoughts


The language that we speak and think in literally shapes our perceptions of reality when we are in the beta brain wave state, which as adults is where we spend most of our waking hours. Children are often in slower states associated with activities like meditation, prayer, or viewing art and natural surroundings in a relaxed way. When we shift brainwave states our perception of the world changes with our brainwaves. (Two slower states also exist, delta and theta, associated with dreams and trance states).  When our children grow up they will be spending more and more time in the beta state as well. Switching languages is a way of switching lenses of perception in the beta state, which is a pretty mind blowing skill.


When we are trying to build a multicultural world that is about relationship, rather than tokenizing and appropriation, this is really a powerful skill.


Find out how many people speak just Spanish in your state.
For more information about brainwaves and child development...

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*** Visit The Squishable Baby to see how you can participate in the next Homeschool Blogging
Carnival where we will be talking about Homeschool Mythsconceptions .

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Please take the time to read the submissions by other Carnival participants: March Homeschool Blog Carnival #homeblogcar  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning Seasonal Rhythms

One of the main emphases in our homeschooling style, and our lifestyle in general, is embracing seasonality. Seasonality synchs us with natural cycles and the rhythm of natural time.

So we use these calendars to track the movement of the moon and the earth around the sun.


Our little wheel of the year and lunar calendars to talk about time when we have our morning circle. The Sun and the Moon are attached with polymer adhesive to the wall and moved around the calendar as needed.

Eventually we will introduce a “regular” monthly calendar to our homeschool area. He does have some familiarity with these from seeing me use my planner. But I like these calendars as a more organic approach to tracking natural earth-rhythms of time.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sweet Sugarless Easter Celebration Ideas

Easter doesn’t have to be sugar-filled to be fun.


We’ve always been a health conscious family, but even after four years of raising my little ones without sugar, I still draw a blank when it comes time for holiday celebrations with sugar. From Christmas cookies to chocolate rabbits, my most favorite holiday traditions are made of the stuff.


This is how we celebrate Easter without sugar.


1.       Put stickers or other small prizes inside of the eggs instead of candy. Stickers are great because they get used up like candy so you don't necessarily have to amass more toys. You can also put coins inside or, nothing. Especially if your kids are young, they don't need prizes inside their eggs to have fun with an egg hunt.

2.       Replace candy with a few natural sugar treats like dried fruit or fruit leather.

3.       Roll out bread dough and cut out Easter shapes with cookie cutters. Bake like cookies for fun shaped Easter Crackers. Pipe cream cheese onto them for decorations.


Do you do low-sugar Easter? How do you keep the sugar out of your celebrations?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Eggsciting Easter Eggsperiments

(Sorry about that title. I just couldn’t resist.)

Egg dying is a great time to learn about color theory and how the process of color transfer from dye to material works. By dipping the egg in different colors of dye, kids can learn how primary colors blend to make secondary shades. Mixing the dye baths for eggs is also a good time for this, although it’s a little harder to see the colors in the cups.

For our dye baths we used liquid food coloring and white vinegar. (1 Tbs white vinegar, 8 oz water, 20-30 drops food coloring).

We did two experiments one with a wax resist and one with color blending.

Materials we used:

  • White Vinegar
  • Liquid Food coloring
  • White crayon
  • Spray bottle
  • Cups for dye baths
  • hard boiled eggs for dyeing

1.       Wax Resist with Crayons

Chobie didn’t know what to expect when we drew on the eggs. I chose white crayons for a dramatic effect. The white makes the most contrast with the dye, but it’s hard to see what you’re drawing on the egg. A light yellow would work really well too.

2.       Color Blending with Spray Bottle

We used a spritz bottle filled with the same dye bath mixture described above. When sprayed on other eggs, it makes a speckled effect. Spray a primary color onto other primary colors for a different way to explore color theory with your preschooler.


Do you have any creative egg dying techniques to share? I’d love to hear about them.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Easter Egg Preschool Math

We decided to use Easter eggs as a festive springtime math manipulative. They’re surprisingly versatile.


Right away when we got out the eggs, Chobie was asking me about “dozens.” I was a little surprised to hear him use that word, but he’s heard it so often in the context of buying “dozens of eggs” at the grocery store. So first we grouped them into dozens.


Next we sorted by color using these fun sorting hoops my fabulous older sister (who teaches elementary school) gifted us.


They’re fun for sorting and other things too.


After sorting we talked about which groups had more and less. For example, “There are more pink eggs than there are blue eggs.”



Then we used the intersecting hoops to sort eggs according to color. We’ve been doing a lot of activities with color blending lately so this was a fun way to combine color theory with math.



We also did a few simple addition and subtraction problems using the eggs. Chobie is still warming up to those concepts, so that part of our game didn’t last too long.


Bee (aka Aldyn, my seventeen-month-old) also had a good time “sorting” the eggs by moving them back and forth between the hoops.

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Ideas for Beginning Readers: Words I can Read Pocket

Chobie is starting to read. Even though he’s been showing signs of reading readiness for a while now, it still somehow caught me off guard. I don't even have the Bob Books ordered from Amazon yet!  


So today I made this little pocket from him to hang on our board as a visual and kinesthetic way to keep track of his reading progress. As he learns more words and adds them to the pocket, he can see and touch his progress.


I’m keeping the sight words that we’re working on taped to the top of the board. Then when he is confident reading them, he can add them to the pocket.



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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Learning with Plants: Do Plants Move?

It’s easy to see that people and animals are alive, but for kids it’s a not always so obvious that plants are living, moving, breathing beings too.


A word of clarification though, I do believe that we sense the fact that plants are living on an intuitive level, so the question is really more about properly defining the mental construct for the word “living.”


During spring, when dandelions flower, it’s an excellent time to observe plant movement. These flowers open during the day when it’s light out and close back up when the sun sets, affording us plant watchers with the perfect opportunity to see them move over time.


We observed dandelion flowers opening and closing throughout the day. First we looked at them in the morning when they were just starting to open.


Then a bit later.  At this point we also noticed that flowers in the sun were more open than those in the shade.


Fully open.


We also observed the full flower cycle from flower



to fruit



to seed.



All of that just in the front yard. For added fun, and nutrition, we enjoyed some dandelion snacks.



Seeing plants move is really important experience for children to develop a sense of being members of a living world that deserves respect, and these days protection too. If we want to an ecologically integrated culture, or even just an ecologically respectful one, fostering this understanding for ourselves and our children is an important step.


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Spring Salad Creations III: Dandelion Flower

In the midst of the Equinox Extravaganza, I stopped posting my yummy herbal salads for a couple of days. So let’s resume.

Today’s salad features dandelion flowers. The whole dandelion plant contains bitter compounds that support liver function. Because the bitterness has been bred out of the greens that we buy at the grocery store, a bitter taste is not palatable to most people today. But actually tasting the bitterness is an important part of the medicine. 

When you taste a bitter herb, the action of tasting actually stimulates the production of your digestive juices.

Dandelion is one such bitter herb. And it is very bitter, especially the leaves and roots. The flower, though is a bit sweet too. Don't get too excited, they aren’t like candy. But I do think they’re much more mild than other bitters and a good place to start with bitter herbs.

I started my kids on bitters early and they love eating dandelion flowers.

Dandelion flowers should be harvested from herbicide/pesticide free areas and areas free of heavy metal contamination. Since dandelion likes to grow in full sun it’s commonly found in grassy areas, but you should avoid harvesting in parks and roadsides since these areas are commonly treated with stronger chemicals that are used on edible crops (since most people do not imagine you’ll be eating the dandelions that grow there). Dandelions also bioaccumulate heavy metals. So do not harvest from areas near roads or driveways or any other potential heavy metal source.

For the fullest flowers, pick the dandelions right before you’ll be serving them since they close up after being picked.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Egg Sized Easter Chicks Free Pattern

Something happens to me in the spring. Suddenly, I need something (else) to take care of. I used to call it rabbit fever, during all those years that I was living rurally and raising chickens. Each spring and overwhelming sense that NOW was the time to start my home rabbitry would take me over, until allergy season hit and I was wiped out.


Now that we live in the city, and we have no flock and only an urban garden to satisfy my penchant for homesteading, I’m afflicted with the symptoms of a similar condition: chicken fever.


A backyard flock is out of the question right now, so to cope I created these little chicks.


They are just the right size to fit into those little snap together plastic Easter eggs, so they’re a really quick project.


You’ll need:

The softest, fluffiest yarn you can find in the chick color of your choice

Size I crochet hook

Tiny black buttons for eyes

Orange pipe cleaner

Yellow or orange craft felt for the beak

Sewing needle and color coordinated thread (black and chick colored)


Step 1: Make the body

Round 1: Chain 2. SC 5 into first ch to make a round.

Round 2: SC 2 into each SC in round to increase to a total of 10 sts in round 2.

Round 3-6: SC 10.

Round 7: Sc2tog, SC 1, repeat four more times for a total of 5 sts in round 7

Round 8-10: SC 5

Round 11: Sc2tog, repeat twice, slst into next st to close, pull last loop through to create a long tail

Weave in bottom end.


In the top end, weave in working toward row 7 (where you did the decrease to 5 sts) When you get to row 8, take the remaining long tail of the yarn and loop it around the head of the chick to create a more defined head. Tie securely then pull the remaining tail through the body several rows down. Trim any excess.


Step 2: Make the Face

Cut a semi circle with about a ¾” diameter. Fold into a cone shape and stitch into place.

Stitch beak onto face.

Stitch black buttons onto each side of the head for eyes. You can do both eyes with the same threaded needle by sewing straight through the head. This technique also helps keep the eyes even.


Step 3: Make the Feet

Trim the orange pipe cleaner to about 5”. Insert through the stitches in the body of the chick where you want the legs to be.


Fold the ends of the pipe cleaner to make feet.

Insert into plastic egg and enjoy.



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