Monday, April 28, 2014

Balance and Contrast Week Four

So, I do realize that it's a new week this week, but we haven't officially started our homeschooling week yet (we'll do that tomorrow). With that small disclaimer, I present a brief summary of week four of Balance and Contrast.

Our main project was constructing a birdhouse windchime.

Chobie was clever enough to point out that it doesn't really chime per se, so I should clarify that it really is more of a birdhouse jingler. 

The first day we painted the house.

Next we strung beads and bells together. During my planning, I thought that this would be great handwork skill practice for Chobie. He wasn't very interested and played warriors and enemies with the nails and beads at the other end of the table.

To secure the beads to the house, I tied one end of the string to a nail, then nailed them to the four corners of the bird house.


We also had a visit to our friends farm where we helped her gather eggs.

Chobie peering into the chicken coop. Yes, that's him in the dinosaur suit.

Chobie chose one to bring home for breakfast the next morning.

Bee loves chickens. He was following these ones around trying to pick them up.

I kept this week's read aloud simple. We read Rooster/Gallo by Jorge Luján and Manuel Monroy.

I loved this book. It's bilingual verse about the interplay between the rooster and the heavens that brings about the changes between day and night. The language in this book is so beautiful, which is refreshing for a children's book.

We did do a lot more reading during the week, but most of it was for cozy book time, which doesn't have any kind of planned stories. It was a rainy, relatively chilly week, so a lot of our learning took the form of cozy book time. We read from The World of Pooh together. 

I did my fair share of grown up reading last week too. I couldn't put down Little Night by Luanne Rice, then I started reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. It's a fascinating read so far. I've just finished his summary of the history of media. I know, it sounds boring, like something you would have to suffer through in the first weeks of a lower level college course, but I actually learned so much about a topic I never knew I wanted to know about. (I have more thoughts on this book that I'm hoping to share later on.)

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This post was shared on the DIY Sunday Showcase.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Garden Update: Sprouts and Shoots

We've come a long way from bare beds and cover crops. Little sprouts are popping up all over our garden beds: radishes and spinach.

The peas are growing fast too.

I picked out some lettuces and greens to plant.

Seeds are in the ground, just in time for a rainy period, I’m such a lazy gardener. Now these little lettuces will sprout without me running out to water them twice a day. On the down side, the weeds will probably start to take over since watering is my primary motivation for getting to the garden each day. If it’s just weeds I always figure, what’s another day going to matter?

When I plant several rows of different varieties in the same bed, I leave the seed packets at the end of the last row I planted so that I know what variety went where and I don't have to juggle labels, seed packets, trowels, and children all at once.

When it's time to break out the labels, I've found that a grease pen is indispensable for plant labeling, especially with plastic labels.

I don't like that these are plastic, because the world certainly doesn't need more plastic, but I haven't had much success with wood labels holding up very long in this climate. Although, I did pin these painted labels recently. Paint would make the labels hold up to our heavy rains, I might even be able to use them multiple years in a row. We shall see.
Our last frost is sometimes as late as May 1, so to be putting lettuce in the ground this early is fantastically exciting.  Next week we’re supposed to have several days in the 70 degree range, so I’ll be planting beans and squash in no time. Three cheers for extended growing seasons!

A lot of the garden is still in cover crop. This is our lovely crimson clover, planted last September.

Cover crops help keep weed populations down and enrich the soil, especially if you till them in and let them rot. I hear this is much easier east of the Cascades. Here on the west side, I usually till, wait somewhere between a few days and a few weeks, then pull out the big clumps before raking out a seed bed. When cover crops are added to the compost, and then that compost is added back into the garden later, you still get some of the benefits of a tilled in cover crop.

So that's whats growing here at Handmade Life. What's in your garden?

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Arts Walk Spring 2014

Every fall and spring, around each equinox, our town has an arts walk where local artists have shows in downtown businesses and there are performers, craft vendors, and artists out on the streets. So last night after dinner, we headed down to check it out.

About an hour before it was time to leave we got hit with an epic hail shower and it looked like our plans might be cancelled. But the weather turned sunny again, so as we walked down the hill toward town we were greeted with this...


It was a double rainbow, but as the song says, I couldn't even capture it on my camera. This is the best pic I got.

This was my first arts walk with kiddos, and it definitely made for a different experience than the first time that I lived in Olympia. No late night shows this time around, but I did get to play with bubbles and sidewalk chalk and feel like I wasn't cheating.

I kept thinking how surreal it must be for a little kid to be able to walk around the streets of downtown and color everything with sidewalk chalk, when it's usually "Don't go in the street," and "Hold my hand" when we walk downtown.

We hung around and watched some street performers.

Chobie really liked these glass starfish.

And these goats.

I really liked this cat, but I couldn't get a good picture since it was in a window display.

I took an impromptu selfie in the reflection of these batiks made by a class of fifth graders. Does it count as a selfie when you're baby wearing?

A lady on the street directed us into a gift shop giving away free temporary tattoos for kids. I was pleasantly surprised to walk in and see a glass case full of an assortment of gourmet chocolates (I know, how could I have lived here for this long and not known of its existence?) and, for the second happy surprise, I found out that the tattoos were actually being given out by local children's authors to promote their new book Chicken and the Dog.

I'm looking forward to reading it with my kiddos.

It was a fun little trip. We only lasted a couple of hours, but I came home exhausted and fell instantly asleep while trying to read. The kiddos also passed out instantly.

Good times had by all.

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Salt Dough Textured Tracing Letters

Now that Chobie is reading, we’re starting to do more writing activities too.

This week we made a variation on sandpaper letters with salt dough and big glass beads.

First we cut the letters out using cookie cutters

Then before the letters were baked with pressed beads into them to make textured lines.

Tracing the textured lines will help Chobie to learn the motion of the letters and practice them without being frustrated with attempts to write them that don’t turn out perfectly.

Besides, they’re sparkly—always a plus as far as I’m concerned.


If you do end up making your own, there are a few things you should know.

  • Make sure that you roll the clay out as flat as possible, throwing the ball a couple of times to compress the clay and get air bubbles out (like you would when making clay pottery) so that they don’t expand during baking and push the beads out.
  • A lot of our beads fell out of the clay anyway, but just hang on to them and glue them back into place in the depressions they created.  You might even want to pull the beads out first then glue them back in so they don’t pop out easily when your kid is tracing them. 

This post partied at the Tell Me about it Tuesday link party. 

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Friday, April 25, 2014

A New (Brilliant) Way to Label Mason Jars

Oh, the versatile mason jar. 

When you use them for bulk food storage or herbs, it’s nice to put a label on them. The problem is that I haven’t found a satisfying labeling technique yet.

I started out with the cute little labels that come with the pack of jars. My thinking had been that if I just reused the jars for the same herb repeatedly, then I could keep the labels on them. Unfortunately, this theory did not hold up to dish washing. I just ended up with goo on the jars.

Since then I’ve tried using various tapes, but they usually don’t stick well or are unpleasant to look at. My most common method has been to not label the jars. Thus, it’s been impossible for anyone but me to find anything in my herb cabinet. And as for the bulk flour, some jars end up being mysterious even to me.

So, inspired by a pin I saw for storing matches, I cooked up this new labeling system.

Using old paper grocery bags, I made an insert between the lid and the ring to use as a label.

Just trace the lid.

Cut along the inside of the outline, otherwise it will be too big.

Assemble jar!

I used mine for my nourishing morning tea blend of nettle, red raspberry leaf, oat straw and mint. 

What will you put in your new jars?
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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Journal Day The First

This post is in response to the weekly journal prompts at Sometimes Sweet. The prompts are given on Sunday and then rounded up on Thursday. Hop over and check it out if you’re so inclined.

This week’s prompt:
Quite simply, what are you good at? All of us have particular strengths- what are yours? This week, talk about these talents, big or small. Ideas: discuss how you use these things in your daily life or job, how you discovered a knack for this or that, perhaps even touch on whether or not you are passionate about the things you're good at.

I’ve been following these Journal Days for a while now, meaning to jump in and start writing because I think it’s such a GREAT idea. I had already mentally committed myself to it before I saw the prompt. I almost decided to back out and start next week because this feels so challenging. Is it my social conditioning as a girl/woman that makes it so hard to feel like it’s ok to publically proclaim that there are aspects of myself that I am not actively seeking to improve? Or is it just my own head?

 Deep breath. Here is goes.

I am an organized and inspired person. I am good at working under pressure.
In fact, I think I’m so good at working under pressure that I am constantly creating it for myself.

I like to keep lists, lists of everything. I even have lists and notes and thoughts for future projects scribbled down in various volumes.

I keep a multi-level to-do list board in my kitchen:

There is no lack of good ideas in my life, more so a lack of time to accomplish them in. Keeping so many lists and staying organized does help me to juggle my commitments and responsibilities. The sheer volume of organized little notes and ideas in my life suggests at least some kind of passion for these strengths, but it's more accurate to say that I organize my passions. My life would be much less complicated if I wasn't passionate about so many things (mothering, growing food, crafting, nutrition, writing, birth work, dorking out with good books...

I’m a good listener, a skill I learned from my mom. Admittedly, when we are together I can still tell she’s a better listener than me because I usually can’t stop talking. In life this helps me to understand where people are coming from and find common ground. Admittedly, it can also be easy to get lost in it too. Am I passionate about it? I do agree with the saying that you have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.

I’m good at critical thinking and analysis. I think that doesn’t always show up on this blog since I try to keep it positive and avoid controversy. I’ll admit that I dread the (inevitable) day when someone disagrees with me and says so. Having been a weirdo (to varying degrees) my whole life, I tend to critically reason out (and feel out) my own decisions, but then keep them quiet assuming they will be unpopular sentiments.

(Is that my social conditioning poking in to say hello? I’m good at something, but I need to counterbalance it with a struggle?)

Breathing again.

Okay, more good things about me: I’m physically strong, I’m creative, I’m a caring and sensitive mother, I’m intelligent (who isn’t? I honestly believe we all show intelligence in different ways…)

There it is again. It’s really challenging to say nice things about myself, at least coming right out and saying them is hard. Because honestly, it seems like what us blogging types are doing with our blogs. We’re editing our lives into neat little posts that give the highlights. It’s implied, anyway, which it turns out is a lot easier on my psyche than distilling it into statements, typing them out, then hitting “publish.”

How about you? What are you good at?

Even thought I complained a lot about how hard it is to write about it, in another way it feels really good to compliment yourself out loud, and as a commenter you don’t even have to write an entire post about it, that is unless you want to. So go ahead, just an adjective or two will do.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Planting Potatoes 2014

People have all kinds of crazy ways to plant potatoes. And it makes sense, there are actually over 900 different varieties of potatoes that were developed in the Andes, grown at a wide variety of altitudes.
Today, only a handful of these show up on supermarket shelves, and a few dozen more varieties are found in farmer's markets or on small farms. People plant potatoes in ditches, mounds, old tires, vertical wooden any random object large enough to grow potatoes in and I'm sure someone has used it for potatoes.

Well, I'm no exception. Now that our last frosts have passed, its time to put my beautiful seed potatoes in the ground. Last year I constructed these wire cylinders from hardware cloth to grow potatoes in.

I made them in graduated sizes so they would stack together for space efficient storage.

When you grow potatoes in the ground they take up a lot of space. So as an urban gardener this year, I'm going vertical to save space. (Yes, I did make and use the containers last year at our old place, but I had a different set of reasons for using them there, namely a potato pest present in the soil of the main garden area).

Not only do these containers save space, they also make havesting easy. You just lift the cylinder and then pick the spuds out of the pile of dirt.

Like other vertical potato growing schemes, you add a few inches of soil to the bottom of the containers, add in your seed potatoes, then top off with more dirt. Once the plants begin to grow, you gradually add layers of dirt to the top. The newly immersed parts of the potato plant begin to develop tubers. By the end of the season you have a whole column of potatoes with the largest at the bottom and a bunch of little new potatoes at the top.

First I added some soil.

Then I dropped the potatoes in from the top. It's tricky to get even spacing since the cylinders are so tall I can't reach them once they're on the bottom to rearrange them. So I had to do strategic dropping from the top, then used a shovel to gently nudge around a few that needed adjustment.

Step three was covering with soil and watering.

Compared with digging a bed to plant, I have to say this method is really easy.

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