Saturday, April 30, 2011

Heirloom eggs, thanks to our family for kicking off this tradition.

A beautiful spring token from the mother-in-law...
With all the excitement of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, it already feels like Easter was eons ago. They have their family traditions, and we have I thought I'd share some of our "firsts" to celebrate spring at Easter this year:

-We have a family Easter basket (I wove it myself - no seriously - I used to teach basket-weaving) complete with silk lining made from leftover scraps of fabric.

-The family basket contains a handmade Easter journal in a silk pouch. The journal is to write down who was at our festivities and what we did. There's also room for photos.

-Each family member painted a wooden egg. Year after year we can use them for egg hunts.

-I decided that chocolate babka will be my staple Easter treat for dessert at brunch each year (husband approved, of course :) It is amazingly delicious, like a chocolate-filled croissant. It was a hit!

So there you have it, a few new traditions of our own. What are some of your favorite Easter traditions?
The dogwoods are blooming! The dogwoods are blooming! Yay for Spring!

Friday, April 22, 2011

spring time in the woods

Wood poppy. Photo copyright
One of the perks of working at a nature center is that time in the woods is encouraged. In mild weather those otherwise tedious meetings are held outdoors. It's instant inspiration.

So yesterday during an outdoor meeting, my colleague and I were excited to hear a grey tree frog calling to another in the trees. We also overheard a little child playing with his family exclaim "I want to stay here FOREVER!". It was the best. Our bluebirds and tree swallows are nesting, among other birds, so it's a time full of busy, joyful sounds.

NOTE: Of course, I ended up finding four dog ticks on my sweater, but the fresh air was worth it. Remember to always, ALWAYS check yourself and your little ones to avoid getting sick from a tick!

Later, I had another meeting, this one in our woodland garden. It's a fenced area of about an acre meant to contrast how different the forest would look without an overpopulation of deer browsing all the vegetation. Master gardeners created naturalistic plantings of native wildflowers and it is absolutely beautiful. Foamflower is covering the forest floor with airy white flowers. The yellow wood poppies are up and the jack-in-the-pulpits are starting to make an entrance. The blood root is open and the may apple is on its way. The ferns are at various stages (maidenhair fern, Christmas fern, sensitive fern) starting to unfurl. The wild ginger, spring beauty, and wintergreen are also getting ready for a show. The flowering trees and shrubs include red buds, oak leaf hydrangea, and dogwoods. Even wake robin (also known as purple trillium) is blooming!

There are many more plants in the woodland garden, but too many to list. I'm glad I had the opportunity to enjoy the wildflowers that usher in spring - just in time for Easter. I hope you can make some time to enjoy the wildflowers in your neck of the woods because, believe me, they are fleeting!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

growing up

That's what they're doing, my snap peas that is. I found some old seeds under the kitchen sink (I'm talking 2-3 years old). Not being one to give up on things, I thought I'd give them a try.

E and I scooped soil into these egg cartons outside. I chose to use these cardboard cartons partly out of necessity (didn't want to buy plastic) and partly because the cartons can be planted right in the ground since they are biodegradable.

I had three kinds of seeds: chives, peas, and peppers. After nearly a month, it looks the chives and peppers are...done. But the peas are thriving! I can't wait until it's warm enough to get these in the ground. I've also got some other seeds (carrots, squash, and butterfly weed) that I'm going to sow directly in the ground in early May. Those aren't old, so there should be more survivors!

I thought this would also be a good time to refer to my to-do list. Let's see: in the last two months I've accomplished a couple of things and got a jump on some things, too. But as you can see, there's still plenty to do. If you see ( ) below, it means I'm actively working on it...

The Ultimate Spring Fever To-Do List:

( ) Remove the nasty English Ivy from under my hedge row
( ) Re-establish a border for my front garden, use branches from our Beech tree
Incorporate a dirt-digging pile for E somewhere in the backyardBuild a sand box for E
( ) Get plans for a cool fort/playhouse (if not this year then next)
Create a little table/chairs area for E to do outside art projects
Remove more English Ivy from the fence in the back yard
( ) Rearrange and transplant perennials in the back garden
Pot several more herbs with E to use in our cooking (rosemary, tarragon, oregano)
Divide and share our Lemon Basil
( ) Give strawberries and tomatoes another go; plant some more peppers, plus peas, carrots, and squash
Relocate the crazy pumpkin sprouts to the back yard and up a trellis if possible
Convince my neighbor to take care of her horrible English Ivy situation creeping into my yard!

Additions to the list:

( ) Relocate cobblestone edging to create an edible garden
Relocate flagstone to create E's art area
( ) Hand seed the yard where there are bare spots
Plant climbing vine or plant in pots with trellises on either side of the front door
( ) Make new chair cushions and pillows for patio seating

The sad thing is that I could still go on and on about more things I'd like to do in the yard. I will try to keeping the plants growing and the to-do list shrinking...

Monday, April 18, 2011

rainy day potato chowder

I whipped up this yummy potato soup for dinner the other night (during a torrential downpour). After some tweaks, it was delicious. The best part? I already had all the ingredients on hand.

Here's what you need:
4 peeled and cubed red potatoes (or whatever potatoes you have)
2 carrots, sliced (peeled if that's your preference)
2 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (you can substitute with milk here but your texture will change a bit)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 to 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, I like raw organic varieties
salt to taste
croutons (I like Trader Joe's garlic and cheese croutons)

Start by steaming the potatoes and carrots until soft. Set carrots aside.
Heat vegetable broth, shallots, and garlic.
Puree the potatoes in the food processor with sour cream, whipping cream, and butter.
Once blended, gradually add heated broth mixture to the food processor.
When soup is a creamy texture, return to the pan used to heat the broth.
Add carrots back in. Stir in cheddar cheese. Add salt to taste.
Serve hot. Sprinkle with croutons and add more cheddar cheese on top to melt in.

Depending on the size of your potatoes, you may need to add more or less liquid to acheive desired consistency. Some people like a chunky soup while others like it smooth and creamy - so experiment a little. Likewise, you may want more or less cheese, shallots, or garlic. Other soup additions might include: peas, edamame, corn, or green beans.

Friday, April 15, 2011

tres chic! the versatile blogger award now graces this blog

Can you believe it? Emily from Naptime is My Time has honored my voice by giving me "The Versatile Blogger" award. I'm excited to accept! I read and comment on Emily's blog a lot - after all she's chasing her dream of eco-friendly domestic bliss like myself. Emily, it was awesome of you to choose me and flattering to know you like my blog!

Anyone receiving the Versatile Blogger Award must follow the rules to pay it forward, if you will. The rules are as follows:

  • Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.
  • Tell your readers seven (7) things about yourself.
  • Give this award to fifteen (15) recently discovered bloggers. 
  • Contact those bloggers and let them in on the exciting news!
Seven things about me:

1. I love to garden with native plants. I am a total native wildflower NERD, complete with Latin names to back it up.

2. I took private voice lessons for 8 years. As a teen I used to sing at weddings, funerals, and everything in between. Now I save my singing for lullabies with E or campfire sing-alongs at the Nature Center.

3. I want to do my part to help kick our nation's plastic addiction. I've got a huge stash of re-usable totes and baskets that I take to the grocery store religiously. I'm doing my best to take them into EVERY store (not just groceries) since plastic bags are unavoidable.

4. Again on the plastic, I avoid eating from (and definitely NOT heating up) any plastic ware for food. There are weird chemicals in the plastic that I don't trust...and I don't want to ingest them. Yes, even the BPA and pthalate-free stuff contains wild-card chemicals that science doesn't fully understand. It grosses me out just thinking about it.

5.I learned some of my most important lessons about working with children through volunteer work at the Maryland School for the Blind and RICA (a lock-down facility for emotionally disturbed teens). You don't know what trouble is until you've walked a mile in their shoes.

6. I was an artist-in-residence for a fantastic organization called Young Audiences of Maryland. I worked with Baltimore City youth to create large-scale art installations to teach about the Chesapeake Bay. I am an enthusiastic supporter of community arts programs.

7. In my spare time (when there's time to spare) I'm a visual artist. I create non-objective paintings. These are selfishly my own abstract expressions. I've exhibited all over, but not so much in the last year. Now that E is getting older, I am longing to do more of my personal art. (I love painting owls and turtles, but that's not really for me, now is it?!)

I feel bad going on and on about myself like this - I hope you don't think I'm obnoxious! I just really wanted to share interesting things that hadn't come up in any of my posts yet. Them's the rules - share seven things - and I did it.

As far as selecting 15 bloggers to pass the award on to, I decided to consult the enormous list of blogs that I subscribe to. It was very difficult to decide on my faves! Without any further adieu (drum roll please) here are my highly deserving, wonderful recipients of the Most Versatile Blogger award:



Congratulations new honorees! You deserve this award, so shout it from the roof tops! Yay for fabulous bloggers everywhere!
Hey - you talkin' to me? Did I win an award for my cuteness?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

discovery jars

A friend of mine visited a Waldorf School in Baltimore recently and said that the children enjoyed dropping objects into tissue paper covered jars. The "ka-plink" sound is pleasing to them and the paper protects the glass. I think she said that the kids were dropping old wooden clothespins into the jars.

I didn't actually get to see the jars myself, but I thought this was a cool idea. I figured I could make my own!

I re-purposed these leftover Ball canning jars and a recycled sauce jar to make my version of "discovery jars". I had some handmade paper scraps that were thick and perfect for covering the glass. (Tissue paper or fabric would be lovely, too.) I used regular Elmer's Glue (not the washable kind) to seal the paper on the outside of the glass. On the bottoms of the jars, I cut and hot-glued felt just to make sure they wouldn't break when set on a hard surface.

These jars are great for sorting, grouping, and counting (all important math concepts for early learners). Given my toddler's obsession with lids, these jars are perfect! I made a few for my preschoolers as well. They can sort seeds, shells, stones - you name it.

And you know what else? Lots of grown-up uses, too. The jars would be beautiful with a tea light inside as a lantern or tied with a ribbon for a flower arrangement.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

4 minutes of patience...with video

He's trying really hard to succeed at his task to feed the cat - this failed attempt was caught on video. Don't worry, mama laughed it off and saved the day for kitty. (Okay, I didn't exactly laugh, more like shook my head, sighed, and smiled at E's sincere effort.) Enjoy the footage, the pay off is at the end. :) And sorry about the blur in the first 2 or 3 secs.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

superman does tricks

While I could be referring to my husband or a fictional comic book character, I'm actually thinking about my toddler. He is developing his super-human powers of speech and Houdini-like skills. His vocabulary is growing as is his overall adorable, squirrely behavior.

Words that actually sound like words:
wolf, duck, mom, dad

Words he's working on:
guck = truck
esses = glasses
raff = giraffe
ugs = bugs
dis = this

Latest squirrely behavior? I was brushing my hair in the bathroom. I looked down only to discover E had unravelled an ENTIRE roll of toilet paper - silently - and it was gently swirled around him right next to me. Don't worry, I re-rolled it all back up. Still great for blowing noses...

I heard him trying to open the powder room cabinets so I peeked around the corner (yes, I forgot to close the door). His favorite toy giraffe was enjoying a swim in the toilet! Time to install that toilet lock...

He was having a little snack of those melt-in-your-mouth organic puffs, when he decided to help himself to some more. (He actually signs the word "please" now which is precious!) Anyhow, mommy was distracted in the kitchen and I looked over to discover he poured the whole package of puffs onto his tray. A mountain of puffs, in fact. SIGH. "Too much!" I chuckled to him. Too much.

And the baby wipes - I'm sure you see where this is going - any time he can get his little paws on them he happily plucks them out and tosses them onto the floor. I have restacked them countless times and I am slowly being trained to store them up high and out of reach. Is there such a place?

I have to laugh every time something like this happens, because as you'll notice, it's always MY FAULT! I'm always too busy multi-tasking and I can't watch him every single, solitary second that he's awake. So, I laugh with him and teach him that cleaning up can be fun, too.

Some days I feel like I'm living in a Saturday Night Live skit.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

a new chore, luckily not mine

This week E got his first chore: feed kitty. Every morning before he drinks his own bottle, kitty eats first. E goes to the cabinet and eagerly awaits for me to open the food bin. (Just a matter of time before he figures out how on his own.) I help him carry the scoop of kibbles over to kitty's bowl as he excitedly waddles over. He gingerly attempts to pour the food into the bowl...but as you can see by the pictures, it doesn't always make it in.

Our cat is insulted that he is being served by Master E and that he has to lick his food up off the floor as a result. Not to mention E likes to scoop the food back OUT of the dish after he's just poured it in. It takes a lot of urging and insisting to get the scoop back into the cat food bin for safe-keeping. There are often angry squeals and fist-shaking when I explain the scoop is special and just for kitty.

The whole sight is hilarious and adorable. And I'm happy E is embracing his first chore with a smile.

Monday, April 4, 2011

animal handprint paintings for baby

Remember these little paintings?
Well, I've finished them...except for the part E gets to do on each birthday...
My idea for these animal paintings was to create something that E could add to. He can put his adorable little handprint on these, at least until he's four! It will be fun to see how he grows with each year and this is something a bit less hokey than some of the handprint art I've seen out there. When he outgrows these paintings someday, I can paint over the handprints and pass them on to someone else's baby.
Here's E's one-year-old handprint. Yes, momma helped...

This owl's belly is ready for E's 2nd birthday.

He'll have to make a handprint on either side of the dragonfly. Poor design on my part!

We've got lots of salamanders in our yard -
by age four I think E will know ALL about them!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What do ugly neckties and snakes have in common?

Let's see...they both have eye-catching designs and each can be frightening upon an encounter, especially when around one's neck.

After some research on-line to find a clever snake-themed art project for my preschoolers, I came across a fabulous idea to sew a snake from re-purposed neckties. But to my dismay, I went to click on the instructions and the author wanted me to PAY for them! As if! So I thought, "I don't need no stinkin' directions! I'll figure it out myself!"

So here is my version of a snake necktie. And by all means, freely use my instructions!
STEP 1: Open up the seam of the necktie. Iron the seams so they are open and lay flat.
Remove the lining and set aside. (You may want to cut it up and use as stuffing.)

STEP 2: Fold the tie over so the ends touch. The "right" sides of tie should face each other.
The "wrong" sides of the tie should face out. Pin in place. Can you see where the snake is?

STEP 3: Sew the snake together, leaving an opening at one end for stuffing.
Cut off excess fabric and set aside.
(NOTE: If you don't trust yourself to freely sew the shape, draw an outline as part of Step 2.)

STEP 4: Use the opening to turn the snake inside-out.
Double-check your seams to make sure none are popping open.

STEP 5: Stuff the snake with old pillow stuffing, shredded paper, or fabric scraps.
This part is fun for the kids!
(NOTE: You may need a long stick or dowel rod to help push the stuffing down.)

STEP 6: Pin the opening closed. Thread large needle with embroidery floss. Help your child to stitch the opening closed. Let your child select buttons for eyes and cut out a felt tongue. Help her stitch them on as well. OPTIONAL: Use more buttons or sequins to sew on snake scales.

VOILA! Your snake is complete!
I should note that after sewing 20 of these, this seemed more like an adult project than one for my students!

But that said, I brought my sewing machine to class and the kids took turns sewing (with help, of course) to make a class snake. The children learned how a sewing machine works and believe me, they were mesmerized! They were very impressed when I pointed out the stitching on their clothing and told them this is how clothes are made before they go to stores for us to buy.

After the children participated in the sewing demonstration, they each selected a "snake". Several of the children had brought in ties from home which they used. We assisted the children as they stuffed and sewed the snakes over the course of a couple classes during their self-directed play time.

I really loved this activity - it was worth all the advance preparation!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!
Our little guy at 15 months, February 2011.