Friday, January 30, 2009

What have we been doing lately?

Here's a blurry picture of the girls' finished knitting project. They knit a long rectangle then sewed the sides together. They crocheted straps then sewed them on to make great little purses.

They are also modeling their new t-shirts that we made. The idea came from my friend Anna. The girls chose their favorite animals (lizard and dolphin) and I used stencils to cut out fabric and stitch them onto these shirts. They are very proud and have worn them for 2 days in a row.

This picture was taken last week during the big snow that you see in the background. Our friends that moved away came back for a visit. The kids had a blast. (thanks for the beautiful hats Lesley and Jason...we love them!)
We had a little playgroup reunion at our house. Here they are having snacks.
Playing at the park.

We've been playing lots of music. The girls practice recorder and piano 3 times a week. Daniel has been playing some CCR along with them on the piano. He taught them a few chords (C, G, F and Am) and they keep rhythm and play along. Pretty cute and they love it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

QT with good friends

We took a quick road trip to Durham over the long weekend to visit our good friends the Morrisons. I can't say enough sweet words about this great family. We spent 2 nights at their house. We feel at home there and none of us wanted to leave on Sunday! The kids have been friends since they can remember and played wonderfully together. They especially loved playing in the woods behind the house, doing crafts/drawing together, and performing a show for the adults. Even though it was literally freezing, they spent hours outside exploring and creating. The moms and dads took turns going out to coffee shops and book stores:) We are so thankful for these good friends.

I stole some of these pictures from Anna since they came out better than mine--thanks Anna!
The girls posed for a picture while we all were out getting pretzels in Chapel Hill.

Creating fingerprint creations.

Writing the story for their original play.

Taking a bow.

Here we are before going out for coffee.
I just think this is too cute and a great idea for other moms. We found this idea in one of the cookbooks at Barnes and Noble while we were out. It's a veggie dog octopus we served the kids for lunch!

This is right before we left to go home. Some of the kids were really sad.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Plato not Clay

This morning the girls were sitting at the little table doing writing. The selection that Ellen happened to be copying was from Aristotle. This is the conversation that followed:

Ellen smiled and said, "Daddy was just telling us about Aristotle last night."

I said, "oh really, what did Dad say?"

Ellen responded, "He was very wise, because he said he knew nothing. He was the first philosopher."

Then Arianna said, "yep then came Clay."

Before I could figure out what she was talking about and respond,

Ellen said, "not Clay, Plato!"

I thought that was so funny. Arianna was associating Plato with play-do in her mind which is the same as clay. Hilarious. I had a hard time containing myself:)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Making dog treats

Since we got Blue we have been using treats to help train him. He has a lot of energy and likes to jump. He is very smart and is learning fast. Daniel spends the most time with him teaching him to sit, stay, and lie down. We bought a box of treats, but thought it would be fun to make some of our own. It is certainly a lot cheaper and the girls loved the idea. They were able to do everything since making dog treats doesn't have to be very precise. It was a great activity for many reasons. First, the girls practiced their reading, measuring, mixing, and baking skills. Second, they got the satisfaction of being able to make something for the animals and then enjoyed giving it to them. Also, it was just a fun thing to do as a family.

In addition, I have the satisfaction of knowing what's in the treats and that they don't contain diseased remains of other animals. This is another whole subject that I'm not going to get into on the blog. I'll just say that after Daniel and I read a few articles this weekend we were shocked to find out what goes into commercial dog food and treats and what we have been feeding our pets. We have made a few changes to the dogs' diets that should be better for their overall health and appearance.

If you are interested in making pet treats there are tons of recipes online. I picked a whole grain recipe that was easy to do and only used a few ingredients. Happy Baking!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Meet Blue

Our new family member, Blue.
We are all excited about our newest pet.
We picked him out from the pound last weekend. They said he is lab mix about 2 years old but we think he may be a little younger. He is medium sized and just a little taller than our older dog Jay. Jay is tolerating the new and younger member of the family. I assume he'll be more playful as he and Blue get to know each other. Our cat Max is giving Blue a hard time. He is not happy about having him around yet, but is already warming up to him a bit. Blue is very scared of him--it's funny how an animal can be so scared of another animal that is half his size.

We fell in love with Blue on Saturday. After thinking about it and looking at some other dogs, we decided that he was the best dog for the family and went yesterday to pick him up. He has been great so far. He loves the girls--follows them around and gets a lick in whenever he can. He sleeps a lot inside, usually right next to where we are. He also loves all food. He tries to get what we have and cleans up whatever we drop. I love that about him. I won't have to sweep so much! :) Jay never likes much of our food, and doesn't even take dog treats. He is very timid. He mainly stays close to me all day waiting for a rub:) Blue seems to be a little more normal, not so scared of everything (except the cat). Neither one of the dogs bark much. I was comforted today when I did hear them bark at someone walking down the street. It wasn't overly obnoxious. It just let me know someone was near and let them (the strangers) know that dogs were inside. I'm glad to have that extra protection. Not that I was ever scared, but it is nice to know that I probably won't be bothered with the dogs around. He doesn't chew on things either. Not yet at least.

So today the dogs curled up next to us as we continued life as usual. We all love having them around.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Premeditated Planting

It's that time of year again. Time to begin browsing seed catalogs, looking for nooks in the yard for that fruit tree or bush you've been meaning to plant, that little sunny spot begging for herbs or flowers, or that perfect location for a veggie garden. If you lack yard space look for containers to grow in. But by all means grow!
Here are some notes we made from last year that are helping us plan. Maybe you'll find them useful. But, if you stop reading now remember to PLANT whatever, whenever, wherever you can. Dive in. You'll learn as you go. It's a relatively cheap and rewarding practice enriching home life involving the young and old in a common project, contributing to health through nutrition, offering immersion education in life cycles, plant and animal relationships, heredity, pollination, insect identification, etc. to kids and adults alike. It provides free exercise, a sense of self-sufficiency and the satisfaction that comes with profiting from an investment. It also makes eating less expensive, and eliminates trucking/shipping/profit costs or damage to the environment when practiced without harmful ingredients. The below represents our experience which is small but growing. If you have questions about anything below or something not mentioned, concerns about recommendations, advice, or new ideas about what is working for you please don't hesitate to comment. If there's an idea you'd like to see featured in a future post send us a note.

We will be transplanting much of our garden from seeds sprouted indoors. Cleanliness is imperative. We struggled last year with die-off in our seedlings. Probable causes were using soil from the yard which probably contained fungus or bacteria that thrived in the moist seedling environment. We will purchase "clean" seed-starting soil from the store until we master the art of creating clean soil at home. Also, we didn't clean our planting trays and they may have transferred disease to the soil from previous plantings. This year they are dipped in warm water with a bit of clorox and then rinsed. Water from the bottom as much as possible to keep the surface dry. If seedlings are living indoors keep a fan on them. The extra air movement keeps soil surface dry and strengthens the young plants as they respond to the breeze. Also remember, unless you are setting up a major indoor artificial light system the grow lights sold at the hardware store can't compete with the sun's power. Transferring seedlings outside on suitable days will be much more beneficial and ward off leggy growth.
Don't grow what won't produce. We had a terrible time with corn last year. It's off the list for us. Simply not worth the effort right now. We had a terrible time with squash vine borers. So, we are purchasing netting to grow traditional summer squash and also found Trombone Squash and Butternut Squash to be reputably vine bore resistant. So, we are growing those. An exemption to the recommendation: Tomatoes. We struggled with them but I am hoping that with extra attention to our soil we can grow them successfully. The moral is, if it's your first year and you don't know, consult your cooperative extension and look for seed exchanges that offer varieties acclimated to your environment. Talk to seasoned growers in your area. And, experiment! Otherwise, don't fight your conditions. Look for ways to improve them and grow plants that grow well. Better to grow and learn to enjoy what works then to fight conditions that can't be immediately altered.
Grow more of what grows well. Two notes here. First, potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, and beans all produced remarkably well and contributed large amounts of food to our meals. So, we are tilling up extra space and making sure we do more of them. Second, we don't have much horizontal space but plenty of vertical space so we are going to set up more trellises along the house and shed and in the garden to grow more vining plants. Luffa, melons, cucumbers, beans, trombone squash, peas, and others can all be grown in the air with minimal footprint in the garden. That's exciting. So, we are eyeing all the spaces in the yard that might make easy trellis spaces (porches, decks, gable ends, rafter tales). We have a neighbor with a bamboo problem and with their permission we are allowed to cut and take what we like. I have found bamboo to be very easy to work with. It's light, strong, and easy to tie together with cord. So, we make free standing trellises with bamboo. Vining plants can also provide shade for the summer heat to the house or portions of the yard.

Other good producers were basil, eggplant, and lettuce. More of what works.

Plant more flowers and herbs that repel bad insects and attract pollinators. We enjoyed flowers in the garden and inside all summer long last year. They are worth planting in any open nook in the yard. Examples of common garden helpers are Calendula, Zinnia, Nasturtium, and Marigold.

Plant in stages so that the bountiful harvest doesn't all show up at once.

Keep an eye out for free planters. People and businesses are constantly casting out small plastic containers that they purchase plants in. They are great for seed starting and larger bush containers are great for container gardening. Watch the trash for free containers especially near landscaping projects and new subdivisions. There's no shame in picking a neighbors trash is there?
Whether from your local big-box hardware store or online consider integrating a perennial fruiting bush or tree into your landscape. Even one a year would build up the productivity of your yard. Fruiting trees produce showy flowers in Spring and when mature enough wonderful fruit in the summer. It's a small investment with long lasting returns for you or future home owners. A fruit/nut guide from the library or online will help you choose the right plant for your yard and there are important considerations such as maturity size, pollination requirements (self-fertile vs. cross pollinator), zone hardiness, soil type, sun requirements, etc. But its a fun project and rewarding to learn how to make the yard self-productive. So, if you were thinking about sprucing up the yard this year do it with fruits and nuts.

This winter has been experimental. Kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and a few onions struggle along and we excitedly pick what they offer. The drastic changes in temperature, decreased sunlight, overly damp soil have all contributed to the struggle. But we learn as we go.

We are starting to see tiny signs of life on the few perennial fruits that we propagated by digging up suckers or layering limbs last summer and it's exciting to watch how determined, adaptable, and free some garden growth can be. We will plant an extra peach, an extra blueberry, an extra pomegranate (maybe two), 4 small figs, and I was allowed to dig up four small loquats from a college I teach at which I have no clue what to do with. But they are all free! And soon they will begin maturing in ground.
Toward a better spring garden we tilled in (thanks to my neighbor for letting us borrow his tiller which I had the opportunity to learn how to replace the drive belt on :-)) collected leaves, mulch, manure, and now have planted a cover crop of alfalfa and clover. Hopefully it will have some time to develop and enrich the soil before we plant. The seeds were cast out and have germinated easily.

Spread the word. Share seeds. Share stories. Don't be intimidated. Ask questions. Grow!

Here's a picture of our shelf we use to experiment with propagation techniques. Daniel's always got new plants started. Most work, but some don't. Here you can see jade plants which he has been very successful with. There's also rosemary, sage, aloe, thyme, a spider grass, and a pathos plant.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Christmas trip part 2

For the second part of our trip we drove to Baton Rouge and stayed a few nights at my brother Neal's house. There is a bit of a gap in my pictures (no pics at Neal's house) since the camera broke the last day in B'ham. Thankfully we were able to use Christmas money to buy a new and better one while in BR. Anyway, we had a short visit with more family at dad's house in Baton Rouge before driving to Jackson, MS to celebrate the new year and see more family! My brother and his family, and my mom and BB, and our family stayed at my aunt's house with more cousins and my grandmother. We ended the trip with fireworks on new year's eve and drove home all day on the first. What a wonderful trip. As always, it is so good to be with family. We were sad to leave but so are so glad to be home:)

Christmas at the lakehouse

This year we spent our Christmas traveling through the southeast. Our first stop was the lake house near Birmingham. We stayed there from Christmas Eve through Sunday with Daniel's mom Gail, his brother David, and his sister Anna. (Stephen and Liz we missed you!) I took lots of pictures before the camera broke so I'll let the slide show tell the story of our trip. It was awesome. Thanks to Daniel's uncle and aunt for letting us use their beautiful lake house.