Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Two Beautiful Nativity Scenes

I love nativity scenes. I love the simplicity of wooden-block ones just as much as the complexity of a full 300-piece Fontanini set. I also LOVE the creative ways people find to display theirs. Our house may be small and our storage-space limited, but I have two complete nativity sets.

Near our front door, visible from nearly the entire living area, is my Willow Tree nativity. I love the way the Willow Tree figurines speak to my heart -with their simplicity and subtlety.

The candle and aspen shavings were inspired by THIS beautiful scene. I wanted to add a warm backdrop, but after MONTHS of searching I still hadn't found anything that felt right. As I put everything onto the shelf last night, inspiration hit and I placed an embroidery hoop with warm brown fleece inside and everything fell into place beautifully. I LOVE how it silhouettes Jesus, Mary, and Joseph without taking away from the simplicity.

Our other nativity is a tiny porcelain set. I picked this up initially to place inside my giant lantern, but they looked so small and delicate that they just didn't fit well there.

After some fussing, I came up with a display I feel good about. Mary and Joseph are resting on a doily crocheted by my grandmother, and the Bible is my husbands' Great-Grandmother's Norwegian Bible, opened to the second chapter of Luke.

I will be sharing more of our decorations over the next few days, but I wanted to begin sharing with two of my newest and favorite pieces - those that tell the TRUE meaning of Christ-mas.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Dear Mom - final garden post of 2014

Dear Mom,

It's been a month to the day, since you passed away. I still can't write that, without my eyes going blurry. We finished your zucchini relish for you, and we'll be putting your gardens to bed for the winter over the next few weeks. I don't know how we'll do, since you were the one to tell us which plants needed extra hay covering them and which ones benefited from a handful of mulch, but we'll figure something out.

We spent yesterday and today, getting our own deck-garden ready for the winter. Next spring, we'll be planting it just like you & I talked about - with the zucchini trellises, the tomatoes against the wall, and the extra herbs. The one change I've made, is to plan on adding Chinese longbeans in with the zucchini. It seems as if those beans we discussed not planting for next year are the perfect companion for greedy zucchini. What I wouldn't give, to be able to double-check that decision with you.

Anyway, our garden is as ready as we can get it. You'd be proud, I did everything just like you taught me.














To the north, we've uprooted everything and hand-tilled the soil - removing roots, clumps, and squirrel-planted peanuts until everything is ready for next spring. That Santa-Fe pepper you sent back to my house? It's STILL going strong! I'm seriously considering bringing it in for the winter, to see how many more peppers it will produce before it gives up. I counted 9 blossoms yesterday afternoon.

To the west, everything is dug up, churned over, rearranged, and ready for spring. And you were right - those carrots we planted, tasted awful. It'll be the specialty carrots next year, or radishes for us. The rabbits thanked us, for our pitifully small carrot harvest.




Along the south, we still have several things growing. You were right about the lemonbalm, too. Two plants WAS one too many! You were also right about the marigolds. They're still blooming this late in the season. I'm tossing the seed-heads into the yard below, in hopes of those volunteer plants you suggested might crop up.


In the southwest corner, our flowers still look and smell amazing. And yep, the lemon thyme is still in there too, thriving and smelling amazing.

In the southeast corner, the mint is still struggling to stay green as well. I'll be trimming it back like you taught me, but I know if it doesn't come back next spring I can run over and snatch a few cuttings from your abundant supply.

We went to the store last night, to find two more of those blue bins for the zucchini, but look what we found instead! Four awesome planters, that will look positively amazing next year, and be a far sturdier deeper pot for those zucchini! And I got them on sale too! I wish you could see them Mom, you'd love these.

The garden's ready for winter now, just like you showed me. Now we just wait for the spring, to start the cycle all over again. I don't know if they have binoculars in heaven Mom, but if they do - you might want to take a peek at next year's garden. I think you'll like what you see.

I miss you, Mom.












Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 Garden Review

I spent a good part of this afternoon, out in the garden getting my containers ready for winter. Nearly everything has been harvested, and it's time to review what worked and didn't work this year.

For starters, my original layout was a failure. Because our deck is less than 4' from the sidewalk, we have had problems with people reaching through the deck-rails and stealing our produce. Not to mention the four 8' tall bamboo poles that were swiped from around my melon-plants. So halfway through the season, we ended up moving all our tomatoes up against the house. That was TOUGH when the tomatoes had already grown to over 6' high. So for next year, we have a completely different layout.

Our tomatoes? From 6 Bumble Bee cherry, and 6 Vorlon beefsteak plants, we had a bumper-crop of cherry tomatoes and a fair crop of beefsteaks. So for next year, we'll be growing eight Bumble Bee cherry plants and skipping the beefsteaks altogether. These were the best tomatoes we have EVER had! So rich, so flavorful, and so split-resistant! Cucumbers were slow to start producing, but once they did we harvested 2-6 golf-ball sized yummy mini cucumbers every single day for over 6 weeks. We'll be planting those again next year as well! And all of our herbs grew wonderfully... the one change we will make for next year is to ONLY grow a single lemonbalm plant. Growing two of those was TOO much!

The pole beans were the same as always; out of 6 plants, we enjoyed four side-dishes of beans. Not great, but nothing to complain about either. For next year, we're going to try Chinese long-beans - mostly for the novelty, but also because next year we will be growing ZUCCHINI! Originally we had thought we would be trading the beans for zucchini-space, but when I searched companion plants for the zucchini I found that beans were perfect because of their nitrogen production. 

My peppers were a bust. I have NO clue why, but I grew about 18 pepper plants from seed. None of my sweet peppers even germinated, and I sent about a dozen of my hot pepper plants to my parents' house. The six I kept here did almost nothing; I yielded 8 undersized flavorless peppers. The ones I sent to my parents produced a bumper-crop, just like I saw at my place last year. I'm calling the peppers a fluke, and trying again last year. The carrots - yuck. The Parisienne carrots we loved last year had sold out by the time we ordered our seeds, and the half-length carrots we chose to plant instead were puny and bitter. Next year it's Parisiennes, or NO carrots for us! 

Our complete failures were the melons, and pumpkins. Every year, we grow pumpkin plants that put out plenty of beautiful blossoms, but no actual pumpkins. We're giving up on pumpkins - that pot is needed for zucchini next year. The melons, since this was our first year trying them, we will give them another try next year. But our plants never got higher than about 8" tall, and the only yield we saw was a single marble-sized melon that was good for nothing but laughter.  

All in all, I'd say it was a good year! We had some amazing crops, a few not-so-spectacular crops, and a few flops... but it was fun to grow, easy to care for, and a pleasure to sit on the deck & sniffle the wonderful marigolds & alyssum - that are STILL perfuming the deck, even this late in the season! I can't wait to see how NEXT year's garden will turn out! 






Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spooky Author Display 2014: Gaston Leroux

Back in 2010, my kids asked if we could do something "spooky" during the month of October. Since we don't celebrate Halloween, I initially balked at the suggestion. But since I'd promised that I would always take ALL suggestions with due consideration, I thought about it for awhile and after a brainstorming session over zucchini bread & hot cider, we came up with a creative compromise.

Each year, during the month of September, we learn about a "Spooky Author". This might be an author who wrote spooky stories or poetry, or an author who lived a particularly spooky life. We study their life,  as well as a selection of their most famous works. These studies then result in a collaborative display that is "spooky" without having anything to do with witches or ghosts.





In 2010, we learned about E.A. Poe. Not really sure what to put into the display that would steer clear of the macabre, we opted for a simple black-and-white display, with a faux raven nicknamed Nevermore who still finds his way into our fall decorations perched over a basket of sunflowers.

Their favorite poem? The Bells. Their decision? Mr. Poe must have had the worst luck of anyone, ever.

In 2011, we studied Mary Shelley. Our display became much more colorful, and we had some creative fun using a miniature pumpkin as Abby Normal's brain, as a nod towards the movie Young Frankenstein.

Their favorite part of this study? Revisiting Frankenstein's Laboratory at the Bakken museum.

In 2012, we chose to research Lemony Snickett. Rather than create a display about the author, out of deference to the author's desire for anonymity we chose 13 iconic items; one for each of the books, to display along with a few items to represent each of the main characters.

My son thought it was immensely amusing that we used HIS leg to create a photograph of Count Olaf's ankle tattoo, and my daughter adopted the crocheted Inky the viper I made after the display came down.



And last year, after life got a bit ahead of us, we made a last-minute attempt at creating a display around our studies of H.G. Wells. We never did find a flat-fronted Altoids tin to create a mock-Farnsworth, (ala Warehouse 13) and while we WANTED to put a model time machine into the display - every option we found was far too expensive. 

The highlight of this study, was listening to a remastered copy of the original radio drama from 1938. Again, and again, and again...

With the waning interest of last year, I considered skipping our annual display this year. But I had been hoping to create a display based on The Phantom of the Opera and decided that even if the kids weren't interested, I would do the research myself for one last author.

What started with a playbill from 1993, a red rose, and a mask - quickly turned into my favorite display yet. I learned that M. Leroux researched multiple strange goings-on at the Paris Opera House as a newspaper reporter for years before writing his most famous book. So many parts of the book, and now-famous opera are actually based on FACT that I styled the display after a criminal investigation board (with notes in French) on the whereabouts of the mysterious Erik. I would share more, but because the kids will actually be doing their studies on M. Leroux NEXT month due to our late-start this year, I can't ruin their surprises. Let's just say that sometimes, truth is BETTER than fiction!

I don't know if this will be our last Spooky Author display, or if the secrets of M. Leroux will renew our interest for next year. What I do know, is this was a TON of fun to put together, and well worth the effort - even if I'm the only one who ends up appreciating all the secret nuances!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

One Tough Mama

I have been working on this post, for over a week. Not because I didn't want to share it, but because I wanted to find the perfect words. The truth is, sometimes words escape us. Sometimes there is no perfect.

I want to say that I lost my mother. But I know where she is, she's in heaven. I want to share the fact that my mother passed away. But it wasn't a passing, it feels more as if she was forcefully ripped from me. 

I want to say that she's gone. But she's here with me, with every plant I touch. She looks back at me from the mirror, and she's with me as I sit at table - back to the window, warming in the sun, just like her.

The unadorned truth is, my mother died, suddenly, on August 26th. She wasn't sick or suffering and she didn't get too old. She was 66, and while she had medical issues – they were nothing that suggested that her days were limited. Nor were they the cause of her death. She was there, in her kitchen, getting a batch of zucchini relish ready for canning. And then she was gone.

My mother wasn't a saint, she was human. And she wasn't a teacher by trade, but she she taught me. She taught me how to can jellies and relishes, how to garden, how to work hard in the church, and how to love. She taught me about butterflies, beneficial versus parasitic insects, how to choose a ripe cantaloupe, and how to use a bread bag to waterproof inexpensive winter boots when your means don't quite meet your needs. She taught me how to stretch a grocery budget, how to fold a bedsheet, how to say a bedtime prayer, and how to track down ancestors long-gone. She taught me how to sing as if the tune didn't matter, and to dance with reckless abandon. She taught me that strawberry shortcake was an acceptable dinner on hot summer evenings, and that homemade soup would cure anything but cancer.

My mother wasn't perfect, she was perfect-for-me. She was hard when she needed to be, and soft when she could. The strictest mom on the block... and the first one out the door with band-aids and fruit juice when she heard a cry of distress. When I disobeyed, it was rarely the hard spankings of my father I feared, it was the silence from my mother that steered me. And when we disagreed – which we did often, as two strong-willed women should, even when I never “came round” to her way of seeing things – I could still see that her way was borne of love.

I could tell you that at her funeral, there were so many flowers that I could barely find my way up onto the platform for a reading. I could tell you that it smelled like a garden, and how appropriate that seemed for a Master Gardener of over 25 years. I could tell you how my sister and I, before the service, took feather Monarchs and tucked butterflies into each arrangement in honor of "Madame Butterfly" and how the ceiling fans made them look as if they were fluttering. What a palty summary that would be, of the palpable sorrow that hung heavy in the air alongside the love I could feel with every breath of perfumed air I took in.
I could tell you how the honor guard played Anchors Aweigh as we lifted her from her final car ride – how it was the only time I ever remember not singing along, as Mom loved that song so very much. I could explain how I refused to cover my ears during her 21 gun-salute, and how a butterfly chased the breeze as they played Taps. I could tell you how I watched with each fold of her flag, thinking, “those corners are NOT tight enough for Mom! She's a color-guard... they need to be TIGHTER!” I could try to put into words how honored I felt to see so many decorated heroes, far older than her, there to say goodbye to MY mom. But this would be a poor summary of how my heart dropped to my shoes with each volley, or of the wrenching gasp that escaped as I failed to stand in perfect silence.
What I can tell you, is that my mother taught me how to live. She taught me to work hard. She taught me to love harder. She taught me relentless tenacity for what I believe in, and to endlessly love those I care for. While I can't yet say that I am “okay”, what I can say is that I will be. Because I am, who my mother taught me to be... and that's
One
Tough
Mama.
I love you Mummy.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Another Year of Homeschool, Another Organization Method

Since we first started our homeschooling journey in 2001, we have begun every year with a freshly organized school area. Some years that has been a desk-and-shelf combination, occasionally it's been a pair of secondhand desks, and most recently it's been a simple shelf of supplies.

This year, I fell in love with THIS rolling cart, (found via Pinterest)  and thought that having mobile supplies would be a great option for two teens who school anywhere from the living room to the back deck. I checked out Poppit, the site the original blogger purchased all her lovely color-coordinated supplies, and nearly choked when my shopping cart came to $120. That was BEFORE I added the cost of the cart itself!

Refusing to pay that much, but still wanting a pretty color-coordinated space, I started exploring pretty colors and organizational options. $75 and a trip to IKEA and the dollar store later, this is what I came up with. The dry erase boards on the wall are homemade Photoshopped images that have been in our living area for four years now. The glass frame works better than a standard dry erase board, and looks so much better than a blank white rectangle on my wall.

The cart, is the famous RASKOG kitchen cart from IKEA that has taken the blogging universe by storm. All the little pails, baskets, and containers? They're ALL from Dollar Tree!

The pails on the wooden stand, are "book-dumps". Regardless of where we school or how we organize things, piles of books tend to get "dumped" at random places around the house. Now, they can easily carry their books from room to room - and put them back again, when they're finished for the day.















In the top shelf of the cart, I placed our pens, pencils, scissors, markers, and other essentials in 13 individual metal mesh cups. Each of my teens has their own shelf below this, color-coordinated with:

* a bin for small notepads, calculators, and other necessities (including their own oversized sticky-notes!)
* two lidded sandwich-containers to hold stickers, erasers, paperclips, and other tiny essentials
* a metal pail with color-coordinating pens, mechanical pencils and gel-pens
* a single color-coordinated notebook (for scratch-paper & notetaking since most of their work is done elsewhere)
* and a can of Silly String... for their annual First Day of School lunchbreak.
The binders in the back hold their current unit of assignments and essays, to be filed in their permanent binder at the end of each unit. 

It may not be exactly like my inspiration photo, but I am SO pleased with how this turned out! I put it together for the kids while they were out visiting their grandparents, and surprised them with it already set up when they returned.

We've certainly come a long way from our school corner being a set of bookshelves piled high with play-doh, tree blocks and musical instruments!

Friday, June 20, 2014

June Garden Update

I just couldn't leave things with a sad story about my garden, when things are looking so great out there. Yes, I'm completely frustrated with the loss of my bamboo poles, but look at what I have to be thankful for!

In the NorthEast corner, the pumpkins have taken over their blue bin and are finally putting out dozens of tendrils to grow UP! The carrots are about 2" tall now, and all have that downy "fuzziness" that baby carrot tops have.

The basil, oregano & thyme are all growing extremely well, and we've already harvested  a heap of lemonbalm for tincture & tea. And our marigolds & alyssum smell so pretty as we're going in and out the door!

In the NorthWest corner, I lost two seedling melons to the pole-thieves, but the rest of them are finally about 4" tall and are starting to look hopeful. The carrots are the same 2" here as on the other side, and we can now see our nice neat rows of lettuce coming through. My peppers are starting to yellow because of ALL the rain we've had... but I have hope that they'll spring back, given a few days of dry weather. I've already counted at least a dozen blossoms, and can see the beginning swells of 8 different peppers!






In the tomato bins, things are looking wonderful. Four of the six bins are nearly tall enough to overgrow the metal cages, which are 4' high. And the plants are prolific enough it's hard to count blossoms - but I KNOW I've seen several dozen for sure!

In the SouthWest corner, my beans have tendrils running JUST higher than my head. No blossoms yet, but these are my favorite never-fail variety so I'm awaiting their purple blooms any day now.

In the SouthEast corner, the cucumbers are nearly 2' tall now, putting out dozens of tendrils and hundreds of leaves. These too are looking mildly waterlogged, so I'm hoping they spring back from all the rain... my cucumbers tend to be one of my pickier plants, but these are SO large and healthy that I'm not worried at all. And the chives have already been trimmed for several wrap-sandwiches and are growing very well also.

 And running along the South edge, our second harvest of carrots were planted yesterday, and our mint has already been harvested for dinner earlier this week: vegan chocolate mint milkshakes! We can't WAIT to enjoy those again!

I am so grateful that all of our plants have weathered the storms so well, and can't wait to see what this year's harvest will be! We're praying that the squirrels share some of our tomatoes with us, but are hopeful... and ready to let the dog loose to chase them off if needs-be!