Friday, April 30, 2010

This Moment: Best Friends

No words, just a moment from the past week that I want to pause and savor. Check out all the moments being shared over at SouleMama this Friday. Happy weekend!

Best friends

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not So Fast

A few weeks ago, we had a couple of days in the high 80's and even 90's. In early April! Crazy. And it was so, so very tempting to want to just get all those seedlings in the ground already. Especially considering that this is what my dining room table looks like at this point in the season.

Seedlings take over dining room

But this time of year can be tricky. Last night we had a frost warning, and I was so grateful for having waited. When you start things from seed in February, it's quite a tragedy to lose all that careful work to a late frost. The only things that are in the ground right now are things that can withstand a light frost: peas, potatoes, Swiss chard, arugula, and spinach.



Everything else is still on the dining room table.

To which, with any luck, they will return in a few months. In the form of dinner.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nature Journaling


Before I started reading the blogs of homeschoolers, I'd never even heard of nature journaling. But apparently it's been around for a while. Charlotte Mason, the 19th century British educator, was a big proponent of it. I kept hearing about it as a way to connect kids to nature, to encourage them to closely observe the natural world around them. We already go on nature walks all the time, so I thought this would be pretty easy to add into our routine. Last week I picked up a large sketchbook and some high-quality colored pencils, and explained the idea very briefly to the five-year-old.

Sketching the tree

She ran with it. This child is not just a nature-lover; she is a scientist. The opportunity to record her observations was what really sucked her in. I am absolutely loving flipping through her journal and seeing her sketches.

Finished pages

But what was unexpected was how the journaling has changed our nature walks. Our usual routine had been to simple clomp along, stopping briefly to say "hey, look at that!" or pick something up, and continue on our merry way. But last week (on Earth Day), as we were clomping along picking up litter in the neighborhood, we spotted a bird's nest. Nestled in the crook of a tree, low enough for me to peer inside and see it was empty. Of course, we needed to sketch it! So we stopped, and we stayed by that bird's nest for a good 15 minutes.

Nest close-up

As it turns out, 15 minutes is a long time. And there I stood, with nothing to do besides watch the children sketch (the two-year-old got into the act too), and study the bird's nest.

Two-year-old does it too

What a gift.

Two-year-old's nest

So I'd like to give a big bouquet of thank you to the many bloggers who shared their family's nature journals and inspired me to give this a go. I can't tell you how grateful I am every day for the inspiration and encouragement shared by this community.

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge, hosted every Tuesday by Jamie over at SteadyMom.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Easy Lined Tote Bag: Sewing Tutorial

Finished bag!

If you've got a sewing machine, you can make this bag. (Technically, I suppose you could sew it by hand, too, but I'm not getting involved in that kind of madness.) There is really nothing quite like the rush of walking around town carrying a bag you made yourself. And when I say this is easy, I mean it. No pattern! You only have to sew straight lines! And I will walk you through the whole thing, step by step.

It'll be fun!

First, decide how big of a bag you want. A giant tote? A market bag? Something to fit a few library books? Measure bags you already own to get a feel. The pictured bag is 12 by 18 inches, and 2 inches deep.

Next, it's off to the fabric store for supplies!

I like to use a heavy-weight fabric for the outside of the bag. I've used duck cloth (canvas) and denim. Of the two, I found the denim easier to work with -- but maybe because the denim I chose was hot pink and a bit thinner and more flexible than traditional jeans denim. You just don't want to use a flimsy fabric, or your bag will fall apart too quickly and then you will be sad. Something nice and sturdy. And definitely, woven and not knit. (If you're not sure, ask someone at the fabric store.)

Once you've chosen a nice sturdy fabric for the outside of the bag, now you can look for a fun print or contrasting fabric for the lining and optional pocket. This fabric can be flimsy, as long as it's still woven. I chose this incredibly cheerful cherries print because it made me smile, and because it made me think of the lovely lady for whom I made this bag.

You will need about a half a yard of each fabric, unless the bag you're making is really huge.

You'll also need thread in a coordinating color. I use heavy thread, because I feel like it makes the finished product that much stronger.

And, you'll need straps. They sell this stuff by the yard, too, so find a color and texture you like, and have them cut you two yards of it. That should be plenty for nice long straps -- you could use a little less if you want shorter straps more like handles on a tote bag. Up to you.

To recap, supplies:
1/2 yard heavyweight fabric (duck cloth, canvas, denim)
1/2 yard contrasting lighter-weight fabric
2 yards of strap/belting
1 spool of heavy thread in coordinating color


Now, if you want to be persnickety, would be the time to iron your fabric so it's nice and smooth before you measure and cut. But since we're not working with a pattern here, this isn't 100% necessary. And I hate ironing. But if you like it, knock yourself out.

Math time! How big did you want your bag again? I'll use the 12 x 18 x 2 measurements of this bag here, but insert the dimensions of your desired finished size. Basically, you're going to be adding a half-inch all the way around for seam allowance. So here are the pieces I will need to make my 12 x 18 x 2 bag:

Two 12.5 x 18.5 pieces of fabric A (the heavier one) - for the outside front and back
Two 12.5 x 18.5 pieces of fabric B - for the lining front and back
Two 2.5 x 18.5 pieces of fabric A - for the outside bottom and lining bottom
Four 2.5 x 12.5 pieces of fabric A - for the sides, outside and lining

Notice that I'm using the heavier fabric for the bottom and sides of the lining as well as the outside of the bag. This is truly necessary for the bottom of the lining, because it's going to get the most abuse. The lining sides could be the lighter fabric, it doesn't matter. I just had more of the hot pink on hand.

Measure and cut

If you have a rotary cutter, awesome. If not, you'll have to cut carefully by hand. I like to use a ruler to measure and draw a light line with a ballpoint pen around where I'm going to cut. But I must say, I've been a happier girl ever since I broke down and bought a rotary cutter and self-healing mat.

So now you should have your two fronts and two backs:

Two fronts, two backs

And your panels for the sides and bottom:

Side panels

Now if you want to do a little outside pocket, cut one out of your contrasting fabric.

Fabric for pocket

What I like to do is to fold the fabric, and cut out my pocket shape of the folded-over fabric, using the fold as the top of the pocket. That way you don't have to hem it, and the pocket is a little bit stronger.

Folded over double

Now would be a good time to iron your pieces if you didn't already. And while you've got your iron out, you can prep your pocket. You're going to want to fold the edge over all the way around and iron it down. This way you won't have ragged edges showing on the outside of your bag, the ragged edges will be on the inside of the pocket. If the corners seem bulky as you're folding over, feel free to trim them down like so:

Pocket prepped

Okay, ready to sew!

First, grab all your skinny pieces. You should have six of them. Unless you're making your bag perfectly square, you should have two of one length and four of another length. If your bag is like mine, and wider than it is tall, you'll have four shorts and two longs. If your bag is taller than it is wide, you'll have four longs and two shorts. Does that make sense?

You're going to sew three of these together to make one long strip. In my case, the strip goes short, long, short. Basically, it's a side, then the bottom, then the other side. If your fabric has a right side and wrong side, make sure you are putting them right sides together when you sew them.

If you're sewing a pocket on the front, do that now. Just position the pocket where you want it, and sew around three sides, leaving the top open. Make sure to stitch back and forth at the beginning and end of your sewing to secure the thread.

Now, you're going to attach your long strip to the front panel. Hold the right side of your strip against the right side of your front panel, and stitch down the side, stopping 1/4 inch from the bottom. You should be right where the first seam in your strip is. Now, with the needle in the fabric, lift the presser foot, and turn the fabric so you're ready to sew along the bottom of the front panel. Tug the middle section of your strip into place, so you'll be sewing the middle section of strip onto the bottom section of the front panel. Stop 1/4 inch before the end of the bottom panel, turn your fabric again, and sew up the other side.

It should now look like this:

Front panel with sides

Now, although it's somewhat complicated by the fact that the side panels are already attached to the front, you're going to do the same thing to attach the back panel to the sides and bottom. Remember, right sides together.

Stitching right along

You may find that you have some irregularities around the top. Do not worry. Because this bag is fully lined, all seams are hidden, and all imperfections will be disguised. It's okay for it to look a little rough at this point.

Do not worry about imperfections

Now, turn the outside of your bag right-side-out, and ta-da! It's starting to look like something!


Now you're going to do the exact same thing again to make the lining of the bag. (Think of this bag as two bags, one inside of the other.) First, you'll sew your skinny pieces to each other to make a long strip. Side, bottom, side.

Next you'll sew the right side of your front lining to the long strip. Remember, right sides together!

Right sides together

Stop 1/4 inch before the end of the side, and turn the fabric. Here, I'll show you...

Leave the needle down, serving as a pivot point for you to turn your fabric:

At corner, leave needle down

Now turn the front lining panel 90 degrees:

With needle down, turn and bring side fabric over

Tug your bottom panel into place so it lines up with the bottom of your front lining panel, and continue:

Continue down the long side

And sew the back lining panel to the sides in a similar way.

Now you should have two bag-shaped things. If you tuck the lining inside the other one, you can start to see how it's going to come together.

Coming together

Now, put the lining aside. Take the outside of the bag, right-side-out, and position the straps where you want them. You're going to pin them so that the straps are pointing down. This might seem really weird and wrong, but trust me. It should look like this:

Pin straps

And pin the other strap to the back panel like so:

Pin other strap

Okay. Now stay with me here. You're going to take the right-side-out bag, with the straps pinned on, and you're going to tuck the whole thing inside the inside-out lining. Right sides together, remember? When you're sewing, you should always be looking at the wrong side of your fabric. So you'll be looking at the wrong side of the lining of the bag. And you'll have a sandwich of lining, then straps, then outside of bag. It looks weird, I know.

Right-side-out bag inside inside-out lining

Pin along the top of this sandwich. This is going to be the seam along the top of your bag, connecting the outside to the lining, out of which the straps will be poking.

Pin along the tops

Now you're going to take this big honkin' sandwich, and sew along the tops.

Sewing around the tops

When you get to each strap, sew back and forth a few times for extra durability.

Extra stitches over the straps

Important! DO NOT sew all the way around! You must leave a gap so you can turn the whole thing right-side-out. Four inches should be sufficient. As always, stitch back and forth at the beginning and end of your sewing to secure the stitches.

Hope you remembered to leave a gap

Now you're going to reach your hand in, and grab hold of the outside of the bag...

Reach your hand in the hole...

And pull the outside of the bag out of the hole, so the whole thing is right-side-out.

Almost there...

Tuck the lining inside the outside of the bag, and... presto!

**Edited to add: And now you need to hand-sew the remaining four inches of seam. Tuck in the seam allowance, and carefully topstitch over the gap. Many thanks to The Fifth Street Mama for pointing out the omission! Brain freeze!

Right side out!

You can iron along the top to get a nice crisp edge, or you can just pick up your bag and go.

Pocket detail

It wasn't that bad, was it?

Finished bag

Once you've done it once, you can make a zillion of them. Any size you like, because there's no pattern! Have fun!

Long straps for wearing over shoulder

Friday, April 23, 2010

This Moment: Bird's Nest

No words, just a moment from the past week that I want to pause and savor. A moment to remember. Check out all the moments being shared today over at SouleMama.

Nature journaling - bird's nest

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Home for Wayward Weeds

Wayward weeds

In honor of Earth Day, I'm going to share with you my number one tip for gardening with children. Are you ready? Seriously, this has saved my sanity, and given my kiddos hours and hours of fun and exploration.

Create a Home for Wayward Weeds.

That's what we call it, anyway. It's a large planting container on the deck, deliberately chock-full of weeds. This started as a rescue mission -- the five-year-old was filled with pity for the poor weeds that I was mercilessly pulling from my vegetable garden. I had this container on the deck that hadn't been planted with anything yet that season, so I let her have it to transplant her lowly little weeds into.

Now anytime we're weeding and she sees a weed she particularly likes, she carefully transports it to the Home for Wayward Weeds and gives it a second chance on life. She is 100% responsible for the care of these plants. Thankfully, they're weeds, so they don't require much care (remarkably resilient, those weeds...). It's been fascinating to see all the different flowers that bloom from these usually-shunned plants. Some of them are quite beautiful. After all, a weed is just a plant growing where you don't want it. As soon as you've given it a home and are caring for it, it ceases to be a weed.

I love that I can give the kids total free rein in the Home for Wayward Weeds. They can dig, they can pick things, they can dissect the plants, and I don't bat an eyelash. And because it's in a container (and not really near any of the other containers), I don't worry about them spreading to where I don't want them.

Home for wayward weeds

We all know that kids can get a lot of satisfaction and a crucial reverence for nature by gardening. Why not let them start with something guaranteed to grow?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010



See that man in the hammock there? He is very wise. And not just because he married me.

For example, the other day as we were chatting while making dinner, he articulated something that, as it turns out, is pretty much the secret to what makes our marriage work. And until he said it, I had never thought of it that way, and once he said it, it was like a lightbulb going off.

A healthy relationship strikes a balance between needing one another, and independence.

Think about it. Think about every relationship you've ever had that didn't work. Chances are, one person was too needy and not independent enough. Or one was fiercely independent and didn't need the other at all. As human beings, we need to be needed. But we also want to be with someone who can stand on their own two feet, from whom we can stand back enough to admire and respect them.

There are times when I need to be able to see him from a distance. I need to see him accomplish something on his own, so that I can appreciate and respect him as an individual. And vice versa. We have to have the mental privacy to follow our own trains of thought, to come up with our own ideas. This is what allows us to continually surprise one another, to keep interest and excitement alive.

What results from finding that sweet spot of balance between need and independence is true collaboration. Bringing your individual gifts, thoughts, accomplishments, wisdom together to create something a thousand times richer and deeper.

I love that my husband goes out into the world each day. I love that, away from me and separate from me, he stands on his own two feet and is a man for whom I am flooded with respect and admiration. And at the end of the day he comes home. Because he needs me, with all of his being, just as he knows I could not draw breath without him.

It's like the picture above. I don't quite know what he's dreaming about with that faraway look. I don't know his every thought. Thank goodness. But I do know that whatever dreams he's having, I'm part of them. Because, while we are certainly each individuals, we're most importantly a team.

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge, hosted by Jamie at SteadyMom.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Mexican Casserole


Sometimes, it's 5:00, there's no time for a trip to the grocery store, and you don't have a dinner planned. Stop! Before you reach for the phone to call for pizza, look again in the pantry. Freezer. Fridge. Consider it a challenge. Forget recipes, and just improvise with what you've got. The results can be surprisingly delicious!

I was recently faced with this situation. I started pulling things out of the fridge, and realized that I had a bunch of leftover ingredients from making quesadillas the week before. But, uh, I didn't want to make quesadillas. We just had quesadillas. So I decided to mix it up a bit. And this is what I came up with. Note: This is not a recipe. This is a general template. Add in whatever vaguely Tex-Mex ingredients you might have on hand. I can assure you, you can not go wrong.

Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Mexican Casserole

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.

Pull out any remotely "Mexican" food you might have in the house. I used:

flour tortillas
Mexican rice (Goya brand), cooked
cheddar cheese, grated
sauteed diced bell peppers and onions
corn salsa
tomato salsa
boneless chicken breasts, seasoned and grilled, chopped
a can of black beans, drained and rinsed
frozen corn (thawed)

Lay out the tortillas on the bottom of the pan, and layer the other ingredients on top, adding in at least one more tortilla layer. Top with shredded cheese. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, and serve with sour cream and more salsa. It's like a Tex-Mex lasagna. A great way to use up leftovers if, you know, you've made quesadillas recently.

Ready for the oven

Oh... hello.

Peas, sprouting

I seem to have taken an unplanned 10-day vacation from blogging. Sometimes, life needs attending to. But I think I've got the chaos down to a dull roar, so I'm back.

Not writing every day did free up a little time, I must say. The past ten days have seen the following accomplishments:

- I finally finished the book I've been reading for weeks, The Book of Air and Shadows (excellent, by the way -- I love thrillers that work Shakespeare into the story).
- We mucked out the pond, fixed the leak issue, moved lots of very heavy stones, and generally made the place habitable again.
- We had our first visit in months from our friendly neighborhood bathroom-window-sleeping bat.
- The peas sprouted.
- I nearly killed all of my seedlings by leaving them out in the sun on a day that should not have been over 90 degrees in early April, dagnabbit. I am a terrible seed-mother. The sage and thyme might not make it. Very, very sad.
- I cooked quite a number of worth-writing-home-about meals.
- We moved furniture around.
- We entertained friends, old and new.
- I spent some quality time with my sewing machine.
- I did the dreaded taxes, phew.

Looking forward to getting back in the game. Got some fun stuff to share with you this week, in celebration of Make Week over at Simple Organic, as well TV-Turn-Off/Digital-Detox/turn-that-thing-off-and-get-out-in-the-world Week. Should be fun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

This Moment: Innocence

No words, just a moment from this past week that I want to pause and savor. Go on over and check out all the moments being shared at SouleMama this Friday.

Darth Vader vs. Apple