Friday, April 30, 2010

Corner View and More of the Outdoors

After a bit of a departure from the Corner Views, I am happy to be back with this week's prompt: "animals."

This is our "yoga kitty," who sleeps on his back, with his head and shoulders twisted, arms hovering in the air. It's bizarre. A certain six year old couldn't resist putting her head between his paws and pretending she is being snuggled with, but he is sound asleep.

I also flaked out on the Great Outdoor Challenge last week. Oh, we got outdoors, and I got pictures, but I just forgot to include them in my posts. So here's a few to finish up the month-long celebration.

Who doesn't love a chariot ride?

I got all paparazzi the other day and tried to sneak a few shots of the kids in their secret hideout.

But alas, the camera shutter gave me away and security swiftly moved into action. I was told "no pictures allowed, Mama," followed by pleas of "Don't put that picture on your blog, nobody can know where our hideout is!"

Don't tell, OK?

Happy Weekending!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

All In A Cookie

We love cookies. And batter, and books, and knowing where our food comes from. So a few years ago when I found the book All in Just One Cookie, I knew we had to have it. This hysterical book takes the reader through the process of making a batch of chocolate chip cookies. With each ingredient, it chronicles its source, and how it is made/processed. I had no idea baking soda starts as a mineral mined in Wyoming that is then mixed with hot water and carbon dioxide. The resulting chemical reaction produces baking soda crystals.

I think about local foods often, and we do our best to stick with local produce. We have also recently taken steps to buy meat from this area. But as far as baking goes, I have no idea where many of the ingredients come from. Why have I never investigated this before? A bit of research yielded local and semi-local sources for some of those ingredients. With that in mind, we set out to make our favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe.

...with eggs from our back yard, and butter from Maine

flour and oats that could be purchased from the Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA

The chocolate chips could be substituted with chopped chocolate from Taza Chocolate

...and the labor, willingly provided by two little gals who'd rather eat the batter raw.

That leaves the vanilla, sugar, baking soda, and salt for the non-local ingredients. Could honey be substituted for the sugar without ruining the texture? Why isn't salt produced on Cape Cod anymore? I'm dreaming of sources, hoping for more luck.

Imagine. All in just one cookie!

Sunday, April 25, 2010


There's been lots of learning going on around here. From raw food to instrument maintenance, our recent explorations have run the gamut.

"A," an avid jazz pianist, is learning to tune pianos. This is not the beautiful music we are used to hearing on a daily basis. This is a lot of bent notes and piercing, almost screeching sounds, played over and over until the notes are brought back to their soothing songs. And once the entire piano is properly tuned, he takes it back out of tune, and starts all over. Practice makes perfect, right? I'll keep telling myself that.

The girls have been learning to draw with charcoal. The smudging, blending, and erasing has opened up lots of new creative exploration in their art.

We're participating the the Green Smoothie Challenge, experimenting with different combinations of kale, apples, mangoes, chard, and bananas, so far. Surprisingly yummy, though not all of them have been a success. On to spinach!

This year, I'm learning to start my seedlings under lights. The south-facing windows have left much to be desired from my seedlings in previous springs. Hopefully, the heat and constant light will yield beefier plants—if I don't fry them first with the scorching fake sunlight, like last year.

I'd love to hear what new things you've been learning and experimenting with. Let me know!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wrap Up

Today, Earth Day, is the culmination of the One Small Change Challenge. Since January, my family and so many others pledged to make one change each month that would impact the environment in a positive way. Here's a wrap up of the changes we made, and how we've been doing with them since:

In January, we decided to be more conscious about the food in our house. Since then, we have done our best to use up our perishable food before it goes bad. This change was pretty straight forward and we found it to be a matter of organization, and just being more aware of the inventory in the fridge.

For February our change was to try to use only one trash bag a week. We do not succeed in this goal each week, but it has made us more aware of products we bring into the house, and how they relate to the trash that leaves the house. Hopefully, with time, we will have just one bag out there on the curb each and every week.

In March, we did away with paper towels. Easy peasy. With more rags than we know what to do with, we haven't looked back.

Our April change was to use baking soda and vinegar to their fullest potential. We have found so many recipes and have made the switch to natural cleaning products (and volcanoes) seamlessly.

So there it is! Our participation in the first One Small Change challenge was a fun and enlightening, though we still need to work on a few of our changes. We were super impressed with the efforts other families made. Some were things we'll aspire to—like taking greater steps to reduce our water usage. Some others, well, we just aren't ready for—like the family cloth. But what we learned is there is always room for improvement.

I know for sure we are not going to stop here, just because the challenge is over. In fact, I'm already scheming up a few other changes for my family in the coming months.

A big thanks to Suzy and her family for organizing One Small Change.
Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Soil: The Tutorial

Last month, when I posted the raised garden bed tutorial, I promised a follow-up tutorial on making soil. It's a bit delayed, I know, but it is definitely not too late (especially for those of us in northern parts).

If you are going through the trouble of building your own raised bed, you're going to want to fill it will the best stuff you can. Hauling a few bags of garden soil from the hardware store can get expensive and is not necessary. I promise you there are many ways to source materials that will form the best growing matter for your plants. Read on!

I have to apologize in advance, as photos of soil, in various stages of decomposition, are not exactly what one might consider eye candy...

Step One: Turn the top soil over. You want to flip under whatever is currently growing in the designated spot, so that it is completely buried. A pitchfork works well for this.

Step 2: Add any and all organic matter you have into the bed. Composted manure, straw or hay, sphagnum moss, regular ol' dirt, and partially composted clippings and leaves are all great to throw in the mix. Use a metal landscaping rake or hoe to evenly distribute and combine it all.

The best thing I had was the top layer of dirt from the chicken run. This was completely composted pine shavings, food scraps, straw, and chicken manure, and it equaled black gold.

If you happen to have some chickens hanging around, make them earn their keep. They will scratch and dig (and poop!) in that heavenly pile, working it into a rich mixture.

Step 3: Wait. And flip, mix, and stir the soon-to-be-soil once a week. By planting time, it will be a bed full of organic, nutrient-rich, free (!) earth.

Here are a few suggestions for obtaining free organic material to help fill your bed:
•Find a horse stable. Many of them offer manure for free, so long as you do the shoveling
•Ask a neighbor if you can dig out some of their compost. (I have neighbors who compost their yard waste but aren't gardeners, so they have little use for all that good stuff.)
•Check Craigslist or Freecycle to see if anyone is offering compost or manure
•Check to see if your town/municipality has a central dumping site for yard waste, and see if they offer compost to the public
•Dig out the chicken coop/sheep pen
•Use this as an opportunity to knock down any raised or uneven portions of your yard, add that to the bed

Friday, April 16, 2010

Roger That

Sometimes, despite great effort, something we try to make just isn't meant to be. Have you ever had that experience? I have, plenty, and I'll bet anyone who creates anything has had a project that just won't go along with the plan. That piece, for me, is the necklace below. I think you could guess which one.

Did you know that, in jewelry making, setting the stone is the absolute last thing you do? The piece is completely fabricated and finished (polished, oxidized etc...), and only then can the stone be set into its bezel or prongs. This makes troubles with stone-setting particularly frustrating—having spent hours making the piece, only to be foiled on the very last step.

These fossil coral necklaces are part of a small series of one-of-a-kind pieces featuring those gorgeous stones, and it looks like that series will have one less than originally planned. The bright side is, I glued that baby back together and gifted myself a new necklace. You can barely see the crack running through it, but it is still not in any shape to sell, so it's mine all mine now.

I am grateful that the amber-colored necklace cooperated with me. It is now listed in my shop.

Today's Great Outdoor Challenge photo is of the "roger, roger" microphones my girls created. These super-secret spy microphones are used to communicate with each other from opposite sides of the yard. Particularly useful when warning that a villain (read: parent) has infiltrated the territory.

Wouldn't it be great if we had "roger, roger" spy microphones to warn us when an uncooperative project was on the horizon?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: I had the pleasure of making this Remembery Capsule for a couple who recently lost their beloved dog, Maddie.

They chose this special piece to honor their pet's place in their family.

For the tokens, Maddie's owner matched meaningful photos with emotional words. She also requested a little silver dog bone on top the lid.

The Bad: It is currently lost in the mail. Keeping my fingers crossed that it will turn up in their mailbox soon. Deep breath...

The Ugly: These are "chicken burritos." That is, burritos for the chickens, not burritos made with chicken. They consist of some grasses and flowers, wrapped up in a leaf that is held secure with chives earthworm. Not sure how I feel about that, but the chickens sure seem to enjoy them.
(it's the Great Outdoor Challenge!)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Few Things

The second week of April snuck up on me. I've got lots of updates and news to share today.

Our last "small change" is to put baking soda and vinegar to better use. They serve me well for cookies and salad dressing, but those two ingredients have so many other usesall purpose cleaner, shampoo substitute (via Angry Chicken), tub and toilet scrub, volcano...
I'm going to realize the full potential of these two chemical-free, all-natural pantry items.

In other news, Lisa at 5 Orange Potatoes is hosting a different kind of challenge. This month is Children and Nature Awareness Month, and to celebrate, Lisa is hosting The Great Outdoor Challenge. For the remainder of April, participants will be posting pictures of their kids doing whatever it is they do outside. It's perfect timing, and mother nature is making it really easy for us this week.

Yesterday, my kids did some good ol' fashioned graffiti. Yes, the girls have found a good use for the charred sticks left over from the brush we recently burned. (It's fun, and it washes off with a hose!)

Also! Kristina from Growing a Better Me has passed on a Beautiful Blogger Award to me. Blushing. Don't you just love the name of her blog? It says so much about her and what she writes about. With that honor comes the pleasure of passing it on to someone else. So, with no further ado...I'm giving it to Dana, at Create Share Inspire. I love seeing the behind-the-scenes of her paintings, drawings, studio, and what sparks her creativity.

Lastly, Alison at L is for Latte wrote about me and my work last week. She is a writer/editor/knitter who keeps a blog that is funny, witty, and so well written, it puts people like me to shame. Alison and I had the opportunity to chat on the phone recently, and she asked me lots of interesting questions. You can read her article on AG Ambroult here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fostering Love

Last fall, my sister and her husband decided to become foster parents. After a long application process, I am happy to tell you they've been approved! This is so exciting—for them, and our whole family. More kids to have fun with, more kids to make things for, and more kids to love.

They have agreed to take up to three children, so that siblings may stay together (isn't the thought of siblings being split up heartbreaking?). Two bedrooms in their home have been reworked to fit beds, dressers and lots of toys. My crochet hooks are at the ready...just waiting for some news, so I know who I am making for and what to make.

But I have to admit that all this anticipation is met with a bit of hesitation, too, as my sister and brother-in-law begin a journey into parenthood that could be, at times, heartbreaking and unfair. We hope for the best and offer our full support.

Lately, different aspects of my life have had a way of weaving themselves together in interesting ways. A friend of mine contacted me to see if I'd be interested in being a vendor at a fund raising event for, what else?...foster care! The artisan show will benefit the Friends of Foster Care, an organization that provides assistance to foster children and their families. How could I say no?

If you're in the Boston area, come shop for a good cause!
The Spring Fling shopping event
is this Thursday, April 8th. Over 30 local vendors and artisans will be selling their goods. The event takes place at the Neighborhood Club (27 Glendale Road, Quincy,MA) from 7 - 10 PM.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Springtime Fun

This weekend...

...somebody left a trail of tiny flowers to follow

...and a dozen wooly eggs

...and a "Mount Everest" of jellybeans and other sweets

This weekend, somebody else finished up this little piece that screams spring. A milky yellow moss opal, slightly egg-shaped, with what looks like little plants sprouting in it. (See more of it in my shop)

I'll bet a little springtime fun was happening in your home, too!