Hats and History Lessons


Joining Small Things this morning for her Yarn Along.  I’ve been knitting up a storm in preparation for craft bazaars  later in the month, but took a break from those projects to make a little hat, on request, for Bea.  I have an abundance of odds and ends of grey wool, and she requested a grey hat with a sunshine on it, so it seemed like a perfect chance to use up those little balls of wool.

Bea is very interested in pre-Civil War history and instead of reading while I knitted and needle-felted her hat, we watched The Abolitionists on American Experience’s website.






I finished the hat before the end of the documentary, so for the last part of it, I put labels on the latest batch of salves and lip balm.  I reformulated the salves a bit to make them more shelf-stable in cold weather, updated the labels, and can’t wait to get them packaged for the upcoming craft bazaars at The Portland Village School and Bee Thinking.

For now, it’s back to finishing knitting projects for the bazaars, spreading mulch in the garden, and thinking ahead to the menu for Thanksgiving.

October handwork



It has been a long time since I’ve joined The Yarn Along, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy knitting.  The children slept in this morning, and I made some progress on fingerless mitts (the WIP ones are for Bea’s upcoming 11th birthday.  I will needle-felt designs on them when I’m finished.


The Yarn Along is about what we’re knitting and reading.  I’m not currently reading any novels (because lately I’m up typing book chapters late at night while the kids are in bed, instead of reading), but a whole bag full of books we ordered just came in at the library.  George is fascinated with camping and bison, so we have several books about both right now.


When Hal finished his Explode The Code lesson, the boys worked on polishing play kitchen utensils with our homemade beeswax-orange oil wood polish while I read to them.


Just like his mama, sometimes it is hard for Hal to sit still and focus on one activity unless his hands are occupied with a task.  He does not know how to knit yet, and simple handwork projects like this one appeal to him.

I hope you have a restful and regenerative weekend.



Autumn Fires



We’re slowly working on getting out the autumn decorations and switching the Nature Table over from summer to fall.  The children have been collecting items from the yard and around the neighborhood.  It seems like every time I step outside, I find someone’s little collection of goodies on the front step or back table.

I think some of the nature-mindedness is due to the time of year, but some of it is due to a wilderness study we’ve started:


I’m teaching a class at our homeschool co-op based on the book My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  It is one of my favorites from childhood.  The main character, Sam, runs away from his home in New York to live in the wilderness.  Every week at co-op, we’re discussing a few chapters of the book, making crafts that correspond with the chapters, and learning a wilderness survival skill that Sam utilizes in that section of the book.

Bea is the only one of my kids taking the class, but the other children didn’t want to miss out, so each week I’m reading the assigned chapters aloud, and the whole family is learning the skills we’ll test out in class.  The hardest part so far has been reading only the assigned chapters and not reading ahead – everyone wants to know what happens next!


After reading our chapters, it was George’s turn to be my kitchen helper and we baked a Sun Cake in honor of the shrinking days now that the autumnal equinox has passed us.  (You didn’t know a four yr-old could get so much powdered sugar on the floor and counter instead of the cake but he had fun doing it.)


The cake is a basic yellow butter cake (2 8-inch rounds), with orange glaze and candied orange peel.  I would normally put orange marmalade in the middle, but my sister had just brought us back a little jar of wild huckleberry jam from her trip to Glacier National Park, so I used it instead (a very tasty substitution, if I do say so).

While George and I finished up the cake, the older kids watched a few videos on primitive methods of starting fires, including how to make tinder bundles and start a fire with flint and steel.  (They already know how to use a bow drill to start a fire thanks to a fews summers’ worth of Trackers camps.)

In our chapters we read aloud today, Sam initially fails at fire-making, only to succeed a few days later.  The kids’ assignment is to learn about making a fire without matches and then collect items with which to make a tinder bundle.  (At co-op on Friday, the students in my class will try various types of tinder bundles and methods and see if we have the same troubles Sam does, or if we can succeed in catching an ember and starting a fire.)


When the cake was done, we all went outside to collect items we thought would make good tinder.  The neighbor boys lent a hand, and the kids gathered everything from pine needles to dry leaves and an old birds’ nest.  Bea used her pocket knife to shave off bark curls, and lamented the lack of cattails in the neighborhood, from which we could gather the fluff for excellent tinder.

In honor of our fire-making adventures and the beginning of fall, this Robert Lewis Stevenson poem seemed fitting to leave you with:

Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall! 

–   Robert Louis Stevenson


Elderberry Harvest


This morning I had three brand-new hardworking volunteers helping us pick product for Birch Community Services.  We spent a good chunk of time picking hard-to-reach elderberries, which are in full production.




Fresh organically-grown elderberries go for $3-6 dollars/lb, and we picked about 25 lbs today.


We also picked tomatoes, green beans, and a big flat of plums.  Sungold cherry tomatoes are my long-standing favorite.  They produce reliable, very sweet and split-resistant fruit over a long period and in great quantities.


This is the first year we’ve gotten plums off a tree I grafted as a tiny little twig four and a half years ago.  I estimate around 25 lbs of plums and another 30 lbs left on the tree.


Here you can see what the four of us picked in a short period of time.  Glad to get the beefsteak tomatoes off the vines before the much-needed rain rolls in tomorrow.  Not sure how much more “summer” we will have for the garden, but we are most certainly enjoying it today.

Solar Dehydrator


A friend recently gave me her well-loved solar dehydrator.  I have been chomping at the bit to try it out, and yesterday picked a bunch of herbs (that will eventually go into salves) and set to drying them.


I spent some time in the evening gathering calendula blossoms and comfrey (shown here), broad-leaf plantain, raspberry leaves, rosemary, lavender, and costmary.  The calendula blossoms come in an array of peaches, yellows, oranges since I let them freely self-sow around the garden and express their natural genetic diversity.


I have two electric dehydrators and make a lot of dried fruit and herbs in them.  However, electric dehydrators use a LOT of power and must run for eight or more hours.  This adds cost and produces heat indoors as well as any environmental impact that comes with plugging in an appliance.

The permaculture way to preserve via dehydrating is to utilize the natural energy of the sun (Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy) to dry food and herbs without costly use of electricity and all the waste products and impacts that come from using the grid (Principle 6: Produce No Waste).


The dehydrator is made with a series of screens stacked into a wooden box. There is air space between the screens and around their edges.  The top of the box is glass, and as the sun’s rays are harnessed, hot air builds up in the box and circulates around, drying the herbs without any work from me, save rotating the screens a couple of times over the course of the day.  It is extremely efficient if the day is sunny.


Looking forward to making a batch of salves soon, and hoping for more sunny days in the next week so I can dry prune plums next!

Grey Stripes and Good Books



Slowly, slowly, we are beginning to decorate for Christmas.  Advent candles and readings at dinner…working with Grandpa on a new homemade Advent Spiral (because we currently use a little birthday ring from my preschool years in Germany)…Christmas toys appearing in corners of the house where the boys are sure to find and play with them.


…and Christmas knitting continues in earnest.  George is growing like a weed and needs new hats.  While watching a documentary or two late at night, I knit up a little stocking cap for him (no pattern, just wingin’ it).  It is a study in grey, using leftover Kilcarra of Donegal tweedy yarn, and Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted I’ve had in my yarn dresser for years.  George is really into wolves at the moment, and I am deliberating adding some ears to the top of the hat.


In order to get library books in time for the correct season, I place holds on them 3 or 4 weeks ahead of time. We discovered years ago that if we wait to visit the library for books right when we need them, they will all be checked out.  Ordering well in advance is very important not only for seasonal books, but also to make sure we get homeschooling resources in a timely manner – and we have a home educator’s library card so we can place a hold on 40 items at a time.

This week, more than 20 winter books came in for us, and we have been pouring through them.  Right now, most are Arctic and winter nature books,and Waldorf-y books, but a whole stack of Christmas/Nativity-themed holds should be in at the library later this week.  With the darkness descending by 4:30 in the afternoon, we have plenty of quiet time to read through every book we’ve checked out.

Joining Ginny for her Yarn Along today.

Thanksgiving meditation


Thinking ahead to next week, we’ve been reading through a stack of library books about Thanksgiving – simple children’s stories as well as historical and anthropological recountings.

Worked into our everyday conversations is the topic of thankfulness, and what the act of giving thanks looks like.  In light of these conversation with the kids, I’ve been reading some Wendell Berry in the evenings, and was particularly struck by the notion that, no matter how much we toil and struggle, somehow the success of our effort lies upon something Greater.  And so, when we reap success in life, we can see the results of our own hard work, but also reserve the lion’s share of thanks for our Provider who comes alongside us and produces the harvest.



Whatever is forseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

Wendell Berry, Walking Meditations

Little Mitts, Little Hands


Strep throat and a chest cold swept through the family this week, so we have done little else besides snuggle and attempt to get well.  New “Triple Crown” thornless blackberries are waiting to be planted in the garden, the grapes and raspberries need to be pruned back for the winter.  However, nearly every item on this week’s “to-do” list this week has been abandoned in favor of long waits – for throat cultures at the urgent care, and antibiotics at the pharmacy.

I cannot sit still without some handwork to keep me occupied.  All of the waiting for medical appointments and snuggling with sleeping feverish children has afforded ample time to knit.  And knit, and knit.  I worked up a new, very simple children’s fingerless mitt pattern (the children always request mittens or some such for Christmas).   They are a quick knit – taking only about two hours to complete, and a great use of leftover worsted-weight yarn.

A few images from our week, although there isn’t much:


On this morning’s trudge down to the chicken run to feed the poultry, I was struck by the beauty of the half-pruned Concord grapes on the chicken coop.  We lack the showy maple trees of the Midwest, but the grapes never fail to bring some autumn color to the garden.


When George has felt like playing this week, he has been rediscovering the block basket.  In the early morning, when the other children are still asleep, he asks if he can go play blocks.


IMG_0228[1]These mitts will be a Christmas gift for George – he loves anything TARDIS blue, and a friend gave me some incredibly soft Manos del Uruguay yarn, which knit up beautifully.

I think the kinks are ironed out, and will share the finished pattern (in toddler/preschool and elementary sizes) in time for next week’s Yarn Along.  Be sure to check back this weekend for more from the garden, and next Wednesday for the fingerless mitt pattern.



Yarn Along: Annis

IMG_0143[1]Joining Ginny’s Yarn Along this week.

Knitting: I’m finishing up the Annis Shawl in Brown Sheep Nature Spun fingering weight yarn.  The yarn was purchased several years ago on clearance, but I had never found the  right pattern for it until I recently came across “Annis” on Ravelry.

Reading: Just finished re-reading How To Make A Forest Garden by Patrick Whitefield.  Every time I thumb through it, I glean something new to apply to our landscape.

On a whim I snagged On Such a Full Sea, by Chang-Rae Lee from the library “Best Picks” shelf.  It is a Dystopian post-apocalyptic novel, and while I am only two chapters in, I must say that the writing is light years better than other novels I have read lately from the same genre.  The prose is absolutely gorgeous – rich and vivid, and yet not in any way combersome.  Not surprising, considering Lee has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.



The rain today is dreadful, so much of the day was dedicated to play and craft projects in the living room, reading and mathematics, and all the sibling squabbles that come from being confined indoors.

Wishing you a peaceful rest of the week.




Early September in the Garden/ Transitions

Purple "de Milpa" tomatillos.  As tasty as they are beautiful.
Purple “de Milpa” tomatillos. As tasty as they are beautiful.

Well, the photo editor/uploader issues with WordPress haven’t been fixed yet, but I’m going to try and get a few images to upload for this post.  I wish the uploader would cooperate, and I could share photos of all the garden is producing – Sunchokes 10 feet fall, baskets (and bellies) full of “Fall Gold” raspberries, ducks laying pale green eggs every day, broody chickens, yarrow and salvia and dahlias splashing every corner with color…

I love the transition of early September, when we are just beginning to be weary of summer, but not quite ready for the dreariness that Oregon offers the rest of the year.  The plants and bees are frantic to do their work before fall sets in, and the cooler weather and episodes of rain have re-greened every inch of the garden.  The front and backyards are bursting with tomatoes, tomatillos, summer squash, chard, kale, elderberries and ripening quince, winter squash, and apples.


Runner beans are beginning to dry.  Looking forward to a few pots of soup from 1 teepee's worth of vines.
Runner beans are beginning to dry. Looking forward to a few pots of soup from 1 teepee’s worth of vines.

The difficulties of malfunctioning WordPress haven’t been a bad thing, really.  Taking a break from blogging and my FB page has been a good thing for me – less stress, more free time with the kids.   I have learned to roller skate (never skated as a kid!) and am training with Ruth and Bea for roller derby (they play, I fall a bunch and try to learn a fraction of the skills they have acquired).  I ended up falling at skating class and jacking up my left arm, so typing is slow and one-handed at the moment (another reason to take a break from blogging).  (I am very much looking forward to getting back on skates when the splint comes off in a week or two – I may not be a good skater (yet!) but it is something I can do with my girls, good exercise, and a fantastic way to release a lot of accumulated anxieties, worries, frustrations.)

Bea picking dahlias and lavender, both of which are still producing abundantly
Bea picking dahlias and lavender, both of which are still producing abundantly

Time late at night that I would normally spend blogging or reading other blogs, I am now spending exercising and strength building for derby and working on writing projects.   I really miss reading what other blogging families are doing, and seeing other mom’s beautiful handwork and culinary creations – through them I find so many good knitting patterns, book recommendations, recipes, home-education inspiration.   However,  it is also stressful for me and a lot of feelings of inferiority well up with each blog post I view.  The more I read about lives that run so much more smoothly than my own, and view those carefully chosen images, the more I stress about dust bunnies in every corner of my house, kids with tangled hair, house projects unfinished, and piles of unfolded laundry.  When I take a break from the blogosphere, I feel more centered and enjoy my family more, because I am stressing less.  And with the start of our homeschooling year and having a kindergartener, a 3rd grader and a 5th grader, plus a very active 2 yr-old, I need less stress.

Orange beefsteaks with red cherries in the background.  Near the house, the beds are overrun with red and yellow "Brandywines" and "Mortgage Lifters".  We've been eating "Sun Gold" cherry tomatoes with nearly every meal - so delicious on omelettes or in salads.
Orange beefsteaks with red cherries in the background. Near the house, the beds are overrun with red and yellow “Brandywines” and “Mortgage Lifters”. We’ve been eating “Sun Gold” cherry tomatoes with nearly every meal – so delicious on omelettes or in salads.

So, after sharing this morning’s photos from a few hours in the garden with the kids, I’m not sure when I’ll be back.  I probably won’t be posting regularly for a while, but I will be back now and then to share some of the good things happening in our lives.

Bea picked a handful of lavender for "secret potions"
Bea picked a handful of lavender for “secret potions”
Sweat Meat winter squash vining through the kale
Sweat Meat winter squash vining through the kale
Brandywines with oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and cucumber underneath.  We're getting more big ripe beefsteaks this year than in the last three years combined.
Brandywines with oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and cucumber underneath. We’re getting more big ripe beefsteaks this year than in the last three years combined.
Rows and rows of beautiful beneficial (though inedible) mushrooms spring up in all the paths after it rains.  They breakdown the woodchips and release nutrients into the soil.
Rows and rows of beautiful beneficial (though inedible) mushrooms spring up in all the paths after it rains. They breakdown the woodchips and release nutrients into the soil.

Blessings on you this month as the seasons shift.  I hope September is as energizing for you as it has been thus far for our family.

On the Oregon Coast

We are home from a weekend yurt getaway to celebrate my husband and our second daughter’s birthdays.  There was a driving rain most of the time, so we skipped the frigid beach in favor of a hike through the woods.

Definitely wool skirt, wool socks, heavy shoes kind of hiking weather.

As we started out, we came across an open space full of toadstools, most toppled over by the wind (or grouchy gnomes perhaps?).

Tucked in under the thick patches of ancient evergreen huckleberries and salal, and sometimes even wandering across the path, were many Rough-skinned newts, with their vibrant orange bellies.  The kids made up names and biographies for each and every one they found.  “Shalbert”, “Mona”, “Jean Grey”, “Jimmy” and the others all were given lengthy and elaborate backstories before returning them to their homes.

After our hike, it was back to the yurt as the rains and wind really began to pound.  In fact, we couldn’t even get a fire going, and resorted to driving in to town for take-out Chinese.  Then we huddled up in our sleeping bags and quilts, listening to Casey read aloud until we drifted off (Daddy does the best voices, after all).

Back tomorrow with our Sunday cider-pressing with dear friends on the coast and some travel knitting.

Tuesdays are for PJs

During the school-year, Tuesdays at our little farmlet are PJ days.  It is a day of the week in which we do not have garden volunteers here, or any scheduled lessons or activities outside the home.

(Our budgie, Mr. Chirples, snuggling with Ruth.)

We all look forward to PJ days.  In the morning, we can make a big, hot breakfast, catch up on lessons, read loads of books, and play games.  (Here, Bea is playing with the “Math Generator” multiplication tool.)  Sometimes we watch a documentary or listen to a book on CD in the afternoon, or work on a special craft project.

Tuesdays are a chance to not drive anywhere, not purchase anything, not be frantically busy and over-scheduled.  It is a chance to take the time to actually do all those things that get squeezed out or forgotten in the busy-ness of the rest of the week.

We step back from other responsibilities just for one day.  We make use of our resources at home, cultivating our relationships with each other, retreating a bit from the rush rush rush of the world.  We use this time make a conscious choice to enjoy being a family.

Are there rituals in your home that help set the rhythm of your week?


Nature Play and a Lunch Recipe

The past two mornings, the kids and I have worked on harvesting the end-of-summer lavender, which we will use for winter craft projects.  (More on that next time).

The lavender plants are all in the front yard, which is unfenced, and we are along a bus line.  Keeping a busy toddler safe and occupied while we work on front yard projects is a must.

George was kept very happy by his big sisters, who were dead-heading dahlias for me, and bringing him the spent blossoms to play with.   He had such a grand time shredding the flowers, flinging petals in the air and giggling to himself.

After harvesting lavender for quite a while, it was time for lunch.  The older three children take turns being my lunch helper on different days of the week.  This gives me a chance to get some one-on-one time with each of them and teach them culinary skills safely.  This lunch couldn’t have been easier, and it was a hit with all four kids.   Here’s what we made:

Bea’s Bacon-Peach “Pizza”

Preheat oven to 400 F.

For each person, you will need:

4 slices cooked bacon (leftover is fine)

4 slices of fresh peach

2 slices stale rustic bread (we had leftover levain)

a few tablespoons of pizza sauce

mozzarella,and Parmesan

fresh basil leaves (optional)
Directions:  Place sliced bread on a jelly roll pan.  Spread sauce, add 2 slices of bacon per piece of bread, top with cheese, then 2 peach slices, then more cheese.  Garnish with basil leaves if desired (kids prefer to leave it off).

Bake at 400F for 8 min.  Place under broiler for another 1-2 min or until cheese is caramelized and bubbly.

Serve with salad and a fruit smoothie.  Viola!  Lunch!  And happy kids!

Who needs toys when you can shred and fling and mash and revel in blossoms?

While some moments are rough, and we’ve had our stresses and hiccups the past few weeks, we are doing our best to be intentional with each other in our homeschooling, our living and being together, and in celebrating the last breath of summer before the return of Oregon’s inevitable grey, rainy autumn.

We love the snuggly, wooly, apple-cidery things that will come with the coming chilly weather, but for this week, we’re holding on to the blossoms, the lavender bottles, the juicy fresh peaches, the playing outdoors together while we can.

Tactile Play Part I


Grandma Jan and Cousin Ruby got the children Perler Beads last week.  I have fond memories of making Perler Bead crafts with friends as a child, and was pleased to see how much the children enjoyed them, too.


Hal spent the first few minutes just running his fingers through the beads in the pie tin.  As a 3 year-old, he really enjoys the process of tactile play more than completing a project.  When he settled down and started to work with the form, applying each bead one by one, fine-tuning his hand-eye coordination and fine-pincher grip.


The girls, being 7 and almost 9, focused on the design element, and did the ironing themselves.  And we all helped clean Perler beads up from every corner of the living room floor afterward.  🙂

For more on tactile play for the preschool child, please come back and check out tomorrow’s post here on sensory play, and also this thoughtful post by Not Just Cute.

Nothing To Do


The children are really enjoying this book.  It’s those days where we have “nothing to do” that the kids engage in deep, meaningful learning on their own terms.


This week we’ve been playing a lot of card games (Bea’s favorite), which reinforce cooperation, strategy, addition, subtraction, memory recall for the girls, and help Hal ( age 3 1/2)  with number recognition.



Our friend Dr. Ellie gave the children this paper punch-out book, and Hal has particularly been enjoying the city play mat in it.  It has been really neat to see him maturing in his play, and listening to the detailed conversations his toys have with each other.  🙂


In the mornings, when it’s been too cold for the kids to play outside, and we have down time, all of the children have been sculpting with Bendaroos.  Bea likes to create her own designs (a “long neck” dinosaur, above), while Ruth prefers to follow the directions in the pack (a Toco Toucan, below)


What learning are your kids engaging in when they have nothing scheduled to do?

Top Secret Adventures



Many thanks to my mother for getting the kids a subscription to Highlights Magazine‘s Top Secret Adventures!!  Ever issue brings a new mystery to solve in a new country.  It’s one of the best structured homeschooling activities we’ve ever worked on as a family.

We’re currently making our way around China attempting to solve a crime, and in the process learning geography, history, anthropology!  We’re solving logic puzzles and mazes, and breaking secret codes!

We can’t wait to solve the mystery, and look forward to next month’s adventure!

A good, quiet morning


…reading a few chapters in Ann Voskamp’s book before the children were up…

…enjoying granola in the breakfast nook after morning chores, watching chickens, ducks mucking happily around the yard  (Cran-Walnut Granola recipe at the bottom)


…quilting for a neighbor’s baby, due in 2 weeks, while the children had breakfast.

A welcome reprieve before tackling the general chaos of the day.

Larksong’s Cranberry Walnut Granola

Preheat oven to 325F, and get out two large jellyroll pans.

In a large bowl, combine:

6 cups old fashioned oats

2 cups unsweetened, unsulfured coconut

1 cup wheat germ

1 heaping cup sesame seeds

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1-2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

pinch of sea salt

In a saucepan, on med-heat, combine 1  cup of honey, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 3 tbsp dark brown sugar, 1 cup veg oil (I use 1/4 cup hazelnut oil, 3/4 cup veg oil), and heat until warm and honey is thin.  Stir vigorously, and then pour over dry ingredients.

Toss all until combined, then spread over two sheets and bake 20 min.

Remove from oven, stir, scraping around the edges especially, since they will brown first.

Return to oven, and bake approx 20-25 min more, scraping and stirring granola every 5-7 min to prevent scorching in parts.

When granola is dark, toasty, and fragrant, remove from oven and immediately stir in 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries.  While granola is still hot, transfer to a glass or other nonstick bowl, or granola will stick to sheets as it cools.  When totally cooled, break up with a fork and put in sealed jars to keep crisp.  Will keep 1 month, but ours is eaten up in less than a week.

(Cost comparison: similar granola at New Seasons Market – $8.99/lb.   Estimated cost of homemade – about $2.50/lb (all items purchased in bulk to cut costs considerably, except walnuts, which were gleaned from a friend’s tree.)



We’ve all been dreaming of them for such a long time, and now they’re finally here!!  3 fuzzy little day-old Indian Runner ducklings came home with us this past Wednesday.


The duckings are just about the cutest things we’ve ever seen!!  They’re comical, inquisitive, interested in people, and love to snuggle their little heads in the crook of your arm.


The little drake and two ducks will make a great slug-seek-and-destroy team, as well as provide us with up to 400 eggs/year (for the pair of females), and endless entertainment.  Besides being good egg-layers with sweet dispositions, we choose Indian Runners over other breeds because they cannot fly (or cross any fence much over 2 ft tall), and do not need a pond.

While Indian Runners don’t go broody easily, and often don’t make good mothers, we got a drake in the hopes that one of our chickens will go broody and raise a few clutches for us down the road if we want to increase the flock (Chickens, especially Buff Orpingtons like Cookie, will sit until the clutch hatches (a few days longer than chicken eggs), and then care for the ducklings with devotion.)


The ducklings were a mix of fawn/penciled and we won’t know exactly how they’ll look for another number of weeks, but they sure are adorable right now!

9 and 10 days old

The chicks, 9 and 10 days old (Here’s hoping they all survive and none turn out to be cockerels, because the kids are just smitten and have named them all):


Cookie, the Buff Orpington. (She’s the largest and fluffiest of the chicks, by far.)



Violet (dark brown), and Nudge II (golden), the Auracanas. (You can see their little tufty beards coming in already!)


Fiesty, the Salmon Faverolle.  She’s a petite little thing, but has lots of attitude (and 5 toed-feet and feathered legs!)



Midnight and Blacky, our tried and true favorite breed – Black Australorp.  Our two and a half year-old is very partial to Blacky, who is the gentlest and most mellow of the chicks.


And last but not least, Pickles, the Delaware.

We’re all amazed at how quickly they’re growing, adding bulk, wing and tail feathers every day.   We’re going to do our best to photograph them once a week to see how they change and mature.



On this brilliantly sunny February Saturday, we ordered chicks and ducklings from the feed store, and discovered garlic, crocus, vibrant-pink rhubarb emerging from the soil, and soaked up the first hints of spring-to-come.


In a week in which we had a lot of sickness and stress, and grief, I am doubly blessed that we are learning to make our home a haven, a place where we can witness birth, and rebirth, and celebrate life.


And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home. – Wendell Berry

Early September Garden



Temperatures have been dipping down into the low 50s and high 40s at night, and there’s been a crispness to the air that says Autumn is on her way here. 

Many plants are waning, having set seed and beginning to shut down for the year.  So, this afternoon, in the bright sunshine, we cleaned up many, many wheelbarrows full of biomass for the compost. 

Cosmos and sunflower stalks have to be chopped into small pieces to break-down well, but the chickens feasted on heads full of sunflower seeds. 


Most of the sunflower seeds were set out to dry on the picnic table, so that the chickens can have them for snacks throughout the winter, and we’ll have seeds to plant next year.

As we pulled up spent flowering plants all over the yard, we carefully collected their seeds as well, so we can replant them in the spring, and share them with friends:


Calendula seeds, still in the seedhead.


A bucketful of nasturtium seeds, in various stages of drying out. 


Coriander seeds.


Sadie’s Horse Beans (a rare heirloom similar to a Scarlet Runner Bean, but with immense beans – I purchased them through Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds many years ago, and have been saving the seeds each year.)


The patches of amaranth are almost ready to harvest as well – there isn’t enough for chicken treats this year, but we’ll save the seeds and plant a large patch next year just for the hens. 


We’ll continue to harvest green beans, summer squash, tomatoes and tomatillos as long as the weather holds, and look forward to bringing in the winter squash, kale, chard, leeks, and some remaining herbs. 

Are things winding down in your garden?  Or still going strong?

Under the Sea


The children went to a Storybook Costume Ball with their cousins last night.   We had a two-day scramble to throw together some costumes, but we pulled it off just in time!    Here’s a little bit on what we made:


Little Hen wanted to be Amphitrite, the Queen of the Ocean, wife of Poseiden, in Greek Mythology.

Her costume:

$0.50 -A blue velvet skirt from the thrift store (with about 12 holes in it that we had to mend)

$0.00 – a tank top from her closet with a seahorse on it and a “seaweed” looking scarf from my closet

$0.50 – 1/4 yd of ocean print fabric, from which we made part of her crown and cut out sea creatures to tack to her “ocean” skirt

$0.00 – more ocean creatures to sew onto skirt, which she drew out of cardstock and decorated with glitter glue.

$0.00 – scraps of leftover fabric from her brother’s costume to make her crown

$0.00 -some body glitter leftover from Halloween


Total cost $1.00!!!


She helped me cut the pieces and sew her crown out of scraps from her brother’s costume – the middle of the crown(to make it stand up) is 3-layers of very ugly flannel that came in a big bag of thrift store scraps.  We whipped it up in about 15 minutes (you can’t see the sea creatures she cut out and sewed to the sides and back from this shot…)


Firecracker wanted to be a mermaid.  With no pattern, limited time and $, here’s what we came up with:  She didn’t want a tail-shaped skirt, because they are difficult to walk/run/play in since they are awfully narrow at the bottom.    We decided to sew her a skirt with blue fabric, which would be the sea she’s swimming in, and then make a two-piece apron “tail” that she could take on and off if she wanted.

IMG_7983We lucked out at the thrift store and found an adult size 4 skirt with blue fabric (yes, it’s butterflies, but Firecracker said it looked “oceany” to her!), so I didn’t have to make a skirt from scratch – I simply cut it up and resewed it in her size, with an elastic waistband.  Voila!  Sea skirt!

$3 – blue skirt, cut down and resewn to fit a 5 year-old

$0.10 -thrift store elastic

$2.00 – 1/2 yd of clearance fabric at Fabric Depot (turquoise with swirls, Firecracker thought it looked like scales)

$0.00 – 1 yd very ugly flannel from a previously thrifted bag of fabric, for the double layer batting in the tail – to give it rigidity.

$0.00 – random snippets of green fabric for tail decoration plus a scarf from the dress up box for the tail, piece of blue tulle for her hair from dress up box

$0.00 – white leotard and blue bikini top from dress up bin

$0.10 – turquoise bias tape from the thrift store (for the apron-tail ties)


Total cost – $5.20 (plus, some turquoise fabric leftover for doll quilts, etc, and it includes a perfectly good skirt for her and Little Hen to wear anytime)


Since his big sister and cousin both wanted to be mermaids, guess what Tum Tum wanted to be?  MERBOY!!


His daddy even made him a trident from coardboard and foam and duct tape (which was a bit of a dangerous idea, but he loved it!) (Please ignore the mountains of fabric in the background, as long as the sewing machine has to be out, I’m going to sew, sew, sew!  Wish I had a sewing room!)

$0.00 – Blue knit pants from Tum Tum’s closet plus blue leather moccasins

$0.50 – 1/4 yd ocean print fabric for his sash (mermen don’t wear shirts!)

$ 2.50 – 1/2 yd of blue “waves” fabric Firecracker found at Fabric Depot on clearance for the tail.  (Yay, kiddo! )

$0.10 – thrifted seam binding for the ties

$0.00 – 1 yd very ugly previously-thrifted flannel for the double-layer batting to add stiffness to the tail(s).

$0.00 – scraps from making Firecracker’s tail(s) used to make his fin and decoration on the front.


Total cost – $3.10!!




We had a great time!!  Thanks for inviting us, Aunt Kristi and Cousin Ruby!!

Black Currant Jam


Little Hen’s new favorite jam:  Black Currant!

I’ve always loved a little Cassis in my hot tea in the winter, but this is the first year we’ve tried jam made from these relatives of the gooseberry, which have a distinctive, smoky/ musky flavor.

Black currants are full of pectin, so they are perfect for jam – all you need is currants, sugar, water, and a little lemon juice.  (Although, next time, I think we’ll try adding some cardamom or cloves, as Sarah@ UrbanMamas suggested).

Here’s what we did:

Sterilize jars, wash lids and rings and get them hot.  Have canner going and almost up to a boil.  Then, you can start making the jam –

In a heavy bottom pot, bring to a boil:

2 1/2 cups water plus 5 heaping cups black currants, stems removed, and washed (that’s how much we picked).  Reduce and simmer 15 minutes, crushing berries against the side of the pot.   (Berries should be soft and well cooked.)

Add in 6 cups sugar + 1/4 cup of lemon juice and return mixture to a full boil.  Continue to boil until you have reached the setting point (22oF) (check often – mine took about 15 min – you don’t want to over cook!).

Remove jam from the heat, and continue stirring once a min for 5-7 min (this helps distribute any berries so you don’t have floating fruit).  Pour into hot, sterilized jars, place lids and rings on, and process 5 min in a hot-water-bath canner.