Nature Table

Magic Potion Kit



We’re hunkered down at home today thanks to the weather.  All derby practices and scrimmages have been called-off on account of the wind storms and flooding in Portland.   All my big garden projects for the afternoon are similarly on hold.  But we have found plenty to keep us busy in the hosue today.

Hal has a birthday party for a close friend from his ReWild Nature Immersion program, and I asked him what his friend might want for his birthday.  He replied, “Carmine’s really into Minecraft, and I think a magic potion kit would be a cool gift.  Let’s make it a ReWild-style kit, though, okay?”

dsc_0803Every magic potion kit needs something in which to grind the ingredients.  We started wtih a wooden mortar + pestle set I found online.  We polished it with some of our Beeswax Polish, and set about finding potion ingredients that could be ground in it.


George helped pack dried flowers (calendula, lavender) and herbs in babyfood jars (I had picked up a bunch on Freecycle for the kids’ craft projects).

dsc_0794I added sweet myrrh resin (Opoponax, from Somalia), which smells amazing and is fun to grind up.

dsc_0800I lined a thrifted wooden box with some gardeny-herby fabric cut to fit, then Hal helped arrange the jars of herbs and flowers and magical-doo-dads and dropper bottles and wrap it all up.




I know Hal was really proud of his homemade gift and I hope Carmine likes the finished kit and he gets a chance to create all sorts of messy magical projects and potions!

A Morning Indoors


Hal is at ReWild’s Nature Immersion program on Fridays.  It’s the highlight of his week.  He gets to run around outside all day, learn primitive skills, and engage in loads of imaginative play with his friends.  He comes home tired, filthy, and very, very happy.

It’s not just a benefit for him:  In a house with lots of kids, sending just one kid off for the day has lots of perks.  It not only provides him with adventure apart from his siblings, but it also reduces the conflict, mess, noise, etc in the house by a significant portion.  And considering that resolving sibling conflict normally comprises the bulk of my “parenting” lately, Friday is a day I’ve been looking forward to, as well.  I get so much accomplished on Fridays, all while having a quiet, peaceful morning.


I got a loaf of sesame-spelt bread baked early this morning.  It has 2 cups of unbleached flour, and 1 cup of spelt, so it takes longer to rise, but it gets some loft eventually.  It is much less dense than an all-spelt bread, with the nutty flavor of the spelt still coming through.



While the bread was rising, I worked on a pair of top-down mix-n-match socks I started ages ago.  I’m down to the toe on the last sock, and then I can block them!  (Joining Ginny’s Yarn Along. These are 100% wool yarn my sister-in-law gave me some time ago.  They’re leftovers from another project she did, so I’m not sure of the brand.)


While I’m knitting this morning, George has been alternating between working on a puzzle and playing with items on the nature shelf.  He loves to look at the agates and limpet shells we collected at the beach last month, and added some hazelnuts from the backyard.


It seems that everywhere you look in the kitchen, there are medlars strewn about.  The kids and I keep bringing them in as they fall from the tree.  They need to sit on the counter for a few weeks to soften and be edible.  I can’t wait to eat them:  they taste intensely of autumn to me.  (See my new video about growing and eating medlars here.)

This weekend is packed with derby.  I’m officiating four bouts, in three days, as well as a few scrimmages.  But next weekend I’m taking the weekend off to work on fall garden clean-up and transition some of the front yard garden from annuals to perennials.  The plan is to add two new pawpaw trees, another pomegranate, and a “Nikita’s Gift” persimmon amongst the shrubs and herbaceous perennials I established the last two years.  Finding derby-life balance is hard for me, especially as autumn in the garden is still a busy time, but I’m looking forward to a crazy derby weekend starting today and a permaculture weekend next weekend.

January Nature Table


Now that the holidays are over, the kids helped switch the Nature shelf over from “Christmas” to “Late Winter”.  With the change of the seasons, I bring out new objects and the children choose which ones to put up.


These little hand-carved camels were a gift from the girls’ preschool teacher, and we cherish them.  They live in the tea cupboard with our best teacups, but George insisted we put them up on the nature shelf, along with a handmade cup his cousins gave to us last year.  We weren’t quite sure how it matched the theme of the season, but there’s not arguing with a four year-old.


We try to include seasonal objects from nature, but in January, most things are dormant…So putting our Living Stones (which don’t receive water all winter long) seemed like an appropriate addition.


Most of our collection of South African succulents are of the genus Lithops, but two are Pleiospilos, including the one above.  They start to look shriveled and a little worse for wear toward the end of winter, but they live in a climate where they receive less than 3 inches of rain per year.


The rest of the time, they are conserving water in their tiny fleshy leaves.  Over-watering can kill them, because they lack stomata like other plants – they will drink and drink and drink water until they burst and die, so they only receive a small amount of water during certain phases of their life cycle.  You can see from the Lithops above, why they are called “Living Stones”.  Aren’t they fascinating?



Hal chose a squirrel jaw and a turtle jaw for the table.  To him, they represented “the harshness of winter for wildlife”.  I recently found a handmade pineneedle basket at the thrift stire, and it serves as a stand for his contribution.


If you’re interested in keeping Lithops as houseplants, you can order them from Living Stones Nursery in Arizona.  Lithops can be fussy as houseplants, but once you learn about their soil needs and their life cycle (they have lovely flowers!) – and as long as you do not overwater them – they make fascinating plants to keep in your home.

What do you have up on your Nature Table or Nature Shelf in late winter?  The kid and I always love to see what other families are gathering for their tables.


Autumn Nature Table

Autumn Nature Table

Hal and George and I sifted through various nature items we’d collected this week and put up the autumn nature table (although, for us, it’s become a shelf, since the “table” has been occupied by Ruth’s budgie, Sunny.)

Autumn Nature Table

We have a little box of autumnal items we save and put out every year.  Hal really enjoyed taking out things we’d made or found in previous years and remembering how we came to have them.

Autumn Nature Table

George needs a stool (kid chair) to reach the shelf, but for the first time Hal is tall enough to reach it easily.  It’s hard to believe how quickly he’s growing and how tall he’s gotten over the summer.

Autumn Nature Table

The boys are really into Minecraft (in the rainy months, unschoolers tend to get together a lot to play Minecraft.  It’s a fantastic learning tool and inspires so much creativity).  Hal found the Nature Table a perfect playground for his teeny Minecraft toys.

I love that the Nature Table is such a multi-purpose educational tool – it’s a way to talk about and examine nature close-up, with the hands and the eyes.  It is a starting point for research on natural history, ecology, botany, geology.  The Nature Table is constantly shifting in contents as the seasons change, so it helps us mark the rhythm of the year and engages the kids in studies of the seasons – their library book selections are often inspired by items on the nature table and the season represented therein.   Perhaps most importantly, the Nature Table sparks creative play, storytelling, games, and make believe driven by the children’s imaginations.

Eve of Autumn

Eve of Autumn

Today we said goodbye to summer and anticipate the impending arrival of autumn.  It has been warm and sunny during the day, but the crispness of fall has definitely made itself felt in the air.

We’ve been pulling out pants (only to discover George has outgrown every pair that fit this spring) and mittens and vests and rain jackets.  The kitchen has been really chilly in the mornings, and it gives me an excuse to bake:  I’ve made bread two days in a row, and have plans to get up before the children to bake banana bread for breakfast tomorrow.


Speaking of mornings, The Hudson’s Golden Gem apples are ready right in time to welcome in fall.  I’ve been eating one off the tree every morning with my coffee, and Ruth and George have been enjoying them with dinner.


The young tree sits right outside our front door, planted in a polyculture with rhubarb, comfrey, clove currant, Egyptian walking onions, blood sorrel, rosemary, English lavender, bearded iris, calendula, and Oregon iris.  Around the perimeter – in an area amended with pine needles – are highbush blueberry and lowbush blueberry and red currant.  This weekend I also added a Haku Botan pomegranate – prized for being very dwarf, cold hardy, and producing double-ruffled white flowers which set into white fruit.


If you need another apple to add to the family garden, the Hudson’s Golden Gem is an excellent choice.  The fruit is yellow and heavily russeted – nothing much to look at.  But the flesh is creamy white, and very crisp, but with an exceptionally buttery quality – not grainy or gritty or mealy at all.  The flavor is a good balance of sweet and acid with undertones of butter and hazelnuts.  It’s an apple that children and adults can both enjoy very much.



To mark the shift of seasons, we had mint tea this afternoon and burnt a little myrrh in the hour or so before dinner.  In studying ancient Egypt, the children had become interested in what myrrh actually smelled like (we’d burned frankincense at Christmas before).  I had to order a few things from Mountain Rose Herbs, and included myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and sweet myrrh (Commiphora opoponax), which have markedly different scents.  They arrived in plenty of time to test them out today.


You can’t simply light myrrh unless you want it to smell, well, burnt.  (It’s like the difference between a great cup of coffee and a scorched cup that’s sat in the pot with the burner on – they’re both coffee, but one is the right way to appreciate it, and the other is a waste of coffee.)  Instead (a video tutorial is here), light a disc of charcoal, place it in salt or sand, sprinkle it with more salt (to form a buffer layer between the charcoal and the myrrh), and then place a very small piece of resin on top.  It will slowly melt and darken, trailing up a wisp of intensely fragrant smoke as it does so.  Two tiny half-pea sized pieces were enough to fill the whole house with the soothing aroma.


While the kids drank their tea and made dragons before dinner, I finished a few pairs of children’s’ mitts.  I’m working on stocking up handmade goods to open a little Etsy store before Thanksgiving.  Something about the chill in the air, the winding down of the garden, the early-setting-sun that makes fiber-folk want to knit and spin in earnest.  So the turn of the season seems like a good time to get things finished up and get that Etsy store open.


Hope to be back later in the week with some of our unschooly activities and setting the fall Nature Table.

Blessings on your family as you settle into the rhythms of the new season.


Collector’s Item

Unschooling Nature Table

Unschooling Nature Table
Hal sorting items for his “store”. Front to back: ground cherries, hollyhock seed head, grape leaves with filberts and calendula seed heads, yarrow, painted rocks…

Years ago, my kids crafted their own version of a universal child’s game:  collecting items from nature/the garden, assigning those items special qualities (fairy berries!  war paint!), and selling them in a “store”.  One child (usually the youngest) is “The Collector” and he gathers items to sell to the shop owner, who in turn, markets them to her remaining siblings and friends.  It’s kind-of the ultimate unschool nature table make-believe game.

Unschooling Nature Table
Bea sorting goodies George has brought her: amaranth leaves, lavender, nasturtium blossoms, tomatoes, hollyhock blossoms, calendula seed heads, filberts.
All of the kids getting along and playing together despite the diversity in their ages and developmental stages. It’s a rare moment, I’m cherishing it.

I managed to get a tremendous amount of yardwork done while the kids played, and enjoyed helping George, The Collector, find goodies to bring his siblings.

Unschooling Nature Table

Thimbleberry, grape, and filbert leaves all make excellent “wrapping paper” for purchased goodies.  Bea loves to wrap them up and secure them by pinning with a small twig.


We’re ramping up for our homeschool co-op to start tomorrow (I’m teaching a class based on one of my favorite childhood books, My Side of the Mountain), and have lots to prep today.  I’ve also been really busy filling plant orders for folks, and will have a post with more about that tomorrow.

Early December Nature Table



Today it really began to feel like Christmastime in our home:


Bea and I converted the nature table  from autumn to Advent.


The Nativity figurines were a gift (from France!) and the conifer candle, picked up at the farmer’s market, is made from local beeswax.  The perpetual calendar is from MamaRoots.


I potted up a Christmas Cactus cutting from my mother.  Hopefully, by next Christmas it will be in bloom.


Ruth and I began decorating our little table-top tree.  (We always get our tree from the L’Arche benefit sale.)  The lights and star go on, and tonight or tomorrow we will string popcorn and cranberries.  Later in the week, come the ornaments.

More soon, but now we are off to Ruth and Bea’s Holiday roller derby scrimmage.

Hope you are enjoying the beginning of the Christmas season!



Neighborhood Nature Walk


When the kids have abundant energy, and the weather is unusally dry, it’s time to bundle up and walk to Grandma and Grandpa’s.  The kids brought a basket to collect items for the nature table on their way.


We’ve been reading books about Thanksgiving, but also about late-autumn as we prepare to shift into the winter holiday.  The kids were anxious to add items to the nature table while it is still decorated for autumn.  (At the end of the month,  the table shifts over to Advent and Winter decor.)


George had more fun jumping in the leaves than collecting them.


Bea brought her whittling gear, so that she and Grandpa could make spoons when we arrived at his workshop.



Ruth, enjoying the crunch of the leaves.

More soon – crafting and good things from the kitchen!




Autumn is settling in, and we’ve put the feather comforters and extra quilts on the beds.  My ankle hasn’t healed enough to drive yet, so we spend our week keeping busy at home.  Any moment it isn’t raining, we’ve been in the garden.

Some images from our quiet week around the house.  Above: Hops, rosemary, and comfrey drying in a sunny window seat.


Collecting columbine seeds for Christmas gifts, and a few to sow around the garden.


Baking bread.  The kids can eat a loaf every single day, and I certainly don’t mind baking.  This is molasses-shredded wheat bread (my kids love shredded-wheat cereal, and we save the crushed bits in the bottom of the bag for making bread.   Tossing a half-cup into the recipe adds a nice texture, and nothing goes to waste).  Butter spread on top when the loaf is warm makes for a soft crust children enjoy.IMG_9989[1]

The Nature Table is transitioning over for autumn.  It includes whatever the kids collect: birch bark, a paper wasp nest, as well as shells and rocks discovered in children’s pockets when we go to do the laundry.


A volunteer brought the children a nest she found in our raspberry patch.  We find several every year around the yard, but the kids always get excited about them – they have an almost mystical quality because of their ephemeral nature, and each one is unique.

The perpetual calendar in the upper right is from MamaRoots, and was a birthday gift to Bea last year.  She dutifully keeps track of it for us, and it is one of the best instructional toys we’ve purchased.

IMG_0001[1]A few days in the sun, rotated a few times a day, and the hops and such have dried, and been packed into jars until we need them.

Autumn is always bittersweet – I love the baking, sticking close to home, the warm wooly things of fall.  But the garden winds down and is put to bed for the year, and the weather turns grey and rainy and chilly.  Especially this year, where I missed an entire summer laid up on the sofa with my leg, the changing of the seasons hits a little hard.  Fall is here though, and I’ve got to take the good things the season offers and be content… seems like the right time to bake some gingerbread.

Blessings on your weekend.



‘Tis the Season



Merry Christmas!  I’m trying to post a bit for the holidays, as time permits.  We will see if I can keep it up.  My laptop is still broken, so I am borrowing my husband’s late at night after the kids are in bed.   The girls and I spend much of our spare time with speed skating club and the girls’ roller derby (I’m joining the recreational league in January!).  Hal is learning to read and endlessly creating Lego sculptures, and George is full of joy and wonder and 2 yr-old energy.  We are making all sorts of changes in the back yard gardens when the weather permits.  Life is busy and good and we are enjoying slowing down a bit for the holidays.

The last week or so, we have been trying to finish up Christmas presents and school projects.  I was a bit late in potting-up the paperwhites, but hope they will bloom in time for New Year’s Day.  One for us in a newly-found blue dish from the thrift store, and two for gifts.



I had a little helper bundle up to help me in the chill and sunshine:





Be back very soon with some requested recipes and more of our Advent season.



From the Fig Tree


A cascade of very fresh, very ripe figs the kids poured out onto the kitchen table.  They are from a neighbor’s tree.  She doesn’t know the variety (they are actually her next-door neighbors, but a large portion of the immense tree overhangs her driveway, and no one family can consume the vast quantities of fruit.


The figs are pale green with a pink flesh, and very soft and sweet.  I think they may be “Desert King”, which does quite well in our climate, and typically produces a large good-quality breba crop (we have a young one in our yard, and it has exactly eight nearly-ripe fruit on it).

I’m planning on starting a small (one gallon) batch of fig wine with some this weekend.  The rest we are eating fresh, or on toast with mascarpone.  I have my eye on these quick fig recipes, though.  Numbers 6 and 8 look particularly good.

I’d also like to try Temperate Permaculture’s fig recipe.

If you’re picking figs, wear gloves, so what happened to me doesn’t happen to you.

For all things “fig”, the knowledge bank at Figs4Fun is the place to visit.

Do you have a favorite fig recipe?  A favorite variety?


I will be back with more posts over the weekend.  We will be busy with the girls’ Roller Derby practices, birthday parties to attend, Sunday Parkways, and such.  The weather promises to be perfection, so every un-scheduled moment will be spent in the garden.  So much ripening, and so much in bloom, I hope to share pictures of it all.


(Edit:  I realize WordPress is having issues right now – all my photos are loading sideways, and while they look fine on my Dashboard, they appear flipped on their side in the final post.  Working on it!)


The past few mornings have felt like September with their crispness, and we’ve started out the day in sweaters.  And yet the afternoons are the best that summer in Oregon has to offer with blue skies and warm breezes.  So, of course we’ve been taking advantage of the gorgeous weather and spending every possible moment outdoors.   Every evening we’ve taken long walks, and most days we head to a playground in the city after swim lessons and garden chores.


Sunday we played hooky from church, packed a picnic lunch, and went for a day hike in the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.  The paths are wide and easy to navigate for toddlers like George who want to walk/run like the big kids (“No backpack!  I walk!  I WALLLLKKK!”).


And the wildlife!  We saw frogs and birds and insects and fish at every turn in the path and every pond.  Bea tuned-in to every call of every bird, particularly the Orange-Crowned Warblers and Song Sparrows.  But the highlight of the afternoon is when a Bald Eagle flew very low to the ground, directly over our heads, and landed in an adjacent tree.

If you haven’t made a trip out to the Refuge, we highly recommend it.  And we’ll be traveling back again to see the migratory birds moving through in the fall and spring.

I’ll be back later this week with some knitting, spinning, and maybe a few new recipes.  But for now, it’s back outside to soak up that sunshine.


Alpaca and Social Permaculture

I’m tackling spinning for the Yarn Along this week.   Little by little, I am working my way through a 4 oz bag of first-shearing unwashed alpaca fiber (isn’t the coppery color lovely?).  This buttery soft fiber was a gift from my sister some years ago.  She picked it up from Foothills Fiber in Hood River, OR.

Originally, I was going to put this on the wheel, but both sets of bobbins are already full of other fibers, so I’ve been working on a drop spindle.  (I have 6 or so spindles going at any one time, so progress on any one fiber is fairly slow.)

This week, we have been thumbing through Discover Nature in Winter, as well as the classic primitive/survival skill book Participating in Nature.  The children and I are looking for winter activities out-of-doors that extend beyond the garden.

I have also just begun  The Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work.  Lately, the Buddhist ideal of “right livelihood“  has really interested me.   It is similar to concepts of social and economic permaculture, in which the ideal is to take work that benefits the renewal of the land or the care of people and eschew jobs that damage the land, overuse resources, and exploit people.

Both my husband and I feel our careers (paid and unpaid) fall within this sphere.  I don’t think either of us could embrace a career that did not, and we love what we do.  I simply thought the book might be an educational read.

Okay, back to spinning while Bea does her read-aloud this morning.  Have a wonderful second half of your week!

Christmas Preparations

We’re finally getting the sewing cleared away and readying the dining nook for Christmas dinner. (That big bag of oats will shortly become granola for Christmas gifts. )

And putting out some last-minute decorations…

and making our traditional holiday persimmon bundt cake while the boys play with dinosaurs at my feet…

and putting out the last few pieces of the children’s new Nativity on my grandma’s marble-top washstand. (As much as I’d love to have a Nativity set like this one or this one, I am really enjoying this budget-friendly set – the children can play with it as much as they wish – and they do!  They check each morning to see if a new piece been placed out, and if one of the kids seems to have disappeared, I know he or she will be in the guest bedroom quietly playing at the Nativity.)

and running ribbons through the last batch of drawstring gift bags, so we can start wrapping up presents!

So many other projects and preparations before Christmas Eve!   I am trying to balance the pressure to complete everything with the need to slow down, connect with the kids, read to them, play with them, and enjoy time as a family.   Doing our best to keep the time sacred in the midst of so much activity.

Wishing you comfort and peace at this time of year.

Christmas Posey

Our first frost date is October 15, but we have yet to have a hard freeze this year.  Tender plants that are normally wrapped in burlap or provided with wind screens are thriving free in the mild weather.

While George was napping, and the big kids were playing quietly inside, I spent a little time working in the yard.  I am grateful for the mild weather, because I hadn’t finished planting garlic (usually completed in October), and the un-frozen ground allowed me to get several rows in and mulched right next to the driveway.

Afterward, while picking some Lacinato Kale (above) for dinner and poultry snacks, I noticed that the Tangerine Sage (Salvia elegans) was still blooming.  What a surprise!

Tangerine Sage (far right of top photo) is a tender perennial, and rarely survives the winter here.  I planted mine two summers ago in a sheltered area, and mulch it for the winter, and wrap it in burlap when temps dip below 25.  Even so, it struggled to make it through last winter.  Any yet, with temperatures in the 40s, it thrives and blooms beautiful red spires.

Some bright red sage blossoms and a few sprigs of rosemary seem like a fitting Christmas posey.

Time to get some sewing completed (finishing up Christmas skirts for the girls and their cousin).  So, we’ve put the holiday greenery in the windowsill next to the sewing machine.  I’ve always loved the particular combination of citrus and rosemary, and it fills the breakfast nook with an energizing aroma as the girls and I get ready to tackle a mountain of fabric.

.  Back tomorrow with pictures of our sewing (provided we actually finish this afternoon!)

The Tomten and the Fox

Needle felting is one of those crafts we feel drawn toward more in the winter months.  Both of the girls really enjoy making Christmas ornaments and decorations.  Harold is learning to use the needle tool safely, and often prefers playing with the tufts of roving and his older sisters’ finished projects.

Astrid Lindgren’s Tomten books are among my favorite winter stories from childhood.  Harold requests we read them (along with Jan Brett’s Hedgie’s Surprise) at least once every day since I added them to the book basket.

So, in honor of the the children’s fascination with the little red-hatted caretakers of the farm, we made a little needle-felted Tomten for them to play with while I read the stories aloud.

Without any assistance, Ruth also made the fox from the story.  She posed him all snuggled up, his belly fully of porridge (not hens!).

Linking up with Nicole for KCCO today.  I’ll be back tomorrow for the Yarn Along, and some thoughts on winter agriculture later in the week.

December 1

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

One of my favorite parts about getting out the holiday decorations is finding the box of Christmas books, and checking out a big stack of Advent and winter-themed library books.  I keep some of them in a basket, and rotate the selection every few days.

This morning we refreshed the greens and candles on the Advent wreath before lighting the second candle tomorrow night. (Yes, this is technically a birthday ring my mom bought me when I was a small child in Germany, but it functions just fine for holding Advent candles, too.)

I couldn’t find little candles that fit the candle stand, but some little Waldorf birthday candles substituted nicely.  The kids wrapped purple modeling beeswax around three, pink around the Shepherds’ candle, and a bit of holly around the Christ candle.  A little modeling beeswax on the bottom helped affix them to the candle ring.

The only downside with using such tiny beeswax candles is that by the time we are done reading the Advent readings for the week while the candle(s) is lit, it has nearly burned down.  I picked up enough extras to replace the used candles each Sunday.

And now that it is December first, we not only get to light the Advent wreath, but day by day, open the doors on our Advent calendar.  Today, on this calendar, we found a tiny drawing of a lizard behind door 1, and each day will have a different illustration of a toy or forest animal.

(We also have another from Grandma Bishop that has a Scripture verse revealed each day.)

This calendar was one my mother bought me when we lived in Germany 30 years ago.  The artwork is so detailed and the children love looking over the scene of beautiful drawings.  I’m glad to get to share it with them.

Joining with Taryn for her Gratitude Sunday.  As we prepare to light the Bethlehem Candle tomorrow, there is much to reflect on.  I am grateful to enter in to that reflection with my family this week.

Without any rhyme
without any reason
my heart lifts to light
in this bleak season

Believer and wanderer
caught by salvation
stumbler and blunderer
into Creation

In this cold blight
where marrow is frozen
it is God’s time
my heart has chosen

In paradox and story
parable and laughter
find I the glory
here in hereafter

 – Madeleine L’Engle

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.

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.


For a long time now, our oldest has been interested in the art of massage.  She has made a study of the subject, reading everything she can find on types of massage, anatomy and physiology, physical therapy, and stress relief.

Ruth is an intense, and typically high-stress individual (she has been since infancy), and I think she naturally gravitated toward the topic because she herself needs a lot of help with the tension and anxiety of every day living.  This has also made her a very empathetic person in this regard, and frequently asks family members who seem stressed, tired, etc if they would like a massage from her.

I had been collecting little jars at the thrift store for some time, and knew Ruth would make good use of them.  She filled the jars with various carrier oils (olive, sweet almond, grapeseed, etc) and a few drops of one essential oil (tangerine, rose, or patchouli (my favorite) or herbs collected in the garden.  I picked her a wide assortment from lavender to hyssop, rosemary to hops, spread them out on the kitchen windowsill, and let her nose guide her.

After a few days steeping in the sunshine, they make great massage oils.  Ruth’s favorite is olive oil with rosemary and a drop of tangerine oil.

If you have a collection of herbs in the garden, harvest them now, before the temperatures drop, and make a simple oil infusion to soften and repair dry, overworked hands and feet this winter.  Simply add a tablespoon of any one herb (simple is better) per 1/4 cup of light or unscented carrier oil, cork and leave in a warm place for several days.  Strain out the herbs, label, and store in a dark place for up to six months.

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?

Late May Garden Update Part I


The garden has really taken off  after a week of hot, sunny weather, followed by lots of rain. (although, the cold nights and wind the past few days haven’t done us any favors).  Volunteers have been able to start taking in a few baskets of organic produce to BCS, mostly radishes, mustard greens, lettuce, chives, tarragon and baby beets, bok choy, and kale.  The teeny harvests thus far just begin to hint at the bounty of the coming months.


Between slug-picking and weeding and rain showers, we got a few pictures this morning – (above) The boys in the front yard behind Alderman Tall Telephone peas, mesclun mix lettuce, with more lettuce mix and Oregon Sugar Pod II peas in the background.

– the tomatoes are really taking a beating with the cold (40s and 50s) and hail and driving wind this week.  We wrapped about half in plastic (and then ran out of plastic!) but can’t see that it is helping them out much – the hail damage is the worst.   Surprisingly, the tomatillos don’t seem to mind the dreary weather as much and are growing nicely


Despite a little slug damage, the cardoons we planted back in February are coming along nicely – the largest are nearly two feet across already.  (They were planted closely, because about 20% of the seed stock are infertile – they are smaller and weak and I keep thinning them out.  The hassle of starting them from seed is well worth it – I only used half a pack (@ $2.45/pack), and have 8 strong seedlings, versus paying $7.49 each for large starts from the garden center.)


The Vulcan Red Chard is doing quite well – just a few more weeks until it will be able to be harvested in any quantity.


The mustard greens and bok choy bolted in last week’s heat, but the bolted stalks were fed to some very happy chickens  and in the gaps I have planted summer squash (a total of 6 in the front yard, and 19 in the back – a mix of crooknecks, zucchinis, and patti-pans).  I may eventually need to thin them down, but a few are compact varieties, so we’re hoping they won’t get too crowded.


This is a Golden Hubbard seedling, coming up in the bed closest to the street.  Winter squash are such a treasure – beautiful rambling vines all season, tasty blossoms to stuff with ricotta and deep-fry, and finally, vitamin-packed, long-shelf-life squash in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes to eat throughout the winter.  (Since there is limited space, I have only put in my favorite eating squash – Buttercups, Butternuts, Hubbards, Delicata, except along one side-yard, near the house, where the gorgeous – if largely inedible – Rouge Vif D’Etampes has been planted for harvest decorations.)

For everything you could want to know about nearly every variety of winter and summer squash, I highly recommend Amy Goldman’s book, The Compleat Squash.

To keep the neighbors happy, I have planted misc. wildflowers, sunflowers, daisies, and about 50 dahlias in the front beds.  Add to that those dozen winter squash (to trail out of the beds and along the path), bronze fennel and artichokes, and for good measure, a whole jumbo packet of nasturtium!  If that doesn’t make for a pretty (but still mostly edible!) street-side bed, I don’t know what will!

(Eventually, the front bed will be mostly perennial flowers, currants, a dwarf plum, and a low fence with a grape arbor and a gate across the path, but it needed something to make it attractive this year, especially with so many folks in the neighborhood stopping by to ask what in the heck happened to our front yard!)

And with that, I’ll save the backyard and the chicken update for tomorrow!

A Living Hope


Preparing for our celebration of the Resurrection tomorrow:



The children’s baskets may be put out awaiting little treats from a certain visitor, but our hearts and minds are fixed the redemptive joy of tomorrow.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – I Peter 1:3


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12: 1-3

Happy Easter, from our family to yours.

Why I haven’t been blogging the past week or so



We’re working on a converting our front lawn into veggie beds, and the unseasonably warm and dry weather has helped us get a jump start on sheet mulching.  Goodbye lawn, hello permaculture landscape!  While Tum Tum and I spread cardboard, straw, manure and compost, Little Hen and her Daddy were busy building cold frames out of scrap wood and old windows from the ReStore. (Firecracker was either resting inside, or resting curled up in a nest of blankets on the driveway, since she not only had strep throat, but then a head-to-toe reaction to the amoxicillin meant to cure the strep.  Poor kid. )


(Collage posters Little Hen made calling for Garden Volunteers – I wrote the words, but she went to town with the scissors, a stack of old issues of Mother Earth News and a glue stick.)

Last year we worked at Penelope’s Garden, but this year, we’ll be hosting a community-building garden of our own.   It will be years before our seedling fruit trees and berry bushes obscure many sunny patches of our yard, so we thought we’d make good use of it all and put in veggie beds to grow fresh, organic produce for families of limited means.  This weekend, a team of volunteers will help us finish installing the front yard beds and create many more in the backyard, so that the organic veggies grown here and cared for by volunteers can be delivered to the families at Birch Community Services, a local non-profit serving needy families in Portland.


We saved a little time for planting poppies and sweet pea seeds, rhubarb and asparagus crowns.  We also started tomato, artichoke, and cardoon seeds in pots in the basement.   The dry evenings allowed me to plant blueberry bushes, dozens and dozens of strawberry plants, and a red currant after dinners last week.


As Little Hen’s sign (which she hung on the front door) says -“Gardening – You want to sign up?”  If you’re interested in volunteering to grow food for needy families in the Portland area, and teaching those families to grow their own nutritious, organic produce, please e-mail me at


I’m working on setting up a little blog dedicated to the garden this year.  More on that soon.   If you have any ideas on a name  for the Birch Community Services’  educational and food producing organic garden hosted at the Baker’s house, I’d LOVE to hear them (short, sweet and whimsical is best).

Happy gardening!  The rains and cold weather are on the way, so I’m sure I’ll be posting more from indoors later this week!