Friday, March 28, 2014

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . .

{this moment}
A Friday SouleMama ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Be a garden detective

I am itching to garden for real. So I'm planning, plotting and scheming madly. It is the perfect season for this - learn to read the pattern of the snow melting to tell where a garden will grow better! Look at this stark contrast: 

My new garden, started last year. You see the yellow bee hives in the back, they were first to be snow free.

My old garden, started several years ago 'in the back' where it wouldn't be aesthetically bothersome and in the way of children's play. Poor priorities! A solid foot of hard, frozen snow persists and will for weeks to come. We have lived a lot and learned a little since then.

 My bee-anniversary has just passed. On this 20-degree day, I can hardly imagine that I hived packages with my friend and bee mentor almost exactly a year ago. 

The site of my newest garden project: I want something 'out front'. For the many neighborhood children to enjoy, and for me to hang out while waiting for the bus and watching kids play in the driveway. A friend sent me this inspiration, now I just have to think more about deer control.

Signs of life: Strawberries awakening, parsley and swiss chard surviving and promising me a dinner of leafy greens sooner than it seems possible on this freezing cold day:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Will it be spring!

The kind of freezing cold day that feels warm anyway - the sun shining, not too windy, and the entire mood outside is becoming friendlier. More hospitable. The babee and I sowed some more - this time in gallon jugs outside, following this idea a friend shared. Of course I had no gallon jugs in the house, but on my trip to the town transfer station (oh! I owe you a post on the marvelous place our transfer station is. We call it 'the dump' but I have since learned that more creative people around us call it the 'town mall'.... oh the stories to be told one day), I got lucky. I ran into this unsuspecting citizen about to recycle a six pack of water jugs. He was only mildly disturbed by my accosting him and let me have his jugs without much ado. Maybe he's writing a blog about HIS adventures at the town mall just now? I will never know.

Back to the project - the handy husband sawed the jugs almost in half, leaving a hinge on one side. With a soldering iron, he put a few holes in the bottoms of the jugs for good drainage. We filled them with well-soaked potting soil and then added seeds. We sowed more broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, lettuce and a few flower seeds, and will compare the outcome with indoor seedlings as they all grow. What fun. The kids still run to the basement every day and record the day's progress in seedling growth.

I willed the laundry to dry on the line outside, too, first batch this year. The sublime happened and the laundry came in dry (if cold). Spring will be. Here. Everywhere. Soon.

Nimm gern mit

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to stage a proper revolution

If a reigning monarch is, for some reason or other, not up to snuff anymore, a beekeeper finds herself in a predicament. Much has been written, thought and debated on how to transition from one form of government* to another.... but the most useful account I have recently come across was from the book 'A year of bees' by my newly crowned favorite author, Sue Hubbell.

The problem with requeening, as beekeepers typically do it, and as I did last year, is that a people doesn't just accept any old queen that is put in with them. All my commercial queens lasted only a few weeks before there was an actual people-powered revolution, and the democratic process in the hive made its own new regent*.

So here is a process that I tried to break down from Sue Hubbell's beautiful prose into these two much more perfunctory bullet point lists. The first, how to create a nuc, is also the beginning of how to split a hive into two, something I am hoping to do later this spring, if the bees continue to do well.

1) Create a Nuc (a new mini-hive):

  • Create a 'nuc' - a deep super (brood box) - using three frames of brood including attendant bees, and a few more frames of honey/nectar/pollen, originating from the hive one wants to requeen or other hives. 
  • Screen entrances shut and tie/staple nuc together for transport. It needs to be placed a distance away from the donor hive at this point. Reopen the entrances.
  • Place the new queen in the nuc using the same procedure I wrote about before. 
  • Leave the nuc undisturbed for several days, then check for egg laying activity.
  • Tape/screen entrances shut again to transport nuc to the site of the hive that is to be requeened

2) Requeen the hive

  • Move the hive that you wish to requeen away from its original site by a few yards. 
  • Find the original queen and kill her.
  • Place the nuc box onto the site of where the hive was and open the entrances. This is the trickery of it: All the bees will now be very confused. The foragers from the old hive will come back loaded with pollen and nectar, and the confused guard bees of the nuc, still blinking their huge eyes and orienting themselves, are likely to let them in. 
  • Leave the nuc alone for a little while, and meanwhile, create maximum disturbance in the old hive. The bees will fly up, confused, and orient themselves towards the site of where their home used to be. In other words, they're going to fly to the nuc. Because they're not very sure of themselves in this state, they will not be likely to attack the queen. 
  • Make up a box of remaining brood and honey from the old hive and give it to the nuc as a second story. 

I suppose it is possible to end up with extra frames that don't fit - it may not be advisable to disrupt the nuc box by placing them in there. But I will cross that bridge when I get to it.... The other drawback is that, unless one lives on a 90-acre farm, one has to find a friend willing to temporarily house that nuc for a few days, and one has to be willing to drive around with a taped-shut beehive. A pick-up truck seems best there... Or a bike trailer? That said, queens cost around $30, a new hive of bees is over $100 now, and a truck rental for an hour can be as little as $10, so maybe it's worth the trouble to keep a hive alive and productive.

*It should be noted at this point that the queen does not actually do any governing. She leaves that, and almost everything else, up to the worker bees. Her sole occupation is to lay eggs. More fascinating detail can be found in Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley.

Friday, March 21, 2014

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . .

{this moment}
A Friday SouleMama ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Soap for the skills fair

My local Transition group is planning a skill fair for Earth Day this spring (May 4th! Come by if you're local!) and I will be contributing my soap making wisdom, and hopefully have some samples for people to try. 

I made two bars a few days ago, a rosemary shampoo bar and the lemony lather kitchen bar I use all the time. Two days ago I decided on a one-and-a-half size batch of the favorite honey oatmeal flower petal bar that is my own recipe. It is vegan and palm-oil free, and really gentle to use. Scaling up the recipe got me a much better block to slice into bars - the sizing worked out well. I used a cardboard shoe box lined with cling wrap for a mold, could that get any easier? 
The bar is scented with rose, a hint of lavender, orange and vanilla, and has added chamomille flowers and ground oats for a tiny bit of scrubbiness in the final bar, but mostly, because adding in that stuff is the most fun part of soap making. I tinted half of the batter pink with a too-dark-for-me shade of mineral blush that has a hint of mica sparkle. Sparkle never hurts, does it?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

but why?

Why are we on earth? What is the purpose of life? Don't come to me with those big question. I will answer the 'but why' question that people ask as to why I left FB (even if it turns out to be temporary):
I read these two books:  'Dragnet Nation' and 'The Big Disconnect'. Both of them are about me. No, not about me as if I starred personally in them, but I feel correctly described by a lot of what these authors are talking about. And not always in a good, in-control kind of a way. I'm not really good at rehashing other people's thoughts, for fear of distorting them with my own bias, but I honestly think those books deserve to be read. The latter, especially, seems so important for parents of kids of all ages. Some of this reading was tough (especially without a glass of scotch in my hands...), but I hope, therapeutic.

A second aspect is that I often lament to my husband about the disappearing of community. I sometimes feel as though a lot of things that used to be covered by neighborly exchange of favors is now (or here?) taken care of by commercial entities (dog sitting, lawn mowing, driveway plowing, babysitting, airport driving, etc). So I decided to become more involved with community making in flesh and blood, in the shape of engaging with people and groups that aim to embody the kind of community spirit I am searching for.

It is actually going better than I thought, so far, the mostly hands-free lifestyle. It helps to start on some great books and a knitting project, to keep the hands busy during boring hours waiting on hallways at the music school, or at gymnastics. I didn't post that video of my youngest daughter learning to ride a bicycle :-). And I did have both hands free to catch her when she got too wobbly while balancing on a log through the muddy patch where we checked on our favorite skunk cabbages.

Focus on the most important, a work in progress.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slippers for a Sneezing Girl

My oldest had asked for slippers just like mine:

I was working on them, but then she came down with some crazy flu-like plague and it seemed only right to hurry up a bit and finish them. I went for 'chunky' and modified my original pattern (which was already a bit modified starting from this pattern), the outcome was pretty slouchy.

I make the sole out of a layer of felt (outside) and one of fleece (inside), and then I put patches of leather on the parts that need anti-slip. I hand-stitch around the outside. On the first try, I used a pretty blanket stitch but that turned out not to wear well, so now I go with the more functional, if plain look.

If I do it again, I will know where to decrease a bit more to get a better shape... But I still like them enough and she seems willing to wear them ... and hopefully warming her feet will make her better quickly!

Monday, March 17, 2014

It can't be helped

The sun is shining. Marked in the calendar for this week: The vernal equinox, aka beginning of spring. My friends start talking seedlings. I say I'm going to wait til after a short trip in April. The nod and say 'uh huh'.
Who was I kidding???
I went to Home Depot for a slight upgrade of my lighting system, now that my freshly renovated basement has a great set-up for seed starting. The kids and I started getting very very antsy to plant, but this time, I did slow down enough to make some plant markers. One for each tomato. I'm also growing only 1 or 2 of a few varieties, except 2 kinds that I know will do great and that I have specific plans for.... Matt's Wild Cherries will hopefully form a tunnel for the kids in the front yard. Mountain Magic showed a really good resistance to the late blight at the local farm, so I'm hoping for the same here, of course.

Other starts today:

Swiss Chards (Fordhook and Rainbow)
Amaranth (Golden Giant and last year's favorite, Burgundy)
Marigolds (only the beginning...)
Milkweed for the monarchs
Straw flowers (Helichrysum) because they're my old fashioned favorite
Early Sprout Purple Broccoli
Kohlrabi (Early White)
A few bell peppers
Husk cherries (aka Ground cherries, or 'candy' in our family)
A few lettuces
Climbing malabar spinach, which grows so slow but is so beautiful and delicious when it does

The kids got into it and we started a sort of garden journal in the form of a lap book. That will maybe deserve its own post sometime, we're having fun! We then went outside to play, where I had to scold them for starting a 'kids' garden' in the only sunny spot in the lawn, right atop the septic, because that's the only snow-free spot at this point. There were actual tears at the thought of having to wait a few more weeks...

Friday, March 14, 2014

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . .

{this moment}
A Friday SouleMama ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bread & Butter

I hosted a fellowship hour at my church this past Sunday, and decided to go with a lenten theme of 'bread & butter'. OK, I did serve jam, too. But in the process of trying to round out the bread offerings, I discovered (and modified, of course, 'cause I'm a rebel) a really great recipe for a Honey Oat Bread that comes out just so soft and wonderful, I have made it 2 more times since Sunday.


1 cup rolled oats
2 cups boiling water
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour 
1-2 tsp salt 
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup hand warm water
2 tsp dry yeast


Pour the boiling water over the oats in your mixing bowl and let that sit for half an hour to an hour. Add the yeast into the warm water and let that rest for 10 minutes or so, then add all the other ingredients and let the mixer do its thing for a while. The dough will be sticky. Add additional flour as needed, to make the dough come away from the walls of the bowl, but only 'just'. Don't make it too dry. I think it's the sweeteners that cause some of the stickiness, but it translates into softness of the bread later on. 
Let it rise, covered, for several hours. It is a bit of a reluctant riser, but don't give up hope. Patience! Always rewarded! When you finally see that doubling in volume, dust with a bit of flour, take it out of the bowl and flatten it into a long rectangle on your counter. 
Cut the rectangle into five strips that stay connected at one end. Braid the strips together, like weaving, if you wish, into one long braid. Cut the braid in half, tuck ends as needed and put into two buttered 4.5x9  loaf pans. I only have one, so I put the second loaf into a 5x10. Let that rise another time until doubled.

When the rising is almost done and I start preheating the oven, I put an egg wash on top if I feel generous about my egg situation. 

Bake at 340F (with convection, 350 otherwise) for 35 minutes or so. I keep thinking it's not done when I take it out, because it's so soft. Tap bottom to be sure it sounds sort of hollow and don't be dissuaded by the softness. That's here to stay.
My new and most wonderful bee book says the honey is so hygroscopic (which means it attracts moisture) that it makes baked goods with honey not dry out. In this bread, it seems true!

The other breads I made were my usual sourdough baguette in a multigrain version:

A plain old no-knead bread (using 1/4 cup sourdough starter in addition to the usual 1/4 tsp yeast) made with 50% whole wheat flour:

Another no-knead bread made from the same dough, but with the addition of one onion and a few cloves or garlic, chopped and caramelized in a little olive oil with some rosemary for good measure.

People seemed pretty excited for really fresh homemade bread, and thanked me profusely. Wonder when my kids will stop begging for 'bread from the store'? 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Guess who's back?

Chickens on High Alert.

Suspicious foot prints 

Yup. It's a possum. The babee was the first to spot it, the 5yo identified it.

I always feel rather happy to see wildlife, even if it's the chicken-attacking kind. But in this case, I am not particularly excited about the fact that this possum is running around in plain daylight, was thoroughly underwhelmed by my approaching him (or her, heaven forbid. No more baby possums here, please!), and was only doing the minimum running away after I hollered and banged a few logs. 

Bye. Have a nice, happy life. Somewhere else, please!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The totally un-american-girl-doll

The two littles were fighting over dolls. At first I briefly considered buying another doll (we actually don't have much doll stuff, it's not been a major play focus around here). So I asked why the babee doesn't like the doll her older sister thought she should have. Well, because it didn't have a nice dress! D'uh! We can fix that, I thought. I'll quickly check the web for doll clothes patterns and we'll stitch up something fun together on their very own sewing machine. Well, fail. Almost all the patterns I found were for 'AGD's. What's that? It took me a minute but then I realized it's American Girl Dolls, and they are larger than what I was looking for. Not even if I was willing to pay money on etsy did I find patterns for 15in dolls.... so I made one up, roughly following the images of larger doll clothes patterns, and measuring our dolls as I went. It worked alright, according to my customers!

I did the hems (bottom of skirt, bottom of sleeves, neckline) by cutting with zigzag scissors (pinking shears in adult speak), and then just turned once and stitched down, with a straight stitch except around the neckline, where I used a smallish zigzag stitch and a very narrow hem.

Once the hems were done, I put the velcro on the inside/outside of the center seam allowance of the back bodice pieces and hemmed that at the same time.

Then, I closed the shoulder seams, put the arms in (just stretching things into place, no fancy prepping of the sleeves or anything), and then closed the side seams from the wrists to the waist.
I ruffled the skirt piece with one line of large stitching, with the upper tension reduced, which lets you pull the lower thread to 'wrinkle' the fabric. I did this for all layers of the skirt at once, two tulle, one main fabric. Then I attached the skirt with the opening at the back, overhanging a bit over the finished edge of the bodice pieces. Next, stitched a ribbon around the waist to cover/stabilize the joining of the skirt and bodice. Then stitched the skirt and ribbon closed, at the back seam, leaving the bodice open from the waist up, and DONE!

The kids helped with doing many of the straight seams, each to their ability. This little machine works pretty well, it bravely stitched through a bunch of layers including some sequins, even! The dresses are really roomy around the middle, depending if your doll is potty trained yet, that could be a good thing. Or if your doll is actually a teddy bear. Or you could just make the pattern of the bodice a bit narrower.

In the spirit of combating the doll monopoly out there, here's the pattern for download as a PDF. Let me know if that works for you!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bee Awake!

I'm writing this on the 'spring forward' morning, as I just finished baking a few loaves of bread for our church coffee later. But as much as I love smelling freshly baked bread, I can't get my mind off my bees, and even bees in general today. Odd? I think not. Yesterday, we had a glorious day of sunshine and temperatures in the fifties. I had hoped to see a few bees flying, but oh my! They flew by the hundreds and I spent my lunch hour sitting in front of the hives, eating a sandwich and watching them clean house.

Spring cleaning is quite the undertaking for bees - literally. I could observe worker bees drag dead bee bodies out of the front entrance, and flying off with them to dump them. Interestingly, they were not content to just give them a good push and shove off the entrance ramp, no, noooo! Not tidy enough! Dead bees apparently must be scattered around. It was very taxing on the worker bees to fly with such a load, and we observed several of them crawling around on the snow for a while, recovering from their task, before taking flight again.



We offered a spoonful of honey, and syrup in a jar, but neither was met with much interest. Maybe there are better things out right now? How could that be possible, we're still under a foot of snow for the most part!

Well, as I'm reading this most wonderful, enthralling set of books written by a woman beekeeper in Missouri (bought off of course, not amazon, according to my lenten resolutions.... I will have enough to say about those books for a whole another post), I'm learning that one of the earliest sources of pollen in our area might be skunk cabbage. My oldest daughter and I took a walk to the brook to check if we could find any. It seemed hopeless at first, so much snow, not a green leaf in sight. But as we climbed closer, we did find the beginnings of spring indeed.



And eventually, when she stuck her thumb in the fifth skunk cabbage we found, it came out all yellow-dusted! Pollen is here! 


We were incredibly cheered by our good find, probably more so than a non-beekeeper could imagine, but I think everyone in these parts is just about ready for some good news about spring approaching!