26 May 2009

Movin' on Up!

We have been working on making loft beds for Bug and Bean. Grandpa got a whole whack done on the job when they were visiting and we are finally starting to chip away at the rest of the project. Over the three day weekend, we drilled holes for the carriage bolts and assembled the pieces that Grandpa had put together. Since then, we have cut and drilled pilot holes for about 3/4 of the bed slats. We would have made it through all the slats, but Daddy is on call and had to run to the office, so our assembly line came to a screeching halt.

The kids immediately started putting up blankets and accessories to make their own little houses. Bean made a sofa for hers with two pillows and Bug mostly decorated with stuffed animals and Star Wars figures. Their top sheets were the perfect size for the long edge.

This morning, Bug ran "electrical" wires between the two houses. I'm not sure I want to see our next utility bill!

Beeb has been making himself at home in both houses. But his big highlight is the discovery of Chocolate Cool-Whip. MollyBees was over on Monday to visit and brought strawberries and Cool-Whip dip (I'm pretty sure it's chocolate cool whip packaged in a smaller container and labelled "dip." There is clearly a marketing genius at work). It was such a hit that we picked up some more strawberries and chocolate Cool-Whip. Yesterday, Beeb was a mere amateur with the whip event. Tonight, he clearly had it mastered:

From the grin, I would guess that he likes it at least as much as root beer floats!

25 May 2009

Garden pictures!

Yay! In spite of my random approach to gardening (throw seeds and plants at dirt and see what sticks), it's starting to look like a garden. We have four little pumpkin hills (that need thinning):

Four lettuce pots (which also need thinning):

One tomato plant in a bucket (doesn't need thinning, Ms. Bean was mulching it with grass)

and the main garden plot with two rows of tomato plants on the right and a row of radishes just starting to emerge above the arrow (you might need to embiggen to see anything green in that row):

The radishes are sharing a row with beets. I read somewhere that it was a space saving idea as the beets mature more slowly and the radishes are there and gone before the beets need the space. And yes, the radishes will need thinning, but not yet...we'll let them get a little more...well, visible. Continuing to the left are the unsprouted masses: a row of carrots and four little square patches of herbs (sage, cilantro, oregano, and basil)

18 May 2009

It's becoming a garden!

We are getting into gear with our gardening. For a couple of days leading up to Mother's Day, there was a whole lot of whispering between the kids and Grandma and sneaking off downstairs accompanied by yells of "Don't come down here Mom," so there was clearly *something* going on. It turned out to be this:

Grandma helped with the letters, but Bug and Bean drew pictures and carefully selected a sticker for decorating the back side. So once we finish our planting, it will be easy-peasy to tell what will come up where!

With the main garden, it is very easy to tell where things are:

Either in little pots elsewhere or still in the seed packets! Grandma was a big help with getting the sod removed while they were here and we worked on the soil this weekend. We'll probably get the seeds in either today or tomorrow, so more pictures at some point!

There is growing going on, though! The tomatoes have been going great guns in the light box and I have been hardening them off, so they will be ready to go in the ground:

After a false start, they were started pretty late, but they are looking pretty good anyway. This year's mantra: "It's a learning experience!" At least they aren't as far behind as the herbs that I discovered (this weekend) that should have been started indoors 6-8 weeks ago. Once the tomatoes are in, I'm going to go ahead and give 'em a late start in the light box. The worse that can happen isn't any worse than not planting them at all. Repeat with me: "It's a learning experience."

I planted pumpkin seeds in the side rocks last week. I figure they can go all viney over the rock and not take up space in our tiny garden.

There are two "hills" each of sugar pumpkins and jack-o-lantern pumpkins. And finally, I put some early lettuce in pots on the deck:

The seedling have some actual lettuce leaves now. So we could either have a teensey, wee salad now or let it go longer and see if we can't get a real salad out of it!

Mmmmm...fresh veggies. Our CSA doesn't start for another month or so, but our Farmers' Market is going, so we are getting there!

14 May 2009

We've got a little brawler who can't hold his beer...

We've had Namma and Grandpa visiting for a week in addition to me and three kids with colds for that same week. This morning we drove up and dumped them unceremoniously on the curb of the Madison airport and came home and hung on the sofa and watched videos and napped and dozed all afternoon. Except for the coughing and sniffling, I believe a good time was had by all.

Last night for dinner we had homemade sauerkraut with some brats and for dessert, Daddy got some vanilla ice cream from the store and we used the root beer we had made from the kit he got for his birthday for root beer floats*. Those were, by far, the best root beer floats I have ever had! Little dude had to agree, but it became clear that he just can't hold his beer. Because of his penchant for flinging, he got only a little dollop of ice cream with about a half inch of root beer in a plastic cup. It was guzzled immediately with a strongly worded demand for more, so he got a refill. However, with each refill he got gigglier and sillier, so we finally had to cut him off after four or five.

All this was enhanced by the remnants of a bloody nose he got from the losing end of a fight with a table at the bakery earlier in the day.

Of course, he paid for it this morning. He staggered out of bed and spent a couple of minutes moaning and groaning and carrying on consistent with tying one on. Of course after a couple of minutes of milk from the tap, he was right as rain and his usually cheery self...

A gardening update and highlights from the visit coming soon, I hope!

* Yes, there will be root beer at the post-apocalyptic commune! And even though the ice cream this time was from the store, I do have homemade ice cream in my repertoire.

06 May 2009

I gotta get a better hobby

Or, more accurately, I have several good hobbies, yet I spend two days moving rocks from one place to another...

See all those rocks? With the exception of maybe a couple dozen of 'em, I picked up each one and moved it. I filled the bucket in front first, then tore back the poly under the rocks starting at the front edge. Then I put down new landscape fabric, moved rocks from old poly to new landscape fabric, peeled back old poly, dug out rocks that had become one with the soil, unrolled a little bit more landscape fabric and repeated ad nauseum. I think I hit "ad nauseum" about an hour into the task.

I still have to pound in landscape edgers and trim the landscape fabric, but that should be a lot quicker than moving all the rocks. There are two other areas of rocks around the front and back, but I wanted to get this one done first since we are planning on planting a few pumpkin hills at the edge of the rocks and let the vines wander around the rocks since our garden is going to be pretty small.

Bug and Bean had fun running around outside when Beeb napped. Bug also spent a fair amount of time looking at rocks and watching bugs and worms. We unearthed part of an ant colony that was using the poly as the roof for a couple of chambers.

The little white things were larva or eggs or something. We saw the ants hauling them around after we disturbed them.

I amused myself by looking at pretty rocks and playing in the dirt. Little known Kitty Mommy fact: I have the ability to describe soil in excruciating detail. Even though this stuff was under poly and rocks, it was nice and dark topsoil. So I am optimistic that our garden will have some nice topsoil, if it ever gets dug...

04 May 2009

Want some pot?

Oops. I mean pots. Pots. You know, for planting seeds. One of the conference session was making seed pots from used paper. We made four Dixie cup sized pots in the session, but only three made it home (one got kind of smooshed).

Aside for the tomato saga:
We planted tomato seeds in March to get ready for the garden. We used the store-bought peat pods and had them in the kitchen. They went from seeds to seedlings with two leaves about two inches tall quite rapidly, but then just stayed there. They were also pretty pale, so the problem seemed to be not enough light. So after we harvested seeds from our FastPlants last week, I immediately re-purposed the bottle-pots and light box for tomotoes. I decided to start from scratch rather than further abuse the spindly little seedling. By the time we got home from Oshkosh, many of the seeds had sprouted and are a bright, healthy-looking green, so they will need to be separated soon so we don't end up with one big mass of roots! So we need pots. Back to the actual blog entry...
So, as I said, we need pots. So last night I decided that we could make some more paper pots. The session leader did a brief explanation and then we got to observe parts of the process (not necessarily in order), so what follows is my take on making paper seed pots.

Last night I pulled some shredded paper from the recycle bin under the paper shredder and and covered it with water and left it to soak. The very elegant bucket is a repurposed empty kitty litter bucket.

This morning I started the pots. First, I drained the water off the (now mushy) shredded paper. Then I added some water to the blender container and added a lump of mushy paper shreds (it's a technical term...deal with it). I had to experiment a bit with how much water and how much mush. Too much of both and it slops up the sides and leaks out around the lid. Too much mush and the blades make an air bubble and whir around in nothing so you have to stop and start to get it smooth. I found I could get a bit more in the blender if I started at a slow speed and then jumped to faster speeds.

Blended pulp. Mmmm...yummy!

I poured it into a strainer and shook and tapped it to get as much water out as I could. I also squeezed a little more water out with my hands. If there is too much water it doesn't hold its shape and takes forever to dry. If I squeezed out too much water, it didn't want to mold nicely. So I left it fairly wet and squeezed more water out as I pressed it into the "mold." For the conference session, we used Dixie cups. Today I used yogurt containers rescued from the recycle bin. The bottom of a milk carton or jug would work, too, for bigger pots.

I just kept smooshing in more pulp like play dough until the inside was covered evenly. Then I smooshed out as much water as I could and put them out in the sun to dry. The Dixie cup ones from Saturday weren't completely dry, but they were dry enough to pop out of the cups and I think they will finish drying in the sun quickly. I'll leave the new ones until enough water has drained/evaporated so they aren't mushy and then pop them out of the cups to finish drying.

Here is one of the cups from Saturday. I think the last bit of dampness will be gone after being in the sun today and it will be ready for seeds or seedlings! Then when it's time to go out in the garden, the cup can just be planted directly into the soil, where it will degrade as the plant grows. For this reason, it's not a bad idea to think about how the donor paper has been treated. Newspaper made from post-consumer waste with soy ink is probably better than those shiny, multi-colored sale flyers and coupons, if ya know what I mean.

This has also gotten me thinking about trying out some paper-making with the kids. Yeah, I'm definitely an "ooo, shiny" kinda gal.

I'm also thinking that this will make a great dead-of-winter, no-sign-of-spring-in-sight project. We can start thinking about what seeds we'll want to plant and the resident artist can draw pictures on the pots so we'll remember what to plant where when the time comes.

The best part of the project is, for my cheapskate self, total project cost: $0

03 May 2009

Oshkosh B'Gosh

Whee! We just sailed back into town after two nights in Oshkosh. We left Friday noon for the WPA's annual homeschooling conference. The conference started Friday evening and ran all day Saturday. Kitty Daddy and I traded off kid duty, so we each got to attend some of the sessions. Daddy made it to three and I went to two. Bug and Bean (with either Mommy or Daddy and sometimes Beeb) went to sessions on making seed starter pots from newspaper, a fun and games session, a stories and games session, a paper airplane making session, and a flat traveler session (more about that last one at some point...). We stayed in the conference center (which apparently was a dorm in a previous life), so the kids got to try out dorm living and Kitty Daddy and I got to relive our undergrad days and two nights was quite enough of that! I much prefer being a grown-up! I do believe that everyone had a fabulous time. Bug didn't want to go ("I'm so shy about conferences"), but now he can't wait to go back next year.

Although the conference was over by suppertime on Saturday, we opted to stay over a second night and see a little of Oshkosh. We got to go swimming on Saturday night and we spent Sunday morning at the Oshkosh Community Playground and the Oshkosh Zoo, both of which are part of Menominee Park right on Lake Winnebago. The playground was one of the biggest and nicest I have seen. We got the Beeb seal of approval:

(Why yes, those are Oshkosh overalls he's wearing!) and the Bean seal of approval:

and the Bug seal of approval, but that one was moving and climbing too fast to capture with a camera. Well, that and I was pushing Beeb on the swing most of the time we were there!

The play structures were just too cool. There was the standard towers and stairs and climbing and playing things that we've seen at other dream parks (like McKee Farms Park, where we used to play a lot), but a few of the things that really caught my eye included a castle:

See the arrow loop for shooting arrows out off? See the keystones on the two arches?

There was also a very cool airplane:

And, my favorite by far:

The first time I walked by (before I had dug out my camera) there was a kid peeking out of the mouth. Bug got eaten too, but I was pushing Beeb on the swing. I didn't look closely enough, but Bug and Bean tell me that you can look out through the eyes (maybe a telescope or periscope?)