Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We're going to plant a garden in straw bales again.

I was remiss in sharing the final photographs of our straw bale garden from 2009. I found these photos in a draft from last October. oops. Must have been the bronchitis, the end of the camping season, a plethora of birthdays, and the 1,000 blog book pages on my plate that had me distracted.....

I think the photos speak for themselves....our experimental garden was a success! I'm much less nervous about gardening in straw bales this year. In fact, we're going to make it bigger than 11 bales - I want to add at least 6 more bales.

If you are interested in reading about our unique garden I've created a tab in my link bar that will show the ten posts I wrote on the subject. Be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page first so you can read them in order. You'll be able to see the plants grow before your eyes! If you have any questions on how you too can grow vegetables in straw bales leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them. If I can do this, anyone can!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

{not that kind of} March Madness

* This was the first March in BearCountry history that it didn't snow. We're known for our March snowstorms (you can experience a record breaker here) and even a few April ones.

* Almost all of our snow cover melted in a single week.

* Instead of heading upstairs to finish getting ready for bed at 7 o'clock Julia and I took a walk on the boardwalk. She's never been one to walk very far without wanting to be carried. She's proved this month that she's a changed girl. Did I mention she already had her PJ's on?

* I completed the biggest blog book project that I've ever worked on. 440 pages but less than 150 photographs. It took me months to complete because the blog wasn't compatible with Booksmart.

* I haven't recognized anyone on the cover of magazines in the check out line in lately as a result of not having regular TV for almost a year.

* Sam has taken to falling asleep on his floor instead of his bed. His head ends up right by his door so we can barely reach in to turn the light off.

* I dressed my kids in matching shirts on St. Patrick's Day

Any March madness in your life you want to share?

i heart faces - dramatic B & W

The i heart faces challenge for this week is "Dramatic Black & White" This image was the first one that popped into my head. I love the moment shared between the couple and all the emotion and drama that is created by the wind in her hair, the angle that makes us wonder what expression is on his face, and the backlighting.

To see more from this week's challenge click on the logo below:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

3 in 1

Part of our Beth Moore homework this week was to get up at dawn and read and reflect on three passages.

Genesis 8:22
As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter,
day and night will never cease."

Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Psalm 30:5
For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

I got the biggest smile on my face when I saw the sun spots created by taking a photo directly into the sun as I was completing my quiet time that morning. You see, we are studying the fruit of the Spirit.

Three spots of light

Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

As we prepare to enter Holy week I am more aware of the Holy Spirit interceding on my behalf than ever before. Each day I am pouring out my thoughts, desires, confessions, dreams through prayer so that there is room in my heart for the Holy Spirit to pour in and fill me up with Christ's teachings and His love.

The result? I am able to pour forth (2 Corinthians 3:5-6 5Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.)

Dear Lord, thank you that your mercies are new every morning. Thank you that the Spirit of the Living God intercedes on our behalf. May we never forget the price your Son paid in order to conquer to grave.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How to make maple syrup

Want to learn how maple syrup is made? Then follow Julia to the sugar bush. Our almost three and a half year old is turning into quite the little hiker these days.

On the hike we'll talk about signs of Spring and before long we'll spy the red buckets that dot the low spot on the Prairie Trail where the trees have been tapped this season.

Tapping maple trees only takes about 10% of the tree's sap and can be done year after year in healthy trees.

What trees should you pick?
They should be at least 40 years old and 18-24 inches in diameter

How much sap can you get from one tree in a season? It varies, from 10-20 gallons.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's go back to where it all starts...the previous year. When the botany terms I haven't thought of since college come back to me like...

Photosynthesis (the process of converting light energy to chemical energy and storing it in the bonds of sugar)

And Chlorophyll (the molecule that absorbs the sunlight and
turns into a sugar (sap), otherwise known the plant's fuel that then travels through the veins in the leaves.)

In the Fall when the trees are dropping their leaves and preparing for winter, the sugar (sap) travels deep down into the tree's roots until the Spring thaw gets it moving again.

We watch patiently for signs of when the sap is ready to start flowing.
1) the temperature gets above freezing during the day, but dips below freezing at night (anytime the temp is above freezing for more than 36 hours in a row the flow stops)

2) When the woodpeckers start pecking at the trees. Why you ask? Because when the sap starts flowing, it awakens the bugs that were hibernating behind the bark all winter. Woodpeckers can hear them moving. Pretty amazing don't you think?

I'm sure there are other ways to tell when the sap is about to run, but these are the two I know of.

This year the sap started to run on March 19th. It will be interesting to track the variation in start times in our Nature 365 Journal.

To collect the sap a small hole is drilled into the tree in order to collect the sap using a five gallon bucket and some special tubing that comes from a supply company that our park orders from. A lid is secured on top to keep out debris and to deter animals.

On the evening we hiked to the sugar bush the buckets were 1/3 of the way full. I'm pretty sure they had been emptied in the morning.

See how clear the sap is? It looks and tastes pretty much like water.
That's because it is mostly water. It's only 3% sugar.

By the time it's made into syrup it will be 66% sugar. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

While we're out in the sugar bush I like to tell the story of how the Native Americans discovered maple syrup. The story goes that a warrior got up one morning, retreived his hatchet from the tree he had stuck it into the night before and left a gash in the tree. He went on his merry way and all morning and afternoon sap dripped out of the tree into a birchbark basket that happened to be positioned below. A woman saw what she thought was water in the basket and added it to their evening meal. When the warrior asked what made the stew so sweet they figured out that it wasn't water she had added but sap from the tree that had cooked down over the fire all day, getting sweeter by the hour.

Speaking of sweet, our little tour guide is ready to take everyone back to the syrup shack and see how we cook sap the modern way. Strap on your pack and follow Julia....

Aaaaaaaaand....we're back....
(If only the kids hiked that fast in real life!)

At the Syrup Shack the sap is transferred from the Gator tank back into five gallon buckets.

When this photo was taken on March 20th there wasn't a whole lot of sap yet...especially compared to last year.

Inside the shack is an evaporator where the sap is poured to begin the cooking process. This evaporator is fueled by wood. The sap cooks for hours and hours (18+ usually) before it is transferred to a finishing pan that is propane so the temperature can be more precise.

This is the point that I like to point out just how much sap it takes to make syrup. See that five gallon bucket? It will yield 2 ounces of syrup. Now you know why you pay $9 for a bottle of real maple syrup!

Sap is cooked to about 219 degrees...usually. Air pressure will affect when water boils so a barameter is used to make sure the syrup is cooked correctly.

The final test of whether the syrup is cooked enough is to test its density. This is done using a hydrometer. A little syrup is scooped into this metal tube (there are two red lines on the hydrometer that the edge of the tube should fall in the middle of.) If the hydrometer sinks too low it means that the syrup is too thin and could ferment also the sugar content isn't high enough so the syrup won't taste as good.

If the hydrometer floats too high then it means that the syrup is too thick and it will chrystalize. I think you can solve this problem by transferring some syrup from the evaporating pan, but I'm not certain. We are not involved in the actual production - only the education side of it.

When the syrup is at the proper temperature it is run through a filter (think giant coffee filter) to remove debris. A canner is used to preserve the syrup safely and then it is poured into the little bottles you can see here.

Time will tell how long our season lasts this year since it started a little later than usual. There are some years when the trees don't share any of their sap. If it warms up too fast and never gets below freezing again, then the buds will come out on the tree and the window on syruping is closed. Syrup made after the buds appear tastes like burnt bacon. So I'm told.

And that folks is the last drop of knowledge I have on how to make maple syrup!

What happens when you give hammers to children. - ANSWERED

Earlier in the week I asked if anyone could tell what was going on in the first picture. There were lots of good guesses, but nobody hit the nail on the head. The kids weren't hitting nails either...they were continuing the tradition that I linked to in this post last year. Here is the demo from this year:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alphabitty Moments - The letter U

Welcome to 21st edition of Alphabitty Moments! The letter U gave me trouble this week so I threw it out there on twitter and low and behold I got lots of great suggestions. (Thanks everyone!) As soon as I saw "UP" I knew that I wanted to capture the time in Julia's life when she asked to be picked up. She'll be too big to carry someday and I want to remember these days of being little. I filed a few ideas away for other U words. I now have two extra U words that fit for Julia and one for Sam. Wahoo!

This is by no means the layout I would have chosen for this picture though and only serves as a reminder to myself that it's worth the extra cost to include more pages in a book so that each letter can have it's own layout. The font is fine for the T-Rex side, but it doesn't fit the UP side at all. Live and learn I guess. We're getting to the end of the alphabet and that means a fresh start with the letter A in a little over a month. Are you planning to join in next time around? If you are going to be using a bookmaking company, which one? I'm ready for something new now that I know that without a doubt that the traditional look of scrapbooking is not my strong suit.

Don't forget to link up your U word for the week - scrapbook page or not!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The calm before the storm camping season

We're making the most of it with evenings filled with baseball, hammock swinging, kite flying, soccer, and outside story time.

These photos (all from Monday night) are courtesy of my camera phone and I'm totally OK with that. No fancy camera to worry about and more time in the moment with the kids. I brought my good camera out for our hour hike tonight, but that's a whole 'nother post for another time.....

Our Responsibility Chart

We've implimented a new responsibility chart in our house that is just as much for PapaBear and I as it is for the cubs. It isn't fancy and the reward is very simple. A penny for each sticker they earn. We are trying instill good habits and a sense of accomplishment in doing things for themselves. We've been at it about a week now and the kid's {loudly} announce before bedtime that it's time to PUT ON THEIR STICKERS!!!! Here's our list:

Pick up room
Make bed
Pick up playroom
brush teeth A.M.
brush teeth P.M.
pick up downstairs
read Bible
stay dry at nap (Julia only)
stay dry at bedtime (Julia only)
stay in room (Sam only)
sleep in bed (Sam only)

They get a special jar for putting their pennies in, separate from their three allowance jars. They love counting their money each night and I love the opportunity to ask them questions about their day and ask them how it feels to accomplish their goals.

* schoolwork in our house means anything that is educational focused. I am well aware of the benefit of incorporating learning into every day activities, but we are also trying to be more intentional in preparing the kids for school. We keep it fun and we keep it short (only one activity in a day unless they ask to do another).

Here are some of the 'schoolwork' activities we do:
We have a few workbooks that the kids complete a few pages in.
We sit around our globe in the library and look up the locations they pick off of their geography cards.
We read through our Usborne Telling Time Flashcards.
Playing with the calculator on my phone.

A new school work activity we'll be adding to our routine is a game that helps with math (something Sam is VERY interested in right now). When I was contacted by the promotion team at CSN Stores about doing a review of one of their products I was very excited to find the Piece of Pizza game on one of their 200+ online stores. Most everyone has done some shopping online by now and I have to say CSN's websites were very user friendly. I loved how I could narrow down my search by price range, type of item, style, brand, and even how quickly I needed it shipped. Sometimes too many choices can be a bad thing, but the Toys and Games Online site made it a piece of pizza in this case.

While the point of visiting their site was to blog about it and pick a product to review, I have to say that I'll be going back on my own to their kids furniture to shop for bedding for Julia's room soon. She's really close to being ready for a twin bed and I want to find the perfect bedding for her. The "Narrow Your Search" option on the left hand side is going to make it a breeze! Now if only if getting her to stay in her bed will be that easy!

Hopefully the responsibility chart will be old hat for her by then that the simple joy of getting a sticker and a penny for staying in bed will be enough!

Do you use a responsibility chart? What kinds of things are on your chart? Are there other educational activities that you are being intentional about doing as often as you can?

Do share!

Oh, and to satisfy the legal folks who want to know: I will be receiving compensation for writing this post in the form of a Piece of Pizza game and my readers will be given the opportunity to enter to win one as a part of the product review post compliments of CNS Stores.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mommy & Me Monday - The Silver Lining Addition

Silver lining? Where do you find that in a picture of my son and I in the Emergency room?

The silver lining in having pneumonia is that everything else was put on hold and nothing else mattered but getting him well. I slept in his room for 4 nights and we had some great heart to heart talks during our snuggle time and while we waited in the ER. This picture of him holding my hand is the first time he was able to rest peacefully in 24 hours despite his racing heart. To read the pneumonia play by play click here and to read more Mommy & Me posts click on the badge below.

Mommy and Me Monday at Really, Are You Serious?
Hosted by Krystyn

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alphabitty Moments - The letter T

Welcome to Alphabitty Moments where once a week we post a picture (scrapbooking not required) that goes with the letter of the week. The goal is to think of a word that captures the essence of the "little things". I know we are nearing the end of the alphabet but don't let that discourage you from jumping on board. I plan to keep cycling through the alphabet throughout my children's entire childhood, God willing.

If you wait, then there might be moments that are missed. Granted for this week's letter, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight for my kid's obsession with dinosaurs. It has been over a year of dinosaur mania. Julia does pretend to be other animals quite often, but when she decides to join in on a dinosaur hunt, chances are that she'll chose to be a T-Rex.

These pictures capture everything that embodies being a T-Rex. The facial expression, the stomping across the yard (or living room, or bedroom, or playroom, or kitchen, or library, or dining room), and the requisite 2 claws. They are very very important. Don't ask me why, but it is.

Back in the saddle again

After taking the winter off from regular photo shoots I'm back in the saddle again. It feels good.

Really, really good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

That was then, this is now

Update: I forgot to include the recent picture of Sam flying the kite today. I added it at the end with another of Julia. My how he's grown!

I am suppose to be working tonight, but I couldn't help but take some time to look through my blog archives to find old pictures of kite flying. We've had this same kite for years so there were bound to be a few.
(I blogged about the day we got it here.) We flew it in 2007, 2008, 2009 and again today. By complete coincidence Julia wore the same boots as she did last year.

But that was then, this is now:

I encourage you to look back at your archives. I bet you'll find a post or two that are along the same theme, but years apart. I'd love to read them if you do so leave me a comment directing me where to look so I can visit.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An Irish Blessing in Photographs

May the road rise to meet you

{Driving to California, March of 2006}

May the wind be always at your back

{Play Day for Sam's school, May 20, 2009}

May the sun shine warm upon your face

{Julia's 2nd birthday, October 2009}

The rains fall soft upon your fields

{November 2009}

And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

{Julia 11 days old with PapaBear}

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

School Spirit Beanie Crochet Pattern

Beat those winter blues and cold winds with this a FLEECE lined brimmed hat! It seems like everyone is wearing a beanie these days - me in...