Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The end is in sight

Last year by now I had been done working on blog books for three weeks already. I had a little motivation called a baby on the way. :) This year I still have one more book to complete before I can take my summer break. It has been a looooooonnnnngggg month. Very very long. I have about three hours each night work - three hours that I'd much rather be doing 10 other things. Don't get me wrong - I love my job, but in the camping season I always end up feeling pulled in way too many different directions to fully enjoy the process of turning a blog into a book. I used to be able to stay up until one or two in the morning and get a ton done, but with Elsa getting up 1-2 times a night - I am nodding off by 11:30. I'm up by 5:45 every day just so I can fit everything into each day. We are going on vacation soon and I'm determined to be DONE with work by the time we leave. That means in less than two weeks I have to: Finish editing one 228 page blog book. Start and finish an 80 post blog book. Present a campfire cooking program. Put together 2 Saturday morning kids' programs. Print and send Elsa's birthday party invites. Celebrate Elsa's birthday. Buy fabric & sew two bonnets for our vacation so the girls don't wreck their 'good' ones. Pack for a camping trip and five hour car ride. Finish Elsa's baby book so it arrives in time for her party. All of this is on top of all the regular things that go on in BearCountry like staff meetings, t-ball, baseball, grocery shopping, exercising, cleaning, and the most important thing of all- being there for my kids. Somehow it will all get done. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Train your pumpkins in the way they should go

and you'll avoid tangled and messy vines in July. You'll also avoid this unfortunate detour if you don't have a trellis too close to your pumpkins.

I put twice the recommended number of pumpkins in my straw bales. (2 plants instead of 1 plant) I get away with this by coaxing the vines to stagger which side of the bale they trail down. It also helps that the plants that have vines are on the extended side of bales. For a full view of how I configure my straw bale garden so I can get 54 plants in 17 bales click here.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Elsa Louise at 50 weeks

FIFTY! Can you believe it?!? I'm surprised it took this long for Elsa to start taking her diaper off! Granted when she has clothes on it's not an issue.

What IS an issue is her putting

Oh my. It's terrible. I sweep and sweep and sweep and it's never enough. She choked on a foil wrapper on Sunday the 10th - so so so scary! She was right there with me but she was drooling and every once in a while would gag. It was the drool that tipped me off that something wasn't right. It was so far back in her mouth that I really had to dig for it. It took us both a while to recover and stop crying.

Moving on to a much happier moment....her first sign. NURSE* It was Monday the 11th and I was so excited because I've been signing for MONTHS with no response. Two days later she signed MORE when she was eating dinner. She also has started pointing at things and "reading" books. She squeals and points, squeals and points. Then she hands me the book so I can read a page before she grabs it back to squeal and point.

Another 'fun' activity she enjoys is putting things in and then taking them right back out. Classic.

This is also classic Elsa. The cutest scrunched up face you ever did see!

*NURSE - we improve and use the sign for 'milk' since that's what she's getting and it will be a while before she has milk in a cup anyway.

lost & found

Two years ago a camper lost his wedding ring in our campground. Last weekend a ring was found and turned in. When I heard about it I immediately thought of the man I had spoken with in 2010. My brain has this crazy way of remembering names sometimes so I knew exactly what name to look up in our reservation system. I called and left him a voice mail. He returned my call when I wasn't on duty so I didn't get to hear the surprise in his voice when our camp host described the ring to him and he realized it was his ring.

His wedding band that had been lost in our grassy campground for TWO YEARS.


Have you ever lost something only to find it much later?

Do share!


Friday, June 15, 2012

A year later

I don't have a good picture of Julia's hair today, a year after the big hair cut but I wanted to get what I had posted so we can look back on how much it's grown. I loved her hair short, but I think it will probably be another year before we cut it again. 

Which way do YOU like it? Short or Long?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Summer Sunset

Elsa Louise at 49 Weeks

Elsa is looking and feeling much better this week. I ended up taking her in on Monday morning since her whole body became covered in spots - not just her diaper area. I wasn't surprised when the doc said it was hand foot and mouth disease. She had a few blisters on her feet and hands by this point so I was pretty sure that's what she had. The bad news is there isn't anything they can do for her except Tylenol and the good news is that she was long past contagious  and would be on the mend soon. (sorry zoo visitors! I had no idea when we went on Friday because the spots only were in her diaper area and I assumed it was irritation from being hot and in cloth.) Lesson learned: Hand Foot and Mouth can show up other places long before any blisters appear on their hands foot or mouths. She never did run a fever but I kept her on Tylenol for a couple of days because the doc said she was probably really achy. No wonder she wasn't sleeping!!!

This is the face of a little girl who slept through the night Monday night from about 8:30 until 6:30!
It's also the face of a little girl who learned how to play peek-a-boo.
The side view of a little girl who's about had it with the basket. She is e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e these days! Nothing is safe. I'm sweeping and vacuuming constantly because she puts everything in her mouth.

We are a few short weeks away from the big first birthday/golden birthday and I think I'm in denial. We aren't having a party until the 3rd full weekend in July because I want to enjoy her birthday and not be in party planning mode on the 1st. It's all about you Elsa. The love you have brought into our home. The giggles you share so freely now. Your birthday is about cherishing the past year we've spent getting to know you. We love you baby girl!

Elsa Louise at 48 weeks

Elsa's 48th week brought many sleepless nights. She pretty much looked like these photos much of the week in the evenings. I did to for that matter since she was awake every hour of every night. Thursday was the last day of school though and we had plans to go to the zoo on Friday. She did great and it was a fun way to start our summer, celebrate finishing another work project as well as Elsa's 11 month birthday. I was concerned about a diaper rash and began my search to see if it could be yeast.
Please don't be yeast. I've heard such horror stories about cloth diapers and yeast.

Berry Sweet

Yesterday we woke to cool temps (53 degrees!) and blue skies so I quickly got the diaper bag packed and off we went to Apple Jack's Orchard. I've heard nothing but good things about Apple Jack's so I was excited to check it out. We weren't the only ones who thought it would be a good day to pick strawberries because when we got there at 8:45 there were already 20 other cars in the lot.

I've never picked strawberries before so we got the scoop from the nice people who work there and off we went. Sam was a champion picker, Julia did really well too, and Elsa helped by being our taste tester.

Eventually I had to stop picking and sit with Elsa while the other two picked. I offered to pick while they sat with Elsa but they were both very determined to pick as many as they could.  All their hard work paid off because we came home with over 10 pounds of strawberries.

We enjoyed some on ice cream and then the rest were set aside for making jam. I found a no pectin recipe online and got to work. We had just the right amount for a double batch.

I doubled the recipe from the beginning so I didn't have to stand over the stove any longer than necessary. It can take hours and hours if you don't have the right size pot for large batches. Don't get me still took a long time.  But in the end it was worth it. We have 24 jars of the best tasting strawberry jelly in our pantry and a few left over to make strawberry syrup for Father's Day breakfast. ('s a secret!)

Elsa was so content to sit and read books in the kitchen with me while I worked. It was berry sweet!

Do you pick strawberries every summer? Do you have a favorite strawberry recipe you'd like to share?  I hope to get back to pick at least another 10 pounds soon! (If you happen to be local check their website and call ahead - I noticed when I was writing this post tonight that they are going to close tomorrow to let more berries ripen.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

A middle ground

 Now that school is out and the weather in BearCountry has been pretty decent we've been spending much of our time outdoors being active in some way. Today that meant a bike ride on a nearby trail. So far I'm really enjoying spending our mornings at home and then venturing out after Elsa wakes from her nap. It's cheaper to eat lunch at home instead of out and about and after nine months of packing Sam's lunches I appreciate the options I have when I can use my stove and my oven. Sam NEVER took hot lunch in Kindergarten but he did take it occassionally in first grade if he liked what they were serving.

I admit that as easy as it was to send $2 with him in the morning I felt guilty doing it. I much preferred knowing what was in the food he was eating and that it was up to my standards of healthy.  But....I can't control his food options all of the time and I want him to enjoy his lunches so we tried to find a middle ground. That is why when Foster Farms contacted me about reviewing their 100% Whole Grain Chicken Corn Dogs I enthusiastically said yes. Corn dogs are a hit with my kids and if I can provide them with ones that aren't nearly as bad for you as the traditional ones, I'm all for it.  Foster Farms is hoping that schools around the country who are working towards a more healthy lunch menu will consider their products as an alternative to children who are rejecting the new school lunch menus entirely by skipping lunch or by wasting food by leaving much of the healthy options uneaten. 

I wish I had a picture of my kid's faces when I told them dinner would be coming in the mail that day. Hello dry ice! The better picture would have been their faces when I told them we were having corn dogs. I baked them on my Pampered Chef jelly roll pan and they came out nice and crispy. They looked just like a regular corn dog. The kids (im)patiently waited for me to take the first bite, snap a quick photo, and pass them out.

I watched their reaction closely because I really wanted to put this product to the test and see if Sam and Julia could tell the difference. They looked exactly the same, but did they taste the same? 

The kids never said a word - except to ask for a second one. I guess that means they passed the test! Now I know there's a product that we can bring into our home that they will think is a special treat and I will know that they are the healthiest version available. That's a pretty happy (and tasty) middle ground if you ask me!

Do you pack your children's lunches or do they eat school lunch?What is your children's favorite thing on the lunch menu? Have you noticed any changes in the menus/options over the years?

Disclosure: I was sent a package of corn dogs by Foster Farms for review. The opinions expressed are mine.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer Chores

Our summer is off to a great start. Nice weather has something to do with that but I think one of the biggest thing is that I'm not running to town 2-5 times a DAY playing chauffeur. The thing I feared the most is turning out to be my favorite part of vacation so far. Having Sam at home all day. Yes, I said I feared that. Not because of him, but the combination of him and his sister. From the moment I would pick Sam up from school the two of them would start going at it. How was I going to deal with that all.summer.long?  But here's the thing. They are doing great. There have only been three times when I've had to send them in opposite directions so I could think straight. As I type this they are playing quietly TOGETHER in the playroom.  This is why: Sam was giving his best at school and was completely worn out by the end of the day. He didn't have the energy to be at his best any more. Now that he can sleep later (not that I EVER had to wake him in the four years he's been getting up for school) and he can come downstairs whenever he's done listening to some of his books on CD. This week it's been an after eight every morning before he ventures down in search of breakfast.

I am so relieved that things are going well but they could always take a turn for the worse. They are eventually going to get sick of each other and me for that matter. I want to ensure we have some structure to our days so we can make the most of the next 90 days. How are we going to do that?

I've been thinking about how to revamp our chore chart because in its last modification and in the busyness of the last month of school we've gotten out of the habit. I did some research online for ideas specific to how to make chores in the summer work best and this post sums up a lot of what I had already been thinking.

We will work on chores in the morning and have our afternoons free for fun. At least that's what we're going to try for now. Blazing hot days might change that, but if we can stay on top of things and do a little each day I'm hopeful that everything won't fall apart if we venture out on a morning or two a week.

The other thing that I'm trying (as I type this) is to let the kids decide when they do their chores. I've given them their jobs for today (pick up a certain section of the playroom, tidy their rooms, pick up their things in the hallway, and write in their journals). They know I expect these things to be done by noon. It is so freeing to not be nagging nagging nagging. My expectations are clear and so far so good. They kept playing when I gave them their chores, but then without being told they did the first thing on their list before returning to their dinosaur game. 

A lot of our day hinges on Elsa's naps - or nap as I try to time it so I have some down time to do my chores, some time with the older ones without her grabbing everything, and staying on schedule with our planned activities.  Today that includes playgroup, swimming lessons, and an outdoor concert.

Do you change your children's responsibilities in the summer months?  I'd love to hear how you structure your days...I don't know about you, but I find learning about other how other families operate fascinating! You can leave a comment or if you decide to write it out as a separate post, please let me know.

Have a safe and happy summer friends!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus

We did it. We saw Venus in front of the sun and have the picture to prove it. See that little black dot below the black band from the tv? That's Venus. This event won't happen again until December of 2117. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we'd be silly to miss out on considering the observatory is a four minute walk from our house.

We waited in line for one of the observatory telescopes but afterwards we were able to look through lots of others that people had brought and set up in front of the observatory.

Now we can check that off our summer bucket list!

Did you see the transit? If you are local and interested in learning more about our observatory let me know. We have one of the best telescopes in the country that is available for the public!

Monday, June 4, 2012

So far So good

Since last Thursday when school got out for the summer we have managed to pack in a lot of fun in less than a week. Thursday PapaBear and Sam went to a local baseball game. Now that we've lived here four years we are finally starting to get to know some of the families that the kids go to school with. Sam spent much of the time shagging fowl balls or playing on the playground with his friends. Friday we went to the zoo. We could have easily spent another three hours there but I needed to get home to help check in campers.

Saturday morning the kids helped me with a pond life program we put on for the campers and then that afternoon we had friends over for a campfire. I introduced the instructor for the evening program later that night so all the kids came over to the amphitheater for that. Coffee Ground Fossil Prints were a big hit with everyone!
The kids and I slept in the tent that night or attempted to sleep that is. Elsa was not having it and I gave up around 3am. The older ones did great and were so understanding of all the noise Elsa was making.

Today we had to buckle down and get the house picked up. It was getting dangerous for Elsa to be on the floor because of all the things she could get into. The kids worked hard to make their rooms safe again for their baby sister while Elsa took a much needed 3 1/2 hour nap. (She has hand foot and mouth disease and has hardly slept in a week.) We didn't get the house perfect, but I was so pleased with our progress and knew that enough was enough so we packed a picnic and went to the park near our library. We worked on our summer bucket list while we ate. Then after a long game of hide and seek with some other kids who were there at the time we went to check out new books and sign up for the summer reading program. We didn't get home until almost 5:00 so I made a smoothies for dinner so the kids could swing in the hammocks while I watered the garden. By the time we were done it was baseball time. Two (hot) hours later I brought tired dusty kids home for showers and bedtimes. But then I saw how calm the lake was when we pulled into the driveway. Fifteen minutes later I was waving goodbye to Sam and PapaBear as they pulled out of the driveway with our 17 foot Old Towne strapped to the top of our car. Elsa had fallen asleep in the car so I carefully transferred her to her crib before Julia and I showered and crawled into her bed with a stack of library books. Simple things like reading as late as we want, with no regard for bedtimes, with no need to rush off in the morning for anything...these are the moments that make summer vacation so special. These are the moments I want to savor and focus on. Julia ended up falling asleep while I was nursing Elsa who had woken up during our fourth book, but soon after Sam and Daddy returned with tales of crappies and Rapelas. I had some one on one time with Sam after his shower and then sent him off to bed. Tomorrow we will tackle another layer of cleaning but at our own pace. There is not a single thing on the calendar and no reason to leave the house except to venture the 15 yards to the hammocks in the front yard.

We'll finalize our summer bucket list by writing on the clothepins and hopefully come up with some sort of 'schedule' or wish list that will provide some semblance of order to our days. I'm all about relaxing and slowing down, but I also don't want to look back on the summer and wonder where it went.  I know I won't be able to document it like I have in the past.

I would love to hear how you structure your days in the summer and how you balance housework with fun things. I really struggle with keeping up with housework if we are on the go even a couple of days a week. Is it better to have a whole day at home to catch up on everything or to always spend the morning at home whenever possible? I also have Elsa's naps to consider...lots to figure out, but so so good!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Memories of Memorial Day

Our 11 year wedding anniversary fell on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa babysitting we were able to spend Sunday, just the two of us. We had a lovely day together. We went out to eat twice, we looked over the brochures PapaBear had sent to give me as a way of surprising me with a trip to Voyageurs National Park where we met 14 years ago this week, and wandered through a pet store.

The next morning we took the kids swimming at the hotel & then walked up to the parade and program that follows. The parade is nothing to write home about but the speeches, music, and tributes afterwards make it worth it. It's the least we can do! Later that day we had family over for a fish fry. To top off a fun filled weekend, I went out to eat with my girlfriends, Aubrey, Alyssa, & Hilary.

How did you celebrate Memorial Day?

How to Make the Most of Your Straw Bale Garden

It's been a while since I've done a straw bale gardening post. I get emails from time to time and I always reply to comments left on old posts, but those don't show up on my blog so I thought I'd take a few minutes and document some of the common questions and comments I get on straw bale gardening.

As always feel free to leave any additional questions in the comment section and I'll do my best to help you out!

First up...

How many plants can I put in each bale?
I have pushed the limit many times with the number of plants. Except for not having the room I needed to move around in my garden, I've been able to get away with putting more plants in that I was taught to do.

Here is a visual of how I get 54 plants in my 17 bales:

As you can see I use the sides of the bales sometimes and even the edges depending on what the plant is. One year I grew zucchini out of the sides of the bales. I couldn't give them away fast enough they grew so fast.

Another visual on how to layout a garden can be found here.

I see you use wire instead of tomato cages. Why is that?
Tomato cages don't stay standing by the end of the season when the bales are starting to sag from decomposition.  Concrete reinforcement wire is cheaper (6 feet is enough for 4 plants and only costs $7 instead of $10 for one tomato cage)

It's taken me a few years to figure out the art of installing the wire. Here is what I've learned:
1) Don't install the fencing until your bales are conditioned (It only gets in the way)
2) Put the wire just off of center so you can put your plants in the center and still be able to tie the plant to the wire. (Target dollar aisle has rubber coated wire that works really well for this.)

3) Zip-ties work really well for attaching the wire to the posts.
4) Smaller pieces of wire can be used instead of stakes for peppers. (see end bales in first photo). I simply cut it to allow part of it to poke into the bales & support itself.

How many fence posts do I need? 
I have found that when it comes to holding the wire up that serves as my trellis for tomatoes that I need a post at least every four bales to keep it sturdy. If I don't have a need for a trellis I can get away with no posts. The way I have things grouped this year I have a four bale section that isn't staked on  one end and it's doing just fine.

Does it matter which side of the bales to face up?
I have always positioned my bales so the cut side (the side that looks like drinking straws) is facing up because that is what I was taught. This year I did a little of both just to see if it mattered. It doesn't. It was just as easy to pry the bales apart for planting and the watering is just as easy.

You call your conditioning method organic but do you know what Melorganite really is?
Concern noted. At the time I felt that their product was better than chemical fertilizers because per the website, "Organic nutrients are "stored" in complex organic molecules until soil microorganisms break them down and "release" the nutrients for plant use. Regular synthetic fertilizers are chemical-based and need to be watered in."

In an effort to make sure I'm using the very best products to grow our food I experimented with Blood Meal as my only nitrogen source in two of my tomato bales.  I used 1/2 cup per bale on the days I was suppose to apply the 34-0-0. I'm happy to report that those plants are keeping up with the others so next year I'm going to take the plunge and only use blood meal since it is allowed in certified organic gardens.

If you have any other questions please leave them in the comments and I'll answer them in another post.

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Beginner Knit Hat Pattern

I've been asked so many times if there is a pattern for the hats I make,  but I was too busy filling Christmas orders...