The Birdhouse Gourd

May 16th, 2014 § 4 comments § permalink

DSC_1783Since a home is normally filled with prized possessions—cute smallish snuggly things—it makes sense to keep it nice and tidy and safe. Homes of birds are no exception. Bird nests are marvels of architecture—built with specific materials and meticulously maintained. Even a relatively simple nest is often elegantly constructed. A yellow warbler’s may have coarse twigs at the base, finer plant fibers and grasses intertwined with weeds and plant stems inside the open cup, and plant down and wool within the inner lining. A more intricate nest, such as that of the Baltimore oriole, may require actual plant fiber weaving or knot-tying to secure materials. Yes. Knot-tying.

Nosy NeighborsNest-building materials are species-specific—mud, silk, feathers, milkweed and cattail fluff, deer hair, lichen, spider silk, moss, twigs, leaves, petioles, roots, stones, flowers, seeds, ferns—each is carefully selected for unique nest-building tasks. For example, the great crested flycatcher often adds a piece of shed snakeskin to the nest to help deter predators or other intruders. Many species like hummingbirds use spider webs in their nests to make them pliable enough to expand as the nestlings grow within. Most birds are opportunistic builders, though, and will gladly integrate other items of similar size and texture into their nests.

Being a bird requires lots of work. Audubon’s unprecedented analysis of 40 years of bird population data reveals alarming declines for many of our most beloved birds. Since 1970, the population of some bird species has nose-dived as much as 80 percent. And so it’s vital to help out a backyard buddy or two as much as possible.

May is the perfect time to supply a safe spot for a nest—and a birdhouse gourd provides an ideal spot. If you are lucky enough to have grown birdhouse gourds in your garden last year, you have a garage full of dried gourds. If not, you can easily purchase an inexpensive one online right HERE. Below are instructions for how to make a simple birdhouse gourd. More projects just like this one can be found in my newly-released book. Get your hands on a copy right HERE.


 

THE BIRDHOUSE GOURD

Gourd MaterialsStep 1. Gather all materials outside and lay down several layers of newspaper as a work surface. Put on a dust mask. Use warm water and a wire brush or steel wool to remove any surface mold. Be gentle but firm. Clean off any residue with a moist paper towel. Air-dry overnight.

Step 2. Fold each sandpaper sheet into quarters. Use progressively finer grit sandpaper to get a smooth finish—coarse, then medium, then fine grit. Don’t attempt to remove every spot, just sand until the gourd surface is smooth.

DSC_1741Step 3. The size of the entrance will determine the inhabitant, so first determine the common birds in your backyard, and then consider potential tenants. Do some research on what size entrance hole your potential new neighbor would require. Wearing protective goggles, carefully carve a hole into the main cavity (slightly above the center of the gourd) with a drill and expansion bit. Position the entrance hole high enough to allow space for a roomy nest. And remember this: birds do not care if holes are perfectly round. They don’t.

DSC_1768Step 4. Remove the dried interior fiber and most of the seeds from the gourd, but be sure to leave a few seeds inside to attract potential boarders. Save extras in a labeled envelope for spring planting.

Step 5. Smooth out the rough edges of the entrance hole with coarse, medium, and then fine grit sandpaper.

Step 6. To reduce the risk of late-season mold, drill three ¼ inch drainage holes in the bottom of the gourd. Also, drill two ¼ inch holes on opposite sides near the gourd’s top for hanging.

Step 7. Buff the gourd with an old wool sweater scrap.

DSC_1716_2Step 8. If desired, apply red or brown shoe polish with a cotton ball. For a burnished appearance, rub wood preserver or beeswax onto the gourd with an old rag. Work in a circular motion.

Step 9. Let the gourd dry for several hours and buff it lightly with a dry rag.

Step 10. If desired, apply polyurethane to preserve the gourd. Use a paintbrush to apply an even coat. Let dry overnight.

Step 11. Feed cord or twine through the top holes—an old coat hanger helps push flexible cord through. Tie the ends of the cord together.
DSC_1854Step 12. In early April, hang your gourd home for backyard friends.

If you are lucky to see some birdhouse activity this spring or summer, watch from afar until several days after nest building concludes. To avoid nest abandonment, make a very brief nest inspection. Wait for the adults to leave, quietly approach the birdhouse, and take a peek inside. Make a quick observation of how many eggs or young are visible. Inspect the nest weekly to observe any changes, but do not go near the nest if the young are older. They may prematurely leap out of the nest and not return. In late fall, remove the existing nesting material and place the birdhouse in a safe place to dry for the winter. The gourd may require sprucing up after a few seasons—sanding, dying and polishing—but it should last for several years.


 

Gourd EntranceCavity-nesting birds come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from piliated woodpeckers and hooded mergansers to pygmy nuthatches, so it makes sense that different entrance hole diameters accommodate different bird species. Just a fraction of an inch smaller or larger invites unwanted guests inside like house sparrows or European starlings—both are aggressive exotic species that often outcompete native species.
As well, different habitats attract different bird species. For instance, since bluebirds prefer open field-like habitats, a “bluebird” house placed in a heavily wooded area is more likely to be used by a chickadee, titmouse. or flying squirrel. And any birdhouse mounted on a building will most likely be occupied by a house sparrow.
Do some research, observe the bird you’d like to attract and try to recreate the environment. Place your birdhouse in the correct habitat for the species you’d like to benefit. Like a prime piece of real estate, the success of your birdhouse depends upon the planning and thought you put into it.


A simple gift like a birdhouse gourd provides a silent strength to both the recipient and the gift-giver. You will soon find yourself looking for other ways to give. Do this: liberate your manicured living space—reduce the size of your lawn, leave some wild, untamed areas for shelter, plant native species, offer fresh water and nesting materials. “Give” to a small critter or two. Close the ecological gap between supply and demand. Your everyday careful, deliberate actions, no matter how small, will make a difference.

NestlingsGive creatively. Do more with less. Whatever your circumstances, time, or skills, you can have a positive influence on the world around you. The trick is to know what you can do and be willing to do it. Everyone has something to offer.

And, speaking of offers…. I have something to offer YOU. Don’t miss out on your chance to win a FREE copy of Ashley English’s newly-released “Handmade Gatherings”–check out my superamazing offer right HERE.

The Upcycled Book Box

October 26th, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

If you are a livestock farmer, much of your day is spent fixing barns and pens and flat tires, unloading feed trucks, and moving livestock from one pasture to another. If you are a high-rise maintenance worker, your workday starts as you rappel down 20 stories to wash away window goop in bone-numbing cold and unpredictable wind.  If you are a high altitude alpine guide, a typical day includes repairing a broken climbing harness, carrying 40 pounds of gear up a ravine, cooking Mexican refried beans over a small pellet stove, and restringing your ukulele.  If you are a kid, your job is to play.

Childhood is a short season.  There is just this small pocket of time when a person alone in a room can be easily lured into designing an escape tunnel for some kind of top secret mission to protect innocent from evil—to criss-cross the globe and actively battle, risking it all, for the betterment of humankind (or doll-kind, or stuffed animal-kind).  Given a collection of plastic crates, large empty cardboard boxes, an old telephone, a map, buttons, phone books, fabric scraps, fake train tickets and postcards, my small girls can easily overcome impossible odds to obtain godlike Supergirl powers and defeat massive magical beasts. In just an hour.

But, adventures can get messy.  And oftentimes during this frantic hour or so the entire fabric bin is overturned, fuzzy scraps are transported into the bathroom sink, the bottle of buttons rolls under the dining table and its contents mingle with last night’s fossilized cornbread bits and a discarded grime-encrusted strawberry, giant cardboard boxes are dismantled and transformed into slides with detachable cat-sized dirigibles, awkward costumes wind up on innocent furry passersby, and permanent cap-less Sharpies magically appear and threaten to deface the sofa.

I cannot pretend that this does not sometimes bother me.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when I am without much time or patience (which lately seems to be fairly often), things are better when they are completely flat—not things like baby bellies, tires, or lakes without wind—but things that are held in small busy hands.

My two girls make small flat things they call Paper Pets.  They never got fully into the doll thing, but these paper critters are really just like paper dolls and, in fact, they have very similar accessories, but without the bling.  These flat friends have beds, brushes, bows, collars and treats—and they are perfect for that quiet rainy afternoon when we have just an hour to pop them out and then tuck them away nicely.  For a long time, we kept them secured in an old manila folder, but just the other day we upgraded their home and then moved them in.

 

To complete this simple project, you will need the following:

An old hardcover book (8 x 10 in or larger, 300+ pp)

Mod Podge or watery glue (1 part glue to 2 parts water)

Paint brush

Utility knife

Ruler

Pencil

Plastic wrap

 

This requires an old hardcover book.  Choose it wisely.  Do not choose a book that your great aunt gave you for high school graduation.  Do not choose a handwritten copy of J.K. Rowling’s “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or an 1827 copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America.”  Do not choose a book that looks even slightly interesting, or one that you plan to someday reread.  You will not ever get to read this book again.

Open the book to the first page (or flyleaf).  Draw a line one inch from each edge of the first page (including the spine)—this will determine the interior dimensions of the box.  With the ruler as a guide, carefully cut along each line with a utility knife.  Apply enough pressure to cut several pages at a time.  After you cut through a large section of pages, you may need to turn these back to get farther along in the book.  Leave at least a few of the book’s last pages as a box “bottom.”  Again, open the book to the first page and inspect the cut edges.  Clean up all bits and pieces and rough edges with the utility knife.

With Mod Podge and brush, generously paint all book pages that follow the box “bottom” so they will stick together.  Make a cup of tea.  Close the book and sit on it for a few minutes to flatten.  Drink your tea.  Clip out a photo or magazine print to use as a decorative box bottom—use Mod Podge to seal.  Paint the book’s inside edges with Mod Podge, leaving the book’s exterior unpainted.  Allow it to soak in and then apply a second coat.  Paint all surfaces inside the box.

Place a generous layer of plastic wrap inside the box.  Fill the box with a small book.  Place a layer of plastic wrap over the small book.  Close the book.  Allow it to dry overnight underneath something heavy.

Remove the plastic wrap.  Check to be sure the book is dry.  Fill it with flat friends or small special somethings like a collection of heart-shaped rocks or worm-like twigs, or secret plans for potential scientific inventions.  Lucky us, we found our Vol 1 and Vol 2 within a slipcase.  We transformed both volumes into paper pet book boxes and then painted the entire slipcase—first with a layer of gesso to provide some texture, then with a few fancy layers of acrylic paint.  Alternatively, decorate the actual book cover.  Or leave it unadorned and mysterious.

A magical box can be your new best friend—it allows time for smallish people to become quietly immersed in little things.  It promotes stillness.  And it is this stillness that helps provide focus during times of clutter and chaos.  Which, at our house, is most of the time.

 

 

 

Candied Citrus Peel

April 22nd, 2012 § 5 comments § permalink

This recipe is super easy.  The peels taste just like sweet lemon drops. You’ll be certain to have your kitchen stocked with a jar or two of these from now on—ready to grab for that upcoming day hike or camping trip.  You may love them plain, with only a dusting of sugar, but in the end you may opt to dip your peels in chocolate for extra yumminess.  Look out!  These peels disappear fast!

 

You will need:

5 organic, un-waxed thick-skinned lemons (or 5 limes, 2 oranges, or 1 large grapefruit)

2 cups sugar

¾ tsp cream of tartar

Semisweet chocolate (optional)

 

What to do:

  1. Wash the lemons and slice off both ends with a knife.
  2. Make 4 equally spaced lengthwise slices just through the peel of each lemon.
  3. With your fingers, pry each section of peel off each lemon, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible.
  4. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a simmer.
  5. Add the peels to the simmering water.  Simmer for 2 minutes and strain with a colander.
  6. Rinse the peels with fresh water and wash out the pan with soap and water.
  7. Repeat 2 more times, each time using fresh water to rinse peels and saucepan, and fresh cold water to refill saucepan.
  8. The pith of the fruit has a bitter taste.  If the peels are very thick, use a spoon or butter knife to scrape off most of the pith from the peel. This should rid the peels of bitterness.  But don’t remove all the pith from the peels—it will provide some structure and tastiness.
  9. Combine 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water and ¾ tsp cream of tartar.  Slowly bring to a simmer, whisking often.  The sugar syrup should be clear before it reaches a simmer.  Be careful—this liquid is hot!
  10. Add the peels to the sugar syrup (add enough water to completely cover the peels) and simmer gently for about 1 hour, until the mixture forms a thick syrup and the peels are translucent and tender.  The temperature should be about 230 degrees.
  11. To test for doneness, lift a peel slice from the syrup with a slotted spoon, let it cool slightly and then sample.  If you can easily bite through the peel, it’s done.  If not, continue simmering peels until tender.  If the syrup becomes too thick, add additional water.
  12. Turn off heat, gently remove peels from the sugar syrup with slotted spoon and lay separately on a wire rack set on an edged baking sheet.  Watch out!  The peels will be very hot.
  13. Once cooled, cut each peel into thin strips (no wider than ¼ inch).  These can be great knife practice for smallish hands, but be sure to work carefully.  Set peels separately on a clean wire rack to dry overnight.
  14. A few pieces at a time, toss each peel in a sugar-filled bowl to coat.
  15. Store in an airtight container.

Candied peels are best used at least two days after you’ve made them—they won’t have dried sufficiently if used right away.  After no longer gooey to the touch, they should be kept refrigerated in an airtight container.  They will last several weeks (assuming they are not gobbled up before then by unicorns).

 

And try this:

  • Dip peel ends in thinned royal icing or tempered chocolate and place on parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.
  • For orange peels, try adding ground ginger or nutmeg to the sugar.
  • Chopped, the candied peels may be used as a topping to pudding, custard, ice cream, pie, fresh granola or cookies.
  • Remaining citrus and cooled liquid and may be used as simple syrup to make amazing homemade lemonade Just add juice of 5 lemons (leftover from the above recipe) and water to taste and refrigerate.
  • Or, on the eve an especially long day, concoct a comforting cocktail.  Cool the remaining citrus and liquid, and serve with your spirit of choice.

Note: I originally published a version of this (sans above cocktail tip, of course) in Whip Up’s Action Pack Magazine for kids (Issue 6).   Chock full of quality projects for creative curious kids who love to do stuff, Action Pack is a downloadable high-quality ad-free e-magazine by Kathreen Ricketson.  Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—make a lemon battery, a citric acid fizz popper, cinnamon sticks wooden jewelry and handmade chalk.  For more hands-on projects like this one, click HERE.

 

 

Homemade Citrus Body Scrub

March 25th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

It’s been way too long.  Truth is, the school garden is in full swing and I’ve been busy getting small hands dirty—turning over the winter cover crop, preparing the beds, planting sugar snap peas, packaging and selling spring seeds—it is that time of year.  Time to get dirty…. and then time to get cleaned up!

And nothing does the trick better than a handmade sugar scrub.  Upon completion of this practical project, you will have a novel and crafty cleanser-softener-smoother-moisturizer combo guaranteed to tempt even the most stubborn grimy kid into the tub.  In fact, you and your crafty team will be inclined to make oodles of these scrubs for deserving friends, dedicated teachers or for yourself—yes, even you are entitled to a complete body exfoliation with invigorating natural citrus scent.  Not only will your skin be healthy, it will feel smooth and smell delicious.

Natural sugar scrubs are fun, simple, and inexpensive concoctions. No cooking is necessary, and most ingredients can be found right in your kitchen cupboard.  Make a big batch, keep some, and give some away.

 

Materials: 

You’ll need the following:

  • A small, clean plastic or glass container with a lid.  A short, squat, wide container is best.  This could be found in your recycling bin or at a thrift store.
  • Sugar.  Coarse natural brown or white granulated (raw sugar works great), or a mix of both will work to exfoliate the skin.  Do not use soft brown baking sugar.
  • Oil.  Any oil that originates from a nut or fruit will work as a moisturizer, and will leave your skin soft and hydrated.  Light apricot, olive, avocado, jojoba, coconut are good choices.  Do not use cooking oil like corn oil—this will make a funky smell and a too-slick feel.
  • Natural additives.  You may add a small amount of any of the following: citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), honey, aloe vera, vitamin E oil, essential citrus oil (sweet orange, lemon, grapefruit)


What to do:

Before starting, remind everyone that some ingredients used can sting eyes and that the resulting concoction smells really yummy but tastes really horrible.  Yuck!

In general, you’ll want to measure 2 parts sugar to 1 part oil.  Add enough oil to turn your sugar into the perfect slushy snow mixture.  Pour all ingredients into a small bowl.  Stir until ingredients combine.  Pour into clean container.  Label your container.  Cover the label with transparent packing tape.


Now for the fun part:

At the sink, or in the tub or shower, scoop a small amount of the scrub into your hand and massage gently onto your damp skin for a minute to exfoliate and moisturize.  Wash it off with water.  Pat your skin dry with a clean towel.

You can keep the remaining scrub in the sealed jar.  Use the sugar scrub no more than once a week.

Upgrade it:

For a pick-me-up:  An easy way to make your scrub even more luxurious is to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.  Try citrus oil like grapefruit, sweet orange or tangerine.

For extra-dry skin:  Add a small amount of Aloe vera gel or vitamin E oil as a moisturizer.

Nice mixes to try:  Grapefruit and peppermint; orange, clove and lemon; almond and orange.

Add herbs or flowers to the mix:  Shredded ginger, orange peel, lavender flowers, linden flower—all of these are great options.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Because you can never be too careful when it comes to your skin, before you use the scrub, do a patch test on the inside of your arm to see how your skin reacts.
  • Do not use citrus oil (such as sweet orange, lemon or grapefruit) on your skin before you plan to spend the day in the sun.  Your skin is more likely to get sunburned.
  • Do not use on your face or neck.  And never use it on irritated skin.  If you have a sunburn, rash or cut, skip the scrub.
  • Also, as with anything that contains oil, a body scrub will make the tub or shower slippery.  Do not apply the scrub to the bottoms of your feet while in the shower.  You may slip.  Also, be sure to give the tub its own “scrub” when you’re done.

 

BODY SCRUB RECIPES:

O.J. Coconut Scrub

In this scrub, sugar granules gently exfoliate the skin.  The combined power of coconut, mango and orange provide nourishment.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup sugar

½ cup coconut oil

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

¼ cup mango puree

To do:  Chop mango into small pieces without peel.  Place in blender to puree.  Mix sugar into coconut oil in a small bowl and stir well to combine.  Stir in orange juice and mango puree.

 

Grapefruit, Aloe Vera Scrub

This scrub makes your skin feel moisturized and fruity fresh.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup sugar

4 Tbs jojoba oil

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs fresh grapefruit juice

2 Tbs aloe vera gel

2 drops grapefruit essential oil

To do:  In small bowl, combine sugar, grapefruit oil and juice.  Stir well to combine.  Add remaining ingredients.  Stir well.

 

Sweet Orange and Lime Scrub

This tropical scrub exfoliates and leaves skin silky smooth.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

4 Tbs coconut oil

2 Tbs fresh lime juice

6 drops vitamin E oil

2 drops sweet orange essential oil

To do:  Mix sugar and oil in a small bowl.  Stir to combine.  Add remaining ingredients and stir well to make a paste.

 

Honey and Orange Scrub

Honey is a natural humectant, which means it attracts moisture and keeps it where it should be—under your skin.  This scrub hydrates, moisturizes and protects your skin.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

4 Tbs dark organic honey

2 Tbs fresh orange juice

To do:  Mix ingredients until you have a smooth paste.

 

Salty Sugary Scrub

This scrub leaves your skin soft and moist.  Just perfect for dry skin.

Ingredients:

½ cup coarse brown sugar

½ cup sea salt or kosher salt

2 Tbs coconut oil

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs dark organic honey

To do:  Mix all ingredients until you have a smooth paste.

I originally published this article in Whip Up’s Action Pack Magazine for kids (Issue 6: Zap and Zest).  This downloadable high-quality ad-free e-magazine by Kathreen Ricketson is chock full of quality projects for creative curious kids who love to do stuff.  Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—make a lemon battery, a citric acid fizz popper, cinnamon sticks, wooden jewelry and handmade chalk!  For more hands-on projects like this one, click HERE.

 

 

Love Letters

February 14th, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

Forget the fancy flowers.  We are the dreamers of dreams.  Give me a thought.

We made a valentine banner.  Constructed out of felted wool sweater and cotton fabric scraps and remnant bias tape, it’s printed with thoughtful notes to each other.  Simple to make.

Printing on fabric requires an ink jet printer, thin cotton fabric (I just use remnant drapery liner) and freezer paper.

Here are the steps:

  • Trim the fabric slightly larger than 8 ½  x 11 inches.
  • Place the fabric onto an ironing board (or thick towel).
  • Place the shiny side of the freezer paper onto the fabric.
  • Iron.  Two will become one.
  • Trim the fabricky paper to 8 ½ x 11.
  • Treat it like a normal piece of paper and place it into your printer with the proper sides up and down.  Print your image.

To make a banner like ours, cut the printed material into the desired shape, peel off the freezer paper and sew to a sturdy material (like wool or felt).  Cut two small openings in the back of the material and carefully slip bias tape through using a safety pin as a guide.

 

A simple haiku can get you through the winter and then some.

 

 

Topping it Off: Eco-Friendly Gift-Wrapping

December 15th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

It’s become clear that sometime during the next few weeks or so, you may have something to give me.   Quite possibly it will be something that doesn’t cost much.  Maybe it will be free—a shoulder massage, a ukulele tutorial, a list of trustworthy sitters, your timeshare in Antrim, Ireland—in any case, since you know I am a surprise-junkie, it will likely require some sort of superawesome wrapping to ambush and wow me.

This will be easily done, I think, since it is still fall here and I’ve recently discovered some mind-blowing tutorials HERE and HERE on transforming fall leaves into crafty decorative flowers—perfect for topping off your thoughtful gift.  I understand you may be concerned that fall is coming to a close, and leaves are becoming scarce and crinkly and delicate, and it might just take longer than expected for you to figure out just how to get those leaves folded.  Just.  Perfectly.  I am here to prepare you for alternatives.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.  First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets and collars for small lively monster friends.

Next (and this is optional) use a felting needle, felting pad and skinny wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots or anything else superfancy (see Dry Felting).

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.  Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, attaching it to your flower top and covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.  Good job.

Gift ribbons can be easily made with light cotton fabric scrap.  Cut in about an inch from the edge.  Grab fabric edges and pull away, leaving raw-edged ribbon.

Wrap your gift with a larger fabric scrap, tying with raw-edged ribbon.

With needle and thread, secure flower onto ribbon.  Ta da!

 

Note: don’t attempt perfection with these felted flowers.  As with other projects, quirky outcomes are preferred over conventional.  That said, remind yourself that, in nature, some flowers are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, and some even lose petals.

Celebrate the uniqueness.

 

A Quiet Place: DIY A-Frame Tent

November 12th, 2011 § 16 comments § permalink

DIT A-frame tentAt risk of exposing my vulnerability, I’d like to say I miss hanging out with you more.  The fact is that these days I’ve been enveloped by a certain writing assignment I’m supposed to be wrapping up.  Such a shame, since this is my favorite place besides HERE where I am treated queen-like and am provided the most delectable salami Swiss apple butter sandwiches on toasted rye and HERE where I actually haven’t been yet, but dream dream dream about.

Someday.

But today I am home with a small sniffly girl, and tomorrow I suspect I will be home with her too.  And her sister.  And then, the next day most likely the sniffler will be me.  Sniffly times require small quiet fluffy places where books and ice pops are consumed and slurped, and sneezes are snuzzed.  Snuggly places where I tell them sweetly that someday in the oh-so-near future there will be just a teeny tiny memory of right now.

Today we made a quiet place.

Simple instructions for cute wood-framed pup tents requiring just a cordless drill, some wood and a sheet can be found here, here and here.  Irked by tragic malfunctions with these designs (not due to any design flaw, but more likely due to the destructive nature of my spirited superheroines) we opted for a slightly more rugged frame.

Inspired by research on building mini hoophouses for our school garden, we opted to use PVC pipe for the ridge pole and legs, and a repurposed king-sized duvet for the cover—costing a mere $14.26 to build.

Bent on bonus features, my cantankerous and cranky team tacked on some time to the project.  Well worth it.  The winning hideaway can be easily popped up and down by them and tucked away.  It is our new bestest best friend.

Someday I will post a detailed PDF of the materials and sewing pattern.

Until then, gather up the following:

  • An old king- or queen-sized duvet cover with contrasting colors
  • Contrasting cotton fabric scraps (1 yard)
  • ¼ in elastic (1/2 yard)
  • Clear vinyl fabric scrap

And prepare for fun times ahead.  They are coming, you know.

 

Quickles

September 16th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Although our rabbit-eaten radishes were certainly nothing to whoop about this summer, we did have a tricky time keeping up with our cukes.  Started too many seeds and neglected to thin the strapping young things—they were so very eager and enterprising, producing a healthy progeny of slicers and picklers.  We planted too much.  We always do.

The best way to deal with all these cukes is to slice ‘em up and make several batches of pickles.  Given this situation, many folks with patience and minimal time constraints would opt to sterilize a case of canning jars and commit to a month-long mouth-watering wait.  In the interest of small hungry project managers craving speedy outcomes and post-project snacks, we most often opt for “refrigerator pickles,” or “bread and butter pickles,” or “quick pickles”—we call them Quickles.  Make them in the morning, and gobble them up at lunch.

As mentioned before, I do not like to cook.  My friend Jenny (who, unlike me, loves to cook and is really good at it), makes a superamazing Detox Soup—promise me you must save at least a few cukes for this recipe.  It is superfabuloso.  In comparison, Quickle-making is more of a magic trick than a recipe, like when the coy magician’s assistant enters a locked cage and transforms into a savage tiger.  Voila!  Tangy and sweet with a bit of a bite.  Mee-yow!

Your pickles are only going to be as yummy as the produce you start with.  Use the freshest pickling cucumbers you can find.  If you don’t grow your own, find locally-grown organic cukes.  Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer when the cucumbers were picked.  You will make the best pickles from cukes that were picked the same day, or, at the very least, within the last 2 to 3 days.  You can use any variety of cucumber you fancy, though we prefer using either “pickling” or “lemon” cucumbers.

You can make Quickles with just a few simple ingredients—fresh cukes, vinegar and salt—but a few extras will do wonders.  Feel free to experiment: garlic, dill, mustard seed, capers, hot or sweet peppers—branch out on your own.   The recipe below is perfect for a 1-quart Mason jar of pickles.

What You’ll Need:

1 ½ pounds (6 cups) pickling cucumbers, trimmed and cut to ¼-inch rounds

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup Diamond kosher salt (don’t use table salt)

½ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup distilled white vinegar

1 cup sugar (white or light brown)

Shake of black pepper

Clean, freshly washed 1-quart Mason jar with lid

 

What You May Want to Add, Just Because You Can:

1 tsp mustard seed

¾ tsp celery seeds

1 cloves garlic, slivered

1 tsp dill seed or chopped fresh dill

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Bay leaf

 

What You’ll Do:

Place sliced cukes and onions in a colander within a large bowl.  Add salt and toss well.  Cover the mixture with ice.  Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour.  Rinse thoroughly and drain.  Pat cukes dry with a paper towel.

In a large pot, bring vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and spices to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer.  When sugar has dissolved (about 10 minutes), add cukes and onions.  When mixture starts to boil again, remove from heat and cool.  Use a slotted spoon to pack the jar with the veggies within an inch of the rim.  Pour the warmish vinegar syrup into the jar to ½ inch from the rim.  Seal with the lid.  Place in the fridge.

Wait a few hours and eat ‘em up.  Sometimes they are so very seductive, we eat them all before they are completely chilled.

Quickles will stay fresh in the fridge for about 10 days.  The perfect balance of sweet and sour, they are picnic, potato salad, sandwich, and veggie burger champions.  In my humble opinion, there is no reason to ever purchase another jar of commercial pickles.

The Clubhouse Under the Stairs

August 23rd, 2011 § 25 comments § permalink

I told them that when I was little I had a clubhouse tucked under the basement stairs.  Not fancy, just a secret place with a miniature door and a mysterious wooden box that held classified codes and pencil nubs.  I have been a great many things, but when I was a secret agent, I was exceptional at it.

Yet we grow.  We move on.  And we forget.

But there is this part of me that is still so secret, and the other part is nothing like that.

One long summer, when the girls were crawling and falling, my SuperheroMan jackhammered our basement floor and hauled the concrete away in rusty metal pails.  With his dad.  And that winter we built a clubhouse tucked under the basement stairs.

Chalkboard letterShingled on the outside with a mail slot, outdoor light and window box, it now houses baskets of delicious wooden food, a tea set, guest books, date stamps, homemade wooden chalkboard postcards, pretend money, aprons and chefs’ hats, a desk call bell, and a few lonely spiders.


It is absolutely the best restaurant in our small town.

 

 

The Makings of a Superhero: The Superhero Costume

August 10th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Superhero GirlA superhero is not simply someone who stumbles upon a crime or injustice and makes a spontaneous decision to intervene.  A true superhero has a strong moral code and has vowed to actively battle, risking his or her own safety, for the betterment of humankind.

Superhero status should not be reserved for the mega rich, super-fit extra-terrestrial brilliant scientist type.  Sometimes merely being at the right place at the right time may be all that is needed—due to some freak laboratory accident, the clumsy lab tech comes into contact with a secret fizzley purple formula within a flask; the mousy orphan unearths a pebble or a magical wizard who bestows upon her the godlike powers of Captain America or Supergirl, transforming her into a massive powerhouse with enhanced metabolic powers.

Masked SuperheroAnd, sometimes a superhero needs to look like a superhero.  For, nothing motivates a pending protagonist more than a good outfit.  A good outfit not only provides protection and technological advantages, it conceals the supersecret identity of the real-life superhero from revenge-seeking criminals.  As well, a superhero’s secret identity protects friends and family from becoming targets of his or her archenemies.

Running SuperheroRecommended Components:

A real-life superhero outfit must be of sufficient quality to show that some care went into its creation.  Cape, mask, magical utility belt and speedy sneakers—all should incorporate the crusader’s well-considered name and theme.

Materials:

This project requires the following scrap materials: 1 yard fabric (preferably two different patterns, ½ yard each) for cape; decorative fabric fringe for cape bottom (beaded or tasseled cotton, lace, tassel, cording—anything is fine as long as there is a “lip” to sew onto); Velcro bits for cape closure; small fabric scraps (we used felted wool sweaters and soft remnant velveteen) for mask and magical belt; elastic for back of mask; and ribbon or remnant seam binding ribbon for magical belt tying mechanism.

Note: for sweater felting tips, see previous Mossy tutorials on wool sweater felting (Swittens, Tiny Birdhouse or Sweater Mice).

Instructions:

Choose a great name.  If you and your team are completely stuck, the Superhero Name Generator may be utilized to provide some direction.  Use the patterns below as a guide to cut large pieces for the cape (with both fabric types).  Cape pattern is similar to an enlarged baby bib pattern with offset neck closure—just worn backwards.  Cape length (A) should measure from superhero shoulder to lower thigh.  Use pattern as guide to cut smaller pieces for belt and mask.  Belt is long (approximately 16”) and rectangular, made out of two contrasting fabrics (we used felted wool sweater as the backing, and a smaller rectangular piece of patterned cotton).  We used felted wool sweaters for the outside of the mask and soft, velvety remnant velveteen for the inside of the mask. If desired, cut out fabric letters or symbols to add to cape and belt.

Superhero Costume Pattern

Cape LetterFor cape, pin and stitch fabric letter/symbol to back center of cape.  For this, a regular machine lockstitch set in 1/16 inch from the letter’s edge is perfect.  The letter’s edge may then be frayed by hand, if desired.  With right sides together, pin and sew cape fabrics together using ½” seam allowance, leaving an 8 “ opening on the bottom edge for turning right-side-out.  Trim seam allowances and clip curves (clip valleys, notch mountains).  Turn the cape right-side-out and press.  Add fringe at cape bottom.  Edgestitch around the entire cape.  Have the potential superhero try the cape on to determine neckline Velcro placement.

Superhero BeltFor belt, pin two rectangular belt fabrics together—one slightly smaller than the other.

Sew around edge, inserting long thin ribbon at sides (remnant seam binding ribbon is ideal for this) to tie around crime fighter waist.  Pin and stitch fabric letter/symbol to front center of belt.

Superhero Mask DetailsFor mask, pin right sides together and, using embroidery thread, blanket stitch all edges together (Futuregirl has a great tutorial for this).  Add elastic band and, if desired, add decorative remnant fabric flowers (to cover messy elastic band stitching).

Superhero Mask FlowersNote:  Along with a good outfit, a dedicated superhero may require a cast of recurring characters (which most likely will include you), a headquarters or base of operations (usually kept hidden from the general public), and a background that explains the circumstances by which the character acquired his or her abilities.

Dueling SuperheroesWith great power comes great responsibility!

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Tutorials category at Mossy.