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The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big. I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez! Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.
Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto. It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.
Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato. I feel it. Now it is here. The time of change. The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns. Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.
Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness. This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday. If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing. And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors. Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.
Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:
I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting. So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.
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Seed bombs are magical little nuggets of clay, compost and native seeds used to surreptitiously improve areas you’re unable to reach.
To determine native species in your area, ask a smart friend, or visit the Native Plant Database. My family and I live in the Northeastern U.S., and our seed bombs include (among other seeds) eastern red columbine, red milkweed, butterfly weed, New England aster, joe pye weed, lanceleaf coreopsis, blazing star, wild bergamot, sweet coneflower and rigid goldenrod. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. As mentioned previously, choose seeds wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive species that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native critters like butterflies and birds.
To determine your soil type, do the squeeze test: take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil and give it a firm squeeze. Most likely, one of three things will happen:
- The soil falls apart as soon as you open your hand. This means you have sandy soil.
- The soil holds it’s shape, and when you give it a little poke, it crumbles. This means you have loam. Perfect for a garden—it retains moisture and nutrients, but doesn’t stay soggy.
- It holds it shape, and when you give it a little poke, it sits stubbornly in your hand. This means you have nutrient-rich clay soil. Perfect for this project.
If you have dreams of a yard-ful of annuals, perennials and veggies, yet have the horrible misfortune of heavy clay soil (I can relate), today you are in luck. There is little need for clay amendment in your seed bomb recipe. Just head to your backyard and collect some clay soil. If your soil is sandy or loamy, however, you must add natural clay (often found in natural stream banks), terracotta clay powder or air-dry clay (found in art supply or health food stores).
Like making a mudpie, making a seed bomb is not an exact science. Use the below recipe as a guide, but your measurements needn’t be exact.
Seed Bomb Recipe:
3 parts clay (see note above)
3 parts dry organic compost or worm castings
1 part small native perennial seed
1 to 2 parts water (added by the Tbs)
The mixture should be moist, but not wet. Knead it with your hands, being sure to incorporate all seeds. Roll it into 1 to 2 inch balls. Set them on newspaper to dry for 2 days before using, or store on a sunny windowsill before throwing over a fence. Your seed bombs are ready to wreak havoc on green wastelands. Just throw and they will grow. Rich in nutrients, the clay and compost aid in germination and help strengthen plant root systems.
Nicely packaged in a handmade bag, seed bombs make fantastic handmade gifts for friends, family and teachers. Include a nice note or quote like one of these:
- Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. –Robert Louis Stevenson
- Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. –A.A. Milne
- Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy. –Shel Silverstein
- The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. –Roald Dahl
- Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart. –A.A. Milne
- Small as a peanut, big as a giant, we’re all the same size when we turn off the light. –Shel Silverstein
Once you have perfected the seed bomb, you may get the urge to branch out and attempt other small-scale unlawful acts. Do not mention my name during your interrogation!
Now, Joanie or Johnny Appleseed, plant something already!
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It’s time for unlawful mischief. It is time to plan swift small-scale attacks and organize aggressive mini mobile units to exhaust opposing forces. It’s time to take back orphaned land all but forgotten. To arm yourself with trowel, seeds, bulbs, saplings, and a vision of verdant green. It’s time to plant everywhere. Anywhere.
Fare-the-well sterile orphaned lots with rubble and rubbish—vacant unloved spots thrust between broken buildings and wildness! It’s time to whisper plans to each other—to break ground and work silently, stealthily—to race home and dance with heart exposed and arms in the sky. We will win! We will win!
Guerilla Gardening. Unbeknownst to you perhaps, this (slightly) unlawful silent underground movement—the unauthorized cultivation of plants on otherwise neglected public or private land in response to dwindling green space—is cropping up all around us. The idea is to reclaim green space, regardless of who actually owns it. Technically, guerilla gardening is illegal. You must accept the fact that some might view seedbombing as vandalism, just performed with plants instead of spray paint, rocks, matches or eggs. One part beautification, one part eco-activism, guerilla gardening is a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts—free-range planters on a mission.
But, it’s more than just planting. It’s putting green where it’s not expected—putting something common in an unusual place or something uncommon in a usual place—surprising people and making them re-evaluate their position in the natural world.
Never underestimate the power of a plant.
Before grabbing your spade (Holy moly! I can’t wait!), ask yourself the following:
- Will you be part of an organized gang (launching your green thumbs into an unstoppable offensive of wax myrtle at Calumet and Main) or will you work solo, impulsively scattering shooting star seeds in pavement cracks on your way to the post office?
- Will you be a one-time guerillero, or will you be making this a regularly scheduled habit of dogwood debauchery? You’re far more likely to avoid trouble if you bring smallish people with you. This lends some credibility to your act.
- Will you work in the early morning, evening, or furtively at midnight? I highly recommend early morning hours to avoid detection from suspicious passersby. Or, you may opt to be discovered. If so, wear THIS.
Where Do I Plant?
If not working alone, you should meet with your trusty gardening team (mine has small, steady hands) and do some research. Look around you and consider a few unloved orphan spots close to home—empty pots or concrete planters, abandoned public gardens, vacant car parks—even a gap in pavement can serve as a modest blank canvas. Now, let’s be clear. I don’t advocate tossing seeds or planting plants in your neighbor’s weedy flowerbed, and you don’t need to plant a farm or a community garden. Just one plant will do for now. You do need a sunny spot and good soil. You may consider planting at first in a portable pot. Placed near a street sign or next to the barber’s door, this may be the ideal start to a career of gardening with intention. Of course, you should sneak by to water it every so often, or leave with it a kind sign: I’m yours. Water Me Please.
What Should I Plant?
If possible, find a generous gardening friend with a good plant or seed selection. Otherwise, purchase species from a local plant or seed supplier. Often, native wildflower seed mixes are available. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. Choose perennial species wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive perennials that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native species like butterflies and birds. For a list of recommended native species in your area, visit the Native Plant Database.
The following are your planting options:
Native Bulbs: Usually planted in the fall, these miraculous little storehouses are simple to plant and bring a spring surprise.
Native Plants, Shrubs and Trees: Just pop in a plant. Choose hardy, preferably perennial native plants that are easy to maintain.
Annual Plants with Big “Wow” Factor: Choose plants that will catch someone’s eye—plants with a powerful punch.
Classic Clay Seed Bombs: These little fistfuls of compacted clay, compost and native perennial wildflower seed break down over time and eventually plants sprout in place of dirt, weeds and invasive species. Seed bombs are used to surreptitiously improve areas that a guerillero is unable to reach. Locked vacant lots or roadside embankments—all are promising native plant nurseries. Keep in mind that seed germination is highly dependent on water. Keep track of the weather. Scatter the seed bombs on the ground—over a fence onto an empty lot—right before an early spring rainy spell to ensure germination.
Pre-made seed bombs may be purchased HERE and HERE. Or, check back in a few days for my GREAT GUERILLA SEED BOMB RECIPE.
Please send me your before and after photos–I’d love to see.
Now, go forth and garden!
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I’m heading out for milk
But instead find myself
Standing in this place where I
Look at you
All over you
Once, with wild hair
You carved our names into a school desk
Now you collect my secrets
Rumpled and unwound
There are at least 50 colors
In your eyes alone.
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When my workday has ended, and I have carefully put to bed my small spicy accomplices, I look forward to at least a light snack and a footrest in recognition of my achievement. It would be a shame if this did not happen. I am sorry to say, this is the case with many hardworking beings—nimble industrious laborers who endlessly whirl about finding food, making babies and cultivating crops only to return to, well, an empty snack bowl and an unfurnished apartment.
Small beings have the same basic needs as you and I—food, water, a place to live, and a healthy environment. Amphibians, birds, small mammals, and beneficial insects—many of these busy little creatures, neither destructive nor aggressive, are an important part of our ecosystem. However, due to fast-paced environmental change and habitat reduction, it has become increasingly more challenging for them.
It is easy to encourage these critters and to be good neighbors. Generally, larger areas with diverse vegetation have greater species diversity, but a well-laid-out modest backyard with a variety of food, cover and water can entice a wide assortment of wildlife. The relative location of food, water and cover is what creates usable wildlife habitat. Below are some simple steps to take.
- Do nothing. Allow half of your garden to remain unmanicured. Leave some wild, untamed areas in your backyard. Allow the weeds to grow up and the insects to move in.
- Go organic, or minimize pesticide use. Use compost, not chemicals.
- Reduce the size of your lawn. Instead, plant a wide variety of flowering native plants to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, ground beetles, rove beetles, lacewings and praying mantises. Choose long-blooming, nectar-rich flowers and plants that bloom at different times of the season.
- Feed them and they will come. Plant bushes and trees with edible fruit. Don’t snip dead flowers. The seeds within them provide essential food for many animals. Leave fallen trees or leaves in place whenever possible to allow birds to hunt for insects. Keep birdfeeders stocked with thistle, safflower and black oil sunflower seed. If you start feeding, don’t stop during the winter months.
- Landscape with features that appeal to you. A bed of vibrant flowers, a shady spot under a tree, a privacy hedge, colorful fall berries, and evergreen winter shrubs are pleasing to everybody, including backyard critters.
- Add a birdbath. Birds need a dependable supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. The best birdbath mimics nature—gently sloping, shallow, and shady at ground level. Change the water once a week.
- Provide nooks in the backyard with a variety of nesting material. Hang concentrated stashes in tree crevices, berry baskets, or mesh bags. Fallen leaves, unraked twigs, dry grass, straw, pet fur, sheep wool, feathers, bark strips, pine needles, small sticks and twigs, yarn, string, and thin strips of cloth all make excellent nest materials.
- If you have a birdhouse, add a roost box. Birds only nest during spring and summer. Overwintering birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers require large nesting cavities during winter months.
Be patient. Depending on your property size, it may take several years to see all the desired results. Make a plan now, and, come spring, put out a vacancy sign. Give vegetation time to become established, and the tenants will move in.
Soon, you will receive tiny handwritten messages regarding extra storage space, laundry and parking facilities; high-pitched calls about hooking up teeny home theater components and keeping microscopic exotic pets; and little notes about room service and spa treatments.
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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.
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It started a few Tuesdays ago, and I was totally unprepared. I was sneaking SweetTarts from the kitchen Halloween basket, vulnerable and enveloped by the threat of exposure, when an unforeseen soulful sound swept in from the next room. And….
WHAM! it hit me. Holiday music. It is time.
It’s time to give something. Something special. Of course, there is much temptation to acquire this year’s hottest trends—Snuggie, self-stirring cocoa mug, fiber optic holiday sweater, night vision goggles, nose flute, giant inflatable emperor penguin—but, I would like to suggest a few cheery alternatives, or additions.
I’ll be the first to admit that my ubercraftiness has disentangled me from many a gift-giving snarl—the cookie-recipe kit, the DIY family cookbook, handmade soap-on-a-rope, the gigantic satchel of homemade granola—but, like most, our holiday budget is currently stretched, and I cannot hide the unfortunate truth that sometimes these gifts are not really so cost-effective. As well, sadly these gifts are often not as treasured as store-bought astronaut ice cream might be. And sometimes they are just not enough.
Now, parents are certainly not perfect, and like watchmakers, disk jockeys, fortune cookie writers, professional whistlers, and (unfortunately) beekeepers, parents can sometimes make mistakes. So, in the spirit of the holiday season, I offer you this simple gift guide below as a resource. Something to keep up your sleeve and keep you on track.
It’s time to give something of yourself. To your kids. For free. A handwritten note, a compliment, an apology, a good bedtime story, a haircut, a juggling lesson, the best slice of pie, a visit with a small friend. It’s time to be a hero to them—to stand up for what is right, to speak up but carefully listen, to laugh at yourself, to quit biting your nails, to stop arguing, to know your faults and ask for forgiveness, to acknowledge your love, to live each day with gratitude, and to inspire your kids and get to know them and accept them for who they are.
Because this is what it’s all about.
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If you’d like to find me anytime soon, you needn’t look far. Recently, my little team and I made a few zesty concoctions for Whipup’s latest issue of Action Pack. Themed around the concept of Zap and Zest, this issue is jam-packed with enough recipes, crafts and science projects to keep an active family busy throughout the fall (and longer). Joining me in contributing to this issue are Whipup’s very own Kathreen Ricketson, Lisa Tilsa (The Red Thread) and Pascale Mestdagh (Between the Lines)—a double 60-page issue (without advertising!) full of electricity and battery experiments, poppy and fizzy reactions, zesty recipes and concoctions, and hands-on games and activities.
Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—generating and understanding static electricity, assembling a lemon battery and a citric acid fizz popper, cooking up lemon syrup cake and lemon cordials, concocting zesty bath fizz, and making top secret lemon-y messages and spooky orange candles.
Be sure to check out this download-able, 60-page, paperless e-magazine for an affordable $6, featuring Mossy’s recipes and detailed instructions for candied citrus peel and citrus body scrubs.
Have fun mixing it up!
Click HERE to find out more info.
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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.
Shingled 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.
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A 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.
And, 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.
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.
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).
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.
For 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.
For 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.
For 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).
Note: 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.
With great power comes great responsibility!