Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book of the Month: No More Dragons

So far, I'm doing better at reading a book a month this year. Here's one I read a few weeks ago. The title and the main theme comes from C.S. Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader. 

In Lewis's book a character named Eustace is drawn to a dragon, his wealth, power and life.  As he dwells more and more on the dragon he eventually becomes a dragon himself. It's a slow sneaky process and he doesn't realize what's happening until he's full dragon. Try as he might there's nothing he can do to change the spell that's overcome him. Then the Lion, Aslan, comes to him and tears off the dragon flesh, giving him the form he longed to return to. Jim Burgen identifies with Eustace and says this is what happens to all of us; whether we recognize it or not, all of us can and do become dragons. But it's not just about losing our identity and becoming something we never intended to be, it's also about how to keep our dragonly actions from hurting others. Sometimes it's hard to call oneself a Christian when so many people have been emotionally or spiritually beat up by Christians. Burgen says we first need to recognize that we are all dragons. Next, we need to let Christ (the Lion) un-dragon us, and then we must live each day in humility, remembering the prison that was our dragon body from which we're so graciously freed. When you know that you deserve to be constricted to a dragon's body it's hard to throw stones at others whose battles are more publicly dragonish. The truth is we are all fighting the same battle (against becoming or staying dragons) and whether our battles are obvious to others or carefully hidden we are all fighting them--and we should be. Seeing ourselves in this light brings us daily to the humble realization that without the Lion we are forever dragons. Once we are honest about our own need for that Lion, Christ, we must extend the same grace and truth that He's extended us.  If you call yourself a Christian or you can't stand people who call themselves "Christians," this book offers a great perspective! 

Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Learn and Explore All Summer: Activities For Kids

We don't overbook our summer. Most days we just hang out in the back yard eating popsicles and doing chalk paint, or reading or hanging out in swim robes or racing boats in the backyard. But, if we do go somewhere I like to have our kids get the most out of it. Sometimes that means building a day around it or learning something new before we go. Here's some ways that be build on day trips and family vacations to keep our kids busy, happy and learning all summer.

Activities to go with Outings

We recently went to the Denver Zoo. I brought home the zoo map and made a quick study skills page for Thing One to go with it. He love pouring over the map and the info on it to find the answers.

If you are in Colorado and planning a trip to the Denver Zoo you can download my study skills worksheet free here.

It was really easy to make up our own worksheet, but if you aren't into that or don't have time, you can always just find an activity sheet that goes along with what you are doing. I feel like our kids get more out of outings when we talk about them and learn more about them before or after we go. I love for free worksheets. They send me an email every week with a set of suggested worksheets all divided by grade. I just browse through anything that looks interesting and download pages I think Thing One will really enjoy. I love how they divide up the activities by grade. You can find a similar activity for both your preschool and third grader, so everyone's on the same page, but at their level.
Here's a few other worksheets you might like:

Projects Around the House

We have a lot of wasps around our house. This year I am getting a good wasp trap. Need a useful afternoon activity? Have the kids make their own wasp trap like this one. Be sure to make a trap that only attracts wasps, not bees. (The garden needs bees!)  Once you trap them  kids can study how they look and you could do a worksheet about them like this one.

National Parks

Last year before we went to Arches and Canyonlands I downloaded some coloring pages and Jr. Ranger activities. Thing One did a few and we read through it together before we left. This let him know what to expect, what kinds of animals to look for, and what the area was going to be like (hot! desert!). We talked about how animals keep cool and how we could keep cool while hiking in intense heat. This spring, we let the kids make hiking sticks before we went to The Grand Tetons. We bought some 3/4" dowels at Hobby Lobby, cut them to size, drilled a hole two inches from the top to string some bear bells (jungle bells on a ribbon) through, and let the kids paint them. There were times that this came in handy for Thing One (especially hiking in snow), but be warned: sticks will be turned into weapons. You may or may not regret letting your child bring a huge stick.

Once we got to the Visitor centers he got the real booklet and completed it, earning his Jr. Ranger badge in Canyonlands and The Grand Tetons. We also checked out a free explorer pack from the visitor center. It's a backpack filled with activities, binoculars, a magnifying glass and other stuff that helped Things One and Two feel like explorers during our day in Canyonlands.

I highly recommend the Jr. Ranger program for kids if you are visiting any national parks this summer! The awesome thing about National Parks and Memorials is there's one close to just about everyone. Even if you aren't planning a trip this summer, the National Park service has added a web ranger site which also looks like lots of fun for kids.

Want more National Park activities? Check out these 23 pages of worksheets about Yellowstone National Park here!

We love getting outdoors, having free fun, and learning new things. All the above activities let us do that. Hopefully there's something there that you'd like too.

 Happy Summer!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Good Companion

We finally have just about all our plants in the ground (except for the new planters we're building). I mentioned when we were starting seeds this year, that I wanted to be more strategic about where we were planting things. We always rotate crops; never planting the same thing that was there last year, and this year we are also trying companion planting (read more about that in this post). I thought I'd just show you what ended up together. 

I planted a lot of squash in the back half of this planter, but I'm hoping that half of them will grow on the trellises so there will be enough room. There's spaghetti squash, acorn squash and butternut squash. The front half is green beans. Marigolds and nasturtium are planted throughout all the gardens to keep the bugs away. Nasturtium is said to help keep white flies away, which we have had trouble with on our green beans in the past.

We'll see if the nasturtium make the tomatoes sweeter like the guide said. Usually we just plant basil in our herb garden, but the last couple of years we feel like they haven't been getting enough sun. We really like basil so this year I gave them some prime spots.

Last year I planted a tomatillo and it got huge, but we didn't really get any tomatillos, because I didn't realize you need two plants for cross pollination. This year we have two and I'm hoping to be able to make some great tomatillo salsa. Our green beans look kind of sad but they are really making a lot of beans. I've already picked a handful. I'm sure they will bush out now that they are in the garden. Last year green beans were one of our highest yield plants. I think I said before, but if you can only grow a few things I would make green beans one of them. We're growing both green and purple again. This is my first time growing beets, so we'll see how those do.

I basically just planted garlic down the sides of all the planters, and on this one I snuck a row of carrots and a row on onions in front of the tomatoes. This is maybe obvious, but make sure to plant things that will get really big in the back of your planter. When tomatoes are small you forget that they will be giant bushes and you won't be able to get around them, so plant short things in the front where you can reach them. : )

 I don't do many pots anymore because in dry Colorado everything dries out so fast. But, I have a few larger ones that usually end up holding the plants I wanted to buy/try so badly but don't really have room for. My eyes are bigger than my garden I guess. This year I have broccoli in the red ones (they might be too small...but we'll see what happens), an olive bush in the lower green one, a paprika pepper surrounded by swiss chard, and a little pot of citrus mint. I do always plant a pot of mint, since if you put that in the ground it will take over the world and you will never get rid of it! Last year we did chocolate mint and this year I got the citrus.

We also like to grow a few determinate tomatoes. Many people don't know there are two kinds of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate means the plant will only grow to about a two foot height, after that the energy goes into making the fruits. Indeterminate means the plant will basically just continue to grow and produce. They will make more fruit usually, but will be giant plants if well cared for. Indeterminate plants should always go in the garden, because a pot will restrict the plant and it will stop producing. Determinate plants are the right choice for patio pots. Our determinates this year are called "nebraska wedding" and "mountain pride." A couple years ago my husband set up a few drip lines so that I don't have to water these larger pots. 

Finally I thought I'd just show you the stuff we planted when it was still cold. I'm glad we started this stuff in early April. We had to cover it for a few snows and cold nights, but now it's mid May and we are picking lots of mixed baby lettuce and spinach,

and the peas are getting huge!

Somehow a lot of pumpkin seeds got in our compost, so I've been pulling out pumpkin seedlings everywhere. But in a few places, where they came up near the edge of a planter I left a "volunteer" to grow out over the side. 

The rest of the stuff we planted after the last snow is finally coming up. It's starting to feel like summer! By the way, on the left below is our oregano, which is perennial. If you have oregano, this is the best time to make some oregano pesto (find my recipe here). The leaves are tender and plentiful, and cutting it now will help it grow longer and not go to seed so quickly.

I love just see all the new life! Doesn't everyone love a fresh start?! Have a great week!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Making the Best of Things

Warm weather means the start of garage sale season! Before we had kids we were pretty die hard garage salers. We would plan a route, get up early (on a Saturday!). Half or more of our current furniture we got at garage sales. We don't get to go that often anymore, but once in a while we stumble upon one. One of the things I've learned about finding a good deal at a yard sale is sometimes you have to see the possibilities beyond what something is. More than that, you have to weigh whether you have the time and resources to reach that possibility, and if it's worth it. Sometimes it's not, but sometimes it is! Here's a steal that turned out pretty awesome.

I got this thing at a sale for $1. Not really sure what it was supposed to be. It had dowel knobs where you see those three holes at the bottom, but they were all broken/unusable. The top drawer thing was just decorative I guess. Anyway, for $1 I thought just a little work could make this something useful...or maybe two useful things!

I started by letting it sit in the garage for five years removing the top drawer-like piece and the knob that was on it. I sanded and painted it, using a $0.50 oops paint from Home depot. I LOVE oops paint. I bought these knobs on clearance for $1-$2 each. 

 I did a thin coat of paint because I liked the look of the blue underneath; kind of distressed. 

Then we (meaning my husband), drilled holes for the other four knobs and screwed them all into place.

And my new necklace holder was finished. Total cost about $7. Wondering where you can find most of these beautiful necklaces for yourself? Well I'm glad you asked! Mercy House is here and Musana is here. Go buy some, they are super cute and super great organizations. 

Now, for the rest of my $1 purchase. I decided to make the back into a big chalk board. I painted it with the rest of the $0.50 paint sample, then taped off the edges before chalk board spray painting the center.   

I still had the three holes at the bottom, so I bought a piece of trim at Home Depot and cut it to size. I think it was $1-$2 for like a 6 or 8 foot piece. I painted it red for a pop of color and then used finishing nails to secure it in place (first I tried wood glue but it didn't hold). Make sure to let your chalk board paint cure and then rub it down well with chalk before using. This project only cost about $2 total. 

It's really satisfying to make something cute and useful out of something that was cheap and ugly. It reminds me of this quote, which is one of my current favorites:

I think there's a lot of things (and people) out there who just need a little love to really shine they way they were meant to. I hope this week we can all find a way to make something the best it can be. None of us is in control of everything that happens in our lives, but all of us choose our response, our attitude, and our outlook. Let's make it a happy one!

You are loved, Friends!!


Friday, May 2, 2014


Let's talk about Brussels. No, not the beautiful city in Belgium. Although, have you seen this flower carpet they have there? Wow! Anyway, I wanted to talk about the lowly vegetable; oft' hated. I'm here to say maybe we judged this cabbage relative too soon. I hardly remember having these as a kid but I remember not liking them. This spring my aunt came to visit and showed us how to roast brussels sprouts. My kids LOVED them. What?! We had to actually stop them from eating too many and getting sick. I was reminded of the cooking truth: anything roasted with butter and salt is good

These are easy to make and a great change of pace in veggie department. After preparing them once as Aunt D directed (just cut the ends off and slice each in half, roasting face-down), we thought we would like to separate the "petals" and roast them kind of like kale chips. We kept the "hearts" intact and roasted them separately as well. This way the petals get crispy and the hearts are tender. 

However you slice them, just toss with melted butter and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Bake at 375ยบ for 20 minutes or until edges are crispy.  

We also tried some sprinkled with some lemon pepper. This was also delish!

If you're feeling lazy, or you're out of butter, you can raid your fridge for leftover garlic butter dip and just toss the brussels in that! How easy is that?

We are hoping to catch our first farmer's market of the season tomorrow, and we might bite the bullet and plant our starter plants outside (since the green beans are actually growing beans inside!).  Maybe we should grow some brussels sprouts. Fingers crossed for no more frost! Have a great weekend! 
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