Friday, May 31, 2013

Meditation through dinner prep

Yesterday afternoon, I was feeling awfully run down.  I had been hit by the Allergy Bus.  Actually, the Allergy Bus ran me over, backed up and did it again.  All that sneezing, sniffling and gravelly scratching in my eyes and throat left me seriously tired and cranky.  I knew I needed to reset my mood, but there was dinner to be prepared.  I washed and peeled carrots for a favorite salad to serve alongside our curry.  Although I have made this over a dozen times, always taking the easy route and grating them up in the food processor*, last night found me carefully cutting five carrots into matchsticks.  I have never bothered to devote so much time to prep, but there was unexpected pay-off.  The careful attention required by this precise cutting worked as a meditation.  I gave it my full attention, and the grouchiness slumped away.

Also, the salad was awesome.  Good food always helps!

matchstick carrots

*Honestly, the salad is perfectly delicious grated, just in case you wondered.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lewis and Clark Circus comes to Leetsdale

Yesterday afternoon, we sneaked off to the circus.


Our friends tipped us off that the Lewis and Clark circus had come to Leetsdale, and there was a show at 5pm, just passable for a school night.  Just before start time, we headed over, settled in with the requisite popcorn and cotton candy, and enjoyed the show!

circus collage

There were a few animals (horses, goats, and a camel), jugglers and acrobats, and some amazingly strong performers on high.  The circus was small and personable, a great size for young children and a fun way to pass the afternoon.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fun with liquid watercolours

We go through a lot of art supplies at our house.  I've always loved them, so having kids just gives me an excuse to buy fun things.  Liquid watercolours were new to me.  I had read about them on Artful Parent, but it was a while before I made the investment.  We have several paints already.  Would liquid watercolours be different enough to be worth the price?  If you are trying to stockpile an extremely cool art cabinet, then I say the answer is "yes!"

dripping liquid watercolours onto wet watercolour paper

The vibrancy and colour intensity of the liquid watercolours far surpasses the watercolour paint sets we typically use.  More than that, the liquid form opens up interesting possibilities for exploration and additional development of fine motor skills.  I purchased a variety of liquid watercolours from Discount School Supply and several different sizes of droppers to drip or squirt the colour onto thick watercolour paper or (even better) coffee filters.

liquid watercolours on wet paper

Sometimes, we paint the paper with tap water first.  Sometimes, we leave the paper dry.  Often, we'll do a wet and a dry page side by side, so the kids can witness the different effects.  We have cut the coffee filters into shapes and made garlands.  The colour saturation and blending on a coffee filter is incredibly fun to watch (and keep!).

salt painting with liquid watercolours

By far, the most requested use of our liquid watercolours is salt painting.  We use cut-up cereal boxes instead of paper, because they have to handle a lot of moisture.  Squeeze white school glue in squiggles or designs until satisfied.  Then, cover the entire work with table salt (I buy a big box just for this craft and reuse again and again) the same way you would with glitter.  Shake off the excess.  Then, drip liquid watercolours into the salt and watch it spread.  We have never succeeded in saving one of these great works, but the process is more the point.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peaceful oblivion


It has been raining on and off all day long.  In between, there is a cold, endless grey.  It feels like October.  I haven't minded too much, though it has made me sleepy.  I made a French press pot of coffee (very unusual for me), and I've been enjoying it.  I had the back door open to facilitate cat flow (they want out when they are in, and in when they are out, especially when it rains).
The fresh air smells wet and green.

Just now, I noticed the sun peeking out.  There are shadows on the chicken run, where the girls are scratching for worms.  I feel content.  Then, I noticed a strangeness in the kitchen.  Daisy is circling the garbage can, or at least three sides of it, clearly trying to get behind it to the side against the wall. That's odd.  What is she after?  I am sorry I asked.  When I scooted out the garbage can, a terrified chipmunk ran across the kitchen and shimmied its way into the space between the bottom of the cabinets and the baseboard, where it remains unretrievable.

And now I remember why we never leave the back door open anymore.

I may be adding Kahlua to my coffee soon...

I called the Borough Office to ask about animal control or if they had any tips for getting a chipmunk out of one's kitchen cabinets.  They took my contact information, and two minutes later, there was a smiling police officer at my door.  He successfully apprehended the rogue chipmunk while I was doubled-over laughing (Kahlua-free, I might add).

Weekend work

Years ago, I read a hilarious and oh-so-true Dilbert comic strip that concluded with the line "Engineers don't idle well." I left Hubby home with the kiddos while I traveled to DC on Friday and Saturday, and look what happened in my absence:

  chicken tunnel

The chickens now have a custom-built tunnel from their coop to their run, which has been relocated from the grass into the garden.  They can scratch and dust-bathe to their little hearts' content, and then they can wander into their coop for respite from the summer sun or a bit of rain.

Of course, Hubby didn't build this on his own.  He expected the girls to want to be involved, but he hadn't counted on this helper:

master building assistant

Naturally, Daisy served in a supervisory capacity.  The girls had building ideas of their own.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day in Sewickley

The Memorial Day parade in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, is locally famous.  It is a genuine, small town, homegrown parade including the local fire companies (thankfully not blaring their sirens), police cars, Girl and Boy Scouts, the local high school band, two bagpipe corps from nearby universities, and, naturally, local war veterans.  Cool weather helped bring the residents out en masse to observe this simple but meaningful Memorial Day tribute.

local fire company


Marine Corps veterans

Quaker Valley High School band

My father was in the military, but he never went to a war.  Nevertheless, I teared up when I saw two Air Force veteran officers marching proudly.  Fortunately, no one noticed as the kids were too busy scrambling for, trading and eating the little candies some of the vehicles tossed to the crowds.

candy barter and trade

 happy loungers

Thank you to all who serve and the families who support them!  We are reminded that our freedom isn't free.  On this day, we remember those who have passed on and those who have fallen.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

{this moment} (a day early)


{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
inspired by Amanda at Soule Mama

I'm headed to Washington DC this weekend to visit my grandfather.  Most of my family lives in that area, but he is 93, the family patriarch, and he deserves to be the reason I go visit.  I'll be back later in the weekend, but it's a long one for Memorial Day here in the States.  

Wishing you and yours wonderful fun and memories together!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Class picnic blouses

Remember my grand intentions for Kids Clothes Week?  Well, I did actually finish two class picnic blouses, one each for my girls.

class picnic blouse

We get so many compliments on these blouses.  They are absolutely perfect.  The length is just right for their long torsos.  The styling is classic and traditional.  I would love to make them out of Liberty tana lawn, and I might just indulge in the extravagance for a school blouse each.


Oliver + S make fantastic patterns with very detailed, helpful instructions for those of us who are relatively new to sewing and are primarily self-taught; this and the range of sizes for each pattern really justifies the price for me.  The class picnic blouse is a 2 out of 4 on the difficulty scale, and I think that's about right.  The first blouse took me about 5 hours because I was figuring things out and taking it very slow; the second blouse took me around 2 hours or less.  I definitely intend to sew more of these.  I also think the shorts pattern included with the blouse is up on my list.

class picnic blouse outtake

Are you sewing anything fun?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Make your own incredibly expensive hen food

Along with the general questions about my sanity, I am often asked what I feed our new chickens.  People are surprised to learn that the girls will eat just about any safe foods from our kitchen scraps, with relatively few exceptions (citrus, for example, is toxic to them).  I found a great chart for those items here.  They went wild over the corn cobs I tossed them this weekend, and they didn't say no to kale ribs, spinach or grapes either.  Those things count as treats, though.  The chooks need a balanced diet to be healthy.


In the Pittsburgh area, chicken feed is available locally through Agway and Tractor Supply, but neither source is organic.  I am looking forward to delicious, nutritious eggs, and the better the hens eat, the better I eat.  I want their feed to be fully nutritious, ideally organic and hopefully GMO-free, even better if I can make it corn- and soy-free too.  I'm not ready to become too engaged in the Great Food Debate here, but there are countless articles online if you want to find out more about why I'm planning to avoid corn, soy and genetically-modified foods.  Of course, this leaves me in a bit of a quandary, because most commercially available chicken feed is heavily based on all that stuff I don't want.  Until the organic (soy-/corn-/GMO-free) chicken feed I ordered online arrives, I thought I'd try making my own (see opening comment about my questionable sanity).

While on a family holiday in New Zealand a few years ago, I picked up a copy of A Home Companion: My year of living like my grandmother by Wendyl Nissen (a very entertaining book for liberal tree-hugging types which I highly recommend).  I was already in the throes of chicken fever at that time, and I also had a serious case of the greenies*.  The book converted me (and several friends) to homemade laundry detergent and many other homemade home and beauty products.  Wendyl is also crazy about her chickens.  She prepares for them what she rightfully names "Incredibly Expensive Hen Food", but the nutritional content looks amazing.  I thought I'd give it a try.

incredibly expensive hen food

To make your own super-pricey hen food, stir together:

1 kilo rolled oats
1 kilo rye
1 kilo bran
1 kilo wheat
1 kilo brown rice
1 kilo sunflower seeds
250 grams flax seed
250 grams sea kelp granules
500 grams brewers yeast

Preferably, most or all of these ingredients will be organic.
Wendyl says her hens will each eat about 100 grams per day of this feed.  So far, mine pick out the sunflower seeds and oats like they are going out of style and slowly peck at the rest over the course of the day.

Will I repeat this homemade food batch?  Probably yes, but as a supplement to the organic chicken feed I ordered (which is cheaper, even when I include the shipping cost of a 50lb bag).

* case of the greenies: the desire to greatly reduce my family's chemical exposure in the home
If you are seriously interested in this, you might want to try reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck.  Notably, the full title in Canada, Australia, NZ and the UK includes "How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health" but the US market changed the last part to "The secret danger of everyday things".  I personally found the original full title more accurate and less sensationalist.

Monday, May 20, 2013

This nomadic life

dudes full of handsomeness

We shared this past weekend with our dear friend Andrea, who is in town only briefly for a conference.   He lives in France and we hadn't seen him in five years, so this visit was a wonderful treat!  Andrea was the best man at our wedding.  He knew us when we started dating.  We were there when he started dating his now-wife, and we celebrated their wedding with them.  We have known each other through so many significant life events.  15 years of friendship.  Yes, the weekend visit was a gift, indeed.
So were these (thank you, Andrea!).

 macarons (swoon)

Seeing such an old friend had elements of bittersweetness.  It made both Hubby and I aware of the invisible sacrifices of this nomadic life of ours.  It's a bit tricky at best (and heartbreaking at worst) when the friends you treasure the most are scattered far across the globe.  We have missed attending weddings, sharing the joy of births, offering support through loss, and simply sharing the day-to-day with our best friends.  I grew up in a military family, so moving every four years or less has been the pattern of my life.  Now we still move every four years or less, but it is all over the world instead of one country. We collect incredible life experiences, already more than I had ever imagined for my lifetime, but there are always sacrifices and compromises...and happy reunions, whenever we can.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A new chapter begins

first chicken morning

When we lived in Australia, a couple of my girlfriends had backyard chickens.  At first, it seemed a bit out-there to me.  I asked questions about it, but inside, I quietly marvelled at the crazy.  I am passionate about local, fresh food, but chickens?  Really?  I buy my eggs from an organic farm at the farmer's market, and that seemed sufficient.  Then, on one particularly grizzly day in the mama-trenches, my chicken-keeping girlfriend (hi, Katrina!) really sold me on the backyard chicken lifestyle.  I remember the exact moment she did, and she wasn't even trying.  I had been moaning about my two non-eating children, and she empathized about all the wasted food and effort...or at least the effort, because her "wasted" food went to the chickens and she got delicious eggs in return.  Hello!

That was a light bulb moment, burning so brightly that it remained a (secret) criteria item when we were looking for a new place to live when we moved back to the States.  The village where we now live allows up to 6 chickens, much to my surprise...but we rent; it didn't seem realistic.   Yet as we hit our one-year milestone here, my chicken fever intensified.  I found a coop, sourced supplies, even stalked and met two lovely local chicken keepers.  It was time to ask our landlord, and I just knew she'd say no...except she didn't!  She thought it was a wonderful idea (her words!).

coop delivery

moving the coop to the backyard

The same day she gave us the go-ahead, a chicken coop was delivered to our yard.  That morning, I sent an email request off to Bill at, and it just so happened that he was about to head to Michigan on a delivery and had room on the truck for my coop, which by some small miracle he had in stock.  It felt meant to be.  The coop is so cute and beautifully built that we call it the "chicken cubby house."  I ordered occupants that same day, and yesterday, our girls mail!  Yes, the US postal service handles chickens!  So funny.

chooks by mail!

While I can still hardly believe it, we have 3 chickens in our backyard!  In a way, it's also almost like they have always been there.  They are sweet and quiet and very easy-going.  We happen to find them quite pretty too, sweet girls that they are.  Their names are Lexi, Penny, and Sheila.  My daughters could tell them apart straight-away, and they taught me the little differences so now I can too.  The breed is Buff Orpington, which is the most popular backyard chicken breed in this country, largely due to the two factors that were most important to me: friendliness (especially with kids) and reliable egg laying.

girls up close

Not wanting to keep all this fun and goodness to ourselves, today we hosted two classes of preschoolers (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) here to learn about backyard chickens and snack on some ice cream in the garden.  It was Sundae Day at my wee one's school, so a location change enabled chicken fun and ice cream enjoyment at our house.  Watching them watch the chickens, ask questions and cautiously stroke the feathers (thank you for cooperating, Lexi!) was so sweet.  I wish I could have taken a picture, but I was chicken-wrangling at the time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

First taste

Have you seen this slow-motion video of children experiencing their first tastes of new foods?


(I feel the same way about Vegemite)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hello, friends!

A couple of weeks ago, I was trolling Blogland and found a course entitled "How to Grow Your Blog."  My first reaction was to jump on that to truly validate the time and effort I spend here, but a split-second later, my mind told me very firmly that I simply wasn't interested, that blogging wasn't really my thing anymore and isn't journaling for myself so much nicer.  Well, I listened to that voice, and I have been journaling every day since.  I was once an avid journal writer, and I truly felt the benefits.  I used to say I wasn't really sure how I felt or thought about something until I had written it down.  Then, years ago, we had a very hard year, and I didn't want to sit with my thoughts for a single extra minute.  In that year, journaling was abandoned.

It was time to return.

Once again, I am feeling the benefits.  On the days I don't journal, I feel less centred and more overwhelmed.  I hope that the journaling habit is back to stay.  With that in place, I felt ready to return here too.  I have missed you.

Did you have a nice weekend?

This was the easel in my big girl's class on Friday, asking the kids to name a nice thing they notice about their moms.  My favorite (which I hope is big enough for you to read) says, "She is noisy in the morning." Awesome.

Mother's Day can be very fraught, I know.  For those of us who are blessed with children we desired and felt ready for, the day can be a day of treats and indulgence (if we are lucky).  For others, it can be a white hot mess.  Challenging relationships with mothers. Longing for mothers.  Loss of mothers.  Challenging relationships with children.  Longing for children.  Loss of children.  Infertility, secondary infertility, miscarriage, adoption strain, the IVF roller coaster...  Women of the world, we hear you. We all have mothers.  Many of us would like to be mothers.  Many of us are blessed to be mothers.   On Mother's Day, let us offer up our love and support to the women in our lives who need it.  We all deserve it.

Wishing you a smooth start to your week!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spring flower wreath from egg cartons

I left you hanging in the middle of Kids Clothes Week.  Sorry about that.  In truth, I haven't progressed a whole lot since last Wednesday, though I did sew for over an hour today.  Last Wednesday, I found out my car needed a new transmission for the bargain price of $9000 (yikes!), and then Friday, I left for the weekend to attend a friend's wedding in the midst of the worst weather I have experienced outside of a hurricane possibly ever in my life.  Both stories had great endings, but those are stories for another day.  Fortunately, my neighbour has taken great interest in the finished product of the class picnic blouses I started for KCW, so I have that extra motivation I require to carry on.  All's well that ends well, I say.

Anyhoo...craft, anyone?

spring flower wreath

My wee girl attends school from 12:15 to 2:45 each weekday afternoon.  When we first started this schedule, she wanted to do art with me every morning.  We would create together (or simply sit and colour together) for around an hour, then we'd take a walk, after which we'd do yoga and sing...(kidding about that last part).  This lasted for a few blissful months, but now she usually just wants to watch DVDs as much as possible.  Sigh.  I figured I would have to come up with something pretty good to lure her back.  I found this project via elsiemarley on Pinterest, and boy oh boy did it go over well.  And the finished product?  Totally adorable and very display-worthy.  She is so proud, and I love having it hanging over the woodstove, as she requested.  We both agree this is an excellent preschool art project, and it would make a beautiful Mother's Day gift.

cutting up the egg carton

painting the egg carton flowers

arranging the flowers on the wreath ring

We used 2 and 1/2 cardboard egg cartons and a large piece of scrap cardboard from the recycle bin.  I cut up the cardboard and cut out the flower shapes.  She did all the painting. When the paint was dry, she arranged the flowers and the leaves on the wreath form and I hot-glued them into place.  I prefer preschool projects with minimal adult involvement, so I can assure you she feels full ownership of this wreath.  I did the parts she knew she couldn't do on her own (cutting cardboard with scissors is hard!), but she is very proud of the overall work.

Wishing you a beautifully warm and sunny weekend!