We have bees!

I have often considered getting some bees. It would be a homegrown source of sugar and beeswax, and they would help to pollinate my garden. But it was one of those things that I would do “someday” “next year” and probably never get around to it.

Well, my friend called me up the other day, and said, “How soon can you make a top bar hive?” (A top bar hive is the type of hive that I was planning, someday, to have.)

Um, today?

So I did. fortunately I was well stocked on wood, because I still don’t have my car back. I found plans online, and I built a top bar hive. It took me bits and pieces of most of the afternoon and evening, and I finished the roof the next morning. That afternoon, they brought over the bees.

We had to hack out a piece of our “jungle” of weeds and grape vines and level out a spot with a shovel and some cinder blocks, but finally we were ready for the bees.

You can see how steep a slope we're on in this picture.

You can see how steep a slope we’re on in this picture.

My hive is on the left. Their little top bar hive, that they were using to store the swarm is on the right.

My hive is on the left. Their little top bar hive, that they were using to store the swarm is on the right.

Caleb is keeping the smoker going.

Caleb is keeping the smoker going.

Our beekeeping friends at work installing the bees, tearing apart their old home, giving them a new place to build...

Our beekeeping friends at work installing the bees, tearing apart their old home, giving them a new place to build…

We saw a bee hatching!

We saw a bee hatching!

Caleb wanted to get closer, so he bundled up best he could and got right next to the hive.

Caleb wanted to get closer, so he bundled up best he could and got right next to the hive.

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All safe and sound.

There was only one bee sting, and that wasn’t until they were about to leave and were shooing the escaped bees out of their car. The bees were surprisingly calm about their home being torn to pieces. Maybe they just know they are going to love it here.

It’s pretty late in the year to start a hive, but the bees couldn’t winter over where they were, so we hope they’ll have enough time to get established this year. We’ll have to feed them through the winter to be safe, but hopefully next spring we will have a thriving colony of honeybees!

It was all so sudden. One day we were just gardners, and the next, we’re beekeepers too! I guess that’s the way life is. You think and you plan and all the sudden, life drops an opportunity in to you lap, and you have to grab it.

Bait Your Slugs

I love strawberries. In my coming garden expansion I have several of the new (as yet unformed) beds earmarked for strawberries. Strawberries are basically the perfect fruit, particularly for the gardner. You don’t have to wait 5-10 years for them to bear fruit or even 3 or 4 to have a significant crop like a raspberry.

Strawberries are the fruit for instant gratification. They are perfect fresh in any way imaginable. They freeze wonderfully. You can make them into the best jam of any fruit. They’re delicious in smoothies.

I have a 6′ x 6′ bed filled mostly with strawberry plants. There are some pepper plants on one side, but the strawberries are slowly taking over the bed. Another great benefit of strawberries- they reproduce themselves!

But every year, the slugs get more fruit than I do!

But not anymore.

I have heard of baiting slugs with beer before, but I couldn’t see wasting alcohol on slugs, and I doubted it’s effectiveness.

But not anymore.

I had some Corona leftover from last Thanksgiving. I bought too much, didn’t have room for it in the fridge, don’t drink much myself, especially in the winter, and it got skunked. So it’s been sitting around for months and months, because I’m too lazy to dump it down the drain.

I remembered that a few days ago, and decided to put it to work in my garden.

You fill a shallow dish with beer, and bury ground level in your garden. Well, you should bury first, and then fill it with beer. Then wait until morning….

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BOO YAH!

If I had chickens or ducks, they’d be having dessert. Alcohol soaked slugs! Yum.

I’ve done this for four days in a row and had a nice crop of slugs every day, though never as many as the first day. And for my pains, delicious strawberries with no slug holes!

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After some internal debate, I decided to consume them all in an orgy of self gratification.

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Project Tuesday-Make a Slingshot

So yesterday was the second week of Project Tuesday-the day my son and I make a craft project together. I have rules for these projects-not set in stone rule, but serious guidelines.

First and foremost: NO JUNK. No useless, waste of time “craft” projects that you want to throw out as soon as they are finished. You know, the kind you used to do in elementary school or sunday school.

Second and corollary to the first, it must be useful or beautiful. Mostly useful. :)

Sling shots are very useful for a kid. They can be used for target practice, “hunting”, fighting off bad guys, and all manner of defensive and offensive maneuvers. We used instructions from this blog. But it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Cut a fork out of a tree banch, not too thin a branch, or it will break. Let the kids do the sawing, because that’s the most fun part of this whole project. (sorry no pictures of this step, since I didn’t bring my camera down to my neighbor’s stick pile (they have all the trees).

Come back up the the house and cut out a rectangle piece of leather or heavy duty felt or fabric, and poke/cut/finagle a hole in each end.

don't worry, he washed his breakfast dishes later :)

don’t worry, he washed his breakfast dishes later :)

Then attach 2 rubber bands together, and then attach each set to the leather piece. I found it works well to use broccoli rubber bands (the really thick kind) for attaching the pouch part to the wood. And we used 2 thin hair elastics type rubbers to attach to the leather, because that was all I had handy.

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Caleb felt the need for a target, so we got a large cardboard box, and he painted a target on it.

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Ready, Aim, Fire!

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New Toy-Crane/tow truck!

Just stopping by to share my new toy.

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This is a simple little crane for your little one’s construction site. It’s made of cherry and walnut wood and is six and 3/4″ long. The boom swivels 360 degrees and goes up and down. It’s finished with my homemade beeswax polish.

The construction worker is 3/4″ in diameter and is painted with watercolor paint and finished with a water based lacquer.

It also doubles as a tow truck! 

Enjoy!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Salsa

Life is funny. You can be humming along, just fine and dandy, feeling like you’ve got it all under control, and then all the sudden, the transmission goes out on your car. Two days before a craft show. In the middle of the road. When most of your available funds are tied up in fall craft show fees. Worst timing ever.

But at least I made it to the farmers market first! My car was towed home with a bushel of tomatoes on the seat ready to be made into salsa.

Ready for peeling

Ready for peeling

Making salsa from a whole bushel of tomatoes is a great way to keep your mind off your troubles. For one thing, it’s such an insanely huge undertaking, it’s going to take you the better part of 2 days to get it all accomplished.

For one thing, salsa is serious business around here. I may have mentioned my Tostitos addiction at some point? And runny food processor made salsa is not going to cut it. I’m sorry, it’s just not. This recipe is the best homemade salsa EVER.

At least I had help with the peeling...

At least I had help with the peeling…

So you’re going to have to hand chop all those tomatoes that you just cored and peeled. Then you’re going to have to let as much of the juice drain out of them as possible before you cook them down to a nice chunky salsa texture.

the assembly line

the assembly line

And of course salsa doesn’t just have tomatoes. There’s 18 green peppers to chop, 20 or so jalapenos, and 12 cups of onions, not to mention all those limes you have to juice to get 3 cups of juice (which you never manage to buy enough of, and always end up substituting bottle lemon juice for the extra). And of course you forgot about peeling 30 cloves of garlic as all the paper is getting stuck to your fingers.

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This gadget makes nice square diced peppers. And it's fun for your kids too!

This gadget makes nice square diced peppers. And it’s fun for your kids too!

So yeah, you really don’t have time to worry and feel sorry for yourself. Especially when you have to bike (car is busted, remember?) down to Dollar General to get the tomato paste, because you don’t have enough of the homemade stuff from last year left. But at least you can pick up some chips and beer while you are there.

By the time you actually get the salsa finished, it’s around midnight, and there is no way in hell you are canning it tonight, so that gets left until tomorrow.

I mixed all the pots together in here to get even distribution of spices and vegetables.

I mixed all the pots together in here to get even distribution of spices and vegetables.

The next day you get canning first thing (around nine, because you woke up late, because you were up until after midnight, remember). After you have your 29 pints of salsa canned, you get to work on the skins and cores, because there is no way you are wasting all that free sauce. (check out how to make sauce from your skins on northwest edible life)

And then there is all that juice that you drained from the raw tomatoes, which really must be cooked down and canned…

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Once you are done with all of that (3.5 quarts of sauce from the peels, 2.5 quarts of juice), the kitchen is a disaster and you have no desire to clean it up. That can wait. 2 days later you finally manage to get ever last pot done and the sink scrubbed out, and you vow to never make a sextuple batch of salsa again. At least until next year.

Yum.

Yum.

Project Tuesday-Lego Shelf

Being September and all, I feel the need for added structure and organization. Something about “back to school” time is ingrained in me now. Maybe it has to do with wanting to get serious after the care free days of summer.

Anyway, just because we’re unschooling here, doesn’t mean we don’t have any structure, but we do very little on a weekly basis of our own accord. Until now…

Enter Project Tuesday! Every Tuesday, we’re going to do a craft project together and post about it here on the blog.

Today’s project was making a lego shelf for Caleb’s houses which are generally just piled in a heap on top of the shelf that we keep the larger baskets/boxes of toys on. It’s been bothering me for a while, and I got the idea for this shelf about a year ago.

But you know that saying about the shoemakers children always going barefoot? Yup, that’s us. I do so few woodworking projects to benefit us, it’s embarrassing.

Anyway, for the lego shelf, we took boards that were too warped or cracked to use for making salable toys and used them for this project. We used 1×12’s and cut the shelf boards just long enough to fit the large square green plates on. For the side pieces we also used 1×12’s and cut them about 3 inches high, which was tall enough for the tallest buildings that he had (we usually build buildings to 3 blocks high, but there was a castle that was about 5 or 6 high.

After Caleb (with much supervision and help and only one heart attack by his mother), cut the boards himself on the miter saw. He was quite proud of this. If it had been a smaller board and a smaller project I would have had him cut it with a handsaw, but this would have taken too long.

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After the pieces were cut, we both hammered them together (he did one side, I did the other). I would have been fine with gluing the whole thing, but hammering is fun for little boys so that’s what he chose. We did end up gluing the parts together that we couldn’t hammer, but there was much hammering before then.

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It could use some sanding, and he wants to paint it navy blue (his favorite color), but it looks pretty good–much better than a messy jumble of houses that are always falling off and breaking.

And after lunch we had a story about Mr. Butter Nut aka SQUASH MAN!

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Mr. Nut was then joined by Mr. Pumpkin, Mr Onion, Mr. Carrot, and Baby Tomato. Hardneck Garlic joined the party from the fridge and Apple Man came with him.

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Keep your sense of humor and have fun!

Games for Reading

took this picture at the Atlantic City sandcastle contest

I took this picture at the Atlantic City sandcastle contest back in June.

A while back I did a few posts about some of our favorite games and the skills Caleb has picked up from playing them. Those games were very math heavy, so I wanted to do another post about the word oriented games that we have been playing lately.

I have a very low opinion of games that are intended to be educational. But really that’s not always because there is something wrong with the game (though frequently they aren’t very good games), it has more to do with the attitude behind the person foisting the game on the kid (myself included!).

Games for reading are certainly better than just grinding it out in misery, but if the adult is forcing the child to play in order to force him to learn something, than that kind of misses the point.

Games are for fun-overtly educational or not, they shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat knowledge into a kid (that analogy was very heavy-handed of me, I know). If your kid isn’t having fun, if he’s whining and acting disinterested, let it go, it’s not the right time.

I LOVE word games: Scrabble and Boggle are my favorites, but most any game with words is right up my alley. But Caleb has not been interested in words, reading, or spelling. So I had to bide my time. Sometime around the beginning of the summer, he started to get interested. He turned 7 in February, so that actually makes sense from a Waldorf perspective.

I had shown him some online phonics games a year or so ago, but like I said, despite the appeal of technology, he wasn’t interested in words.

I like online phonics type games, because he is playing against himself and the computer will tell him whether he is wrong or right. If it was me all the time telling him he was wrong, he’d be offended.

The best online phonics site I’ve found is Starfall.com. It’s bright and colorful and fun. Some other ones I looked at were very boring and confusing. Starfall is simple to use, and it has all these fun songs about things like “Y can be a vowel…y can be a vowel…like A E I O U…” Caleb has probably spent between 15 and 20 hours on it over the past 2 or 3 months.

Board Games

Boggle Junior

Boggle Junior was the first word game we ever played, but it’s not a very good 2 person game. It’s hard for him to spell duck, but not for me, so there was no competitiveness that makes a game fun to play together. Still, I like the concept, and we have played it 10 or 15 times (games he likes though, we play multiple times every day while he’s hooked on it). Maybe a certain type of kid would enjoy taking it out by himself for fun, but Caleb is not that kid. He’s a social guy. If you had 2 or more kids at similar reading levels, it would also be more fun.

Games for Reading

This is a book written by a reading tutor about games to play to help a child with different reading concepts. I found it at my library, and I’d encourage you to check yours for it, because I’m not sure I’d buy it. It did have some fun games though. There was one where we actually made a board game and dice for it.

There were pictures of different things that you copied out of the book and then cut up the strips of pictures to make a path of pictures . You roll the die, and if it lands on Wh, you have to go to the picture of the whale. There was also a TH, SH, and a CH (and possibly something else I’m forgetting). The instructions were for a spinner, but I had some wooden cubes around that I thought would be easier.

The game is fun, because winning is just a matter of luck, not knowing how to spell the words, and it gives an introduction to the 4 letter combination. You could take the same concept and use it for any sort letter combo, you’d just have to make up your own pictures for each space.

Memory with matching words instead of pictures

The other idea I got from that book was making memory cards out of blank business cards (not the most economical choice, but hey, whatever you have on hand). Instead of pictures, you use words. I’m thinking of selling wooden memory tiles with chalkboard paint on one side so you can use them over and over again as your child progresses to harder words. But I have to test the idea first to see if it would even work. Let me know what you think.

Memory is always fun, because our kids are almost better than we are at it. When I flip over the cards, I say each word, and I encourage him to do the same when it’s his turn. I’m not sure if this memorization is actually carrying over to real life, but hey, it’s fun, so it can’t hurt.

Scrabble

If you aren’t regularly playing the game yourself, your beginning reader might not be very interested. Caleb, not knowing very many words, wanted to play, because I play online with my brother all the time, and in person when we’re in the same state.

Since he doesn’t know many words, he looks up words in the dictionary (dictionary skills! didn’t even think of that) or off of some 2 and 3 letter word lists I printed out for him. For some reason, he still insists on keeping score and moaning about his low scores (can you tell he’s been listening to his elders, lol).

He’s definitely learning new short words from playing Scrabble with me.

[as a note, the best place to play scrabble online is the Internet Scrabble Club]

Upwords

Upwords is the scrabble take off game where you can stack the tiles on top of each other to make the original word into another word. I never liked it much. The board is too small, the tiles are all worth the same number of points, and because of those things it’s harder to be creative.

But for a beginning reader, those negatives are actually positives. They even up the playing field so the game isn’t so lopsided, score-wise. Stacking the tiles also helps teach word families (I’ll admit I just looked that up that terminology; it means groups of words that have a common feature or pattern – they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound.) 

In both Scrabble and Upwords, I give him a lot of help. I try to feed him words so he comes to the final solution by himself. Basically I’m teaching him how to play, how to find words by common combinations. He does make quite a few words on his own though, either ones he knows or ones that he’s looked up.

These are our favorite games. Boggle, being a speed game, isn’t much fun yet, though we did try it (at his request).

What word games do you like to play with your beginning readers? What do you think of my chalkboard memory game idea? I figure you can start using it for just the alphabet, maybe matching Big A and little a. Then move on to simple words. You could even draw a picture of a cat on one and write the word cat on another. You think it’ll work?

 

 

 

The Modern Toybox

I think everyone is agreed that the toy boxes of the past, a big box that you dump everything in, are not a good way to store toys. The Waldorf books encourage us to group toys in baskets on a shelf, which is a good idea, but baskets, being generally round, are not very space efficient.

The best idea in toy organization, in my opinion, is the cubby shelf with storage containers in most of the cubbies. That’s the system that we use, and it has worked very well for us. I built a single layer cubby shelf, with a larger space at the end for the town.

Toy Shelf

I bought cheap fabric boxes from the dollar store, which was frugal, but they haven’t held up over the years. They don’t look that nice either. They are flopping out of their cubbies, and not holding their shape.But they’ve served their purpose.

Recently I bought a large Ikea Expedit for my office area. In it I store boxes of finished toys, toy parts, like wheels, axels, smokestacks, shipping supplies and other work related paraphernalia. I really wanted strong sturdy boxes that hold up over time and look nice. So I came up with this…

The Modern Toolbox

 
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One thing I like about this box as opposed to others I have, is that it doesn’t fit too tightly. It’s easy to get in and out.

This box will last you until your grandchildren are putting away their toys in it. And the best thing about it is that it is custom made just for you. So whatever size cubbies you have, you can have boxes to fit.

The box pictured fits the Ikea Expedit shelves. It’s about 11.5 inches high, 15″ deep and 13″ wide. This is the largest size available.

The boxes are perfect for heavy toys that cheap fabric boxes can’t handle like wooden train sets, blocks, all those wooden cars and trucks, and you don’t have to worry about them cracking like plastic boxes can.

The box is sanded smooth all over, and has handles on both ends to make lifting easy. The box is unfinished so you can stain or paint it to match your decor. It’s solid pine, not particle board or plywood.

And of course, it’s great for all kinds of storage, not just toys. I use it for keeping all my wheels and axels and related stuff in one place. It’s easy to pull out the whole thing, work on the toys, and then slide it back in the shelf for easy cleanup.

What do you think of it?

 

Animal Puzzles

There is something about puzzles that makes them irresistible to people of all ages. I have fully grown men and women that will stop at my craft show booth just to take apart and remake a puzzle. Then they laugh and say, “sorry I can’t buy any, I don’t have any kids to buy for.”

Puzzles are just fun, and here are my latest offerings:

The Bear

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The Sheep
This one is my favorite. His face is made from walnut wood (it’s not stained!), and it just makes the cutest contrast.

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The Whale

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Enjoy puzzling!

 

Wooden Blocks

Well, it’s back to work here at Mama Made Them. I took a real vacation last week. I didn’t do a single lick of work, except replying to customers emails. I sat on the beach, went to the boardwalk, and watched way too many videos after my son went to bed. 

I figured I needed it before the holiday crunch time. I have 2 days of craft shows in September, 6 days worth of shows in October (3 weekends in a row!), and then my biggest shows of the year right after Thanksgiving. Not to mention my etsy orders go through the roof in November and December (hopefully!). 

Well, I promised you new toys before I left on vacation, and I never got around to taking pictures before I left. So without further ado, the first of my new toys:

Wooden Block Set

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They have all the pieces you would normally see in a block set, plus 2 unusual and very useful pieces in this set. The large 5.5″ squares are perfect for building solid base to your castles. I came up with these while playing with my son and getting frustrated with always having to put 2 blocks together to make a square tower. They also make a great base for building on carpeted floors. 

These blocks are gorgeous. The colors are so pleasing to look at, and if you are the first person to buy a set, you’ll even get the poplar blocks that have the pretty stripes of color on them. Well, my son is getting extremely impatient, so it’s time to leave for today. 

This week I’ll have more new toys, a post about games for reading, and of course some harvest pictures from my garden.