Photo Scavenger Hunt

It has been raining for 5 days straight here. It may have let up once or twice when I wasn’t looking, but I doubt it. All that rain coupled with the 40 degree weather and the wind means we’ve been stuck inside. And Caleb is going  CRAZY.

He was bouncing off the walls this morning, and not in a good way either. In the let’s throw things at mama and do whatever we can to get a rise out of her. We’d already played a bunch of games, read a few books, had a leisurely French toast breakfast.

When I’d had enough, I stood up and said, “Get your boots and your coat.” He was curious enough to find out what was going on, so he acquiesced. Then I said, “Get your gloves and I put a hat on his head. We were enjoying (?) a brief respite from the rain, but it was still Cold. We searched for and found his camera: a fisher price, indestructible type digital camera-that incidentally, I do NOT recommend. It takes terrible pictures, the screen is tiny and you have to buy the cord to connect it to the computer separately. We got ours at Goodwill of course, so it was a pretty good deal for $3. I’m thinking of getting a nicer digital camera from goodwill for his birthday in four months. Although, this one really is indestructible.

After we found the camera, I sent him on a photo scavenger hunt. I started with 3 things so he would be able to remember them-he can’t read yet. Then after he found them and wanted more, I made him a pictorial list of five things.

He came back with pictures of parking cones (neighbor’s have one), pumpkins, stop signs, a worm, and so on. When he was done, I had hot herbal tea waiting for him and some homemade raisin bread toast. In the meantime, I finished up packaging up toys, so we could go to the gym and go swimming. And I didn’t have to strangle him.


Audio Stories for Kids

When I was a kid, I used to love listening to books on tape, and radio story shows (Adventures in Oddessy, Ranger Bill!, and others from the Christian radio station). Now that I’m all grown up (though sometimes I wonder about that), I still love to listen to audio books. My time for that is limited however. Caleb and I do not share them same listening passions.

But I went searching for audio stories on the internet a couple of year ago. Really I was looking for this version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit that I loved when I was a kid. I didn’t find that version, but I found something better-2 things better.

The first one is the best. It’s a website called Storynory. Natasha (and now a couple of other readers as well) read stories. There are a lot of fairy tales, but also fables and myths, Rudyard Kipling stories, and more. Natasha has a lovely speaking voice, and she does great voices for the various characters. And she’s British, so that makes it all the more refined and exoctic sounding (for Americans anyway!).

Caleb’s favorite stories are anything from the Jungle Book-the white seal is an especial favorite and The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. And lots of other shorter stories and fairy tales. The best thing about the site is that they are all FREE! You can download them to keep on your computer and put them on a CD or mp3 player for car rides.

The other site that I like is called Light up Your Brain. There are other things on there besides stories, but the stories are the only things I’ve listened to. Chuck Brown reads these stories. This is where I found a nice version of the Peter Rabbit Stories that are a big hit in our house. It’s not quite as good as Storynory, but it is free with lots of well-read stories.

We also have quite a number of books on tape from Audible-Amazon’s audio book site. They cost money, but they are dirt cheap, and I got a number of them for free when I joined the site. Our 2 favorites from there are the Mowgli stories from the Jungle Book, and a large compilation of Dr. Suess stories-with The Lorax being our favorite (it has cool music).

Of course I read to my son too, several books a day, but I also have other things to do-especially now. Plus there is something special about audio books. I like to listen to them while I am sewing or finishing toys, and sometimes I get so engrossed in listening to the book, I forget to keep working. When we were kids, we would play with clay (house, people, cars, money, stores, we played for hours) on Saturday afternoons when the best radio shows came on, so we’d listen to the shows while we made our cars and houses and people and set up our town.

Check out the sites, and let me know what your favorites are.



Neighborhood Kids

I grew up on a street where everyone had a few acres each, we had 18, so we didn’t really know any of our neighbors. The neighbors with property touching ours that we did know-slightly-were older and none of them had any kids. So there were never any kids at our house that weren’t invited.

When we moved here, it was my first time living in a neighbor, hence my first experience with neighborhood kids. The first year and a half, we never really saw any kids. None of our immediate neighbors that we knew had kids. Though my one neighbor had grand daughters that came over occasionally. And they would come over and play. They’d all make a bit of a mess, but they played nicely, and I never had any problems.

But then some boys started coming over to play with Caleb. At first I thought it was great, but then they broke things and made messes, left banana peels laying about in random places on the floor, not to mention their arguing! And I realized that I need to set some rules. I’m very laidback. I don’t really have rules for Caleb, but he knows how to behave. These kids didn’t.

I realized that it was my house, and I could make up any rules that I felt like. If something bothered me, I just had to tell them not to do that, even if it seemed random and unfair. The biggest thing that allows Caleb to have fun playing and let me keep my sanity is making everyone play outside. Not only does it keep the terrors out of my house, it also gets Caleb out running around in the woods and playing in the dirt (without me having to do either of those things).

I can also tell them to leave when I want to. I can tell them that they can’t come in, if it’s not convenient for me. It’s not really the same as having a guest–though I am polite and I always feed and water them–because I didn’t invite them. They just show up and some days just stay until I kick them out (nicely, of course).

Probably other people don’t have to realize these things and learn them the hard  way, but that’s how I deal with the sometimes ubiquitous presence of neighborhood kids.

What about you? How do you deal with kids that don’t know how to behave? I don’t even like that word and it’s connotations, but some kids just don’t know how to act at someone else’s house. What are your strategies for dealing with feeding them and containing messes?




I read somewhere recently that when Napoleon was in a rush, he would tell his attendants to “dress me slowly for I am in a hurry!”

That’s good advice for me to remember at this time of year. I’m getting busier and busier, and time is getting more and more precious. Around this time last year, it was a beautiful day, and I wanted to hurry up and get some boats cut before I took my son to the park. And he was mad that I wanted to work at all. I turned on the bandsaw, and it was covered with wood dust so I swiped my hand over it to get rid of the mess that was irritating me. And I swiped my middle finger right into the blade.

Oh Shit! I ran upstairs for a rag to wrap it in, and ran to my neighbor’s house–my son going, what’s wrong? what’s wrong? I banged on her door and fortunately someone was home. I didn’t have a car at the time, so I showed her my finger and asked her if she would take me to the hospital. Her eyes got big and she said, “let me get my keys.”

The whole ride to the hospital, I going, “HOW could I have been so STUPID!?” Over and over again in my head. Sure it hurt, but all I could think about was how long I was going to be out of work. I went to the emergency room–a painful thing in it’s own right for someone that doesn’t have insurance. Then of course they made me wait, and I’m light headed and woozy and seeing black spots in front of my eyes.

X-rays showed that I had cut into the bone. The doctor explained that this was like fracturing my finger on top of the incision. Like I really needed any more pain.

I took the pain pills for a couple of days, but they made me feel weird, so I gave them up. I got back to work after about 3 days, but it took forever to heal. I spent all of my Christmas toymaking season last year holding my sander/holding down my wood/carrying wood with my other four fingers, with my middle finger stuck in the air. A big middle finger to hurrying I say.

Now when I am in a hurry, I remember to go slowly. I take a step back from the tool that wants to eat my fingers, take a deep breath, and consciously slow down. Focus on being aware of the blade and my hands.

This is a good thing to remember with my son too. When you try to hurry kids, they tend to dig in their heels and sloooowww down. Especially if you do it too often. I am trying to cut down on the things that make me hurry on a regular basis–mostly on my last minute post office runs. I hate having to hurry, and I really hate trying to hurry a child.

Something that helps me be a better parent is seeing other parents doing things that I find offensive. Then I try to remember how rude that looks next time I feel like doing that particular thing. In this instance, I hate it when parents snap at their little kids to “hurry up!” But everybody does it! It just jumps out of your mouth before you can stop it.

Sometimes it helps me to get outside of myself, and pretend someone is watching me. Would I behave this way to my child if I was paying attention to the words coming out of my mouth?

Hurrying is poisonous. It’s stressful. It creates a rift between ourselves and our children. And it doesn’t even help. How much faster can you do what you have to do? And if you cause a fight, then it’ll take even longer! Be patient.

Okay library story time is over, and so is this post. What do you do to avoid hurrying?

Biscuits on a Stick

Every Sunday night (with a few exceptions) we have a campfire in our backyard. Sometimes Caleb’s neighborhood friends come, sometimes not. It’s a fun thing to do to kick off the week, and it helps me get rid of all the wood scraps that otherwise pile up in my basement. I also use the oil and beeswax soaked paper towels that I use for finishing my toys as fire starters (I’m thinking of marketing them-they work so well). I do my best not to waste anything in the making of my toys.

During the summer we were cooking Gardenburgers. I cut super thick slices of Purple Cherokee tomatoes from our garden to put on top, together with onions and lettuce and whole wheat buns, with honey mustard dressing. Yes, I suppose I should (should?) be making my own veggie burgers, but they always fall apart and none of the recipes that I have tried have been very good.

Now that summer is officially over–the first frost has come and gone, the tomato vines are blackened, and the last of the tomatoes were gone weeks ago anyway–I can’t bear to cook veggie burgers without the delicious tomato on top. So I have to come up with other things to cook.

Today, I made vegetarian sloppy joes. I basically just mixed cooked lentils with tomato sauce and some chili powder. It could have used some more spice, but it was pretty good.

But the real star was the biscuits on a stick. My mom told me about doing this at camp when she was a kid, and I was talking about it with a friend of mine, and she sent me a recipe for bread on a stick. I didn’t use the recipe, but I did try out the idea.

I used my regular biscuit recipe (2 cups of flour-whatever mixture of white to whole wheat you prefer, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2/3 cup of milk-from whatever animal or plant you prefer, and 1/3 cup of oil). I mixed it up and took it outside in a covered container so it wouldn’t dry out.

I found a stick outside, took a blob of dough, and wrapped the dough around the stick. Then I squished it together pretty well and started cooking it over the fire.

They turned out fairly well. The thinner you squish it, the better it cooks. My first one was a little bit too fat. I think it might work even better on a metal stick of some sort-maybe something for shish-kabobs. I think the metal might heat up and cook the inside of the biscuit in a way that wood does not do.

All in all, it was a success. Caleb was saying that he liked biscuits cooked over a fire, even better than the ones from the oven. Of course, I was the one doing all the cooking. He can’t be bothered to cook a marshmallow properly, so biscuits were out of the question.

What are your favorite things to cook over (or in) a camp fire? Does anyone have a delicious veggie burger recipe for me?

Boating in the creek

We love to go to the creek in the summer, well, any time really. Our favorite pass time is catching crayfish (well, my favorite pass time is sanding toys or reading a book), but our second favorite thing to do is boat races.

I make my boats out of 2 by 3’s which are full of knots and cracks. So sometimes, I get a boat all cut out and maybe even halfway sanded, before I realize that there is a crack in it somewhere. Those boats used to get burned up in the fire, but now they have a new life as creek boats. And if Caleb happens to make any friends at the creek or lake, they can be given away without regret, since there are always more coming.

This is a video my brother took while he was out visiting us for Labor Day. The creek was swollen from heavy rains the day before, so it was perfect for racing.


Washington, DC

My brother has been working in DC for about 2 years, and I kept saying that we’d come and visit him. But somehow it never seemed to work out. If I had time, then I didn’t have money. If I had money, I didn’t have time. (The curse of the toymaker) But finally I just decided to schedule a visit for his birthday this year-regardless of the consequences.

We spent only one day there, so we packed in as much as we could.

Great Falls, VA. Our first and most beautiful stop.

We went to Great Falls, VA first. The idea was to avoid morning traffic into the city, but we hit traffic anyway. I’m glad we went though. It was amazing. So rocky!

The National Zoo-my “aminal” lovers favorite stop.

Next we went to the Zoo and saw pretty much every animal there.

With his dear uncle.

Then we went to lunch, and then to the mall. Caleb tried to scale the White House fence. While we were there, we overheard a kid say, “The squirrel is going to attack the president!” And his mother said, “They just heard you say that.”

The White House

The Washington Monument is really cool. I love that it’s the first thing you see when you get near the city. It’s so odd and out of place.

yep, he’s wading in the reflecting pool-which may or may not be illegal

He was looking for money with this little British kid about his age. That’s perfectly reasonable right? We wanted to go to the Smithsonian after this, but it was closed. We went back to my brother’s house changed and went out to dinner. And the day was over. Then the next morning we took the train to the bus stop! (Which may have been the highlight of the whole trip for Caleb. Well, that and the day before when we went up and down this enormous Metro escalator like 4 times. There were 145 steps, at least on the one that was broken that I climbed up.)

What goes around, comes around

Last night I was putting my son to bed. He got a cold, and was having trouble falling asleep. I was getting a little irritable, since I was tired too. But as I was patting his back and saying kind things, I thought of how nice it is when he does that to me.

Sometimes when I hit my toe or hurt myself somehow, he’ll come over to me and say nice things, and pat my back. Or if I am stressed out for some reason, he might come over and say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day.” In that cute, cute voice, he has that just makes my mama heart well-up with love.

Those kind words come from me. And when I’m stressed out and irritable, when he’s being over-dramatic, when I wish he’d just suck it up, I have to remember that whatever I say to him will come back to comfort me or to haunt me.

If I tell him to suck it up when he’s crying over a cut, that’s the way he’ll treat me, when I’ve hurt myself. If I want him to be kind to other children when they are upset, than I need to be kind to him. I need to be understanding.

How would I want to be treated in this situation? If I stub my toe-a very minor injury, but one that leaves you in agony for a minute or so, what response do I want from the people around me? Not laughter that’s for sure. Not, “you aren’t bleeding, be tough!” I have a neighbor that apparently had that sort of parenting, and that’s the response he has when my son injures himself outside.

And to go beyond physcial injuries, how do I want to be treated when I’ve left my toys all over the floor for two days? Kindly. Gently. You can insist that I clean them up, but don’t insult my pride. Don’t imply that I’m a hopeless slob. Encourage me that it won’t take any time at all to clean up, and I’ll be so glad to have a clear floor again.

What we say to our children today, will come back at us word for word, tone for tone, tomorrow. And if they are too scared to talk back to us, they’ll be thinking it. I know I did when I was a kid. Kindness is the only way to treat people. And children are people too.

Sticky Buns

On Sunday we have some sort of sweet dessert type breakfast. One of our favorite things to have is sticky buns.

When I was really little, my grandmother or one of my aunts would make sticky buns for everyone for breakfast when our whole family was sleeping over my grandparents’ shore house. My mother never made them, so after my nana died, I don’t think I ever had them again.

But I remembered them, that sticky gooey, sugary deliciousness. I wanted to make them again when I was a mother. But I was also into a bit healthier fare than when I was a kid. How many sticks of butter?? How much sugar???

So I had to come up with my own sticky bun recipe. I used maple syrup for the sugar, and thought that seemed a little thin, so I mixed some molasses in with it. I poured that into the bottom of a glass cake pan with a ton of raisins and walnuts.Then I rolled out my bread dough (same no added sugar or fat recipe I use for everything else).

I sprinkle a lot cinnamon on the dough, drizzle some syrup, and roll it up long ways.

Then I slice out buns with a serrated knife, and put them into the syrupy goo in the pan. Cover it with a damp towel and let it rise for a half an hour.

Bake at 350 for some where around 30 minutes, though you’ll have to check to make sure it’s not doughy in the middle before you take it out. Sometimes if it’s getting too done on the top and doughy in the middle still, I’ll take a piece of foil and just tent the pan.

When it’s done, dump it out of the pan upside down so the raisins and walnuts are on top, and the syrup drips down into the bread, let it cool a couple of minutes for the sryup to set. But eat it while it’s still warm, that’s best. We always end up finishing a square pan full the first day between the two of us, and Caleb’s friends that come over.

Sticky Buns Recipe

a half a batch of the artisan bread dough recipe

1/2 cup maple syrup (or more to taste) + 3 T of molasses

lots of nuts and raisins

Easy right?

Local Food update: I found a local cow milk source at Shop N Save. It’s not organic though, but very local. I also found an local source of cheese and butter from an amish company at the same store. I got english walnuts at the farmers market, though I’ll have to shell them myself. My flour says it’s packaged in Ohio, but who knows where it’s actually grown, probably Nebraska. Ditto for oats.

Caleb’s favorite toy

Ever since I bought this house, with its large front porch, I have been wanting a hammock swing. I envisioned swinging gently in the hammock relaxing on warm summer evenings with a book watching Caleb play in the yard.

So last summer, I had some extra cash, and I started shopping for swings. I started with, but then I decided to check etsy, where I found this seller: Hamanica.

Instantly, I fell in love with her hammocks. The shipping was high, since it had to be shipped from Nicauragua, but the price of the hammock swings were fairly low. They were handmade from 100% cotton. The only question now was what color to get. White? Red? Yellow? Green? I couldn’t decide, so I got all four.

Multicolor Sitting Hammock, Hanging Chair Natural Cotton and Wood

It took close to a month to get here, as I recall, but it was worth the wait. If anything, it was more beautiful in person, and comfortable?? I could sleep in that thing. That is, I could sleep in it, if I ever got to SIT in it! I swear the only time I get to sit it in it is when my son either doesn’t know I’m outside or he’s asleep.

The swing is THE toy at our house. When Caleb’s friends are over, there are 2 kids sitting on the top bar, with another sitting in the seat. When there aren’t any kids over, Caleb goes out there to do tricks.

That bar on top has seen more action than the uneven bars at the olympics. It has single-handedly made up for having no swingset, monkey bars, or climbing trees on our property. And he’s only fell on his head like once (though apparently, it was really his shoulder).

Not that we have room for it, but you could definitely hang this indoors as well in the winter. I definitely would, if I could find a place for it. Those long winter days when you are stuck inside need some tricks to liven them up. Actually, I could make a place in the basement… Though it is pretty dusty down there and cold and noisy…

All in all, this hammock swing has been used and abused for a year, and it’s still going strong. However, if you actually want to sit in a hammock, you might want to get two.