New Toy Friday-Stacking Toy

Sometimes on Fridays, I make new toys. Today I made a stacking toy for babies.

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It’s made of 7 different kinds of wood, counting the base. The woods from the bottom up are:
Birch (the base)
Cherry
Walnut
Maple
Oak
Cedar
Sassafras

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They’re all finished with my homemade beeswax polish.

What makes it different from all the other stackers out there?

Well, all the blocks are different types of wood. It’s 6 blocks high, instead of 4 or 5 like most of them. Plus it is sanded as smooth as your baby’s hands that will play with it.

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So let’s play!

Sleep

A search on Amazon for “child’s sleep habits” returned 266 hits in the book section. Can you say we’re obsessed with getting our kids to sleep?

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The overwelmning majority of books are about sleeping babies, but there are books about kids from toddlers to teenagers (Snooze or Lose: Ten No-War Ways to Improve Your Child’s Sleep Habits). And even when you search for adult sleep books (which do exist), most of the hits are for improving your children’s sleep.

But what about you?

When you are checking off your child’s scientifically designed bedtime routine (guaranteed to promote healthy sleep habits for life!), what are you thinking about?

“God! I wish he would just go to sleep so I can RELAX and watch TV!”

“Hurry uuupp, I need to get these toys done for this order that HAS to go out tomorrow!”

And after they finally conk out or get into bed, what do you do?

If you are anything like I used to be, you head downstairs and open your computer. Under the auspices of needed to “relax,” you fall into the world wide web, usually for WAY longer than you had planned. Just five more minutes, just one more article, just one more episode of Freaks and Geeks (after all, they’re pretty short).

So after gazing into the bright (very UNrelaxing glow of the computer screen), you stumble off to bed, hopefully remembering to brush your teeth and complete your nightly ablutions (my dad’s word). And you get into bed. But you’re all wound up from the latest murder on Pretty Little Liars and trying to figure, who is wearing that red coat anyway?

So you figure you aren’t really that tired, and maybe you read a book or get up and do some work. Or just lay there with your mind spinning in circles until you finally crash.

The next morning, your healthy sleep habits child is rested and raring to go at 7AM! They after all went right to bed at 8 last night. They weren’t being stimulated by watching things before bed (“sorry, son, no TV after dinner, it messes up your sleep”). ¬†They have a predictable routine to help them drift off with a minimum of fuss.

You on the other hand have to drag yourself out of bed resenting every second of the morning. You need at least 1 cup of coffee before you can think about the day. And you think, damn, why don’t these darn kids know how to sleep in??

That was me, minus the coffee (hate the stuff), up until about last year (still is on some days). Because what I realized was that, I couldn’t control myself once Caleb was asleep. Hours and hours of uninterrupted time stretched out before. I could watch whatever I wanted. I could follow rabbit trails through the internet for hours.

Sure I occasionally did some work at night, but often I would be tired, easily distracted, and never actually make it down to the basement. If I got into a TV series, I could watch episode after episode and couldn’t seem to stop! Even reading a book, if I was into it, I could read for hours without even realizing what time it was.

And I always regretted it the next morning. The funny thing was, when I was laying down with Caleb as he drifted off to sleep, I was almost always tired enough to fall asleep with him, so I decided that’s what I was going to do.

Healthy sleep habits change everything! Think about how your kids are when they haven’t had enough sleep. They are snappish, grumpy, lethargic, occasionally manic, clumsy. That’s why you encourage them to go to bed at a decent hour. So why do you think you are any different?

People constantly say to me about Caleb, “Boy, I wish I had his energy.” But that energy does not come out of a void. Or rather it does, the void of sleep. SLEEP and only sleep replenishes our stores of energy.

COFFEE and tea actually drain our energy reserves. Caffeine stimulates our bodies to produce extra energy, which leaves us with less than if we had skipped the drink or chocolate bar in the first place.

Sleeping is non-negotiable. If you cut yourself short night after night, you are short changing yourself and your kids. Your kids deserve a well-rested mother. After a good night’s sleep, you are happier, more patient, even healthier!

Sometimes, if you work from home, have your own business, particularly if you are a single mother who can’t afford any child care, you HAVE to work at night. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But don’t use that as an excuse to stay up half the night. You should constantly be trying to find ways to work that don’t involve cutting into time you should be asleep.

I had a paper route when my son was a baby. I had to get up at 2 or 3 am (12 or 1 on Saturdays) to have the papers delivered on time. I was always tired that year. But you better believed I went to bed early most nights, and napped with him during the day as much as humanly possible.

Then when I started the craft business, the first 2 Christmas seasons I was up late night after night. One year after Christmas, I crashed and burned with a terrible cold that lasted for almost a week, for a day or two I didn’t even want to get out of bed.

Many mothers (I was one of them) claim they NEED this quiet time at night to unwind and relax (usually in the light of a glowing box or two) and feel Human. But it’s surprising how much easier the day goes when you are ready for it, when you’ve had your rest. And getting lots of sleep does more to make you feel human than anything else.

If you go to bed early, then you wake up rested BEFORE your children get up, then you can have quiet time alone, and you can really enjoy it, because you aren’t so tired!

It’s time we started treating ourselves with the care that we treat our children. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to go to bed, you NEED to go to bed. Right Now. Not five more minutes. Now.

Sweet dreams.

Making Pasta Sauce out of Fresh Tomatoes

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I thought it was appropriate to start with that first photo. Just to remind you (as if you could forget) that life in this blog is not perfect. Both pots boiled over, by the way, I just thought to grab the camera on the second one.

So I spent way too much of the day washing, cutting, processing, stirring, and cleaning up after tomatoes. I got a half a bushel of organic tomatoes at the farmer’s market for $10, so today, I got to work wasting my day.

Seriously, I have a show on Sunday (at Marty’s Market and Wigle Whisky in Pittsburgh for you locals) and a wholesale order for a new client. There were way better ways to spend my day than making tomato sauce.

I don’t even like tomato sauce that much. And Walmart has it for $1.25 a quart. It’s pretty tasty too. It’s got chunks of onion and pepper and zuccini. I prefer my spaghetti with a pat of butter and garlic salt.

But for some reason I have this compulsion to make stuff. And I have to admit, it was pretty tasty at the end.

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Three of those pints (plus some of a quart) came from this bag:

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While I was looking for sauce recipes (none of which I actually used), I came across this blog post where the writer was making sauce out of the skins. It appealed to my frugal nature, and I always felt guilty for wasting all that stuff that came out of the other end of my Victorio Strainer. So I gave it a shot.

I cooked the goop for a while with about a cup of the juice from the other pot, because the stuff is kind of dry when it comes out. After it had cooked down for a while I blended it up in the blender, and then pushed the liquid through a strainer. Then I cooked it down some more.

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When it was done, it was a nice sauce. It was smoother than the other sauce, but still a nice consistency. I was quite pleased to get some extra sauce out of stuff that would have just gone to feed the micro-organisms in my compost.

Now all I had to do was the dishes.

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Whose bright idea was it to make sauce anyway?

Mrs. Wilder’s Donuts and Pumpkin Pie

We’ve been reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s our first Little House book, and it’s always been my favorite. I don’t think it’s a secret that I am a little bit obsessed with food: making it, eating it, reading about it! And Farmer Boy is all about the food.

And hard work. It’s inspiring, and makes you feel a bit lazy. Their everyday chores (morning and evening) are more work than I do some whole days, not to mention their work for the day: hoeing, planting, harvesting…

But really it’s all about the food. When we read about baking day, and Almanzo’s mother making donuts, my son was licking his chops. Caleb has also been listening to Homer Price, and Homer is always getting donuts at his Uncle Ulysses lunch counter.

So we had to make some donuts. Real Donuts. Which meant a big bowl of hot fat (Canola Oil in this case, because it’s all I had). I used this recipe, more or less. I didn’t have any eggs, so I left that out. And I used white whole wheat flour instead of whole wheat pastry flour.

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It made a bowl full of donuts, and they were gone by the end of the day. Next time, I think I would add some sweetness to the dough, but they were pretty good. And my first time deep-frying was uneventful.

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We got back from visiting my family last week, and as soon as morning broke, I was out checking the garden. What I found was these beauties that came up from seeds in the compost I spread:

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I was thrilled that they were pie pumpkin seeds, because pumpkin pie is my favorite kind of pie. This was also inspired by Farmer Boy. Almanzo grows a huge prize winning pumpkin, and takes it home for his mother to make pumpkin pies out of.

First we cut the pumpkin (okay I cut the pumpkin).

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Then we scooped out the seeds into the compost (hopefully to grow me new pumpkin in a couple of years), and cut it up so it would fit in my pot to steam it.

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After it’s steamed for 20 minutes or so, it comes out of the skin pretty easily. I scooped it into the blender and made pie. We use a variation of Bryanna’s Vegan Pumpkin Pie.

Pie Filling (with my variations)

One Pie Pumpkin, steamed until soft
1 cup of soy milk (for this month, we used the local cow milk we have)
1/2 cup of maple syrup (Ohio maple syrup!)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 T. molasses
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. EACH ground ginger, nutmeg and salt
1/4 tsp. cloves

Just whiz all this up in the blender, and pore it into your pie shell. I used this recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen, because olive oil was the only fat I had in the house, but I used white whole wheat flour for the flour. I also cut the recipe in half.

The recipe says to bake the pie at 350 for 60 minutes, but mine was in way longer than that. You are also supposed to let it set up overnight in the fridge, we settled for the afternoon on the counter (no fridge).

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It was amazing. In true Farmer Boy fashion, we even ate it for breakfast the next morning.

July Giveaway Winner + Cashmere Pajamas/Long Underwear are BACK! + New Giveaway Contest

First off, I would like to announce that Aimie A won last month’s free toy. She will receive one helicopter with wheels.

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In other news, I finally returned to my sewing machine this week. I stitched up a few pairs of 100% Cashmere Pajamas.

Size 18-24 months:

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Size 12 months:

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Size 2T:

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And I realized why I have a hard time working on sewing projects. You see, my woodworking stuff is in the basement. So the tricky part of my woodworking is done in peace (my son is upstairs).

My sewing machine is on the ground floor, so I’m constantly interrupted and begged to play. I expect that if I did a lot of sewing, we’d work something out, but since I don’t, here we are. Let’s just say, I appreciate the dust and the noise that keep Caleb from wanting to go in the basement more now. Of course, when I’m in the basement more than a half an hour, I start feeling guilty for being, relatively, unavailable. So it’s a toss-up.

I’ll be making a lot more of these in the months to come to keep your little ones cozy in the winter. Let me know if you have a specific size request.

I’m planning on designing a short pants, short sleeved version for bigger kids, since sweaters are not big enough for them to have long pants, though long sleeves are still a possibility.

I also have been entertaining thoughts of a cashmere stuffed animal. I hate wasting things. I use every bit of wood I possibly can, and then I burn the scraps for our Sunday cookouts. I use my oil and beeswax soaked paper towels that I use for finishing as fire starters.

When I make the shirt and pants, there are always lots of decent sized scraps leftover. But what to do with the scraps? Any ideas? Whoever gives me the best idea (or the best pattern!), will win the August giveaway contest for one toy of their choice under $25. Think simple, I’m not a great seamstress, and I want to sell these at a reasonable price.¬†

Local Food Month and Peach Syrup “Recipe”

Local Food Month is going off without a hitch so far. Surprisingly.

I’m kind of fussy about my food, and I want what I want, but shoot, it’s August! Who wouldn’t be happy with juicy peaches, sweet tomatoes, fresh potatoes, watermelon, and all the other tasty offerings from my garden and from the market?

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As an aside, I have NO idea where that bottle of A1 steak sauce came from. I found it in my fridge when I was cleaning it out, and I can’t imagine how I got it! It’s really weird. I suppose I should throw it out.

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We had this soup for dinner last week with our fresh tomatoes, and I threw in about a cup of chopped fresh basil from my garden. It was soo good. Ours wasn’t vegan though, because I used our raw cow milk that we’re using this month in instead of the soy milk. I guess tomato paste is a cheat, but it was a pantry item, and I’ve been dying to make this soup with good tomatoes.

I’ve been having black beans and tomatoes pretty much every day for lunch. They’re amazing together. Plus I don’t have any lettuce, though I have some more coming up in the garden.

PEACHES, ripe in-season, local, are one of my all time favorite fruits.

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One I was a kid, one day we went to the farm down the road and picked peaches before Saturday breakfast. When we got home, my dad whizzed up some of the peaches in the blender for our pancakes. He called it Peach Syrup.

It was the only time he ever made that for us, but I never forgot it. In my adulthood, I’ve made it a few times, and it is delicious. It’s best if you leave some chunks, but peeling them before blending is a good idea. I did it in my little blender, because I was just making it for myself.

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And did you see what I found last week at the farmer’s market? Local maple syrup!

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Why do I homeschool?

This question has 2 answers. One answer you save for acquaintances, strangers, distant relatives, and one answer you save for people who are really interested.

I am terrible about answering questions about personal matters. I stutter. I answer something lame, that probably isn’t even half the truth. And I get this question a lot, so I decided I needed to come up with a short, honest answer that really gets down to the heart of why I don’t send my son to school. I came up with one word:

Freedom

I want him to be free to pursue his own agenda. I want him to be able to wake up when he’s rested, to run when he needs to run, to ask questions when he is curious, to go to the bathroom without having to tell 20 or 30 other people about it. To travel regardless of the season. To be free from someone judging him all day long.

But to the casual questioner, I’ll simply reply: “freedom.”

This is the first and foremost reason we avoid the schools. And it is a positive answer. So many people start homeschooling out of fear: Fear of evolution, sex-ed, bullies, mean or incompetent teachers. Fear and freedom are not compatible. Fearful people homeschool to protect their children from the world. I homeschool to introduce my son to the world.

I disapprove of the methods and goals of forced schooling, it is true, but primarily I’m motivated by those warm October days we spend happily at the lake. Those rainy miserable days that we play Acquire all day long and bake muffins.

I don’t want my son to waste his energy on bullies or mean people that he’s incapable of escaping, but mostly I just want to honor his desire as a child to be with people that love him. To be explore the world from a place of safety. He can run around the neighborhood with kids that can be rude and hurtful, but he is always free to leave, free to come home whenever he’s had enough.

I disagree with the nutritional guidelines of schools, but more importantly, I want my son to have access to real food whenever he is hungry. I want him to be free to eat a sandwich in 5 minutes or to make himself a gourmet feast if that’s what he’s in the mood for.

At school, his options of what to do, what to eat, and what to say, are reduced to almost no options at all. At home, his options expand exponentially.

People are meant to be free, and kids are people too.

August focus-Preparation

When August rolls around, I start seriously thinking about Christmas-time, about winter, about how to keep it all together during my heaviest work load of the year. The nights are a little bit cooler, the days are a little bit shorter, and I just get in the mood to plan, to prepare, to make one last ditch effort to be ready for the rush.

First I think about my goals for the year.

One was to have my complete Christmas inventory done by now. … That didn’t happen.

-BUT I am farther ahead than I was at this time last year.

-I have kept a consistent inventory throughout the year and shipped things in a timely manner.

-There have been far fewer 4:45 rushes to the post office.

-Even though I didn’t work as much as I wanted to, I stayed consistent and didn’t fall behind on my orders.

The other main goal was to keep better control of the house, as far as keeping the kitchen clean and the messes picked up.

-Again, I haven’t been perfect.

-BUT there has been definite, noticeable improvement.

-I went away for our summer shore trip with the house clean, all of my orders shipped, and even had time to make applesauce the day before leaving.

For August, I have to step up the workload. Wholesale orders start rolling in in September, and I want to be ready for any new customers. Plus I have 2 craft shows in August, and 3 in September. I need to focus on making hay while the sun shines to last us for the rest of the year when toy sales are slow.

I want to continue to focus on keeping up with the messes. One thing that has been helpful is to be obsessive (or so it seems to me) about putting things away immediately, regardless of whether I’ll come back to them tomorrow.

It helps to pretend that I am sharing the house with another woodworker who needs to share my tools and supplies. If I were doing that, of course I would put the wheels back in the proper box, regardless of whether I was making fire trucks tomorrow. To do otherwise would be rude and inconvenient. I need to show myself (and my son) the same courtesy I would show a fellow employee at the factory of Mama Made Them Toys.

The other side to preparation is making sure I have what we need for fall and winter. This encompasses supplies for toys, but also clothing and footwear for winter. If I start looking now, I will find reasonably priced used sheepskin boots (our preference) for myself and Caleb before cold weather comes, and I’ll remember to waterproof them before we need to wear them every day.

Many home-schoolers are spending August planning their schooling, and I feel the pull of this even as an unschooler. I’d like to plan a few “field trips” and other time consuming things that tend to be overlooked if they aren’t on the calendar.

I spend less time planning what Caleb should be doing, and more time planning how to get my work and housework finished and out of the way, so I have more time to respond to his needs. I’ll do a separate post on fall activities I think we’ll enjoy doing together (our second annual corn maze visit is top of the list!).

I also want to spend some time gathering craft ideas, since I have fond memories of making things for our relatives as a child.

Tomorrow, I’ll announce the winner of the July giveaway, and the August giveaway prize.