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

 
100_0993 100_0994 100_0992

 

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?

 

Advertisements

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

100_0574

100_0577

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.

100_0579

100_0581

The Whale

100_0589

 

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

100_0582 100_0584 100_0585 100_0588

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. 

 

 

 

Local Wheat Flour and Black Beans

Two of the exceptions to my local food summer were grains and dried beans, there just weren’t any local options that I knew of, so I resigned myself to a local produce summer.

Then I read The Third Plate by Dan Barker. The Third Plate is a lovely, rambling tale about good food, Stone Barns Restaurant (a farm-to-table restaurant in New York City), and the story of wheat. If you have read and enjoyed Michael Pollan’s books, this will be right up your alley.

Barker makes the point that we need to go beyond fresh produce, grass-fed steaks, and line-caught fish to make for sustainable eating. That we (and chefs) need to eat and use all of the farm’s production rather than cherry pick the cream of the crop.

But he also goes in to a story about wheat in the United States: how it’s grown, how it’s processed, how it is bred (not for flavor!), and after reading the book, I thought I’d do another internet search for some local flour.

And lo and behold, after some digging, I found some. The farm was less than 45 minutes away from me in Pennsylvania. They had just gotten their stone mill in operation (thanks to regulatory hurdles), so this was their first year selling flour.

And guess what else they grow?? BLACK BEANS!!! The two staples of my diet on one farm. I was thrilled! Oh yeah, they were an organic farm too. And they had corn meal too. And spelt flour. And buckwheat flour. And pretty soon, when they get their machine working again, they’ll have rolled oats.

The farm is Weatherbury Farm. They started out as beef cattle farm, transitioned to grass-finished beef and lamb seven years ago, and five years ago started growing grains for the straw to bed their cattle. Now they are selling flour directly to the public.

So I bought 50 pounds of whole wheat bread flour, 50 pounds of whole wheat pastry flour, 5 pounds of cornmeal, and 10 pounds of black beans. I may have gotten a little carried away on the flour purchasing, but it was cheaper to buy in 50 pound bags.

They also sell white flour, which is a bit more nutritious than the stuff you buy at the store. Only the bran is removed by sifting, so the germ is still in the flour donating it’s nutrition and color (a little yellower than “white” flour). It’s also more expensive than the whole wheat, which makes a refreshing amount of sense. It always irritates me than processed foods are less expensive than their minimally processed counterparts.

But enough about the farm, what about the flour?

Well, I have baked 3 sets of bread from the whole wheat bread flour. All three times, I cut the flour with some white flour and white whole wheat flour that I had on hand. Generally my ratio is 2/3 whole wheat to 1/3 white and white whole wheat.

100_1056

The bread was fantastic, wheaty-er than I’ve been used to since I’ve been using a lot of white whole wheat flour in my breads (which has a more mild flavor than traditional red wheat), but the wheatiness of it didn’t spoil the flavor it made it better. The crumb was soft and divine. Caleb and I were fighting over the last pieces of it.

I made 2 batches of plain bread and one batch of a yeast pumpkin bread (using my first pumpkin of the year). With the pastry flour, I’ve made pancakes several times, a pie crust, 2 batches of cookies, and I feel like I must have made some muffins, but I can’t remember.

100_1057

 

The pastry flour has a texture that reminds me of cornmeal, though not nearly so coarse. It’s not as fine and soft as store bought whole wheat flour by any means however. I notice the slight texture in pancakes (which are delicious), but not in the cookies.

The cookies were ginger snaps and pumpkin oatmeal cookies, both of which have strong flavors which overwhelm any wheaty flour, so I knew they’d be okay to make with whole wheat flour. And they were.

 

The pie crust was for a pumpkin pie, and while it was fine with the pie, if you ate a piece of the crust without the pie, the flavor was much too strong and the texture was noticeable. It was also tough to roll out because it didn’t stick together.

The pastry flour reminded me of graham flour which is a coarsely ground whole wheat flour. It reminded me of graham flour, not so much because it was very coarse, it isn’t, but because it doesn’t soak up liquids the way regular store bought flour does. I found when I made pancakes I needed to let the batter sit a few minutes to absorb the liquid properly, and sometimes I added a little store-bought flour to help it along.

I have yet to make any corn bread, but the black beans have been delicious.

100_1065

Next time they have a flour pick-up, I will definitely buy some of their white flour and give that a try. Though, probably not another 50 pound bag! Since it is stone ground, it’s more perishable than store flour which is pulverized on a roller mill til it’s practically dead or literally dead in the case of white flour.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the flour, and will definitely continue buying from them. My only regret is that they don’t grow the white whole wheat flour that I get from the store, which is my favorite bread baking flour.

The next farm pickup day is September 6th, and you need to have your order in (by email) by the 30th. I’ll wait until October when they have this years black bean harvest in and maybe they’ll have some oats by then too.

Well, if you’ve stuck with me this long, I’ll be surprised. Yesterday was too wet to take new toy pictures, so I’ll do that today, and share with you tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Tour-2014-August

Well, Mama isn’t just about making things. She also grows things. I became interested in gardening after reading the book that honestly changed my life (Beat the System, by Gary Paulsen). In the book, which is about living with very little money, he discusses the importance of growing your own food if you are serious about saving money on edibles.

But I had my first taste of gardening when I was living with a family as a nanny a year later. She had a garden, just a small raised bed with some tomatoes and cucumbers, but I was hooked. I loved watering it, weeding it, harvesting from it, and most of all eating those little cherry tomato gems, and even the cucumbers, a vegetable that I had previously disliked.

After I moved back home the next year I made 2 small beds myself at my parent’s house. When I moved out and travelled in my van, I worked at an organic farm in Florida for a month or so, which introduced me to the wonders and deliciousness of kale.

But it wasn’t until i had my own house that I could really go to town, and now in my fourth year of gardening here, now that I finally have most of the growing area fenced off from invading groundhogs and deer, I am finally starting to really feed myself from the garden.

So without further ado, here’s the garden:

100_0536

This (above) is the first area I dug up. The dirt was soft and rich, and my plants have always done well here. It’s the front yard, right in front of my porch. From right to left I have: peppers (hot and sweet), 2 pumpkin plants (one going back against the house and one going into the sidewalk), the strawberry bed, celery, and broccoli. I harvested lettuce from the celery bed earlier in the year, and I picked a pumpkin and cooked it up last week.

100_0541

I’m now on the porch looking down to the left of previous picture, on the other side of the walkway to the house. This has been my prime gardening spot for years. The soil is nice, though not as nice as the other side of walkway, but this part isn’t shaded by my neighbor’s tree, so it is more productive.

I’ve harvested loads of cherry tomatoes and about 20 lbs of early girl tomatoes that I made into sauce, which is the first time I’ve been able to make a batch of sauce with 100% of my own tomatoes! That’s a volunteer pumpkin in the corner with the big yellow flower.

100_0542

This is to the right of the last picture, uphill from the tomatoes. I started this area last year, but it wasn’t fenced, and there was a big bush shading things. I sawed down the ugly bush, expanded the area, and put boards and fence around it.

These beds have green beans, black beans for drying, corn, butternut squash, cantaloupe, cucumbers, and zucchini. There’s a struggling pot of basil too. I have harvested as many green beans as i need for fresh eating, but not enough for freezing. The dried beans are drying on the plants, the cantaloupes are green and growing, the corn is small, but tasty. The cucumber that I got was tasy, but the plants have been struck down, so I’m not likely to get any more. I’ve had a steady stream of zucchini, and the butternut squashes are almost ripe for picking.

100_0543

These five beds are to the right of the beans, in front of my car. These beds have been there since the first year as well, but just this year I fenced them, which enabled me to actually get the food I was growing in them. I had lettuce in them this year and garlic and the kale that is still there. I just planted fall lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and carrots. There is also a line of basil in there that I planted a month ago, which I hope grows up before the first frost.

100_0549

This is the future site of my garden expansion, looking uphill from the last picture (to the left of my car). I started clearing the area last fall, and spent about 5 hours more clearing what you see here. The hill is choked with weeds, wild grapevines, and poison ivy. I plan on terracing the hillside with cinderblocks, and planting a few dwarf fruit trees along the road side of it. 

100_0557

Ah, August…

I love August. It has to be one of my favorite months. May is nice as well, but usually pretty rainy around here. August is warm, sunny, and dry. The garden is flooding us with wonderful things to eat. We always go to the shore for a week in August. There are too many nice things to count.

July ended with my Christmas in July sale, which was my most well-attended sale in the history of my shop. You guys really let me know how you feel about my toys, and it was nice to see how my audience has grown over the years. So thank you.

Last week we did a craft show at the Regatta at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park. It rained half the weekend, and sales barely covered the (excessive) entrance fee. But we did go camping, and my son got to go on a long boat ride (by himself, since I was selling toys-or attempting to) and do a bungy/trampoline jumping thing, so it was a mixed good and bad weekend.

I planned to share some pictures of the weekend with you my faithful reader, but something in my camera made a popping noise when I hadn’t even turned it on yet, and now it doesn’t work. So I ordered a new (used) camera, which will hopefully arrive tomorrow. So this week, I’ll be flooding you with pictures of new toys and doing a pictorial tour of my August garden.