Jan 142018
two image collage of the raised beds, before and after

Left: The raised bed (double height) in its original shaded spot. Right: One of the new beds, moved into the sun.

It seems like every January has at least one day that makes us all a little hopeful that winter won’t last forever, and today was that day, with clear blue skies, temperatures up into the 60’s and a hint of spring in the air. I took advantage of the beautiful weather to embark on a gardening project I’ve been planning since fall, when we had two sickly trees taken out of our back yard. The trees, along our eastern fence, blocked much of the morning and midday light from half of the yard, and now that they’re out I finally have somewhere besides my back patio to grow vegetables.

I had an old raised bed in another part of the garden that never got enough sun, so today I took it apart and started to move it (and the soil) to the new sunny patch. I’m halfway through, but since tomorrow’s a holiday and it’s supposed to be nice again I’ll have plenty of time to finish. While I was out there I had an epiphany about using the old posts from a wood pile to frame and support a raspberry patch, now that its in the sun. Here’s a highly professional mock-up of what that would look like:

raspberry patch mockup

The only problem with this plan is that its right atop our pachamanca pit, so I might not win this round – we’ll see!

Jan 022018

sticky paper art cutout

First day back at the office and I spent a few minutes of my lunchtime cutting up sticky notes to make this paper art. I considered going outside to sketch the R/V Thomas G. Thompson before it left for its next research mission but it was too dang cold. Instead I sat at my desk and used blue, orange and yellow sticky notes (3″ x 3″) and glue stick for this layered collage.

Mar 202015

make your own canvas beach windbreak

Last summer we had a marvelous two week beach vacation planned at one of my very favorite spots to visit – Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s a dreamy beach, miles long and extra wide so there’s plenty of room for walking, running, flying kites or building sandcastles. The only drawback is that it can get windy like most beaches, so before we went I made a large canvas beach windbreak to use while we were there. It worked great at blocking the wind, and also helped to add a boundary and a bit of flair to our beach ‘compound’ (we were there with lots of family members for a reunion and had a lot of chairs and gear that we actually left on the beach each evening – well above the high-tide line of course).

It might seem like summer is ages away, but spring is a great time to get a few projects done to help you have a great time at the beach this year. It’s a perfect project for the lull between Easter and Memorial Day. The whole project cost about $20 – much lower than the average beach windbreak costs retail (here’s one on Amazon) and I got to customize it myself.

canvas beach windbreak using canvas dropcloth To start, I purchased a canvas dropcloth from my local hardware store – look for the hallway runner size (mine was 4′ x 15′). The beauty of a hallway runner is that the edges are already hemmed so that saves a few steps. You could wash and dry it first, but since I knew I wasn’t planning on washing my completed windbreak I skipped that step. If you do think you’ll wash it sometime you’ll need to preshrink it now to prevent problems later.

Next I laid out the dropcloth on my front lawn so I’d have plenty of room to work (and because it was a beautiful sunny day) and figured out where the pockets for the posts would go. I decided on a post at each end of the windbreak and three in between for support.

make your own canvas beach windbreak

clockwise from left: (1) Lay out all of your support posts on the canvas, (2) Fold the edge over to make a pocket, (3) Pin the pocket closed with safety pins and then stitch the pocket closed for a durable finish.

I folded over each end and pinned it shut along the length to make a pocket to slide the post in, and folded over three more pockets equally spaced along the windbreak. I pinned the canvas using large safety pins just to make sure the pins wouldn’t slide out as I was moving the windbreak around and stitching up the seams. Make sure when you do this that the pockets are wide enough to hold whichever size post you use. I was using thick bamboo stalks because they were free from my yard (and because black bamboo just looks cool too) but you could use heavy dowels or lathe pieces from the hardware store as well.

A note about your supports: make sure they are long enough to fully support the windbreak PLUS have enough extra to go deep into the sand. For my 4′ high windbreak I used bamboo that was about 6′ long.

Next I stitched up each pocket using a sewing machine with a heavy-duty needle and heavy-duty thread designed for sewing canvas. You could probably skip the sewing portion if you used enough strong safety pins but I wanted to make sure that my windbreak was durable. I also stitched across the top of each pocket to make sure the beach windbreak didn’t slide down along the supports. Once the canvas is sewn, the windbreak is ready to use.

canvas beach windbreak with hand painted stripes

After I finished I wanted to add some paint detailing to mine.  I picked out a few paint colors and had samples of exterior house paint mixed up to paint some horizontal stripes.

Confession time: I can never get masking tape to work correctly when I’m painting straight lines (it always gets under the tape or smears) so I just traced lines in pencil using a 2’x4′ as a guide and then carefully filled in the lines freehand. There were a few mistakes but that just added to the charm I say.

make your own canvas beach windbreak

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Jan 072015

sweet new years treats

I made homemade caramels and marshmallows for holiday gifts and they turned out so delicious that I really needed to come up with some pretty packaging to compliment them. I started out with some cardboard boxes that are usually used as disposable baking pans. Next I added some decorative cupcake liners and nestled the caramels and marshmallows into them.

super sweet new years treats

I happened to have some pre-cut parchment paper (which is the best thing ever by the way) which I folded down so that it fit the size of the box and had a decorative band in the middle, and I trimmed the edges with pinking shears for a cute little touch.

super sweet new years treats

Next I used a long strand of bakers twine to wrap around the package and tie off to secure it. Finally the boxes needed a something else – a label! I made up a label using PicMonkey, printed out a bunch on cardstock, cut them out and slipped them under the baker’s twine.

super sweet new years treats


Oct 202014

home pressed apple cider

Every year my extended family gathers in the fall to make home pressed apple cider. It’s one of our best and most enduring traditions – this year was our 34th year pressing cider, which is kind of amazing if you think about it. Some of my cousins weren’t even born when we started “Cider Day” and now there are grandchildren participating too.

home pressed apple cider

My aunt and uncle have an old wooden cider press that’s all manually operated – no machine grinding or cranking for us. The process is simple – we start with apples, lots of apples:

home pressed apple cider

The tradition initially started when a number of our families had apple trees in the yard and lots of apples in the fall. Now almost no one has any trees (and those of us who do have kind of wormy apples) so we buy apples from an orchard in eastern Washington. They’ve been Tonnemakers apples for quite a few years now, and we usually have a few other random boxes as well.

apples for home pressed apple cider

The apples go into a galvanized steel tub of water to get rinsed off, and from there they’re up onto the cutting boards for a rough chop. The grinder is pretty powerful so we only need to cut the apples into eighths before we dump them in to get ground up into a kind of apple mush.

apples for home pressed apple cider

The grinder spits the apple mush into a kind of a barrel (wooden staves open on the top and bottom) and when the barrel is full a heavy wooden cap is placed on top and the press is screwed down, which presses the cap into the apples and the juice out. Once the apples are pressed dry the leftover mash is dumped and the process is repeated again. We strain it into bottles, cap them and voila! Cider! Everyone drinks their fill of cider on cider day and we all get bottles to take home as well. This year I’m trying my hand at fermenting a bottle – I’ll have to give the results in a few months.

Embellished Burp Cloths for a New Baby Gift

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May 092014

burp cloths 4

All mamas with new babies need burp cloths, and generally they need a lot of them (unless they enjoy doing laundry). We recently welcomed a special little one into our extended family and I wanted to make her mama a little welcome home baby gift. I know that with my littles I used a ton of prefold cloth diapers as burp cloths and while they’re functional they’re not very attractive. Instead I made the new mom a set of embellished burp cloths, using plain prefold diapers as a base.

burp cloths 1

Fortunately there’s an easy way to embellish burp cloths to make them cuter (and even a bit softer for that new baby skin). I found some attractive cotton flannel at my local fabric shop, and using the folds in the diapers as a guide I sewed panels of flannel on top. Two of the embellished burp cloths ended up with a center panel of flannel, and one of the cloths has a flannel border. The border I stitched on in a similar method to binding a quilt – sewing one side on and then turning the binding over and sewing it to the other side.

burp cloths 3

With the wide range of flannels available at the average craft or fabric store, you can find prints to match any nursery, outfit or mood. These burp cloths were made with mom’s style in mind, but of course there are a million cute baby prints as well. This is a fun project to make, from picking out the accent flannel to sewing the panels.

burp cloths 2

One last tip: If you do make these for a gift, consider sewing them without pre-washing the diapers and flannel – the washing caused the flannel to pill a bit and they would have been more attractive without it (although it also made the flannel softer).

burp cloth Collage


Oct 222013

For years my Halloween decorations consisted of a few carved pumpkins and the fall leaves I hadn’t managed to rake out of the yard yet, but as the kids have gotten older they’ve goaded me into more and more decorations. Thus the pumpkins were joined by a skeleton, and a ghost, and a few ceramic pumpkins. This year we took our display up a notch, moving it from the front porch out into the yard with our giant spider web. This web is so easy to make – as long as you’ve got a tree or large bushes to use as an anchor it goes up quickly (and cheaply)!

Start by stringing the support/scaffolding lines of the web. I used regular old jute garden twine (I have a spool that I bought like 10 years ago and it’s seriously never ending – I don’t know what I have to do to use this stuff up). String up 5 support lines – 4 diagonal crossing lines and one vertical line that all meet in the middle. I secured the lines to branches of our big oak tree across the top, and to metal stakes (just big nails, really) stuck into the lawn on the bottom. If you don’t have branches in quite the right spot you could string a line across the top to start with. Start with your outer diagonals, then the two inner diagonals, then use the vertical line to join them all together in the middle by wrapping it once or twice around the other lines where they meet.

Next, start your spiral. I started on the outside and worked my way in, but you could go the other way as well. Try not to make it so evenly spaced, that will make it look more natural. I pulled off a large piece of twine and started wrapping it through the support lines, giving it a turn or two at each line to hold it in place. Tie it off at the end and start another line (it was too unwieldy to pass the whole spool through the web, but if I’d had a smaller spool that would have been the easiest thing to do).

Finally, add a spider or two for that final creepy spooky touch (these were from our local pharmacy – nothing fancy but they look great on the web). Our house is ready for Halloween! Of course we only get about 5 trick-or-treaters a year, but we’re ready for them all the same. Do you decorate for Halloween? What’s your favorite decoration? And, full size or fun size?

Notecards Made From Natural Found Objects

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Aug 222013
Ok, back in the saddle again. The summer’s winding down, most of our crazy busy days are over, and its time to start back up with this blog – I’ve been having terrible writer’s block, but I think the way over it is just to jump in and post something, so here goes!
We’ve done a few really fun crafts this summer, using new ideas courtesy of friends and school, and this one (the notecards above) was great fun and simple too. You start by going outside and collecting anything that looks interesting (the flatter it is the better – think leaves, flower petals, pine needles). The kids love this part – its like a treasure hunt for them. Give each kid a bag for collecting and see what they bring back. 
Next, prepare the notecards by folding a sheet of paper in half (heavier weight construction paper or card stock) and affixing rows of double sided tape to the front. You’ll get a different effect depending on whether your rows of tape are touching each other or have some separation.
Now comes the fun part – stick your found materials onto the tape in whatever pattern or arrangement you’d like. Once you’ve done that put a piece of parchment or waxed paper over the card and roll over it several times with a rolling pin to press the materials into the tape firmly.
Finally, to finish the cards take them to your nearby beach (or sandbox) and cover them with sand. The sand will stick to the exposed pieces of tape and not to the natural materials or the card, and you’ll be left with a lovely sandy background. If you’d like the cards to be more durable, spray them with an acrylic topcoat to seal everything down, and if you’d like them to be really durable, skip the tape and use a more powerful adhesive. However, if you do that make sure your sand is nearby so that it doesn’t dry before you get the sand stuck on. With our crew of 4 little ones, the tape worked easily and we were able to troop down to the beach to put the sand on with no problems.
Jun 252013

My daughter loves to make art. I’m pretty confident that not a day has gone by since the first time she picked up a crayon that she hasn’t drawn, colored or painted something. She also has a bit of a tendency to want to save every little drawing, which means we end up with piles and piles (reams) of paper around the house. What we’ve done since preschool is to save everything in boxes or bins for the year and then sort through it at the end of the school year, which makes it a bit easier to deal with but still leaves us with the dilemma of what to do with the artwork that makes it into the ‘save’ pile. Plus, having a whole bin worth of space means she’s tempted to put most everything into that save pile, whereas knowing we were making a book helped her to recycle some of the less important pieces.

This year I made homemade books out of the assorted drawings and paintings from the year. It was a very quick and easy project – it took much longer to round up the paper and sort through it than it did to bind the books. To make it even easier on myself I only used art that was standard letter-sized (or a bit larger for the covers) so that I didn’t have to trim it to fit, but you could make larger books if you had a lot of bigger paper, or crop it down.

I gathered up a stack of artwork, squared it all up so it was in a neat pile and stapled it once in the middle of the left side, very near the edge of the paper (I did this to keep the sheets together while I lined up the covers). Then I added a front and back cover and stapled it at the top and bottom and near the middle again. For some of the books I used her art for the covers and for some I used construction paper. I finished the books with a strip of washi tape covering the staples as a binding.

Now, I know some people like to scan their kids’ art and make photo books out of it, and I think that’s a cool idea but we would have volumes of photo books of art by now, and that’s not practical for our family. Plus, this way allows my daughter to curate her own art so that she can keep as much of it as she wants, and as she grows we can even re-evaluate it to keep a smaller sample in a new book. We’re both pleased with the way these turned out and I’m glad to finally have a system in place to corral all the paper!

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Fabric Bags for a Moving Up Ceremony

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Jun 202013

My daughter’s teacher is kind of amazing. I’m so grateful that we had her this year! She started the year under difficult circumstances (long-term sub) and has done a really stellar job with the class. The year’s finally wrapping up this week, and as part of the class moving up ceremony she’s giving out these fabric bags, filled with some sort of surprise. My project was to write each child’s name on the bags and then they were able to decorate them in school today. I was a bit dismayed to find out I had to use puffy fabric paint for the names, since puffy paint is really not my craft forte. I was also bummed to see that I only had two spare bags in case of mess-ups, but luckily I didn’t need to use them. I can’t wait to see how the kids decorated their bags, and what’s inside them!