Monday, August 29, 2005

last of the summer blooms

There's still plenty blooming, but not many new flowers showing up in my garden. I've counted four - two 'regulars' and two surprises.

Buddleia Davidii - Butterfly bush. The bush was a gift from my mom several years ago. Every year it dies back to the ground. Every spring I think it's completely dead this year. And every year it comes back.

Garlic chives. Beautiful flowers and the leaves taste good to boot... and it's nice to see a fresh new face in my garden at the end of August. I was amazed the first time I saw them; they really *are* a different species than the typical purple pom-pom spring-blooming chives.

And... surprise! Tangerine blossoms coming (the pink buds near the stem) and a fruit getting ripe. I just might be the only person in the Upper Peninsula with tangerines ripening in my garden. I'd have lemons, too, but I gave my lemon tree to my mom after Mac and Bubbie were born... our house gets pretty small in the winter. I fear I'll have to give away my tangerine tree as well this winter. Takers?

At least I get to keep my apple tree, which at last count still has eleven decent looking apples on it, despite the drought (and conspicuous lack of care and watering on my part.)

And... surprise! These dainty yellow blooms are on my chamomile Treneague, also known as non-flowering lawn chamomile. I dropped an email to Sandy Mush Nursery to ask them how to proceed with my flowering non-flowering chamomile. I don't really care for a refund, I'm actually quite charmed with the little blooms - but I'm curious how they will answer.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

painting the nursery

In making a record of all the crafts I've done that I can remember, I completely forgot one right under my nose: the murals in the nursery and in the kids' room.

The nursery was mostly done just before and after our oldest was born. The first picture was of Richard Scarry's Mr. Fix-it, above, taken from a pop-up book given to Daniel by the family of a good friend, his then-boss. Throughout the book Mr. Fix-it is shown overinflating tires, turning kitchen faucets into geysers, and in the end steam-rollering a car: "Mr. Fix-it can fix things for GOOD!" Mr. Fix-it is not only in the same line of work as Daniel, but they both wore red hats and bib overalls. We thought he would be an important person for our babies to learn about.

Next came one of Daniel's childhood favorites, the Cat in the Hat. I had to paint a fake door around the cat so that I could leave the walls white but still paint the blue background that increased the Cat-in-the-hat-ness two hundred percent.

Next came one of my childhood favorites, Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad. The murals got bigger and bigger as they went. I'm not quite sure why.

The strange lines on the walls are the fake-wood paneling painted white. We live in a 30-year-old mobile home and decided it wasn't worth it to drywall the inside of a 6x8-foot bedroom.

It makes me laugh to see Mac and Bubbie looking somewhat like Toad and Frog themselves; short and tall versions of Baby.

After Frog and Toad came Ernest Shephard's original pre-Disney Tigger, Piglet and Pooh. This was by popular demand from many of my friends, when they saw what I was doing - "you just can't have a cartoon nursery without them!" I didn't have any real objections to it. Piglet especially looks so much cuter in the original style. Pooh looks like he's about to turn the bedroom light on.

I had plans for Maurice Sendak's Wild Things in the closet-turned-crib-space... but... it's hard to believe these pencil lines have been on my walls for six years, even surviving - still unpainted - through a washing or two.

I also had other ideas in my head. But then BigE got big enough to have his own ideas. And what he wanted was - Bert and Ernie. I balked at this. I didn't want television characters... but the irony was, we don't have a TV. BigE met Bert and Ernie through Golden Books. I had no real reason to say no.

As you can see, I very nearly finished these guys. All but the black Sharpie Marker outlines missing from Bert's legs. I'd forgotten it was unfinished till I snapped the photo yesterday. Bert and Ernie, another short-and-tall combination that Mac and Bubbie love to point at and "talk" to. Who besides God would have guessed that there were going to be twins in this room?

We moved the big kids into the big room after putting drywall in and painting, long before we knew we were going to have twins. I had several ideas for a mural in there, including a folksy farm scene at sunset, or a shop with painted tools hanging on the walls, or a giant map of our town on one wall and a map of the world on the other wall. Chickie was too young to participate in the discussion, so I asked BigE what he would like painted on the walls. His answer, and the resulting room, coming soon to a blog near you.

Friday, August 26, 2005

looking forward to fall

over the last few weeks I've come face to face with some ugly realities about myself. One of the big things is that I'm afraid of everything: afraid of the future, afraid of making wrong choices, afraid of calling my friends lest it be at a bad time of day, afraid of inviting anyone over to play with me lest they be annoyed by four little kids running around demanding their attention, afraid to say anything 'real' in conversation lest I say the wrong thing.

It all sounds rather silly on paper (er... on computer screen) - but there it is. I've known I need to spend some time alone with God, thinking about these things, praying, meditating on His words, asking Him to change me... because I sure can't figure out how to change myself... but I haven't even known how to figure out how to spend some time with God. I've felt too tired to even be able to make wise decisions about my time.

Then a friend of mine called and said she'd really like to watch Mac and Bubbie once a week this fall (while BigE and Chickie are in school) so that I can have some time alone to think and pray. And I got to spend a little time with another friend I haven't seen all summer - who filled me in on some good things BigE can probably look forward to from his first-grade teacher, who she has subbed for. And I also got a little time with a friend I haven't seen for more than a year. And none of my friends ran away screaming when my kids "entertained" them with endless silliness and bragging.

So right now I feel like there might be some hope, even for me and my kids.

Yesterday was Daniel's afternoon off, and there was wind. So we went to the beach and he got to do some KAPping while I got to spend time with a friend.

And our pastor's family gave us their swingset that their family has outgrown.

And Mac and Bubbie learned to slide down the climber, mostly by themselves: Mac leading the way fearlessly, even sliding out the ladder-hole once instead of the slide-hole - and Bubbie very cautiously watching and imitating.

Daniel and the big kids went out in the evening for some more kite photography while I put babies to bed.

All in all it was a lovely day. I'm looking forward to fall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

raining buckets, climbing walls

It's been raining buckets here the last few days. But I'm not the one climbing the walls, at least not this time around - BigE is. There's more than one way over a baby gate, apparently.

Speaking of buckets, Bubbie learned how to climb in. Mac wanted to do it too. He needed to be put in a bucket, but fortunately didn't mind if his bucket was smaller.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Good King Gentius and his flower

My favorite end of summer wildflower has bloomed at last.

the Fringed Gentian. This flower is named after King Gentius of Illyria (180-167 BC) , who discovered the medicinal qualities of the roots (emetic, cathartic, tonic.) As legend has it, King Gentius prayed for healing for his people in the midst of a devastating plague, shot an arrow in the sky and it landed in a gentian plant.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

bitten by the shrinky bug

OK, I've known for a few months I had to try it:

Shrinky pins!

My first experience with white Shrinky Dinks... er, I mean white Grafix Shrink Film. I like it.

So does my daughter... no big surprise there! She made some beautiful pins, above.

My most successful pin was the daisy... which admittedly doesn't exactly look like a daisy with its thick petals-- but I love the shape and the way the petals lay.

I cut a circle about the size of a dime and colored the center yellow. It looked like a fried egg - see the top photo, bottom left corner. Then I cut notches in to the yellow center all the way around, and then rounded - or at least angled - the petals. I'm going to try some variations on the theme, next time the Shrink Film comes out of hiding, which will probably be soon.

I don't know what I'll do with these pins, since I don't (currently) sew, and don't even have a pincushion to stick them in. But they're fun to make and fun to admire.

Also of note were a few test shrinky buttons which Chickie immediately claimed as her own. I have lots of ideas, so I'll be making more!

But by far the best thing we made was this:

smiles and memories. I'm trying to take to heart the lessons I learned with the eraser clay - to have more fun and make more messes with my kids, even when we don't have company over. I have fond memories of making Shrinky Dinks when I was little, and I'd love to pass on the legacy of being willing to make messes and have fun.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

home again, home again

We're home again, after a week's vacation in southeastern Wisconsin. It wasn't exactly a pleasure trip, as it was mostly for visiting Daniel's dad in the nursing home; he may not have much longer to live. But we managed to have some fun as well -




and tea with Granny.

Click the pictures to make them big.

We also got to run up and down Grandpa's new wheelchair ramp (he comes home this week, if all goes well), visit the zoo, watch movies, explore the farm...

...and squeeze in a little bit of KAP for the grownups. Daniel, shown here with his kite string, got some good pictures of the farm and countryside. And as a fringe benefit we could report to Mom that all the shingles were indeed still on her roof.

We were glad to go, and we're also glad to be back home. Dad's precarious health reminds me of the saying that for those who follow God, life on earth is the only hell they will ever know, and for those who choose life without God, life on earth is the only heaven they will know. Thinking about that makes every moment of my life stand out in stark contrast. It reminds me to be thankful for our own health, and to use our time wisely -- and with joy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Flowers with attitude

In my mind, August flowers are the ones that can put up with anything. Flowers with an attitude. Black-eyed Susan. Goldenrod. Queen-Anne's Lace. Swamp Milkweed. Tall flowers, thick stems, fleshy petals - flowers that can take 100 degrees and humid, but can also handle frost at night if they have to. Even the names have an attitude; Death Camas, Evening Primrose, Jewelweed, and Water Hemlock are also blooming now.

So I'm always surprised by the tiny wild lobelia growing in the marshy places.

Which I didn't get a picture of, because my kids just aren't as interested in flowers as I am.

I'm also always surprised by Grass of Parnassus - a delicate white flower, about six inches tall, with zany transparent veins. It's like an exotic orchid, growing in drifts all over the roadsides near the lake.

It's my second-most-favorite August wildflower. My favorite hasn't bloomed yet.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

using laziness to advantage

When I find cool craft stuff that my kids would like and that's not too expensive, I buy it.

And then, because I'm inherently lazy, I squirrel it away, in a secret bin too high for my kids to reach, for "rainy days" that almost never actually arrive, because the crafts would require too much clean-up.

Well, yesterday was a "rainy day". We had some young friends over because their oldest brother had broken his arm at a camp five hours away and needed surgery... so while Mom and Dad went down to retrieve (and comfort) him, their other kids played over here for the afternoon and evening.

Since a new computer game of Freddi Fish can only hold seven kids' attention for so long, I realized we needed a craft. I reached into my secret bin and pulled out... Sculpey eraser clay.

It's every bit as fun as I hoped it would be. It works just like regular Sculpey or Fimo. It's a bit tough when you first take it out of the package, but (like regular Sculpey) when you knead it and warm it it's pretty much like playdough.

We made dinosaur eggs. Planets. Aliens. Cubes. And an ice-cream cone. And then we cleaned up the clay crumbs by making balls of clay and rolling them in the crumbs to create even more dinosaur eggs. We poked holes in the ends of most of the erasers, to fit on the end of a pencil.

In a fit of generosity I gave all my creations away before I photographed them, to our visiting friends and their brother coming home from surgery. But we still have these ones were made by BigE (above) and Chickie (below.)

And to our delight (and my surprise), after they were baked and cooled: they erase! Like real erasers! And, at least so far, they don't leave little crumbs of eraser clay behind.

In my secret bin (don't tell my kids!) I still have wood picture frames for painting, a deck of I Spy cards, some Catch-A-Bubble soap bubbles that harden after blowing, a tiny twirl-a-paint, a few jigsaw puzzles and some neon play-doh... but nothing as cool as Sculpey Eraser Clay. I'll have to keep my eyes open for some more rainy day emergency crafts.

Five stars for Sculpey Eraser clay. Chickie's already asking when we can make some more erasers.

And three stars for laziness, which -- while it has its problems -- also comes in handy when you need an emergency craft project.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

last Font Tuesday until fall: Peppermint

I finished my Peppermint Outline font. From it, as Daniel suggested, it was easy to make a black (filled-in) version of the font too. I could do more tweaking, but since I've decided I'm too busy, I will just let it rest as it is. Someday (in addition to endless tweaking) I'd like to make a "Peppermint Inline" version, with very fat outlines and just a thin white inline.

The Peppermint fonts were inspired by a label I hand-lettered for Vegan Peppermint Cocoa, my favorite cocoa. It isn't exactly healthy, but to me it tastes better than Swiss Miss and is probably also a little better for you. (Or for me, if I'm the one drinking it, I guess.) It's my own recipe, adapted from some online make-your-own recipe that just used powdered coffee creamer and tasted too fake-creamy to me.

Vegan Peppermint Cocoa

3 cups Moo Not (powdered soy milk available from Dixie Diner*)
2 cups powdered non-dairy coffee creamer
2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 tin Peppermint Altoids**, ground (I use a spice grinder)
1/2 teaspoon salt

mix well in a half-gallon container (the 2-lb Moo Not container works well.) You can use empty cocoa containers if you want to give them as gifts (Hershey's is shown in photo above.) You need about 1/4 cup mix per 8 oz hot water.

*Dixie Diner: FWIW, we buy their Moo Not to make cocoa, and also their Beef Not - which doesn't taste like anything, but it's cheap and nutritious. We use it in highly spiced recipes. DD's spices and dried veggies are good and fairly cheap. We have not liked any of their pre-made meals or other food substitutes, though.

**You can also use 1 ground cup of hard candy such as Starlight Mints or Lifesavers (that's 1-1/4 cups before grinding), and reduce the sugar to 1 cup. I've enjoyed Spearmint and Wintergreen flavored hot cocoa, but I did NOT like the Raspberry Cocoa I made!


...Oh yeah, the fonts! You can get them here as PC TrueType fonts (which also work for Mac OS X) or at my Font Foundry.

Now, no more fonts until October. But probably some more kite-flying, kids and gardening. I don't know how much crafting, though... I've caught up on all the old crafts that I did take photos of, and would have to beg and borrow to find any of the crafts that I gave away without documenting. Maybe I'll have to start writing about Daniel's hobbies now! :-)

Monday, August 01, 2005

life, death and tansy

The tansy's blooming, summer must really be more than half over. (the end of our season was accelerated, I think, by drought.)

Tansy is a strange flower. It looks to me like a bouquet of daisies that have been subjected to endless rounds of 'he loves me, he loves me not' until none of them have any petals. It doesn't smell like a normal flower, either - it's spicy like camphor.

Tansy is associated with both life and death.

Tansy was used to flavor beer (and possibly preserve it) before hops came on the scene. In medieval Europe it was a common culinary spice often used to replace cinnamon or nutmeg, and was brewed to make a bitter (but popular) tea.

It has been used used to preserve fresh meat and as an insect repellant. It was also used, because of these properties, for funeral shrouds and bouquets. It symbolizes immortality because its dried flowers are long lasting.

In Greek mythology Zeus gave Ganymede, the beautiful Trojan prince, a tansy drink after he was carried away to Mt. Olympus - to make him immortal and allow him to continue his job as Zeus' cupbearer forever.

However, tansy can be poisonous. As warns,
"Tansy, and herbal extracts derived from it, can be poisonous and even fatal to humans. For centuries this plant was used medicinally to cause abortions, with sometimes fatal results. The bitter-tasting leaves and stem contain tanacetum, an oil toxic to humans and animals. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil."

In medieval Europe, cakes flavored with Tansy juice were eaten at the end of Lent as a means of cleansing "bad humours" from the body, and in remembrance of the bitter herbs the Jewish nation ate at the Passover.

The name of Ganymede's tansy beverage was athanasia [a=without, thanatos=death] and this legend is where Tansy got its common name - as well as its Latin name, Tanacetum Vulgare - which means, amusingly, "common immortality."

Death and life. Immortality, and the angel of death passing over the Jewish children because the Israelites stained their doorposts with the lamb's blood. Yes, and funeral wreaths, common teas and cakes, and cleansing bad humors from your body.

Once again, life and death are linked together; immortality is tied together with dying - and the commonplace and the extraordinary are here together in the same plant, along with death and life. Despite all the dangers, I'm very glad to have it at my door.