Thursday, March 31, 2011

So Long St. Pat, Hello Springtime

Well, I started March with the best of "theme" intentions, but look what happened... Instead of a month's worth of amazing green-ness, the computer sat and collected dust while our family went on vacation, and this Mama felt the reality of the third trimester of pregnancy. (By this I mean tired and moody, and when I have some relief from these, I'm busy doing crazy pregnant lady stuff like scrubbing behind the toilet in the bathroom or making 24 servings of manicotti to put in the freezer.)

But we did make some progress toward having a back yard garden. I've always been a little enamored with the idea of a garden, part Secret Garden and part Little House on the Prairie. For years, I've toyed with the idea of having a tomato plant, but I found lots of excuses not to, like the three square foot balcony of our apartment didn't get any sun, so I didn't think the plant would live. Last spring, in spite of the fact that we were living in a rental house, I bit the bullet and planted four tomato plants in the yard. Because didn't think the landlord would look kindly on my digging up the grass, I put them in the flower bed, right next to a couple of really sad rose bushes. Guess what? They actually produced tomatoes! I was so excited, and vowed to do even better this year.

So now it's next year, and we have our own house, where we're allowed to dig up the grass. A generous person from our church who has a serious garden in his own yard agreed to help us get started. He came over with his rototiller and he and Jonathan dug up a nice plot in the yard. Our friend even brought some old leaves and some nutrient-type stuff to put in the soil.

My friend Anne who blogs at FlourSackMama is keeping an organic garden, but my goal is to grow something, rather than plant stuff only to kill it. So I'll take all the help I can get, even if I'm not exactly sure what's in those bottles...

But I did take Anne's advice about worms. Hannah and I found one in the sandbox yesterday, which we put into the garden bed. Then Jonathan and Hannah went on a real worm hunting expedition, where they dug a whole bunch out from under the decorative rocks around the flower beds. This was a little nerve-wracking for this Arizona girl, who was taught to always kick over a rock before you picked up it, in case there was a scorpion or rattlesnake living under it. All they found were worms, and it made for a fun afternoon.

Our church friend has started some tomato plants for us from seed (I told you he was generous!), and when they make it in the ground, I'll let you know about their progress. Please keep your fingers crossed for me that these don't go the way of our poor, dead houseplants...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Eggs-N-String: Not Quite What I Expected

Recently I saw a craft project that looked so cool, so fun, so messy - just right for spending a quality afternoon together with Hannah. The idea was to dip yarn into a mixture of half glue, half water, and wrap it around a balloon. When it dries, you pop the balloon, and have an artsy string egg. So last night, Jonathan was working on an indoor home-improvement project that required the rest of us to be occupied in the dining room, and that seemed like the perfect time to bust out my yarn eggs. I could keep Hannah busy for an hour AND create some beautiful decorations just in time for Easter. (By the way, as opposed to other holidays, I do get into the whole decorating for Easter business.) But things did not go as planned. See if you can find the weak link in this project: I'd love to know exactly what went wrong!!! I started by getting out some yarn. The only pastel (read: Easter) colors I have are baby-weight...maybe that's where things started to go downhill. Anyway, I put the yarn on the table and started rummaging for glue and balloons. Within seconds, Hannah had the balls of yarn spinning all over the floor, mischievous kitten style. This actually flustered me enough that Jonathan had to leave his tools behind to come re-wind balls of yarn while I finished getting my supplies. Potential problem number two: my instructions called for "craft glue," and I used tacky glue. Is that craft glue, or am I supposed to use white school glue? And did they really mean for me to measure exact proportions of glue and water? I eyeballed it, but maybe I added too much water... Finally, we sat down at the table, where I about fainted blowing up tiny, cheap balloons. This was endlessly amusing to Hannah, but made me a little worried. You know, what if all that huffing and puffing made me go into labor or something?! So I cut a long piece of yarn, stuck it in the glue, and handed the end to Hannah. Immediately, she dropped it and asked for a wet wipe because her hands were "too sticky." I tried to explain that we were using glue, and it was supposed to be sticky, and isn't it fun to get a little messy, but Miss Neat and Tidy would have nothing to do with it. The most involved I could get her in the whole process was to wipe up my spills off the table with her wet wipe! Home improvement project complete, and the mess already cleaned by the world's only neat-freak two year old, I put the balloons aside to dry overnight. Apparently, something about the whole thing made an impression on Hannah, because all day, she's been asking me if we could play "Eggs-n-String" again. After re-thinking her adverse reaction, the whole bottle of glue I used up, and the fact that every time I went into the laundry room, the yarn was still soft and pliable (not hardened like I had expected), I decided that once was enough for this project. After Hannah went to bed, I went after the balloons with a pair of sharp scissors. I have to admit: the coolest thing about this whole project was the weird sucking noise the balloons made when I popped them and they detached from the yarn. You really should make one of these just so you can hear it! They look quite nice. But they are still very fragile. There is no way these are going to last in the attic until next Easter. (And I know about nursing things along. I just set out some real eggs I dyed and hollowed out five years ago that have been, so far, a permanent part of our Easter decor.) Like I said, I don't know if the problem is the light weight yarn, the type of glue, the glue-to-water ratio, or what. Maybe they weren't supposed to be hardy, long-term things in the first place. In any case, they are lovely, they kept us busy for an evening, and I learned that my daughter simply cannot abide by sticky fingers. Huh...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Our Vacation in Savannah

For my eight faithful readers who wonder where I've been (mostly my mother, I think...), we had a wonderful family vacation to Savannah, GA. We saw lots of really cool things, ate lots of really good food, and had a fantastic time on our trip. I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures with you.

My favorite part was eating pralines...uh...I mean, touring the historic district on the trolley. (Hannah is now convinced that the school bus that stops outside our house to drop off the neighbor kids is a trolley.) We had the full benefit of springtime, including short-sleeve weather, and blooming flowers and trees.

Speaking of trees, I was fascinated by the Spanish moss. I won't tell you how many pictures I took of that, but here's Hannah checking it out. After we took this picture, I learned that Spanish moss houses chiggers. Luckily, that's a souvenir we didn't get!

We especially enjoyed eating at the Pirate's House, which I expected to be really gimmicky, but was actually a historic building, complete with Savannah's oldest house (there was a table in there, and we were encourage to troupe right in, even though people were having their dinner...sorry guys!). The food was great. But best of all was Jonathan trying to convince Hannah to wear the complimentary pirate getup from the children's menu. She wouldn't have anything to do with it, but doesn't he make a good pirate?

We also drove out to Tybee Island, where we explored the lighthouse and the beach. I've never been to a lighthouse - at least in my memory - so I was pretty excited. All three of us climbed to the top: 178 stairs! Going at Hannah's pace, this was much easier than our recent "hike" in the mountains.

And of course, we went to the beach, where we were completely out of place in tennis shoes and jeans (as usual), but had a good time anyway. Hannah found a colossal abandoned sandcastle, which was fun until the tide started to come in a filled the moat. Then she stuck to chasing the birds.

And just to prove how geographically challenged I am, I imagined that we were on the Gulf of Mexico. After we left, Jonathan said something about the Atlantic (which I have also never been to). Of course, having recently acquired a GPS, the only maps we had in the car were of Texas, California and Wyoming, none of which was helpful in locating the Atlantic. Jonathan was right: so Hannah and I both had a new experience of the sea.

Here's a nice picture of Jonathan and Hannah with the lighthouse in the background.

So now we're going about the business of recovering from vacation (read: piles of laundry and eating lots of frozen lasagna). But I'm still working on finishing off those pralines, so all is well...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Here's a picture of us in front of the Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah.
The water is green in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
Do you have a favorite tradition to celebrate St. Patty's Day? In our family, our traditions (of course) are centered around food. We usually bust out the yearly corned beef and cabbage. By the way, did you know that corned beef is an American meal, not an Irish one?

The first St. Patrick's Day after we were married, I was determined to celebrate with as much Irish-ness as possible. I spent hours online researching the menu. I couldn't find anything suitable for dessert. It seemed like most St. Patrick's Day desserts involved green food coloring or Grasshopper Cookies. Not too authentic.

Finally, I found a recipe for Banoffee Pie, which sounded very Irish to me. This involved simmering an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk for hours. The whole time I was convinced that the can would explode and ruin our tiny apartment kitchen. Thankfully it didn't. But as we were eating the pie, it finally occurred to me that "banoffee" is a contraction for "banana" and "toffee," the two main ingredients of the pie. Not Irish at all!! (But still good...)

This St. Patrick's Day, our celebrations are around family and friends, rather than pretend Irish food. I think this is better in so many ways. In any case, however they happen at your home, I hope your celebrations today are full of fun. And maybe a little bit of blarney.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Crayon Redo - Crafting Green (and Red and Blue and Yellow)

We're moderately green at our house. Our weekly recycling bin is about equally full as our trash bin. We try not to use disposable plastic materials; for example, Jonathan and I have used washable lunchboxes for years in order to avoid putting our PB&J sandwiches into plastic baggies. We use cloth diapers...and even cloth training pants. We keep many of our appliances unplugged when not in use, and we have low-flow shower heads. I'll be the first to say that many of these green decisions were more influenced by economics than environment. But even while I'm not spending money on baggies and disposable diapers, I feel pretty good about reducing our environmental impact.

So choosing to have a "green" theme for the month of March is a little bit of a stretch for me. I don't usually think in terms of green. I thought about doing something green with Hannah, maybe taking some of the stuff out of our recycling bin and making something really cool out of it. Instead, during a long morning, we ended up making some re-molded crayons.

I know...not the most original thing in the world, but we did have a lot of fun. Hannah really enjoys coloring with the crayons that she helped to make. There are lots of really good instructions for how to do this out there, so I won't repeat them, but here are some colorful pictures of our project.

While many households have buckets of broken crayons, we don't. Maybe in a few years... Meanwhile, we gathered our few broken ones, and some off-brand crayons we gathered at restaurants, and got started. First, we peeled off he paper. This was surprisingly hard!

We broke the crayons (also harder than expected) and separated them by color.

These went into a mini muffin tin, where they were cooked in the oven...

...then cooled...

...then unmolded.

All in all, a lot of fun!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Story Bible Moms: More from St. Patrick

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me!
Christ below me,
Christ above me.
Christ at my right,
Christ at my left!
Christ in breadth,
Christ in length,
Christ in height!

From St. Patrick's Breastplate

This week, I'm continuing with our meditation on St. Patrick's writings. This excerpt is also from his "Breastplate," or the prayer Patrick said when he was hiding from persecution. This is the part of the prayer I'm most familiar with.

I want to share a story with you that has to do with the prayer, but it will take awhile to get there. Hang in there with me for a while...

I have a Bible I was given as a third grader. For some reason, this is the traditional age in many Presbyterian churches when kids get their first "grown up" Bible. The congregation of my childhood is nothing if not traditional Presbyterians, so at the ripe age of 8, I was presented with this book. It sat on my shelf for many years. I remember reading Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson when I was in middle school, and wondering if the quoted verse ("Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated") was really in the Bible. I asked my mom, and she pulled my very own Bible off the bookshelf, and said, "Look it up." Well, the verse really is in there, and from then on, the Bible remained on my bookshelf in my bedroom.

As I grew a little older, I learned a more disciplined way of studying scripture. I also began writing prayers and quotes in the margins and the inside cover. But when I came across this bit of St. Patrick's Breastplate (not knowing it was part of a much longer work), I knew it deserved a place of pride in my quote collection. In my very best 16-year-old cursive, complete with curlicues, I copied this prayer right onto the title page, just under the words "Holy Bible."

For as long as that Third Grade Bible was the Bible I most used - until I was well into college - every time I opened the book, I paused to read these words of Patrick. The prayer is so powerful! Knowing the circumstances under which Patrick first prayed these words, that he was hiding from a would-be assassin, the power seems even greater.

But even on a most ordinary day, inviting Christ to surround us, not just sort of around, but in every place on every side in every dimension, this is a true invitation to change in our lives.

This Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, the season of preparation for Jesus death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave. Depending on one's tradition, people give things up for Lent: meat, chocolate, Facebook. On Wednesday night, I asked Jonathan if our family should take up one of these disciplines. He had just preached a really lovely sermon about how Lent is meant to change us; to make us more Christ-like. He wisely asked, "How is giving up chocolate going to make you a better person?" I honestly replied, "It's not. It would probably make me a very unpleasant person."

And so I begin this year's journey to the cross with no "sacrifice," no tangible devotional exercise. But reading this ancient plea for Christ's safekeeping, I am reminded that nothing changes us more than truly, honestly, and completely inviting Christ to be in us and work through us. This prayer of Patrick's, if earnestly said, is asking for change in the deepest and most complete way.

Asking the Living God to surround us in every possible way is perhaps worthy of being written on the title page of every book we read, every endeavor we begin, and every day that we live.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

5 Fun Ways for Kids to Go Green

In the spirit of being green, I turned to the greenest person I know, my friend Anne who blogs at This incredible woman recycles everything, makes her own soap, cooks her own potting soil for her organic garden, and so much more. She was kind enough to give me some lettuce seeds (which sprouted today!), introduce Hannah to the joy of playing with worms, and to share these tips for making life with kids a little greener.

I hope you enjoy Anne's writing as much as I do, and check out some of the interesting posts on her blog. Here's Anne:

1. Grow your veggies, eat your veggies: It was no small matter at our house last summer when my girls helped plant foods like snap peas and lettuce. They participated in the simple process of harvesting our little bit of greens, followed by a special time at the dinner table. It’s no accident that they appreciate fresh vegetables more than the average kid these days. This year, we’re trying to expand our garden to include lots more lettuce, plus broccoli and melons. Kids don’t have to understand why fresh, local, organic and sustainable foods are better for them. Making the process fun is a good start.

2. Play with earthworms: One of my children’s favorite pastimes is holding wriggling earthworms in their hands before returning them to their little homes in our compost pile or garden. They know earthworms are a priceless source of healthy, fertile soil. They also appreciate ladybugs, which we welcome for their natural ability to eat other pests that might disturb our plants. Since we take time to look at these little things, we’re less likely to reach for synthetic pesticides and herbicides that endanger us all.

3. Dig the outdoors: You can’t beat a family nature hike for combining the best of what kids need on a Saturday morning. Everyone gets some exercise plus a connection to the natural world around them. Wasn’t it our mothers or grandmothers who said that a little dirt is good for kids? I think they were right.

4. Go barefoot indoors: It’s scientifically proven that our shoes can track some pretty nasty stuff into the house. Think of your neighbor’s lawn chemicals and bacteria from the last public restroom you visited. Kids love to go barefoot anyway, so this is one of the easiest ways to have fun while going green.

5. Less is more…money in the college fund: As all of you smart parents and grandparents know, it’s never too early to start the college fund. If you do nothing more than replace one gift purchase per year with a deposit to a child’s college fund, you’ve made a significant step toward conscious consumerism. You’ve reduced whatever energy would have been involved in manufacturing, packaging and transporting an item that might have ended up at the bottom of the toy pile anyway. Most banks or credit unions offer token incentives for kids to deposit their money. At a young age, even a sticker is enough to make depositing a check from Grandpa really fun.

For more about these and other green living topics, visit Anne at

Friday, March 4, 2011

Story Bible Moms: Praying with St. Patrick

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I am reflecting on some of the writings of St. Patrick for March's devotionals. This week's is from what his probably his best-known writing, a hymn referred to as The Breastplate. During a time of persecution, Patrick used this prayer as a guard (hence the "breastplate") against his would-be enemy.

As is typical in Celtic spirituality, nature figures strongly into the scheme of things. While this is a lesson we tend to forget, Patrick is much like his psalmist predecessors in invoking the works of nature - the works of God's hand - when speaking to God.

So here is a portion of St. Patrick's Breastplate:

I bind myself today to the virtue of Heaven,
In light of Sun,
In brightness of Snow
In splendour of Fire,
In speed of Lightning,
In swiftness of Wind,
In depth of Sea,
In stability of Earth,
In compactness of Rock.

I bind myself today to God's Virtue to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's Word to speak to me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me,
Against snares of demons,
Against seductions of vices,
Against lusts of nature,
Against every one who wishes ill to me,
Afar and a near,
Alone and in a multitude.

I almost feel like this speaks for itself, and I don't really have anything to add. But I guess I can say that the line that speaks most loudly to be is "God's eye to look before me." It seems to me like I've lived most of my life seeking to follow God, which is a daunting task. It's like of like putting on a blindfold and saying, "Okay, God, tell me how many steps to take before I turn." Again and again, I'm reminded of the saying, "We make plans and God laughs."

This can be really frustrating, especially when I'm really proud of my plans, or have spent a lot of time in the details. It's sort of like when Hannah wants to play blocks, and I construct and really cool castle with towers and a moat, and her great delight is in kicking the whole thing over, just so she can yell, "Mama build a tower and Hannah knock it down!!!"

Now I don't think God fells my plans just for the fun of it; rather it is because my plans weren't the right ones in the first place. The truth is, it can be a bitter pill to swallow. But as Patrick so poetically reminds us, we trust in God's eye to look before us. God knows what's happening down the road, when we have no clue. God sees a picture bigger than we can fathom. God isn't a two-year-old, kicking down our beautiful castles for fun. God is looking ahead of us, guiding us around roadblocks we can't see, making sure that in our blindfolded stumbling, we don't fall into a hole.

I encourage you to read Patrick's prayer again. What lines stick out to you? Where do you see God in nature? Which aspect of God is present in your life this week?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Buttons, Buttons Everywhere

I've always been a sucker for sewing notions, buttons included. So when my grandma offered me her cookie tin full of buttons, collected over a lifetime of frugally snipping "perfectly good" buttons from old clothes, I was happy to have them. In a fit of organization, I separated the whole batch by color (including white, pearl, and sparkly), placed each color in a baggie, and now feel like I never have to buy buttons again. Unless, of course, I see some really cool ones, like these shamrocks.

My mom has been doing some spring cleaning. (Did you know that February is spring in Arizona?) She sent me a giant box of notions that belonged to my grandmother, including some kind of weird boning I've never seen before, and spools and spools of peach colored bias tape. There was also a pretty blue envelope with some very small lumps in it. I thought they must be seeds, which was perfect because we were talking about the parable of the sower in church, and I could show the kids some real seeds!

So without opening the envelope - to increase the suspense - I took it to children's worship, and had everyone guess what was inside. "A bracelet!" "Candy!" "Raisins!" No one guessed seeds. Not even I guessed that I would open the envelope to find a collection of buttons! Fast on my feet (or maybe inspired by the Spirit), we pretended the buttons were seeds and planted them in the corner of the classroom, where they grew some really nice red and green apples.

I thought I would share some of the prettier and more unusual of these buttons with you. (The red dinosaur, above, was among those on the blue winter coat I had in the first grade. Even though stegosaurus buttons were very hard to do up, I loved them so much and was quite proud of them.) Hannah wanted to help, so I decked her out in one of her button barrettes I made last year (hot can do it too!), and got out the camera.

I was almost as surprised by her reaction as I was by the envelope of button-seeds!

Hannah had such a wonderful time looking at the different colors and shapes,


and even creating a whole landscape with the buttons. This is a picture of Frosty the Snowman.

She made her own "button bow." Don't ask me how she got a button to stick to her hair, but she did!

As a matter of fact, as I type, nearly an hour later, she is still busy playing with buttons.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy March, Y'all!

I had so much fun with my Valentine's Day/hearts/pink theme in February, I decided to continue the fun into the month of March. So get ready to go green.

Here's the idea: since in my book, St. Patrick's Day is an excuse to make corned beef and eat chocolate (this is because I'm not a fan of beer...sorry), and not much more, it's even lower on my list of Exciting Holidays than V-Day. So I can't quite think of a month's worth of Irish-ness, especially since my idea of wearing green on March 17th is my imaginary T-shirt that says in pink letters "with a name like Siobhan, I don't have to wear green."

Instead, I'll give my nod to the admirable Patrick through a series of devotionals based on his writings (or those attributed to him, anyway). There might be a shamrock or two, and I promise to share a story about my fancy St. Paddy's Day dessert that I thought might blow up our apartment. Finally, I hope to talk about some real "green" stuff, as in recycling and making a garden in our yard. This might turn out more brown than green, but only time will tell...

I also have some other projects in the works I'd like to share, like the canopy for Hannah's room. This one got pushed to the back burner when my back entered its third trimester last week and stopped supporting the rest of me long enough to sit at the sewing machine. Now that I'm feeling more like a person and less like a giant belly, I'm gonna get back to it...really. I also got sidetracked by a major renovation of my recipe collection, but like all renovations, it's going in stages, so you'll just have to wait for that one.

Happy March, and thanks for enjoying the beginning of Spring with us!
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