Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Eggs

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So cliché , I know, but I'm still going to post photos of my girls coloring their Easter eggs today.
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I've discovered the best method for hard boiling eggs. You know how sometimes the yolk can look greenish on the outside, or they turn out to be really hard to peel? The method I've used lately works like a charm...
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You just place the eggs, one layer, in a pot and cover with water. The water should cover the eggs by at least one inch. Then bring to a boil uncovered, and as soon as it starts boiling remove the pot from heat, cover and let sit for 17 minutes then immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water. They're perfect!
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I'm happy to report that our egg coloring went off without a hitch today. {Except I just realized Eisley is not wearing her glassess...to her credit she had asked me to clean them for her before we started this project, but I forgot!}
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No tantrums, no fighting, no whining, no spills. 
They loved it. Mission accomplished.
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See Justin? This is why I keep a million Pyrex mugs around. They're the perfect size for egg dying.
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Eisley got the hang of it right away, she loved leaving the eggs in for a long time to make them more vibrant. Little Red, on the other hand...
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This is what two-year-olds look like when they are first learning to "smile" for the camera. 
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We just kind of watched Violet do her thing, she was in a zone.
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When I looked down, I saw Violet had placed her eggs back in a cross pattern. No joke, she really did this without prompting. 
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Eisley really "got" the egg coloring thing this year. I love these childhood traditions, while I hate seeing my girls get older, it's a sweet reward to get to do things like this with them. 
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I love these little hands. 
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Each of the girls did 11 eggs, this was my one egg. Favorite color. 
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Toward the end of our project, Violet was double-dipping her eggs. The result was that she was starting to look like Shrek. Her eggs were...interesting. 
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But take a look at Eisley's eggs! Gorgeous. She did all of these by herself. 
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I let them have the Paas stickers to decorate their eggs only so they wouldn't cry when I took the dyes away. We have to compromise, you know? 
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Fun times! I love my girls in their little aprons, and doing projects with them. 
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Have a blessed Easter!

Cheers,
Heather

Friday, March 22, 2013

Our {try at a} church garden

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Justin & I have been wanting to do our own vegetable garden for a few years now. Even though our landlords have approved, and even encouraged, us to do one, the truth is that we just don't have much space here where we could dig up earth or place raised beds.

When I saw my friend Jan's successful church garden that her family tends to at their church where her husband is the pastor, it gave us the idea that maybe we could do the same thing...? So, nervously, Justin and I approached the church council last month, Justin is a trustee and I am the board of social ministry at our church {so it was a kind of fitting topic for us}, and we pitched our idea to start a church garden. They enthusiastically approved our idea and gave us the go ahead! We're taking on a lot, as we want to do a large garden that our whole congregation will benefit from, but also very excited. {Though to be clear, we have a relatively small church. I love my small church.}
Veggie Sprouts
We've planted some starters already, and we're learning a whole lot about gardening. Like what a cotyledon is and why too much phosphorus in soil is bad. Stuff like that.
Snapdragon sprouts
I've also started some flowers for our beds around the house. Those tiny seedlings will turn into large snapdragons. I hope.
Birthday tractoring 
Our church has a ton of open space, and we originally wanted to put our garden in one of the old school yards, behind our old school building. It was fenced, and we liked the location. So Justin borrowed his parent's tractor last weekend and spent his birthday scraping away the gravel that once provided well for recess time, but is no longer needed.
Tractoring 
Unfortunately, we had to switch to Plan B. After nearly a whole day of moving gravel, we found that the earth underneath was just too hard with clay and had too much gravel still, after decades of being a school yard. Also, Denver is known for it's clay soil, and it seemed like almost pure clay down there. It was very hard. While we could do lots of treatments and add tons of compost and make it work, that also would end up costing us several hundreds of dollars. So we decided to check out the soil on the other side of the fence...
Composting
It was like night & day! There was a decent top soil on the other side of the school yard fence, and we added just a small amount--about 1 inch--of compost.
Tilling
Justin spent another full day tilling it to work the compost in. The end result was beautiful, loamy soil. It's perfect and very low in clay, especially for Denver soil.
Loamy earth
I helped by shoveling compost out of the truck bed, wheelbarrowing it into piles and spreading it with a rake. We were both sore by the end of the day, but it's such rewarding work. Gardening burns a lot of calories, it turns out. I'm sort of excited to get a workout at something that doesn't involve weights or a treadmill.
Freshly tilled
It doesn't look so big in the pictures, but it's 900 square feet, and we're going to be adding & tilling a little more near the Highline Canal fence and putting in a large pumpkin patch and watermelons and some squash. We're hoping to get the community or the little school that rents out our old pre-school space involved in our pumpkin patch this fall.
Our church
We know this project will be a lot of work, but the benefits are exciting. We're going to be spending most of our summer here, I think, but it will be good family time. Educational, healthy, productive, and inexpensive outings to our church garden. There is a playground right next to our garden for the girls, shady trees with picnic tables for lunches, and seedlings waiting to grow and produce.
Swings 
The girls have loved our time there so far, though they got incredibly filthy in the dirt. I've been thinking of ways we can make it fun for them if they get sick of it, bringing the kiddie pool over or side walk chalk or their tricycles and such. I want to get them some kid sized garden tools too.
dirt mountain 
Though they haven't gotten bored of Dirt Mountain quite yet.
Plant lights 
Meanwhile, we're waiting for the ground to warm up enough to start planting. Justin installed plant lights for our starters and they're thriving.
Sprouts
Those are our Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, and I recently learned they can grow up to 10 feet tall and produce over 1,000 tomatoes. Oh boy. Jan has grown them before though, and she said they're like candy they're so good. I'm excited! {Can you tell?} 

Our next step is installing soil soakers and a motion detecting scarecrow sprinkler. Since our garden is right next to the Highline Canal we're concerned about critters. The Canal has been known to have rabbits, deer, raccoons, and even mountain lions living there. Not that mountain lions eat vegetables, point is, there will be animals. 
Garden gloves
Despite labeling myself a black thumb in the past, I'm hoping this new project is a productive and happy one. Hey, I have my 6-pack of garden gloves from Costco. {$8 for six pairs. Woot!} Go get some and start planting.

Also, pray for us. I keep going back and forth between 
"WOOHOO! THIS IS GREAT!" 
and 
"WHAT HAVE WE GOTTEN OURSELVES INTO!?"

Cheers,
Heather

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Hive & The Beekeeper's Bible

The hive is alive!
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Last spring when Justin & I became accidental beekeepers, we found ourselves the proud parents of 10,000 new daughters {give or take a couple thousand}. We hadn't had time to prepare, we hadn't taken classes in beekeeping like my sister, who was keeping bees herself. We had to learn a lot, very fast, if we wanted to keep the colony, and also keep them happy and alive.

I've been nervous all winter for our little bee daughters. Not only did our colony seem to not have the strongest start {they didn't quite take off and boom into a productive hive the way my sister's did}, winter can be a concern, especially for a weak hive. All colonies are different, they have their own personalities really, ours has been a quiet one.

This is Denver, folks. Temperatures here in the winter can and do sometimes get down to below 0°. We have lots of warm days too, but the point is that our little hive had to survive the frigid cold. They don't have blankets or heaters, all they do is huddle into a tight ball around the queen to keep the colony warm. Amazingly, the ball of bees can be around 90° in the center, even if there is a blizzard going on right outside their hive.

They need enough warm days too, so they can go out on poop flights a few times. If they can't get out to cleanse themselves, they can get sick and die.

So, for obvious reasons, I have been concerned that our little hive might not survive the winter alright. And sadly, there really isn't a whole lot you can do for them over the winter. It's March, still a cold month for Colorado. We could get a couple more dumps of snow even up to May.
DSC_1650 Though this morning, when we got home from church, I looked over at our hive and it was busy and active! It's a warm, beautiful day so I figured they were coming out to stretch their wings and take a poop flight. We walked over to get a closer look, and to my surprise and delight, we saw tons of bees coming and going--but the ones coming back had big, beautiful baskets full of pollen. All these photos were taken today.

Not just a few bees, every second it seemed like another one came in for a landing with her pollen baskets filled to the brim. See the yellow clumps on their hind legs? That's their pollen baskets. My friends, spring is here. Like the dove with the olive branch, the bees bring the promise of spring, a living earth.
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I wanted to clap and cheer them on, "Yeah! You go girls!" And it was such sweet relief. After a winter of fretting for our little hive, to see them foraging--already!--when I haven't even seen a single flower in bloom around here. I have no idea where they are finding this pollen. But they are finding it!

Hopefully we'll be able to harvest some honey this year. Last year the hive was too new, we needed to leave them enough food to survive the winter, even supplementing them with some sugar syrup.

Bees are truly a remarkable species. God's brilliant design for bees and the way a colony works is just incredible. The more I've learned about how their complex social structure and instincts really work, the more blown away I am by these tiny creatures. Our world would literally not survive without them. There can be as much drama in a colony as there was in the Borgia family. Their shrewd instincts make them seem so much more intelligent than their tiny brains should allow for. And they keep food on our tables, they really do. There is order and intelligence in God's kingdom, and the bees are certainly a part of it.

We are thankful for bees.

I want to share this amazing book with you, for anyone who might be interested not just in beekeeping themselves, but for anyone even somewhat curious about bees. Behold, The Beekeeper's Bible:
The Beekeeper's Bible
Not only is it a beautiful book to look at--love the cover design!--it's very aptly named.

It's a 415 page beast of a book, almost every page has full color photos and it's just a total plethora of information on ALL things regarding bees & beekeeping.
The Beekeeper's Bible - colony
Photos that will amaze you, it's worth checking out at the library at the very least. We had to own it, after checking it out from the library ourselves.

This image of a swarming hive is very much what it looked like when I saw our colony swarm last spring. They landed right outside our bedroom winter and we successfully hived them that afternoon. It was such a sight to behold, I tell you.
The Beekeeper's Bible - swarming
The book includes many recipes on foods and beauty products that can be made by using honey, beeswax, and royal jelly.
The Beekeeper's Bible - recipes
You can learn about hive construction, there are many styles of hives. Ours is a Langstroth.
The Beekeeper's Bible - hive design
There are also many species of bees, more breeds than you would think. We're pretty sure ours are Carniolans, but they aren't as dark as some, so they could be Carniolan-Italian hybrids. Italians are very beautiful bright yellow.
The Beekeeper's Bible - bees
A very large section of the beginning covers the history of beekeeping, which again, an incredible plethora of information here. It's fascinating.
The Beekeeper's Bible - history
This book leaves absolutely no stone unturned when it comes to beekeeping, you can even learn about how different flowers produce different types of honey. They come in a variety of colors and flavors, depending on the flowers and plants the bees have access to. {I would love to try Heather honey some day, which is dark, aromatic, and said to have a rich smoky taste somewhat like toffee.}
The Beekeeper's Bible - flowers
Even if you have no plan of ever keeping bees yourself, this book is worth a good look at. You wouldn't believe how much there is to learn about these tiniest of creatures who help keep our world alive.
The Beekeeper's Bible by Richard A. Jones & Sharon Sweeney-Lynch
And our hive is alive! I'm so happy.

Spring is here, the bees have the pollen to prove it!

Friday, March 1, 2013

10 in 10

I got an email earlier this week from the Texas friends about doing a 
"10 in 10" 
post for Thursday this week. 
I've never done one before, so why not? 

Basically you take 10 photos during 10 hours and post them. 

This little assignment made me realize two things:
1. We are painfully boring people. 
2. We are disorganized, unscheduled folk. I could do a 10 in 10 post every day and they'd all look completely different. No schedules for us!
Here is my 10 in 10:

9:30 - we just dropped daddy off at work
and now we're off to run several errands.
This is early for us. We look trashy. 
10:30 - one errand included a trip to Michaels for thank you cards & candles.
When I spied these adorable fox & owl masks, however, we had to take them home. 

11:30 - The girls are singing along to the radio.
Still out on errands. 

12:30 - pick up daddy from work so he can take us home.
We are a one-car family. Living less than 10 minutes from Justin's work,

 we can  manage just fine. 
1:30 - while the girls play and eat lunch I start meal planning.
I've been meal planning for a while now, as it helps us avoid 

eating out and overspending.
Though some weeks I do better than others.
But right now our cupboards are painfully bare so I make a good long list. 

2:30 - with Violet down for a nap, I homeschool Eisley.
She learned about wind, tornadoes, roosters, 

we read poems and practiced matching.
Our new Bible verse for the week: 

God loves a cheerful giver. - from 2 Corinthians 9:7
{I love that Sonlight curriculum organizes all the 

verses and songs to learn each week!}
4:30 - with both the girls napping/having quiet time, 
I brew myself some Chamomile tea.
This stuff has become my crack lately. 

I'm sort of addicted to it's calming powers. 
5:30 - worked on publishing all those comments
I've put off reviewing for my Lark & Lola blog.
The Hobby Lobby post gets a lot of drama
and sadly I have to filter the comments!
Crazy internets. 
7:30 - totally lame dinner!
I had sushi. The girls had PB&Js, almonds, and pears.
{Hence the meal planning!}
Eh, they got fed, that's the important part...
 
10:30 to 12:00 - we played a game of Words With Friends.
I know, I recently made fun of this game on Facebook.
But then I got the game from Amazon to review,
and it's actually very well designed.

I won.
;-)


___________________________

So there's my 10 in 10. 
Maybe I'll do it again in the future, it sure makes for an easy post!


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