Monday, September 28, 2009

in the woods

Saturday was glorious! Perfectly autumnal with a beckoning breeze and cool enough to delight in the sunny warmth on your back. We hopped into the canoe and went paddling in the pond we live on. We saw loads of turtles and even ate the last of the summers blueberries that clung to the nearly leafless bushes. On the way home we stopped off to take a walk in the woods- well, we wanted the kids to explore while we found a sunny patch to kick back in. That even worked for about 10 minutes but then the idea of hide-n-seek took hold of Ava and there was no changing her whine (I mean her mind). Once we were up and about, I was glad to be moving and after the way-too-easy-to-find-the-hiding-kids game, Ava and I got to building this:

We've had fun making these tree sculptures before, but usually we make them between 2 branches in a tree with little twigs. This was supersized and really fun to make. All the materials were scattered about on the ground around us, and we only needed to break a few dead branches to make them wedge nicely. We decorated with the fallen yellow leaves by wrapping them and poking their stems through the leaf like this:

So, what makes this so much fun? I'm not sure. I think it might be that we are working on some big project together, where art is usually solitary. The materials are beautiful, we are in the woods, it smells good... We love to make all sorts of art and joy can be found in many ways, but being there together with sticks and leaves and sun and without any agenda, well, that sort of fun is second to none.

Friday, September 11, 2009

from the bottom up

Ground has been broken! Above the cider fermentation room in the barn out front, I hope lots of creative juice will be flowing in what is being built as Sparrow Grass Crafts- a craft space for children, teens, and adults. How I dream about this studio with its organized shelves, clean work surfaces, and its near proximity to my home, but how it actually isn't in my home. I will hold a variety of classes in addition to having a dedicated space to develop and craft for Family Fun, which will be beyond words amazing.

The barn is built, but the ascending staircase is not, so here is Harry in a 4 foot deep footing hole we dug one misty summer day. Harry worked and worked with us, and when Ava caught wind of the depth of the hole, she jumped from her curled up reading position and she wanted a turn going in it like him. Maybe it's a little mean, but we made her dig for 5 minutes before we let her. The girl is an esthete, not a laborer. She works with her fingers and mind, not her hands and muscles. Do we want her to show more interest in gardening with us and helping with the never ending list of building projects we have going? Yes, yes we do. It is looking like she will not come to it naturally but there are some great skills to be learned, not to mention the awesome quality time our family will have together. But, alas, she curls up with a book, writes a story, or creates her art- all fantastic! I don't mean to complain. We do find it tricky, the balance of forcing her to help and allowing her to do the work she is drawn towards. I think we just picture our family all doing things together.

Maybe I am not naturally a working type gal either, but I can't imagine hiring others to do work for us, and I have simply the handiest husband on the planet so I figure if I want it done faster, I need to make time to help. What it does for me- the hammering and power sawing and climbing of ladders- is give me alternate feelings of being a total bad ass and an absolutely incompetent and delicate flower with no upper body strength. Power tools are definitely good for making one feel powerful. Wow, can I cut a piece of wood faaaast! I like that Harry watches me do these things- that is worth a lot, so he doesn't get some kooky idea that tools aren't for girls, or something.

In the meantime, the decks are now screwed on and the door will be cut soon so I can get to organizing the piles out of the way to make it my studio. My studio. Sigh.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Maybe I'll start blogging on oats and how delicious they are. It is true, I do love the humble oat. I think it began while living in San Francisco because there was a little bakery in my neighborhood called "101 Carl" that made oat scones we all treasured and planned our weekends around. I still haven't replicated that recipe so if anyone out there knows it...

There was this Australian man who came to W.W.O.O.F (Willing Workers On Organic Farms - i.e. volunteer for food and board and precious organic farming wisdom) on our farm in Ireland who only ate raw foods. It just so happened that the day before he came to stay, we had gotten our bulk order from the health food company and had a 25 kilo bag of oats sitting in the corner of our kitchen. We were shocked by what 25 kilos looked like and wondered what we were going to do with all those oats before "Mr. H" came. In the week he was staying with us, I think he went through half of it because he ONLY ate raw oats, raw almonds, raw honey, and water. No delicious meal I prepared could lure him away from his special diet (which I was totally annoyed by), but we were coming to the end of our lives having w.w.o.o.fers. Everything was becoming annoying about these interlopers that , of course, I had invited to stay. I thought he was slightly crazy then (maybe he was), but of course, I pretty much feed my family that same meal most mornings, so it goes to show ya...... I could also write a blog about the weird things that happened while having wwoofers, but I digress.

My dear friend Timothy always brings us boxes of culinary delights when he comes to visit and last week, along with about 10 pounds of alpine cheeses, he brought us a box of Northern Irish oatcakes which were so delicious and gone in a half second. I think I successfully replicated them and now I will share them with you. Oh, I did give them a little protein and flavor boost by adding almonds. Add the sugar quantity to taste. I like them both ways. They are coarse and gooo-oood.

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
3 Tablespoons of butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 350.

1) Grind the oats and almonds in a food processor, blender, or in a jar with a hand blender (which is how I do it since I don't have either of the other tools). They should look like this,

ground to a meal. If you are working in a food processor, add butter and blend to incorporate, then add the salt, soda, and sugar, pulse a few times to incorporate. Add the water and pulse until you get a dough ball. If you are not using a food processor, pour oat and almond meal into a large bowl, add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until it is incorporated. Add salt, soda, and sugar and stir to mix. Add the water and stir until the dough comes together.
3) Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and roll to 1/4" thickness. Press and mend any cracks with your fingers. Cut with biscuit cutters and place on baking sheet (no need to grease).
4) Bake for 10 minutes, keeping a watch full eye near the end. You don't want them to get too brown. Turn off oven, and leave the oat cakes in there with the door ajar while the oven cools. This will ensure that they are nice and crisp. If your oven runs hot and they have gotten brown quickly, remove them from the oven to cool.

Serve with slices of cheddar or hand them to your kids in place of cookies.

They would also be great with little currants mixed into the dough. I'll try that next time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

to school, to school, little ones

Wow, was that August, or what? I am happy to say that we went away, had serious beach time, it was hot and slow (at times), and I had a super exciting project that gave me valid reason to have some 7 hour days at my sewing machine- it was awesome! And today I dropped 2 happy kids off at school and my list suddenly started glowing and making beeping noises. Might as well start with something fun and long overdue. Since I have been sewing up a storm, I have a ton of things I would like to share, but I am going to start back a ways with a small and satisfying project to do with the little ones (or for them as a gift).

Stickers! Oh, beloved stickers! I don't know a kid who can get enough of them, so of course, making them yourself is a great alternative to going out and spending hard earned cash on something that gets stuck on front of a t-shirt and thrown in the wash, only to be destroyed after such a brief moment in the sun. They are so easy to make and I think they are better.

I made Ava a letter writing kit for her birthday and these are the ones I made for that:

I used a sweet piece of scrapbooking paper, applied the adhesive to the back, then cut them with a craft punch when the glue was dry.

Here are some more that couldn't fit in the little tin. The girl being pulled up by the balloon is a photocopy of Ava's art.

Here's how to do it:

You'll need:
-white glue
-white vinegar
-paint brush (the sponge ones work well)
-decorative paper or artwork
-craft punch and/or scissors

1) Mix a glue to vinegar in a 2:1 ratio. So, that would be 2 Tablespoons of glue to 1 Tablespoon of vinegar. This will be enough for a few sheets of scrapbook paper.
2) Paint glue mixture onto the backside of the paper. Make it a thin layer and when it is pretty dry come back and do another layer if it seems you didn't get great coverage.
3) When dry, cut into desired sticker shapes.
4) To use, dampen glue with damp sponge or wet finger and stick in place.

Ava is using hers to seal envelopes and they look great!