Saturday, May 19, 2012


My daughter was swinging on the playground set this morning and heard a buzzing sound.  She turned around and saw a cloud of bees coming from our apiary towards her. She describes it as something from a sci-fi movie. (Bees are practically harmless when they swarm, so my daughter knew she was in no danger.)

We couldn't get the camera fast enough to capture an image of the swarm because the bees settled in the tree above our playground and formed this lovely clump around their queen. They'll rest here while scouts go look for a suitable place to set up a new home.

My husband is now rushing to the state line where a farmer we know makes hive parts. I called the farmer, and his wife told me she's had two hives swarm today and has had customers coming in and calling all morning.  Apparently this is the day to swarm!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Woodland Birthday Party: The Activities

Our Woodland party started off with a calm activity that children could join as they arrived. Along with their snacks, we set up a table full of Playmobil forest animals and trees. I printed several coloring pages with the Woodland theme (found them on the Internet) and asked each guest to color a tree with his or her name on it.

We used the decorated trees on the birthday cake table so that everyone knew where to sit. It was also handy to have a designated 'home place' so that throughout the party, each child could put his or her cup/hat/etc. on or under his or her chair. That made things easy when parents came for pick-up!

One thing my son really wanted to do with this party was a gardening activity.  I found mini gnomes at JoAnn Fabrics and garden signs at Michael's Craft Store.  We painted some of the signs with chalkboard paint.  Each child added contractor sand to the bottom of a tray, topped it with potting soil, and planted lots of rye grass seeds. This was a messy activity, so we did this in the garage.  Once the rye grass grows, the children can cut it with scissors (give that garden a hair cut!) and add other toys to the small garden.

Each child was given a hat and a tunic.  We used the hats as a place to pin treasures we found on our hunt! A garden gnome left clues around the property. The children found buttons, feathers, beads, and the small key charms that were hidden behind this tiny door!

The gnome's final clue lead the children to our basement where each found a bow and three arrows.  Now, you can imagine that I'd be crazy to let first graders loose with weapons, even seemingly benign plastic bows and arrows. But the children were so thrilled with this gift ("Can we really KEEP them???") that they were extremely respectful of our archery rules: take turns and only shoot the cups.  I had a few middle school kids helping me teach the children how to shoot the arrows, and the stairwell kept the arrows contained. It was a non-competitive game with children working together just to get some cups knocked down.  After a while, I allowed some children to also aim at a poster on our basement wall since it was delightful to see the suction cup arrows stick!

 [I got the archery sets from Rhode Island Trading Company. Each set came with a dagger, quiver, and target. I recycled the targets since they had pictures of cowboys-and-Indians; I don't mind each separately, but I'm not a big fan of glorifying that conflict. It didn't fit our theme anyway. My son wanted to do archery because he associates Woodlands with Wood Elves of the Lord of the Rings or Robin Hood genre.

I also threw out the daggers. The daggers were plastic, but sharp, and I couldn't imagine any good coming from handing those out to a bunch of little kids hyped up on cupcakes!]

Woodland Birthday Party: The Food

Food is such an important part of any birthday celebration. For my son's Woodland party, we had a cake that resembled a tree stump, cupcakes that looked like wild mushrooms, and other food to carry the theme. The birthday table was decorated with a burlap scrap for a runner and some Playmobil trees. (Playmobil is our party theme decoration of choice!)

We used more burlap to wrap candy for our goody bags.  Each bag was fixed with some twine and a wind-spinner. We displayed them in a small evergreen. The artificial Christmas tree was shocked to be dragged from the attic in May!

We started the party with snacks.  These s'mores-on-a-stick are easy to make.  We dipped marshmallows in melted chocolate and then rolled them in crushed graham cracker. Notice the stuffed animal decorations; I was glad to finally have a use for the 2 million Beanie Babies we own!

Other snacks included 'Mushroom Tops' and Woodland Mix. The 'Mushroom Tops' are really pizza bagels with pepperoni bits; my son thought they resembled the tops of wild mushrooms and, surprisingly, none of his friends questioned this.  For the Woodland Mix, we let the guests mix blueberries, strawberries, Strawberry Yogurt Cheerios, and Annie's Homegrown Organic Bunny Crackers.

The cake was a simple round cake decorated with chocolate icing. I used a serrated knife to spread the icing, creating the texture of wood, and I added spots of dark food coloring that I blended into the icing to make 'knots' in the wood.  Fondant was used to make small twigs sticking out of the tree stump, bees, and leaves.  We made acorns by slightly melting the flat sides of Hershey kisses and sticking them to mini-Nilla wafers.  The candles on top formed a "7".

The cupcakes (in the top picture) were chocolate with a vanilla icing. In the butter cream frosting I used more red food dye than I care to admit. My son used the cap of a McCormick's flavoring bottle to cut the circles from plain fondant to give each cupcake its spots.

Woodland Birthday Party: The Invitations

My youngest child wanted a Woodland birthday party this year. We had a lot of fun meeting the challenge of planning a Woodland theme that wasn't too girly, too babyish, or too violent. (I always have to throw in that requirement when I'm having a party for little boys whose idea of a good party plan would involve many weapons and lots of uninterrupted free time to run around hitting things/people.)
We made the invitations on blank note cards. My son cut strips of scrapbook paper to be our trees. We added stickers from the Martha Stewart collection at Michael's Crafts. We added, "Join a small group of friends in the Woods for a birthday party," with all of the party details. We do not live in the woods, but we hoped to transform our home and yard into the Enchanted Woods for the party.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chickens in the Garden

We use a lot of mulch, so much so, in fact, that I have a set of neighbors who call me "Mulch Lady".
That's ok.
What is not ok is when I find gross things in the mulch pile. I find bones, dead animals, and lots and LOTS of bugs. Hey, I get the fact that decomposers are necessary, but when I'm putting down mulch for a vegetable garden, I start to wonder just how many termites are good for tomatoes. I'm no expert, but I'm guessing I have too many.
So, I put my chickens to work!

They LOVE eating bugs from the mulch.
And a bonus is that it keeps them busy while the babies test out the chicken yard:

Right now the babies are a bit overwhelmed by the yard, even their little quarantined section of the yard where the rye grass has grown so happily. Huddling together behind the waterer seems like a good idea. The older chickens aren't too fond of the babies and squawk loudly at me as if to say, "There are some strange birds in that grassy area of our yard! Do something!"
The babies still come in at night to sleep under their heat lamp in their refurbished pack-and-play.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Apple Wine 2012

We've bottled 44 bottles of apple wine this month.  I love the color of it.  We are experimenting with using blue bottles, but already we've learned that they make it difficult to see the level when bottling the wine;  a lot of wine ended up on the floor. (Shameful, I know!) The other new thing we've tried this year is making the wine from cider, rather than from the apple chunks we've used in the past.  We're hoping it makes the flavor a bit more rich.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Robin Hood Hat

It is party-planning time again! This time, my 6 year old has requested a Woodland Party. My children are notorious for requesting party themes that are too obscure for Party City. I searched the Internet for Woodland themes and found many hits for fairy parties and baby showers, but none that would suit a boy turning seven.
The only site I found useful, Zhinka dinka doo, had a clever idea for an activity in which a woodland elf leads children on a hunt for treasures by leaving notes for them: a scavenger hunt! But, alas, the link to the pattern was broken and I needed to improvise.

I first made a template from newspaper and cut felt to match.  The straight side of the semi-circle is 18 inches long. The highest point in the arch is 11 inches.

After folding the semicircle in half, I sewed both straight sides.  The side that had been the straight part of the semicircle needed a 1/4 inch seam, but the fold only needs a seam that runs right along the fold (the purpose is to provide just a little bit of support to the fold).

I folded a flap on either side and glued it in place. 
This was so easy to do that I was able to make 8 hats in (far) less than an hour!

Special thanks to my mom for modeling and providing much needed
emotional support through this craft! : D