Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 26 - Berries

The theme for this week's Nature Photo of the Week is "Berries."

This week we went to Natura Farms and took a tour with our 4-H Club. There were lots of different types of berries growing - many of which I had never tried before.

I can't remember what kind of berries these were, but they were juicy and tart - like nothing I had ever tasted before.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Creating a Barn Quilt Trail + "Log Cabin" Barn Quilt

Back in April, Olivia received a grant from Disney's Friends for Change to create a barn quilt trail in Washington County.

She held an informational and planning meeting on April 19th.

Three families from the Soaring Eagles 4-H Club as well as the president of the Friends of Scandia Parks and Trails met to discuss the project and a timeline.

By early May, we were purchasing MDO signboard, 2x2s and 2x4s.

Thankfully, we had a volunteer who helped transport these large pieces of plywood and lumber since we didn't have a vehicle large enough. He also did all the cutting of the pieces which was invaluable.

We began priming all the wood on May 9th.

The more exciting part of creating the barn quilts was picking out the colors and painting with them.

There were so many choices that it was difficult to make a decision sometimes.

Each of the seven barn quilt patterns were graphed out using different measurements. They were either done on 6-inch, 8-inch, or 12-inch scales.

The first barn quilt we worked on, Log Cabin, was done on a 6-inch scale. This meant that we had to figure out the design first on graph paper with each block representing a 6-inch square.

Then we transferred the design to the large sheets of primed signboard. We used string that was taped down on both sides and a three-foot ruler to make the lines.

Early in the project, Olivia was interviewed by Mary Divine of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

She did a phone interview with her first on May 5th and then a face-to-face interview on May 12th. Mary was able to observe Olivia, Sophia, and other volunteers while they worked on the Log Cabin barn quilt.

One of the challenges was keeping all the paint colors straight - especially the yellows which are very close in shade.

This project was a great intergenerational activity. For this barn quilt, there were volunteers who ranged in age from 8-86 years old.

It also was a great way to learn from people who had skills that we didn't have - like woodworking.

The Washington County Barn Quilt Trail had a photographer who came out on a very cold day - 45 degrees! - to photograph Olivia and Sophia at work. We couldn't paint that day because it was so cold, so we ended up sanding wood filler where we had screwed the framework into the barn quilt.

Our hands were so cold!

The next time we painted - just a few days later - it was at least 20 degrees warmer. It made such a difference to be painting in nice weather.

Each of the sections that needed to be painted had to be taped off. The tape remained on the barn quilt until at least three - sometimes up to six - coats of paint were applied and dried.

On the last day of doing "Log Cabin," we screwed together the two big pieces of wood. The wood was either slightly off and/or had warped during the few weeks we had been working on it. So, we had to quickly fill a rather large gap with wood filler, sand it, and paint it before installing it later that afternoon.

While the paint was drying, Olivia and Dan measured the barn to find the center of it.

Around 6:00 p.m., more volunteers came to lift the 100+ pound barn quilt up and onto the 2x4 that would stay in place until the six-inch lag bolts were holding the barn quilt to the barn.

We were all a bit nervous as the barn quilt made its way up since it was so heavy and awkward. Everyone had worked so hard on it that we didn't want to see it fall to the ground.

Not to worry. It finally was in place and resting on the 2x4.

The six-inch lag bolts were put through the quilt and into the barn's huge beams.

Everyone was so happy with how it looked when it was up. It was about 7:30 p.m. by the time it was done - 1 1/2 hours after the process was started.

A couple days later, we went back on a sunny day to look at the barn quilt. It stands out and complements Gammelgarden Museum quite well. The colors tie into the buildings which make the barn quilt all that much more special and relevant to the museum.

This was a fun barn quilt to begin with. It was complicated, but not overly so compared to some other ones that we did with this project.

Olivia (the creator of the Barn Quilt Trail) and Lynne (the director of Gammelgarden) are both very pleased with how the Log Cabin barn quilt turned out, and are excited that it was done in time for Gammelgarden's opening event on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 25

The theme for this week's photo is "Birth." This is a drone bee (a male) emerging from a cell.

The bees had created a double layer of cells in the beehive to fix a frame-spacing error on our part. We didn't realize that the bees were so precise in amount of space they like between the frames in the hive. The spacing was off no more than a half an inch, but that made all the difference in the world to the bees.

As inexperienced beekeepers, we are learning how amazing and industrious these creatures are each time we visit them.

At any rate, we had to remove these cells from the hive, properly space the frames, and give the bees another opportunity to build onto the frame.

After we closed the hive, we were able to watch these drones emerge from their cells. It reminded me of when we had chickens and watched the little chicks peck their way from their eggs.

It's a slow process in the sense of the pace in which we live our lives. Yet, in reality, these baby bees know exactly what to do in a relatively short period of time.

Once they emerged, they walked around a bit and then began looking for food. Interestingly, there was honey in some of the cells that was leaking out. The drones found it and we could watch them eat it.

We placed the honeycomb near a container garden that is filled with flowers that attract bees. We're not sure if they went to the flowers since we had to move on with our day, but at least they were very near two food sources right after they emerged.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 24

This week the peonies started blooming. They are so fragrant and remind me of peonies my grandma used to grow along the side of her home and in her flower garden in the backyard.

One of the themes for the Nature Photo of the Week is "Fragrant" - so this seemed like a fitting photograph to choose.

Each of the peonies had ants in them. When I was younger, I didn't like the ants crawling over the flowers - especially after the flowers had been picked and were inside in a vase on the table.

I was told that the ants helped the petals open. According to the Heartland Peony Society, though, peonies don't rely on ants for the flowers to open. The Society said, "Some people think ants are required to open the flowers, but this does not to appear to be true .... Peonies produce small amounts of nectar and other ant attractants to encourage ants to help in opening the dense double flower buds found in many peonies." So, it looks like they are beneficial, but not necessary to the flowers opening.

Interestingly, the Society noted that, "Ants may be found covering certain varieties and avoiding others, this is totally normal." They also recommended not trying "to get rid of the ants on your peonies. This is a natural and temporary activity. Once the buds have opened the ants will disappear - also normal."

I also was interested in the meaning and symbolism of peonies. According to Teleflora, "With a recorded history that dates back thousands of years, it’s not surprising that even the mythology surrounding the origin of the peony has multiple versions.

"One legend has it that the peony is named after Paeon, a physician to the gods, who received the flower on Mount Olympus from the mother of Apollo. And another tells the story of that same physician who was 'saved' from the fate of dying as other mortals by being turned into the flower we know today as the peony."

The peony is the traditional floral symbol of China, the state flower of Indiana, and the 12th wedding anniversary flower. They are known as the flower of honor and riches. Teleflora noted, "With their lush, full, rounded bloom, peonies embody romance and prosperity and are regarded as an omen of good fortune and a happy marriage."

Another thing I was curious about was if peonies were edible. According to What's Cooking America, "In China the fallen petals are parboiled and sweetened as a tea-time delicacy. Peony water was used for drinking in the middle ages. Add peony petals to your summer salad or try floating in punches and lemonades."

Each week, new things are blooming and the landscape is changing. I've enjoyed spending more time outside and am looking forward to taking more photos of nature this week. I'll see which ones fit with the themes remaining for the year.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week (Weeks 13-23)

One of my goals for 2015 is to take 52 pictures using the Nature Photo of the Week Prompt List. Rather than post each week, I am doing a group posting for 11 weeks.

Ideally I would have been taking one photo per week since my last posting at the end of March when I returned from a wonderful trip to three southern states (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas) where I was able to go on many nature walks.

However, it hasn't worked out that way. Instead, I went back on nature photos that I took from April through this past weekend, and picked about two dozen photos that I liked. From those pictures, I chose 11 of them that matched the prompts.

Feather: There were two wood ducks in the backyard at my mom's home in April. The feathers on these ducks are brilliant, and the picture doesn't do them justice since it is taken through a screen and window. Had I opened the door leading to the deck and backyard, they would have flown off.

My dad used to have a wood duck house next to the lake and each year there would be a new family of ducks that would use the house. They truly are beautiful, vibrantly-colored birds that are a joy to watch.

First day of...: Beekeeping. Sophia received a scholarship from the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association to establish a hive. In April, she built a hive from a kit they provided, and then received a container of bees with a queen. We're excited to see how the bees do during their first year, and to watch the process of establishing a hive from scratch.

View: This is the view I had while walking on one of the trails at William O'Brien State Park. This one is along the St. Croix River. It's such a peaceful and quiet part of the trail. The trees provided a nice canopy along this section of the walk.

Refreshing: This spring the tulip and hyacinth bulbs came up along the driveway. After the snow and cold of winter, it was refreshing and uplifting to see a garden filled with shades of purple and magenta along with crisp white.

Stream or creek: Our 4-H club visited Koi Acres. This was the stone pathway that we crossed to get to the pond that had some of the koi.

Fish: At Koi Acres, there is a natural swimming pool/pond that has koi in it. These are big fish who were friendly and inquisitive. Each had unique markings and colors. Even in the drizzling rain, I could have spent hours just watching the fish swim in the pond.

Hidden: This heron was hiding among the tall grass at the pond at Gammelgarden to the left of the picture. All of a sudden, as we were painting the barn quilts (for part of the Barn Quilt Trail project) that afternoon, we noticed the heron slowly walking along the shoreline. It made its way out of the grasses and into this open area to turn slightly back from where it had walked. The heron stood there for a long time before continuing on its walk along the edge of the pond.

Just do it!: On the afternoon of June 5th, there was a big snapping turtle trying to cross a busy highway in the country. A woman stopped and was crossing the road to get the turtle to the other side.

We passed where she was and found a place to safely turn around so we could offer her our shovel. We stopped as did another family, and collectively each of us helped in some way to get this turtle back to a safe area and far from the road. I wondered how old it was and if it had ever come in contact with humans before.

Early: Early in the season, I enjoy watching how seeds emerge. These are beans that are about a week old. On some of them, you can still see the casing of the seed while others have pushed it away to  reveal the new, young leaves. Within 60 days, we should be enjoying fresh beans from the garden.

Little things: Among the huge hostas and ferns under the pine trees in the front yard are delicate bleeding hearts and columbine. Below is wild columbine that we found on the side of the road more than a decade ago. It would have been mowed by the county and no one or thing would have benefited from it.

When Olivia and I were out taking a look at the front gardens, we noticed a big bumblebee going from flower to flower on the columbine plant. It made me happy that this plant is helping the bees!

Fragile: This White Admiral butterfly was in the driveway on June 7th when we were painting barn quilts (again). The butterfly would fly around a bit, and then land on the rain-soaked sand and gravel on the driveway. Interestingly, this butterfly typically isn't spotted in our county in Minnesota. Rather, it is found to the west and north of us - mainly in the northeastern part of the state.

Now that the weather is much warmer; and things are growing and blooming, I'm hoping to spend even more time outside to notice and observe the changes each week in the plants, flowers, and world around me.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Take-Out, Fake-Out: Beef & Broccoli {Crockpot}

Last year I was doing 101 Days of Summer Fun, and the theme for Mondays was Make It Monday. I made "Take-Out, Fake-Out: Beef & Broccoli" that everyone enjoyed. However, I forgot to take a picture.

So, I thought I'd make it again this summer while we were working on the Barn Quilt Trail project. The recipe is from a pin that I saw on Pinterest that led to Table for Two. It's a perfect Chinese-inspired main entree for four people that can be made in a slow cooker.

Beef & Broccoli that I made on June 7th

The ingredients include:

1 pound boneless, beef chuck roast, sliced into thin strips (this is put in the crockpot raw - do not precook or brown the meat)
1 cup beef consumme or beef broth
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons sauce (from the crockpot after dish is cooked)
Fresh or frozen broccoli florets (as many as desired, I used about 2 cups)
White rice, cooked

The instructions are very easy:

In the insert of the crockpot, stir together the beef consume, soy sauce, dark brown sugar, sesame oil, and minced garlic.

Place your slices of beef in the liquid and stir to coat.

Turn the crockpot on low and cook for 6 hours.

After this time period, whisk together the cornstarch and cooking liquid in a small bowl to create a slurry. Pour the mixture into the crockpot and stir to mix. Add the broccoli florets. Cook on low for an additional 30 minutes to thicken the sauce, and defrost and cook the broccoli.

Serve over white rice. Enjoy!

Adding other vegetables - like snow peas - might be 
something that we would enjoy as well.