Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wood Burning - ABC of Summer Fun (Letter W)

Continuing with the ABC of Summer Fun, Sophia, Olivia, and I took a wood burning class at the Wyoming Center for the Arts on June 15th. This represents Letter W on our list of activities we want to do this summer.

Both of the girls have wanted to try wood burning now for some time. They had expressed their interest in taking a session about wood burning at a 4-H winter workshop day. However, they didn't get into the class due to full enrollment.

The projects done at the 4-H workshop were simple because there was only about 50 minutes for the class.

The class we took was 3 hours and led by an artist. The experience we had provided a more in-depth look and creative instruction - so things worked out fine.

After the artist introduced himself; the class members introduced themselves; and the artist gave some background and instructions about the wood burning, we could begin on our projects.

The first step was to select an image that we wanted to start with and place it on a piece of wood. Olivia chose an image of a pheasant.

I chose a butterfly.

For the first project, Sophia decided to create her own image by sketching it directly onto the wood. For her second project, Sophia used one of the photocopied images.

If the designs weren't hand-drawn on the wood, we used a piece of carbon paper and tape. The tape affixed the image where we wanted it and the carbon paper went under the image. We used a pen to trace the outline of the image and a few details.

The next step was to take a smaller piece of wood and practice using the wood burning tool. It is quite different than a paintbrush, colored pencil, or marker.

Your hand is further up the barrel and can't go near the point since the metal tip is all heated. It gets pretty hot takes just a split second to pull one's hand away when the tip is accidentally touched.

Also found out that longer hair should be tied back. The girls didn't have any challenges with their hair, but twice mine touched the hot tip and the smell of burning hair permeated the room. It's not a pleasant smell.

At any rate, after practicing on the smaller wood pieces, we tried our hand at the designs we chose.

Depending on how much emphasis you wanted on the image, you could hold the wood burning tool like a pencil and trace your image lightly; press down more to darken the lines, or hold it at an angle and burn off sections of the wood.

Since the butterfly was black, I used the side of the tip and held it down as I moved it slowly on the wood. It definitely darkened the areas that I wanted to be black.

Sophia did a very nice job using the side of the tool to add subtle detail and shading.

She did both lighter shading with the fish and darker shading with the rose that she drew.

Olivia's pheasant was much lighter in comparison to what Sophia and I did. She added lots of little dots and marks on the wings and chest to represent feathers.

We had a mixed reaction to wood burning. Sophia enjoyed it and definitely wants to do more wood burning projects in the future.

Olivia and I both felt like we were introduced to a new art form and gained some skills that we didn't have prior to the class. However, we both have other types of art and crafts that we prefer.

If anything, this class gave me a huge insight into the level of work and talent involved with wood burning. It is significantly more complicated than I anticipated. Seeing projects that have been wood burned at the county and state fairs now will be much more interesting now that we know the process and skill needed to do the images.

Outdoor Mom's Journal - June

During our outdoor time this week we went....Lutz Backyard Railroad Garden. This was a fun family outing that combined both gardening and model trains. There were a variety of annuals and perennials that were integrated into the train-scape.

Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about)...why the roses that I transplanted from my parents' home are having challenges with their leaves. This is the second year that they have been here and they have the same appearance.

Although I'm enjoying the roses now, if they are like last year, the end to the flowering period will come way too soon.

In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting....

Vegetable gardens: All the transplants have been planted. Still need to plant seeds.

Flower gardens: Have been planting quite a few perennials this year which has and will add color to some established gardens and new ones that I wanted to start.

Added some annuals along the driveway and in the backyard to give some bright color to areas that we regularly see.

Harvesting: Have harvested a couple of strawberries. It seems, though, that the grackles are a step ahead of us.

I am reading...about some of the places we will be visiting in Arizona. Olivia and I will be going to two national parks (Saguaro and Grand Canyon), two state parks, a preserve, and a museum focused on desert life (flora and fauna). We also will be going to a museum where there are exhibits about minerals, gems, rocks, and space.

I am dreaming about…
seeing different types of plants and wildlife that I've never seen before; and being able to see the Grand Canyon.

These two national parks will be the first ones that I've been to in my life. I never saw any of the national parks growing up. I'm hoping that by giving the girls the opportunity to see some of the them before they graduate from high school, it will give them good memories to draw on for the rest of their teenage years and adulthood.

I know our first national monument that we saw (Pipestone in Minnesota) was quite memorable; and the girls and I still talk about it.

Thank you to Barb the Outdoor Hour Challenge for the idea of doing an Outdoor Mom's Journal.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge - June 21, 2017

1. The first day of summer rolls in later this week. What are ten things you'd put on your list of  quintessential summer activities? Will you try to manage all ten this summer?

I put together an ABC of Summer Fun list at the beginning of June. There are 26 activities on the list of things to do between June 1st and August 31st.

Five of the things we've already done; and quite a few are coming up soon.

Summer goal that we did already: make homemade yogurt.

Some of the things on the list that we'll aim to do in the next couple of weeks:
- Go to the Science Museum - there's an exhibit about Pixar Films and the science behind them.
- Go to the Minnesota Zoo - there's an Australian exhibit there.
- Go swimming in a lake at a county park.
- Go on a nature tour (we will be doing this when we travel to Arizona).
- See a new nature center (we will be doing this when we visit two national parks next month in Arizona).
- Go to a county fair.
- Go to a festival we haven't been to yet.
- Fly a kite.
- Attend programs for teens and adults at the public library.
- Go to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

2. Do you collect seashells when you're at the beach? What do you do with them once you get them home?

In the past, I've collected shells when I've been at beaches. I would bring them back home to show Sophia and Olivia.

Shells on a beach on St . Padre Island.
(Taken on April 30, 2010.)

Some of them were incorporated into the girls' art projects and others were used when they played in the sandbox. It was like having part of the ocean in their sandbox.

What's your favorite place to comb for seashells?

Since I don't regularly look for seashells, I don't have a favorite place to visit.

How many of these 'best beaches for hunting seashells' have you visited? Which one would you most like to visit?

Calvert Cliffs State Park (Maryland), Jeffrey's Bay (South Africa), Sanibel Island (Florida), Shipwreck Beach (Lanai Hawaii), Ocracoke Island (North Carolina), Galveston Island (Texas) and The Bahamas

I've only been to Sanibel Island. If I could pick any of the other places to visit, I would choose Jeffrey's Bay in South Africa. I have no idea what it looks like or what to do there. However, it's on only one of two continents that I haven't been to yet in my life (the other is Antarctica).

3. At a snail's pace, shell out money, come out of your shell, go back into your shell, drop a bombshell, happy as a clam, clam up...which 'shell' phrase could most recently be applied to some event or circumstance in your life? Explain.

Out of the phrases noted above, shell out money would be the best one to describe what has been happening recently and will be happening soon.

It seems like we've had one expense after another - mainly a lot with health care issues. We're also experiencing increased costs with homeschooling as the girls are getting into courses and activities that have more substantial fees.

Olivia on the bars at gymnastics lessons.

Forthcoming are two foot surgeries for Sophia to address bunions she has on both of her feet. At 16 years old, her toes are edging towards 40% which is highly uncomfortable for her to walk on. Am hoping that by doing the surgeries (one in July and one in September), that her feet feel much better.

4. What summer activity do you dislike? Why?

I don't enjoy watering the gardens because I have to open the cellar doors, walk down uneven steps, and go into the basement. Then I have to drag the hose up the stairs, go back down the stairs and turn on the water, and then go back up the stairs. I have to drag the hose all over the place to water the gardens.

Sophia and Olivia adding compost to
the strawberry garden on May 25th.
We've been battling with the grackles who seem to find
some of the ripe strawberries before we do.

There was a 21-day drought in which I had to water the gardens or we'd lose everything. For the past week or so, there has been plenty of rain so that has been sufficient.

5. What's something you see as quickly becoming obsolete? Does that bother you?

It seems like reading books - holding physical books - is becoming more rare. People are so connected to their devices and reading online. I like to have a book in my hands when I read it versus reading a digital version of it.

Going to the library to check out books has always been something I've enjoyed. Walking up and down the aisles - pulling out books that look interesting - is something that I can't do if I'm reading everything online.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

Yesterday I got a call that the girls were awarded free teen memberships for the summer to the YMCA. I am SO excited!! They have been wanting to go swimming at the Y ever since it opened one year ago. There is a lap pool, vortex pool, and water slide that they particularly want to use.

Getting the free memberships truly is a bright spot of the week. I can't wait to tell them when they come back from 4-H camp!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lutz Backyard Railroad Garden - ABC of Summer Fun (Letter L)

When I was putting together the list of things to do for the ABC of Summer Fun, I came across the Lutz Backyard Railroad Garden. I had read about outdoor railroad gardens, but never have seen one operating in someone's backyard.

There are four times during the summer that the Lutz Backyard Railroad Garden is free and open to the public. Sunday, June 18th, was the first time for 2017.

The train winds itself through little vignettes. One of the first things we saw were two rides you would see at a fair. Both had music and were operational with the horses going around and the Ferris wheel turning.

There was a volcano with smoke coming out it.

The train traveled over bridges and by waterfalls.

It traveled through small towns. If you look closely on the right side of the photo, there is a popcorn maker (the red stand). Every once in a while, the "popcorn" would pop up in the little glass enclosure.

There were many water features including this fountain and multi-layer waterway that led to a mill and waterwheel.

Tucked into every corner, there was something to either see or read.

There were bridges to cross and gates to pass through.

One of the intriguing things was this hand-built water contraption that would drip water down from the top into the red tubes. When they filled or got heavy enough, they would tilt and then fill the next tubes. The process would repeat itself until it filled the bottom white tube with water. The water would go up to the top again and continue the process.

There was a little area with a gondola that moved. Each of the cars shown below would move up and down on the wire. Below it was a water fountain that would go off periodically.

The tracks were nestled into rocky areas and between many annuals and perennials. It was an interesting combination of gardening and railroad hobbies.

The trains and anything that can be taken or damaged by the elements are brought indoors into a shed. The trains go on the track and then there's a lift section at the end by a little door that leads to the shed. This is where things are stored.

One part of the railroad garden had an emergency. Firefighters were putting out a fire. There was smoke coming out from a couple of the windows.

The girls were looking at one of the parts of the display.

When you see people next to the train, buildings, and plants it gives an idea what the scale of the railroad garden is and how much work is involved.

This was so much fun to see the railroad garden. There are a couple more free-and-open-to-the-public railroad gardens that are located in the Twin Cities. We are going to go to these this summer to see how others set up outdoor railroads.

After seeing Lutz Backyard Railroad Garden, we drove about five minutes to Caponi Art Park. We hadn't been there, and I was curious to see what it looked like.

One of the sculptures was called Pompeii.

There was another interesting geometric one along the trail that wound through forests and grassy areas.

The rock work was impressive and creative.

We didn't stay at the park a long time because a storm was coming in. Felt it was better to get back to the car before it started raining.

All in all, it was a fun day seeing two places that we hadn't seen before. The railroad garden, by far, was the highlight. It was inspiring, fun, and such a fascinating combination of two hobbies that we are interested in: trains and gardening.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Happy Homemaker Monday - June 19, 2017

The weather.....has been pleasant. After some severe thunderstorms and hail last week, there have been very nice temperatures with cool breezes.
Right now I am....getting some things done before the girls head off to 4-H camp this week. much fun we had yesterday at Lutz Backyard Railroad Garden. This garden is in Eagan (Minnesota) and is in someone's backyard. They have four times during the summer in which they invite the public to see the railroad garden at no cost.

The train runs on tracks around a landscaped and decorated garden.

There's a lot to see no matter where you are. There was a smoking volcano near a town.

I'll be posting a lot more pictures tomorrow about the visit to the railroad garden. (Click HERE to read the post.)

The Christmas List by Pete Nelson.

From the back cover: "I opened the drawer where I keep my Christmas list and read it again....My list and what she wrote on it changed my life forever. Most Christmas lists name the gifts we want. Mine contained the only thing I really need, which is love. It taught me how to give love. By loving we risk everything, but that's the way it should be. The love you give away comes back to you, multiplied and magnified, for as long as your heart can beat."

Favorite blog post last week....I want to catch up reading some blogs that I enjoy. The past few weeks have been hectic as the girls are preparing their projects for the county fair and are heading off to camp this week.

Also am preparing for a trip to Arizona next month. (Sophia won a trip to attend a leadership camp; and Olivia wants to see two national parks in Arizona as well as Frank Lloyd Wright's home while we are there.)

Something fun to share....Olivia has been taking gymnastics now since March. Typically, kids start when they are either in preschool or early elementary school. She did take some classes at the preschool level and then we stopped. Not sure why.

At any rate, she had been asking quite a bit to do gymnastics, and I thought it would be good enroll her and see what she thought of the sport.

She's been taking classes about twice a week (for the most part) now for 14 weeks. She did the beginner class and passed out of that; was given permission to skip the intermediate level; and moved right to advanced.

She still has a few skills to master before being able to get out of the advanced level and move to the excel prep level. She's hoping that sometime in the Fall she'll be able to do that.

It's been fun to watch her try something new and be excited to go each time to her lessons. This is definitely a sport she enjoys and is happy to be doing.

On the menu for this week....leftovers mostly. Need to clear out space for the next box of produce from the CSA. Last year, I chose a family box not knowing how much produce would be in each box. It was way too much and we had a lot of food go to waste.

This year, I chose a "Couples Package" - basically produce for two people who eat a lot of produce or a family who eats a lighter amount of produce. This is the perfect size for us.

We've enjoyed the Napa cabbage, green onions, spinach, and mint so far in two different salads. Still have a bag of mesclun, some rhubarb, and half a bag of spinach to use before Wednesday.

I may make another batch of homemade yogurt.

On my to do list....

Monday - take the girls to 4-H camp.

Tuesday - clean the house. Maybe go strawberry picking.

Wednesday -  Pick up Olivia from camp.

Thursday - Pick up Sophia from camp. (Camp Counselors stay an extra day to celebrate and clean up the camp.) If the girls aren't too tired, see a presentation at the library about zoo animals. The Minnesota Zoo is bringing some of their animals from their collection.

Friday - Go strawberry picking if I don't do that on Tuesday.

Do a final review of Sophia's photo book that she's been working on (16 Sweet Things for My 16th Birthday). It has descriptions and pictures of each of the 16 things she did to celebrate her 16th birthday.

All of the things she did were to help or benefit others (e.g., make coffee cakes for seniors in an assisted living facility where we volunteer; make a Jared Box and donate it to the Children's hospital; decorate 15 graves at Fort Snelling National Cemetery with wreaths; donate items to the food shelf; donate books to Read Indeed).

Also finish the 4-H club's digital scrapbook; and request a proof to edit it.

Do canning (strawberry jam and strawberry-lemonade concentrate).

Saturday - prepare for a memorial service on Sunday.

Sunday - attend a memorial service.

In the craft basket....I've enjoyed the craft classes I've taken recently: Saori weaving, Saami bracelet, and prayer bracelet.

Took a wood-burning class on Thursday and made a butterfly. Wood-burning is a lot more difficult than I anticipated it to be. Whereas a pencil, pen, or paintbrush glides across paper, a wood-burning tool has to move across the grain of the wood.

Depending on the type of wood used, the rings are more or less pronounced. We used cedar wood which has the smoothest texture. Other types of wood are bumpier because the rings are higher than the growth areas of the tree.

At any rate, I learned a new skill. Both Olivia and I agreed that wood-burning is not something we would probably do again. However, Sophia thoroughly enjoyed wood-burning and wants to do more of it.

Looking forward to this week....having some time to get caught up with cleaning and personal projects.

Looking around the house....I need to do some cleaning while the girls are gone. I stopped doing the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home challenge on March 15th. The 13th week focused on the basement which seemed overwhelming to do that time. However, now that 4-H is done for the year and the winter and spring holidays are over (and the bins holding decorations are in the basement), it seems like a logical time to re-visit the challenge and get caught up.

From the camera...After seeing the railroad garden, we drove about five minutes away to Caponi Art Park (also in Eagan). There were large sculptures throughout the park.

There was a lot of recycling and reuse going on with the sculptures, rock work, and pathways. It was a great way to see art and nature together.

Also linked to:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Yogurt Making at Home - ABC of Summer Fun (Letter Y)

About a decade or so ago, Sophia had a dairy allergy. In terms of cooking, many things had to be changed to dairy-free - including milk. At the time, soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk were available in the local grocery store. After trying all three, Sophia preferred the rice milk.

She had enjoyed eating yogurt before being diagnosed with allergy. I tried to find dairy-free yogurt at the time and couldn't find anything.

So, I bought a Waring Pro Professional Yogurt Maker. We made one of the recipes in the accompanying recipe book using rice milk instead of the recommended whole, skim, or semi-skim milk.

With hoped that it would taste similar to the store-bought version...and it would be dairy-free. When the timer turned off after 12 hours of cooking, we covered the containers and put it in the refrigerator.

Later that day, we took the first container out and eagerly took a bite. We looked at each other and knew we would never make dairy-free yogurt again. The entire batch - minus two spoonfuls - went in the trash.

Fast forward ten years later. The yogurt maker is still sitting on the top shelf where it was originally placed. I set a goal of making yogurt this summer. If it's good - the yogurt maker stays. If it's as bad as before - it's a donation to the thrift shop.

So, I washed all the components of the yogurt maker. Then, Sophia and I made the yogurt. We used the Blueberry Vanilla Yogurt recipe even though we didn't have blueberry preserves. We had other kinds that would be equally as good in yogurt.

The ingredients we used to make six servings were:

4 3/4 cups lowfat (2%) milk (we used skim milk)
2-3 tablespoons honey (we used 3 tablespoons of honey from our bees)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry nonfat milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1/2 cup blueberry preserves, preferably the all-fruit variety (we used triple-fruit preserves for half of the jars and strawberry jam from the CSA for the other half)

The first step is to heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the milk reaches 185 degrees and is about to boil, remove it from the stove and stir in honey and vanilla extract.

Allow the milk to cool to 110 degrees. To speed up the process, whisk liquid frequently or place saucepan in ice water.

Once the liquid reaches the appropriate temperature, whisk in dried milk.

Then whisk in yogurt until ingredients are thoroughly homogenous.

While the liquid is cooling, place a heaping tablespoon of blueberry preserves in each jar.

Pour liquid into individual jars. Place jars into the yogurt maker without their lids.

Cover the yogurt maker and set for 10 hours (12 hours for skim milk). Press the on button. Do not move or bump the yogurt maker during this time.

When the yogurt maker signals that the yogurt is finished, cover the jar with their lids and store in the refrigerator. Yogurt will keep refrigerated for up to one week.


After the yogurt has cooled, we opened a jar.

The jam stayed on the bottom of the jar, so it needed to be stirred. Took a bite...very tentatively.

It was delicious!! This was some of the best yogurt I have ever tasted!!


As I looked at the recipe, it says that you can use fresh fruit too. Simply prepare the yogurt as directed. Mix 1/2 cup of fruit with 1/4 tablespoon of sugar and 1-2 cups of water in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook mixture for about 15-20 minutes, until fruit has thickened. Cool fruit to 110 degrees before mixing with milk/yogurt mixture.


We are definitely keeping the yogurt maker and will be making yogurt much more regularly now. All of the items are ones that we have on hand, so there's no reason why we couldn't have a regular supply of homemade yogurt always available.