Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Motivation: What to do with your children's schoolwork at the end of the year

I remember the days. . . my young children would carry large amounts of paper home in their backpacks for me to deal with.  Worksheets, coloring pages, reports, artwork, and notebooks would threaten to overtake my home and left me wondering how many trees were used up in the making of all of that paper.  I came up with a system to deal with the problem and it worked pretty well for the 20 years or so that I used it.  I wrote a post about it last year and thought it was time to bring it out again for this year. 

Originally posted on Saturday, June 6, 2009

What do I do with all of the schoolwork my children bring home?

As we come to the end of the school year, we're faced with a dilemma. What do we do with all of the schoolwork our children have brought home from school. If you're like me, my sentimental side wants to keep everything my child has touched. However, the practical side of me screams "what do I do with all of this stuff?" I'll give you some ideas to keep both sides of your brain happy.

1. At the beginning of the school year, label a small file box for each child.

2. Label several hanging files for different areas of paperwork you might want to save for your child. Each child will be different according to their age and activities. Some examples are art, handwriting, poems/stories, awards/pictures, research etc.

3. Every time your child brings home a paper, decide first if it is a keeper. You don't have to keep everything. In fact, if you try to keep everything, you will be overcome with paperwork very quickly.

4. If you love it or your child loves it then you might consider keeping it.

5. Once a month, go through what you've kept and decide if anything needs to be thrown out. Maybe your child has a final copy of a poem he wrote. You can safely throw out the rough drafts.

6. At the end of the school year, go through your files and keep only what is special and represents the school year. You should have enough to fill a large manila envelope or a 2 pocket folder. Label the file/folder with the child's name and school year. Place it in a rubbermaid bin and store in a dry place. At the end of 12 years, your child will have a bin of memories to enjoy.

7. If your child has a large piece of artwork or a bulky project, the best thing to do is take a picture of the item. Maybe you can take a picture of your child holding the item. Some artwork is nice to frame. I've seen some very simple artwork matted and framed and it looks beautiful.

8. Now that my children are leaving the nest, I've given them their keepsake bins to keep. Some of the items were kept, but some were thrown away. I feel like I've done my duty and protected their childhood memories. Even so, some of my favorite memories were not my children's memories.

9. If my child made me a mother's day card or a special picture that was just for "Mommy" then I have kept it in my own keepsake box.

I hope these ideas will help you get a handle on your child's paperwork.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Updates from Brown Wren Acres

I've had a few readers ask me about updates on various things around "The Wren". 

So here are some updates you asked for and some you didn't ask for .

Baby Jay is all grown up now and his Mama has stopped chasing us around the yard.

Suzie has gotten out of her broody funk but is still not back to laying eggs. 

I'm very pleased with my new aluminum foil dryer balls.  Repeated use has shrunk them into tightly packed, smaller balls but they work really well.  I'm sold!

My sweet potato that has been rooting in a jar on my kitchen window sill has finally sent up shoots. I had to buy sweet potato plants this year because this experiment was a month late and a few dollars short.  Next year I'll know to start much earlier.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Simple rules off addition

I've had an area in my family/dining room that needed a little sumpin-sumpin.

It's an awkward space where the dining area merges with the living area.  The floor transitions from brick to wood and there is an exposed outlet for all of the world to see.

I found a tall basket at the thrift store for 2 dollars and I really liked the shape of it. I decided to add it to the space.

It wasn't really tall enough to cover the outlet so I thought I'd add some flowers.  My hydrangeas aren't ready to pick yet so I added some fake (gasp) ferns that I usually put in my fireplace during the summer.

I liked the look but thought it still needed some height.  I found a little stool at a different thrift store (for 3 dollars) and added it to lift up the basket.  Just right.

I can rearrange all of these items and use them, individually, elsewhere in my home.  This type of addition and subtraction is really the only type of math I enjoy. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My fight for cherries

I've been waiting for this moment for 4 years. 

Every year I've waited for this and had my hopes dashed.

We planted cherry trees 4 years ago.  We were very excited.   We could almost taste their deliciousness.  But disappointment was always around the corner. 

Two year ago we had our first cherries.  We were giddy with excitement.  We draped a net over the small trees, but the squirrels climbed up from underneath the net and ate all 12 cherries.

Last year we were too late getting the net on and the blue jays ate the cherries before they were even ripe. 

This year we were prepared.  My hubs designed this contraption to foil the critters. . .

He put metal fence posts in the ground and used electrical conduit, fitted together, to make the hoops.  Then he secured netting to the structure.  We only had one problem this year:  a raccoon squeezed under the netting and climbed up in the tree, breaking one of the branches.  Bummer. 

We still managed to pick enough cherries this past weekend to eat a bunch and freeze a few pints.

Hubs made smaller hoop contraptions over the blackberries (to keep the birds out) and one of our raised beds (to keep the chickens out).  So far it's working out pretty well.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New table for screened porch

I've been looking for a little table to put in my back screened porch to hold my indoor plants during the summer.  Indoor plants need a little vacation outdoors during the summer to rejuvenate them.  My plants are rather small and tend to look cluttered when just sitting around on the porch.  I figured a table to corral them was in order.


After last Christmas, I showed you how I painted a hutch in my kitchen.  It was the top part of a little china hutch/desk I had purchased second hand.  When I bought it, it was white and because it was during the 1990's I stripped it and painted it Hunter green (remember Hunter green?). 

After painting it black, I put it back in the kitchen.  Here it is holding my snowflake plates and snow globes. 

Here is the area I usually put my plants when they are on vacation.  A lonely corner of the porch.  Boring!

I had forgotten about the bottom of the china hutch I had stored in my garage.  I had forgotten about it because it was covered with all kinds of stuff.  When I was giving the garage a little once over (with a garbage bag in hand) I found the sorry little thing covered with cobwebs and Hunter green paint. 

I scrubbed the poor little thing off, sanded it smooth, and painted over the green with satin black paint.  I also rubbed on a coat of stain/poly to protect the wood. 

After a day of drying, I put it on the back porch to hold my plants (and a few extra thrift store containers to boot).

Serendipitously, I discovered that it made a fine place to hold a tray of food when we're eating on the back porch.  How fun!

Yup, I love getting a new look without spending any money.  I think I'll go snoop around the garage some more. 

I'm linking up to:




Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Motivation: Clean out your coffee maker

If you don't drink a morning cup of coffee feel free to skip this Monday Motivation and pick something else to do.  If you do make coffee in the morning, you might want to pay attention because something yucky could be "brewing" (ha ha) in your coffee maker. 

Over time minerals and impurities from the water you use can leave deposits in the machine.  If you have hard water, like I do, those deposits accumulate quicker than dust bunnies under the bed.  A regular routine of cleaning your coffee pot will keep it working better and prevent your coffee from tasting funny.

For a drip coffee maker:
1.  Fill the water reservoir with even amounts of water/vinegar or a product like CLR (use the directions on the bottle)

2.  Place a clean and empty filter in the basket.

3.  Turn the machine on like you are making a pot of coffee.  Turn it off when it is half way done.

4.  Let it sit for 20 minutes and turn it back on to finish the cycle.

5.  Run a brewing cycle 2 more times using plain water with no vinegar or cleaner.

6.  Throw the filter away.

7.  Wash out the carafe and any other removable parts with dish washing detergent and hot water.  Rinse well.

For an electric percolator:
1.  Fill the pot with water and 1/4 cup of Cream of Tartar (found on the spice isle)

2.  Run it through an entire percolating cycle.  Unplug the percolator.

3.  Wash well with hot, soapy water and rinse with clean water.

For an electric kettle:
1.  Fill kettle with even amounts of water and vinegar.  Let sit for 20 minutes.

2.  Turn kettle on and bring water/vinegar to a boil.  Unplug kettle.

3.  Empty out water/vinegar and rinse with clean water.

This process can be done about once a month with good results.  I usually do it when I'm waiting for something in the kitchen to finish baking.  It only takes a few minutes of hands-on time.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Want clean hands?

With the warm weather arriving, I've been doing a lot of dirty work around Brown Wren Acres.

I frequently work without gloves.  Why? you ask.  Well, I have very small hands and a lot of gloves are too large for me.  Also, I sometimes go outside to look around the yard and the next thing you know - I'm pulling weeds and rearranging plants.  I just can't help myself.  When that happens I go to my three trusty friends. . .

Sugar, olive oil, and liquid soap.

If it's just dirt I'm dealing with, I squirt soap in my hand followed by a sprinkling of sugar.  The sugar acts as a scrub.  It's very effective in getting the dirt out of the wrinkles of my aging skin.

If I get something sticky on my hands, such as sap, I use the olive oil with sugar.  After the oil dissolves the stickiness, then I wash with the soap.

A few days ago, when I was weeding, I accidentally grabbed a frog instead of a weed.  Those who know me know that I HATE frogs.  Give me snakes, spiders, or bees any day but not frogs.  After I grabbed him and screamed my lungs out I ran for the house to wash my hands.  I used all three of the above ingredients - just in case. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Treasures from the past

On my way home from Home Depot (my home away from home) I stopped by a yard sale.  Lots of baby clothes, housewares, and knit fabric.  It seemed there was a mix of several generations of belongings.

As I was leaving, I glanced into a beat up cardboard box at the end of the driveway.  My heart stopped.  Inside the box was about 50 Ziploc bags with handmade patterns.  Patterns made the way my grandmother used to make them. 

The owner told me that her mother, now suffering with Alzheimer's, was a wonderful seamstress but could no longer sew.

She brought out some of the items she had carefully preserved as a testimony to her mother's skills.  The items were well done and beautiful.

In handwriting similar to my own grandmother's,  she had written detailed notes with each pattern.

The patterns were made with various materials; brown paper bags, interfacing, freezer paper, and tissue paper.  Each with handwritten notes.

She even made a small booklet with her favorite measurements using 3x5 cards sewn together. 

I had to buy them.  I had to carry on where she left off.  The fact that these patterns were all of aprons and purses was amazing  - the exact type of item I sell in my Etsy shop.  I say I found some special treasures from the past. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to waterboard a chicken

Life is never dull at Brown Wren Acres.
This past week we've have a chicken go "broody" on us.


Yup, she wants to sit on eggs and hatch them. She wants to nest more than eating and drinking.
Problem:  we have no rooster.  In order to have baby chicks you've got to have a rooster. 

Poor Suzie

She only wants to sit in her nesting box with her tail feathers sticking out.

We tried every solution we could read about, on the web, from other crazy chicken people. 

We put ice cubes in the nesting box, separated her from the nesting box, and left the nesting box open to a cool breeze.  All things that were supposed to keep her from brooding.  She only wanted to nest.
The last solution was . . . chicken water boarding.

Hubs had to gently grab her, keeping her feathers held in tightly.

We filled the wheelbarrow up with water and he slowly dunked her in and rotated her so all feathers (except from the neck up) got wet.  See how dirty the water is?  That is dirt from her feathers because she was digging holes all around our yard to make a nest in.

Poor Suzie.

Well, now that her tail feathers are cooled off, she's happily browsing for grubs and worms again.  Well, not happily.  She squawked and snorted at us to let us know she did not appreciate her tail feathers being cooled off. 

Really, Suzie, I know how you feel.  I love to nest.  Sometimes I like to nest more than I like to eat or drink.  And if someone grabbed me and stuck my tail feathers into cold water, I would be a bit upset too.  Go ahead and squawk, girl.  I've got your back.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday's tip: dryer ball alternative

This is what I'm trying out today. 

 I usually experiment with something before I tell you about it, but this was just too interesting to keep to myself.  You know that I am always trying to find ways to save money around the house.  I told you here and here how I dry my clothes.  Well, now I've read about how to make a dryer ball out of aluminum foil.  Interesting, no?

My purchased dryer balls have served me for the past 9 months, but they are starting to look worse for the wear.

Anyone want to give it a try with me?  I just waded up some aluminum foil (recycled is great).  I'm going to try a load fresh from the washer and also my usual line dried load that I like to fluff and tumble in the dryer for a few minutes.  I'll let you know how mine turned out and you can do the same.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Motivation: Clean your ceiling fan

The weather is getting warmer and pretty soon we'll need to turn on the fans around the house. 

My house is a passive-solar house and our ceiling fans play a big role in cooling our home in the Summer months. 

So big, in fact, that we have no less that 13 ceiling fans.  We have them in every room (sometimes 2 per room), in our bathrooms, and on our screen porch.  We likey our fans!

                          (This one is in our downstairs guest bathroom.  It has a pull cord with a seashell/starfish design)

Some of you know that one of my pet peeves is a dirty ceiling fan.  I was once traumatized by flying debris flung off of the blades of a dirty ceiling fan.  I'm just joking. . . kind of.

Here's what I do. 
1.  Turn off the fan.  I know this seems logical, but I have to say it.

2.  Use a sturdy ladder or step stool.  Don't try to balance on a chair or kitchen island.  Trust me on this one.

3.  Wipe with damp cloth.  If there is a lot of old gunk up there, use a degreaser or dishwasher detergent.

4.  Dry with a dry cloth.  Don't use furniture polish.  It leaves a film that attracts dirt. 

5.  While you're up on the ladder, you might want to clean the light fixture if your fan has one and also check for any burnt out bulbs.

6.  If your ceiling fan has reversible blades, turn the switch so the blades will turn to blow air directly down on you. During the winter months you can switch them to circulate heated air, forcing some of the rising hot air down into the room.

Well, I'd better get going.  I have a lot of fan blades to clean.   

Friday, May 14, 2010

Displaying keepsakes

I just got an email from one of my readers, Phaedra.  Remember Phaedra's closet?  Well she's been to the thrift store and whipped up a cheese dome/display for her home. 

I love how she displays her hub's baby cup, rattle, and brush.  She also attached a lovely little tag which says:  Life's moments

I wish I could have gotten this pic to be larger but, if you know me well, you'll know that just typing up this blog is really stretching my computer ability. 

I was just saying to my daughter that I thought the cheese dome/display I made earlier would look really sweet in a baby's room with baby shoes and hospital bracelet displayed. 

Thanks for sharing, Phaedra.  Keep up the good work.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Compost: making black gold in your own backyard

Several of you have been asking for a post about making compost.  Well, I aim to please.

We were fortunate to have a compost pile already started when we bought our home, but we were already experienced composters, having built an area at our previous home.

Compost is great because it is:  free, easy, and incredibly beneficial to your garden. 

Once you see how it's done, you'll want to be a composter too.

Here is a pic of my compost area.  I can get by with a big pile because I have a lot of land and our home and yard are very rustic. 

We simply toss things into the pile and stir it occasionally.

To save our cooking scraps to add to the pile, I keep them in a couple of zipper freezer bags under my kitchen sink.  I would love to have a cute bucket that seals, but I don't have very much room under my sink.  Bags work for me right now.  I save things like:  veggie and fruit peelings and cores, egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags. I  never add dairy or meat products.  It will turn rancid. 

I actually have two different piles.  I call one my slow compost and the other is my fast compost.  The slow compost contains chicken, goat and horse poop manure along with weeds, twigs, and tough fibers like bamboo and pampas grass cuttings.  Those things take a longer time to break down.  My fast compost includes leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and flower trimmings.  Those items break down quickly and I have dark compost before you know it.

(stupid blogger won't let me make this pic larger)

So, here's the nitty gritty on composting:

1.  Select an area for your composting.  You can build a bin with wood, wire, or fencing.  Start with an area about 3 feet by 3 feet and around 3 feet tall. 

2.  Dump several inches of grass clippings or straw onto the bottom of the area.  Stomp it down and water it a little bit.

3.  Add a few inches of regular gardening soil.  You can also add some bone meal or manure if you want to accelerate the composting process.

4.  Continue to add layers of grass, leaves, plant trimmings and kitchen scraps.   Water everything well.

5.  Every few weeks, use a pitchfork to "toss" the compost.  Pretend you are tossing a salad with salad dressing. 

6.  Try to have a ratio of 1:3 of green (grass, kitchen scraps) to brown (straw, leaves) in your pile.  This is the most efficient compost ratio. 

7.  In a smaller yard, you can purchase a premade composter for making small amounts. 

My plants love my compost.  Here are my cherries, happily growing, but protected from the birds with netting.

These peonies refused to bloom until I top dressed them with my yummy compost. 

So, go outside and start a compost pile.  Let me know how it turns out.  Feel free to email me if you have any more questions. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wrensday: Hello Baby Jay

Look who welcomed me when I went outside to hang up my laundry.

Welcome to Brown Wren Acres, Baby Blue Jay.

His mama wasn't too happy about me photographing him.  She told me so, loudly.

She flew overhead, into the trees, chirping with all her might.

She flew from tree to tree, leading Baby Jay away from danger.  Jay obediently followed her chirps until he was out of sight.

Later in the day I heard baby chirps coming from under the fig bush.

I hung upside down from the deck railing, trying to get the picture. 

I hope our new baby stays around for a while.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If you give a girl a sewing machine . . .

We've had a week of celebrations around here.

My youngest daughter had her 25th birthday and  graduated with her Masters degree.

She had been talking about getting a sewing machine for a long time.  

We thought a sewing machine would be a perfect gift for her.

But, how do you gift wrap a sewing machine? 

With wallpaper and tissue paper, of course. 

I wrapped the box with the sturdy wallpaper, sealing it with double-sided tape.

Then, I made a flower topper with circles of tissue paper, stuck on with the double-sided tape.  

The inside of the flower is waded up tissue paper scraps, stuck onto the tape.  Simple!

With any wrapping, though, the purpose is for it to be ripped apart. . .

I think she likes it. 

The next morning she asked, "Did I keep you awake last night with the sound of my sewing machine running?  I couldn't stop sewing."

Since Mother's day was right around the corner, I got to be the first recipient of her handiwork.

She decorated a purchased bag with these adorable flowers. 

The one on the left is made from grosgrain ribbon.  The one on the right is made with fabric, topped off with a fun button.  I think she did a great job. 

We've always encouraged our kids to make gifts for us and for each other.  Over the years I've been amazed at the creativity and thoughtfulness of my children.  I love the gifts they have put their time, talent, and effort into.