Category Archives: 13 Skills

Chalky Words

Today, after pulling a few thistles and picking some strawberries, we abandoned our gardening and got out the brand new sidewalk chalk.

The sun was out and the driveway a blank canvas for the boys to draw shapes and mazes.

After Joe wrote his name and drew a few circles, I went inside to get word and picture matching flashcards I had laminated earlier in the morning. I’ve started a “letter of the week” program that I found on Pinterest on a site called

It’s a great program! The activities and lessons can be tailored to each boy. They are fun and fast and cover the following tot and preschooler curriculum goals:

  • Memorization
  • Exploration
  • Life Skills
  • Increasing attention span
  • Fine motor skills
  • Creative thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Letters and sounds
  • Numbers
  • Handwriting
  • Science

I ran inside and grabbed the flashcards.

First, I wrote the words on the sidewalk, placing the matching picture above each word.


Next, I shouted out each word, asking the boys to race to find them. A little friendly competition never hurts to motivate two energetic boys.

They ran around looking for the pictures. Joe circled the picture before picking it up and handing it to me. Jake stomped on the cards as he found them.


After they found all of the pictures, I placed the word card above each chalk word and showed them each picture. Joe did a great job with this one. Jake followed him around and, after Joe found the word, shouted, “Here it is!”

Finally, without using the flashcards, I spelled each word out loud. They were on their scooters at this point, so I asked them to run the words over.

They both did a great job with all of these tasks. Jake did best when finding the pictures and both boys were able to find the words quickly as I spelled them out.

I had their full attention up until the last two words. Joe, finished with the game, took a piece of red sidewalk chalk and drew and “X” through each word.

“I’m done with this game Mommy.”

The fun learning lasted for about 20 minutes and then it was time to play and plant a few seeds before heading inside for lunch.





Propagating Perennials

There are three perennials that we plan to propagate this year: Autumn Olive, Aronia and Thornless Blackberry.

We are going to try propagating from cuttings. The blackberry will probably take off the fastest as it seems to spread quickly. We may not even have to take a cutting if new shoots come up.

For the Autumn Olive and Aronia, we’ll be using a method I found at the Volunteer Gardener‘s YouTube channel.

I just discovered this channel while doing research for this post and I love it. The tutorials are simple and straightforward and most are under 10 minutes…which is about what my attention span is these days.





Autumn Olive

The steps are pretty easy and (fingers crossed) foolproof.

Step 1: Using sharp shears, cut a small branch with full-size leaves. The branch should bend easily but not break. Keep the cuttings wet and fresh.

Step 2: Trim off every leaf at an angle except for the one on top.

This is going to be hard. You are going to feel like you’ve just killed the branch and it will never, ever, EVER grow. That’s exactly how I felt when watching the video.

But…it is important for the greater good to perform this operation. Too many leaves would be a drain on the plant. They would weigh down the already fragile cutting, sapping it of energy.

The new plant needs all of the energy it can get to grow new roots. Out of the wounds left behind, new roots will form and the plant will be stronger.

Step 3:  Dip cutting and all nodes (the spot where you cut the leaves off) in rooting hormone.

I’m using a talc based Rootone. We had great success with it last year when we were planting trees in the back swales.

Step 4: Bury in soil that has been dampened. I plan to use seed starting mix. The important thing is to use loose, well-drained soil.

Step 5: Mist with a spray bottle and keep damp and warm. While the Volunteer Gardiner suggests placing these in the shade with little sunlight, I’m going to put them in partial sun.

My reasoning for this deviation:

When I start seeds, I don’t put them under solar lamps until they’ve sprouted. It’s more important that the seeds stay moist and warm for germination.

Once they sprout, I kick on solar lamps to help start photosynthesising those new seedlings.

Since these cuttings already have a leaf, that process can get rocking right away.

Other sites I’ve visited also suggest partial sun placement.

And then the waiting game begins. Roots should start forming after 3 or 4 weeks and then new growth a few weeks after that.

Most of the sites I looked at suggested waiting until Fall or Spring to transfer the new plants into the ground. Last year, when we had a bunch of willow cuttings to start, we dipped them in rooting hormone, stuck them in the ground and watered them.

They lived…thrived actually. Only 1 or 2 didn’t make it.

For the Aronia and Autumn Olive cuttings, I’m going to do a test. I’m going to plant two using the method we used with the willow trees and I’m going to follow the above process for the rest.

Results pending.

Propagating plants
Aronia, Autumn Olive
Free diversity

The Greenhouse

I started two more flats of seedlings in my neighbor’s greenhouse yesterday. It used to be their in ground swimming pool, but they’ve drained it, tiled it and put a greenhouse over it.

It’s impressive.

I felt small standing in the center of it, imagining row upon row of plants, starts and seedlings–exotic plants that cannot be grown in this climate, but have a chance inside this magnificent building.

There is a business opportunity there as well. Working together, we could make a bundle selling starts, especially unique varieties.


There are two tanks in the middle that hold water and will be used to grow fish and eventually for an aquaponics system.

Aquaponics is a combination of two systems: hydroponics and aquaculture. Both methods use water to produce food or fertilizer–hydroponics for plants and aquaculture for fish and other edible water dwelling creatures.


I started two flats of seeds. Round 3 of tomatoes and jalapenos, and round 1 of broccoli (2 varieties) and cauliflower.

Seed (see planting guide) Indoor Direct Sow Round 1  Round 2  Round 3
Habanero x 2/18 2/24 NA
Sweet Bell Pepper x 2/18 2/24 NA
Sweet Ital. Pepper x 2/18 2/24 NA
Cabbage x 2/18 2/24 NA
Jalapeno x 2/18 2/24 3/9
Pepperoncini x 2/18 2/24 3/9
Ground Cherry x 2/24 NA NA
Beef Steak x 2/24 2/24 3/9
Rutgers x 2/24 2/24 3/9
Black Prince x 2/24 2/24 3/9
Mr. Stripey x 2/24 2/24 3/9
Burgess Climbing x 2/24 2/24 NA
Black Cherry x NA NA 3/9
Heirloom Rainbow x 2/24 NA NA
Cabrase Broccoli x 3/9 NA
Broccoli x 3/9 NA
Snowball Cauliflower x 3/9 NA

Two flats of starts look like A LOT on my little basement table. But in this massive structure, my two flats looked positively puny.

Teeny tiny trays
Miniature and absurd
A laughable start

Perennial Plans

Ray and I sat down and reviewed the plans I’d drawn up for the swale, fedge and vineyard. We made a list of goals to accomplish this year and organized it by want vs. need with a spot for cost and time. Then, we prioritized the list.

Want/Need Cost Time-Days Want Need Priority
Plant – see list x 1A
Enough starts to give/sell x 1B
Skid steer tires 1 x 1C
Get more egg layers 1 x 1D
Paths between rows on ALL gardens 2 x 1E
Mulch, mulch, mulch! 5 x 1F
Cover crop swales, red clay 1 x 2A
Wheelbarrow 1 x 2B
Fill in swale with productive plants 5 x 2C
Fill in swale with support species 5 x 2D
Rain catchment off shed x 2E
Get ducks x 2F
Powered chicken coop x 2G
Check out Midwest Permaculture x 2H
Propagate and move plants in fedge to swale and vineyard 5 x 3A
Plant a lot of comfrey x 3B
Reorg shed x 3C
Edge kitchen garden/back gardens x 3D
Edge strawberry/rose garden x 3E
Plant more hops x 3F
Hops in west side of pasture x 3G
Plant bamboo in pasture (clumping) x 3H
Get meat birds x 3I
Power/water shed x 3J
Well by shed x 3K
Fairy ring with sunflowers/chokes x 3L
Put a pond in x 3M
Water test x 3N
Inspect septic system x 3O

Looks like a lot doesn’t it? When we first made the list I was overwhelmed and felt a little tingle of panic. Panic that there won’t be enough time to do everything. Panic that we were taking on too much.

But, once we’d prioritized everything, I realized that some things would only take a day, some a half day and others a few hours or less. So I felt a lot better.

We, of course, have planting at the top of the list, followed by having a enough starts to sell or give away.

I’d really like to get into the business of selling starts at a farmer’s market. So many people sell produce, but there are usually only a couple of stands selling starts.

Plus, then I’ll be able to put energy into harvesting and sharing with family and friends or setting up an on-your-honor stand at the house.

A big goal I have is to put paths in between the rows of all beds. This is categorized as a need as it will help us avoid compacting the soil too much and will control some of the weeds that try to take over. Plus, it will just look nice.

Another biggie is to propagate from our existing plants (trees, fruit bushes, etc) and plant support species in the swale. We have a ton of productive plants already–apple trees, nut trees, cherry trees, pear trees–around 136 to be exact. But we only have around 15 support species.

The support species will attract more beneficial insects. They will fix helpful nutrients like nitrogen into the soil, food for the product plants. They work as perennial companion plants.

We also need to get more hens. That’s right, it’s a need. I won’t go back to store-bought eggs unless absolutely necessary. There are only so many eggs a chicken has and our girls are just about out. At the end of this season, they will graduate to meat birds that will stock our freezer.

I’m not too attached to them so I won’t be too torn up about this. I actually think they are sort of creepy with their beady little eyes and habit of trying to peck my hands any time I pick them up. So, I don’t think I’ll be very sad at graduation.

In total, we have 25 items on our list–13 of them are wants and 16 are needs. Some of them we won’t get to this year and we will probably add more as we go along.

I no longer feel that flush of panic, just excitement and eagerness to get started.

For the vineyard, swale and fedge
And for all our garden beds
We have listed wants and needs
Now it’s time to plant the seeds





Nim and Lil: The Inspiration

I love to write about Nim and Lil and their, mostly, hilarious adventures. These Mischief Makers provided a source of constant amusement throughout a stressful holiday season.

The idea formed from a conversation.

My husband, father-in-law and I were cleaning up after dinner one night at the end of November. I was spouting on and on about the return of Nim, our elf on the shelf, and all of the funny new plans I had for him.

Half-jokingly, I said that I was probably more excited for his return than the kids were.

“Why don’t you write a story for your blog about it?” asked my husband.

“What would be cool is if it was from the elf’s point of view,” added my father-in-law.

I could barely contain my excitement for this genius idea. Added to the fun, my nieces’ elf, Lil, would be joining Nim for the season.


Mischief Makers: Nim and Lil
Originally posted 12/1/14.

Christmas had finally come and Nim and Lil’ Lil were excited to get back to work.

It had been a long year, waiting for the holiday season but they had both been busy planning for each day in December.

Normally, Nim was the only elf assigned to watch the Durbin boys and report back to Santa on naughty and nice behaviour. But this year, Lil’ Lil was to fly with him to the house.

“But why is she coming?” Nim asked Santa, worried that he wasn’t doing a good enough job of watching the boys.

“She belongs to Issabella and Cheyenne, Nim. You two will have fun planning all kinds of mischief together! Ho, ho, ho!” Santa chortled.

Nim smiled and felt excited. Of course! He had forgotten that Joe’s two cousins would be at the house too.

On November 30, Nim and Lil’ Lil met at the launch pad in the North Pole to fly to the Durbin’s house. Nim had a bag strapped to his back…a surprise for the kids nestled inside.

“Hi,” Lil’ Lil said, voice full of cheer. “I’m Lil’ Lil.”

Bouncing on his toes, Nim said hello and they both took off.


Silently they crept into the house. It was “opening night” so they knew they had to come up with something good to greet the kids once again.

Lil’ Lil got a piece of paper and red marker down from the desk.

“What are you doing?” Nim whispered.

“Writing a letter to them…explaining to the girls how I found them.”

While Lil wrote, Nim opened his bag pulling out a package of hot chocolate and Christmas mug for each child. There was one extra package of cocoa in the box and Nim was feeling a bit hungry. He hadn’t had anything since his dinner of marshmallows and chocolate syrup with a side of jelly beans.

He tried to be careful opening the extra packet of cocoa, but the powdery cocoa spilled on the table.


Lil finished the note and pushed it over to the spilled cocoa.


“Look what you did,” she giggled scooping a handful of cocoa up for herself.

Nim smiled, “Hey, I opened that for me!”

Then, he picked up a handful and threw it at Lil. They spent a few minutes having a cocoa fight before they spied ribbons and bows on the counter. Nim and Lil looked at each other and smiled. They knew exactly what to do tonight.

Nim climbed the cabinet with a container of bows and plastered them all over.


“Hey Nim! I found a note from the girls,” whispered Lil. “They want me to find some sort of pickle.”

“Probably the Christmas Pickle,” Nim whisper-shouted.”

Lil flew around looking for the pickle. She found it in the Nativity behind the three wisemen. She flew back with it and picked up some bows and a tinsel rope, flying up to decorate the light fixture above the table.

“Whee!” said Lil as she laughed and zoomed around the light fixture.

“Be careful Lil, you’ll get tangled up,” said and grinning Nim.

The warning came too late and Lil suddenly found herself tangled in red tinsel rope and paper snowflakes.

Nim started to laugh. “I told you,” he said between giggles.

Lil lobbed a bow at Nim and they found themselves hurling Christmas bows and ribbon at each other…Nim getting tangled in his tinsel rope too.

wpid-img_20141130_221928_378.jpg  wpid-img_20141130_222929_859.jpg

“Well,” said Lil. “I suppose this is a good place to watch the kids.”

“Yes,” agreed Nim. “We can untangle ourselves tomorrow before we fly back to Santa.”

The elves smiled and with a twinkle in their eyes, waited excitedly for the kids to wake up.

Joe the Bug Hunter: First in the Series

The inspiration for Joe the Bug Hunter, in case it is not obvious, came from Joe’s love/obsession with all things bug related. They officially started after he got a Bug Gun and Bug House from his grandma.

Just about every story is loosely–sometimes very loosely–based on actual events. Usually, Joe would either bring a bug to me or take me to a bug and a story would start unfolding in my head.

I would research, write and edit until I had a story that was educational and entertaining for the boys, and hopefully for others.

Joe loves to hear these stories.

First, the intro to the character–originally posted 10/13/2013.

Introducing Joe the Bug Hunter

Lissa’s cactus had finally bloomed.

One gorgeous pink flower that lasted a little over a day.

Joe stood on the deck admiring it.

By the next day, the flower had shriveled and fallen off onto the deck.

Joe frowned, staring at the spot on the cactus where the flower used to be.

He squinted, looking closer…something was moving on the cactus.

He looked closer still and saw a tiny black and gray spider crawling around a cactus spine.

He knew what he had to do.

He went into his room and, making sure no one was watching, opened the secret compartment in his toy box.

He pulled out his safari hat, bug house and bug gun. These are the tools he would need to investigate what had happened to the flower. Joe just knew that the spider had something to do with its untimely demise.

Joe the Bug Hunter was on the case!


Then, the first full story originally posted on 10/20/2013.

Joe the Bug Hunter: The Case of the Horned Worm

Something was eating the tomatoes.

Joe sat on the deck staring at the plants and wondering.

The plants were too close to the house for it to be deer so it must be a rabbit on stilts doing all this damage. He knew what had to be done so he went inside to get his tools.

Armed with the bug gun and bug house, he quietly walked through the tomato plants observing the bug life.

Ladybugs. Those were good to have around. They eat those pesky aphids.

Butterflies and bumblebees. Known pollinators…essential bugs for the garden.

Worms. Wait. Huge worms. Green, striped, GIGANTIC worms!

Joe slowly raised his bug gun and opened the house, ready for this unknown bug. He pulled the trigger and with a “thwap” the worm was contained safely in the house. He put some leaves from the tomato plants in with it so he could observe and discover its weaknesses.

Joe sat and watched.

At first, the worm just lay there. Probably too scared to move in the presence of such a skilled bug hunter, thought Joe.

Then, slowly, it started chomping, and before he knew it, an entire stem was stripped of its leaves and the horned worm was wrapped around a cherry tomato chomping away.

After finishing the tomato off, the worm lay back seeming to drift off to sleep. Satisfied that he had enough information, Joe went inside and started to research this type of wormy behavior.

At first, all signs pointed to the “tomato horn worm”. Big, green, striped and eats tomatoes. But on closer examination, the stripes were not quite right. The tomato horn worm had 8 v-shaped stripes while the worm Joe had captured had 7 diagonal gray and white stripes.

Then he found it. The tobacco horn worm had invaded the garden.

Joe looked at the mega-worm in the bug house, wondering how to exterminate this beast. What would scare it and its buddies away from the garden? The time had come to observe some more.

Joe went back out to the garden, carting his safari chair, a bottle of water and a snack.

It would be a long afternoon.

He set up camp behind a screen of tomato plants and waited with his binoculars at the ready.

Before long, the horned worms started slithering up and down the tomato plants, chewing and chomping away. It took all of Joe’s self control not to pull his bug gun out right then.

More time passed. Joe was just about to pack up for the day when he saw it. One of the worms had what appeared to be tiny white rice all over its body. He whipped out his magnifying glass to take a closer look.

The tiny white rice specks were actually tiny white cocoons. Not wanting to kill what could be a potential friend to the garden, Joe went back inside to do a bit more research…and it’s a good thing he did.

The cocoons belonged to a wasp that lay eggs just under the skin of hornworms, providing ready food for the baby wasps when they are born. The growing wasps pretty much suck the life out of the hornworm so that when they finally emerge, ready to start out on their own, the hornworm has no energy to continue its assault on the tomato plants.

Joe leaned back in his chair with a satisfied smile on his face. The troops were already deployed…all he had to do was make sure that there was plenty of cilantro and dill planted to attract them to their prey.

Time for a tall glass of milk and a sleeve of Oreos.












Step Two: Create a Portfolio

While I wait patiently for my first writer’s workshop to start, I’m backing up all of my stories, editing them and choosing a few from each category to bring into the workshop for feedback.

I’m not going to repost every story I’ve ever written for this blog, but I did think it might be fun to share the first in each series.

Adventures in Homesteading
Joe the Bug Hunter
Mischief Makers
Audrey and the Bubblebath Kids

Adventures in Homesteading: The Tale of Three Tails 
(Originally posted 6-22-13)

Lissa was pulling the garden cart out of the garage one sunny afternoon when she first saw the mouse.

Actually, she just saw the tail wiggling away through the crack between the driveway and the garage floor.

She didn’t scream, faint or run. She stood frozen wondering how the cheeky little rodent dared to invade her garage.

Shrugging, she went back into the house and got a mousetrap and some cheese, thinking “there is probably just the one.”

This, of course, was a silly thought.

She set the trap and went on about her afternoon, watering and tending to the garden.

At the end of the day, she trudged back to the garage, tired and ready for a cold glass of water. Before she went into the house, she noticed a small scrap of paper next to the mousetrap she had set. She picked it up and saw a note. The writing was teeny tiny and hard to make out. She squinted and read:

“Dear Madam…nice try. Signed, The Three Tails”

Gasping, she looked down at the trap. The cheese was gone. Well, most of it. Someone, or something, had left one small chunk of cheese balanced perfectly on top of the un-sprung trap…as if to taunt her.

Confused a she was, she was certain of two things. One, she had more than one mouse. Two, they had chosen the wrong household to invade.


Lissa set out to defeat the clever mice.

She researched and researched and finally found a few…unexpected tricks to try.

They were obviously too smart to fall for traps or poison so she would have to go the way of natural remedies to get rid of this trio of troublemakers.

First, she tried cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil. She had read that mice could not stand the strong scent and that it masked the food scent that was so enticing to them.

The mice just wrote a thank you note for the “lovely perfume”.

Then she tried sticking steel wool in the cracks they always scurried down. The steel wool was said to be “impossible to break through” for mice…an impenetrable barrier.

The mice, mischievous as they were, broke through with no problem and placed the steel wool in front of the door in the shape of a smiley face.

Nothing was working. Sealing entries was impossible because they just chewed new holes. Using tubs of used kitty litter was out of the question because (1) where would she get them and (2)…gross.

Desperate, she wrote a note to try to reason with them. “Dear Mice, please leave my home or I will resort to drastic measures.”

Apparently, the mice were not frightened by her threat. They quickly wrote back. “We’d like to see you try.”

At her wit’s end, Lissa was contemplating going down to the pet store to get some dried snake poo when she found another note from the mice.

“We will leave quietly, if you teach us to cook.”

Could this be the remedy? Teaching the mice to cook??

After trading a few notes back and forth deciding what they would like to cook first, Lissa discovered that mice do not, in fact like cheese.

Sure, they will eat it if nothing else is available, but they actually prefer higher carb foods like bread, nuts and seeds.

In one particularly long note from the three tails, they explained that the story passed down through the mice pipeline was that cheese was stored in cupboards and easily available to mice, but they are not sure if this is where the myth came from.

She wanted to make something easy and something that they would enjoy so she picked “Easy Nut Bread” from one of her cookbooks.They seemed happy with her choice.

Easy Nut Bread
1 C. Sugar
1 Egg
1 1/4 C. milk
3 C. Flour, sifted once
3 tsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
2 T. Butter
1 C. Nuts

Mix all together. Bake in loaf pan for 1 hour at 350*.

She set all of the ingredients out and grabbed two bowls, a spoon and a loaf pan. Then she waited for the mice to show up.

Once they showed up, she started to write them a note explaining the first step, but the biggest mouse (she assumed he was the ringleader) said, in a rather squeaky voice that was hard to hear, “You know, we can talk as well as write.”

“Oh. Ok. Well then…uh, I guess we will start by mixing together the dry ingredients.”

As Lissa mixed the baking powder, salt and flour together, the three mice decided they needed to get a closer look so they climbed up the side of the flour canister and perched on the edge.

The smallest one, who seemed rather clumsy, fell in the flour spilling it all over the counter in a large cloud. Lissa made a mental note to throw the flour, canister and all, away when they finished this lesson.

“Next, we will mix the butter, sugar, egg and milk in this other bowl.” She glanced their way and noticed that a tiny paw was raised.

“Uh, yes? Do you have a question?” she asked.

“Why don’t you mix all the ingredients together in one bowl?”

“Well…if you add the eggs to the flour, then the butter, then the milk…the dry ingredients will not be able to absorb the liquid evenly and the flour may become overworked and difficult to stir. I guess you could add the flour last, but then the baking powder and salt might not be evenly mixed with all the other ingredients.”


Lissa wondered if they did not hear her or if the explanation was too difficult to understand, but after a few minutes and some quiet squeaking as they talked with each other, each mouse nodded their tiny head and waited for the next step.

“Ok, so after you have the ingredients combined in separate bowls, you slowly add the wet to the dry until evenly mixed. Then you stir in your nuts of choice, we are using walnuts…yes?”

The fat one asked if pecans could be used instead as they were a favorite of his.

Once the batter was fully ready, with pecans mixed in, Lissa took the loaf pan and a can of cooking spray to show the mice how to grease the pan. She got a little overzealous and ended up accidentally spraying the smallest mouse off the counter.

After everyone was back on the counter and the small one was done crying, Lissa poured the batter into the greased loaf pan and popped it into the oven.

“And then you just bake for an hour at 350*,” she said, looking down at them. “Now, off you go.”

The mice looked at one another for a moment. “But, you can’t expect that we can recreate this recipe? We do not have tiny ovens and the best we can do for a bowl is an acorn shell.”

“Then why did you want to learn to cook!” asked Lissa, getting annoyed.

A fit of squeaking seemed to have taken over the mice and Lissa soon realized that it was not squeaking at all…it was laughter.

“What are you laughing at!?”

“We just wanted to see if you would try to teach us! You don’t actually think a mouse can cook do you?”




Garden Sketches

I’ve sketched out the gardens
I’ve colored them in
I’m getting excited
To finally begin


There’s broccoli and carrots
Some cabbage and sprouts
Squash, beans and okra
And lettuce, no doubt

We’ll tend to the fruit trees
We’ll trim and we’ll prune
We’ll plant more companions
For pests there’s no room

The borage so purple
The marigolds, bright
Together these warriors
Will win the pest fight

The plans are completed
And now with great speed
I’ll look through the flyers
And pick out my seeds!


The Workshop: Day 1

I signed up for a two-day workshop about a month ago – Writing and Publishing a Children’s Book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect that first day. I’d never been to a writing workshop before.

I came prepared and ready to learn with my notebook and a folder with a few of my stories from Joe the Bug Hunter, Adventures in Homesteading, Audrey and the Bubblebath Kids and Mischief Makers.

There were 7 of us in total, including the instructor, Dawn Malone. As an icebreaker we all shared what had brought us to the workshop.

We were all at different stages in our lives, careers and writing. We were there to learn more about what inspires writing, the writing process and, of course, how to get published.

Next, Dawn went through all of the formats for publishing children’s literature: magazine stories, board books, easy readers for the beginning reader, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult and picture books–the format I want to focus on.

Then we talked about what inspires us to write and Dawn said something that hit me.

People always say to ‘write what you know’, but that can be limiting and should be expanded to ‘write what you know and what you are interested in’.

By writing what interests you, you learn and grow both as a person and as an writer.

For example, the main character in Joe the Bug Hunter is based on my son and his interest in bugs. I don’t know a much about bugs, but I have endless material to use because I am interested in learning how to rid my garden of all pests. Extremely interested.

Story ideas can also come from childhood memories. The characters in Audrey and the Bubblebath Kids, for instance, are based on the imaginary friends I had when I was 6.

Inspiration can come from themes other authors have covered, present experiences and observation of others.

Nim and Lil were inspired by the Elf on the Shelf and the fun my kids had discovering their tricks every morning in December.

And, the stories of the mice in Adventures in Homesteading all sparked from the sight of a little mouse tail in my garage.

When the workshop ended for the day, I couldn’t believe three and a half hours had already passed. I was brimming with all of the exciting new knowledge I had gained in that short window of time.

As I climbed into the passenger seat of the truck, Ray asked me how it went. I smiled, overflowing with excitement and told him all about it.




Kitchen Garden 2015

While there will be some changes, the 2015 kitchen garden will be look a lot like the one we planted in 2014.


Here are the few changes I will be making.

Planting Schedule
I need to get seeds started and in the ground much earlier than I did last year. I only had a table top with two grow lights…so space was limited. This year…I’ll have a whole greenhouse (or maybe half a greenhouse, but still)!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my neighbors have constructed a greenhouse out of their in-ground pool and have graciously offered seed-starting space for us to use.

Just to give you an idea of how awesome this is, last week when it was 25* outside, it was 47* inside their greenhouse. This means that we will be able to get seeds started on a much larger scale than last year.

Since I will have more space, I’ll be able to start earlier, so that at transplant time, the seedlings are really strong. I downloaded the 2015 Planting Dates for my area from the Farmer’s Almanac website. I’ll use this as a guide, but bump up the start dates for tomatoes and peppers.

Stagger Planting
We didn’t figure stagger planting into the plans so that we had way too many tomatoes and way too much lettuce and other leafy greens at the same time.

Our chickens definitely benefited from this mistake, but we’d like to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labors as well.

Having more space in the greenhouse will mean that we can do a better job with staggering the starts and transplants.

Planning for Volunteers
While we meticulously planned for almost everything else, we did not take into account the crazy number of volunteer tomatoes we would have.

What we should have done, as soon as these little seedlings appeared, is dig them up and move them to the swale or some other place, adding even more diversity to our gardens.

What we did do was let them take over or get taken over by other food producing plants and herbs.

Clear Pathways
The overgrowth of weeds and vegetable plants completely took over the few clear pathways I had marked out.

Rather than using something to keep down the weeds and provide easy access to the veggies and herbs, I used a few pieces of concrete, spaced just close enough together to step across…and allow grass, weeds and thistles to grow in between.

This year, I’ll have to do something else and I think I’ll take a page out of Marjory Wildcraft’s book and use pieces of plywood to evenly distribute weight and avoid compressing the soil too much.

Companion planting was a hit last year…especially in keeping the hornworms and Japanese beetles out, so I’ll keep the support groups much the same this year as last.

The Tomato Support Group

The Brassica Support Group
Brussel Sprouts

Two-thousand fifteen
A good year for gardening
Just like every year