Saturday, April 30, 2011

Celebrating 7.

crazy_costume Thank you Nana birthday boy make a wish

Today we celebrated a very special 7-year-old.  For the mama, it is amazing to think that this baby boy can already be as old as he is (can 7 years have really passed since he entered the world?).  Aidan has enriched all of our lives and we cannot imagine life without him.

Here are a few things that capture Aidan right now:

  • He is full of joy.
  • His laughter is contagious.
  • He is mischievous.
  • He is very animated in expression and with hand motions.
  • He is extremely competitive.
  • He likes things to be fair and equal and quickly points out any injustice (that he perceives).
  • “Someday, when I am a dad…” is a phrase he says regularly.
  • Every morning and afternoon require “cuddle time.”
  • For every kiss I give him, he gives me 2 or 3 in return.
  • He adores his big brother.
  • He is a Texas Rangers fan (unless his cousin Kaitlyn is around, then he will cheer for the Mariners). ;-)
  • Blue is still your favorite color.
  • “Uncle” James turned him into an Auburn Tigers fan this past January.
  • He is a full head shorter than his brother, but makes up for that with effort and heart.
  • His reading fluency and speed has exploded over the last couple of months.
  • “For real?” is something he says often.
  • He’s a little LEGO builder.
  • He wants to be a pilot for the United States Air Force when he grows up (and wants to fly the A-10 after seeing it in action at the air show last month).

Most of all, he is loved so very much by his family.  Happy 7th birthday buddy!  May you grow in God’s grace, wisdom and knowledge this upcoming year. 

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sprouts, Bugs and Lessons from a Movie.

Yay! The radishes have sprouted and are now growing their next set of leaves. The lettuce, green onions, thyme and a few of the sunflowers that we planted have also emerged. The boys have enjoyed going out into the backyard with me to check on the plants' growth each day. It has been amazing to us how much plants grow from the morning to the early evening as well.

Although we have been rejoicing over the sprouting and new growth of our garden, we have encountered a couple of hiccups along the way. When we went out to water the garden Monday morning, we noticed that something was eating the leaves of our radishes! We were so bummed (me especially, since I had just thinned the row the afternoon before...). I went and grabbed my book, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith, and looked up his recipes for Homemade Pest- and Disease-Control Remedies. I love that the ingredients for the bug sprays are made from ingredients that I have in my kitchen. Unfortunately, the only one I had all of the ingredients for this time took 2-3 days to steep! Oh well, 'twas yet another lesson in patience for me. :) There are others that you can use immediately that have similar ingredients to the one I made that I found when I did a little Google search on organic pest control methods, but this is one that we have had success with when we used it in years past.

Here is the recipe for the bug spray I was finally able to use this morning.

7 cloves of garlic
1 Tablespoon powdered cayenne pepper
3 cups hot (not boiling) water

Crush the garlic and place it in a heat-proof container. Add the cayenne. Pour the hot water over the garlic and cayenne. Stir to combine completely. Steep your mixture for 2-3 days, then strain and pour into a hand-held sprayer.

It smells good to me, but apparently, pests don't like the strong garlic smell, or the heat from the cayenne.
My poor tomato plants were not to be left unscathed this season. :( The leaves were full of leafminer tunnels almost overnight! After doing a bit of internet research, I found out that the leaves with the tunnels in them needed to be removed and thrown away in a plastic garbage sack, and the soil around the plants needed to be sprayed with neem oil. You are supposed to spray every few days, fertilize your plants with compost weekly, and after a couple of weeks, can spray every 10 days or so (if I remember reading this correctly--truly, the Internet contains a wealth of information! It is one of my favorite resources.). Although the plants are looking pretty sad at the moment, new growth is appearing and we think that they are going to make it! Doesn't the LORD also prune things from our lives to allow for new growth to take place? Hmmm...I see a new Bible object lesson forming around this thought right now!

Now you may be wondering where lessons from a movie may come in with regard to gardening. Please bear with me a moment. Rob and I recently saw the movie Soul Surfer. Just a little FYI--we LOVED the movie (and I bawled through about half of it...)! While I was outside watering the gardens this morning with Aidan, we noticed that there were more baby palm trees sprouting in the ornamental bed next to our pool. We literally pull anywhere from 10-50 baby palms a day. I had just pulled a bunch yesterday and was a little bummed that more sprouted up overnight. I'd get down into the garden, right where the palms were growing and would work the soil with my hand cultivator, loosening up the soil so I could pull the unwanted plan out, roots and all (some of them have very long and interconnected roots). Meanwhile, Aidan is chattering away. He is asking me about what I am doing, why we always have baby palm trees sprouting, if we are going to dig rock out of the section I was working in, etc. I stand up, thinking I was done working in one particular area and realize that I had missed at least 10 different little green spikes. I had been so close to the issue, that I didn't notice what I had missed until I had a change in perspective. The scene in the movie where Bethany and her youth leader were speaking about perspective came to mind at that moment. I realized just how true that statement was with not only gardening, but with so many other areas of life too. We can be working our wheels trying to work through some problem, thinking that we have it all figured out and then we step back and see that maybe there was something we missed along the way that we couldn't see when were close to it.

The LORD has been speaking to me and has been teaching me (and the boys as well) so much this month through the work we have been doing in the garden. I wonder what will be next and what we will learn from that?

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Fun-Filled Farm Field Trip

I like to have a little fun with alliteration, if you couldn't tell by the title of this blog post. :)

This morning, the boys, my daughter for the day :) and I trekked over to Harlingen to tour Yahweh's All Natural Farm and Garden run by Saul and Diana Padilla. Diana was not there when we first arrived, so Saul introduced the kids and I to many of the animals who live on their farm. We were able to see chickens, ducks, goats, pigs, a cow and calf, a peacock, dogs, rabbits and turkeys (I am afraid that I'm missing something...). The kids were able to pick up a baby chick, pet a 3-day-old baby goat, pet and play with the baby calf, watch the pigs, chase the peacock (that would be David--we quickly put a stop to that!). The boys convinced Saul to catch one of the lambs for them to pet too!

After Diana returned, we looked at the fruit trees in various stages of growth, bottle-fed the baby calf (and the boys sat on it too. Corrie was too scared to sit on it...until after it was put back into its pen. She quickly got over any sadness over that missed opportunity when she was allowed to bottle feed 2 baby goats!

A little view of some south Texas plant life. (photo by Aidan)

The peacock, strutting his stuff.

David bottle feeding the calf (I think he's practicing so Uncle Steve can put him to work next time we visit the dairy), Aidan pretending that he's a rodeo buckaroo, and the boys petting the lamb that Saul so kindly caught for them.

Sweet baby chick we all were able to hold.

More animals we saw on the farm!

After having fun with all of the animals, we took a tour of the gardens. The big garden that they use for their CSA and for selling produce at local farmer's markets covers 3 acres. The kids and I were all in awe over the sheer size of the garden, and of how beautiful it was. Had it not been for the 2 youngest children needing to take a potty break, we could have spent so much longer walking through the garden, identifying plants and maybe even would have gotten to pick something too. Alas, nature called, and that portion of the tour was cut short.

This field trip was truly wonderful. Saul and Diana are so kind and hospitable, and visiting their farm and organic garden made for a very pleasurable morning. The animals and the fun had, will be the talk of our house for days and weeks to come!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gardening - Part 2: Rocks...Lots and Lots of Rocks.

Introducing to you, the long, rectangular garden bed next to the pool. Before this weekend, it was full of 3 tall palm trees, 1 shorter palm tree (as can be seen in the first photo below), a hibiscus plant and LOTS of grass and other assorted weeds. Oh, can I mention that is full of something else too? It is full of ROCKS!!! The first time we weeded this flower bed, we noticed that it was really difficult digging in the majority of the soil. We kept hitting rocks. After awhile, we realized that there was quite a deep layer of river rock all underneath the 2-3 inches of soil that we could see on top of the bed.

Apparently, the bed was filled at one time with decorative rock. Then, large bark chips were laid on top of the rock to help camouflage it. Later, a layer of thin landscaping plastic and a few inches of dirt were spread on top of that with a few plants thrown in for good measure. Most of the new plants that were there when we bought the house almost 2 years ago died within a couple months of us moving in. The one hibiscus that survived (okay, the Mexican heather survived, but I transplanted that to line my courtyard last summer) has not gotten any taller. The poor plants didn't have a chance to let their roots go deep.

But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. - Mark 4:6 (NIV)

Last weekend, we began working on removing the rock again. After two solid days of digging, not even 1/4 of the garden is complete. The task begins to feel daunting, and the end seems to be nowhere in sight. However, what good lessons in perseverance and patience can be gleaned from this task. We also have been talking about the parable of the sower and why rocky soil is not ideal for plant growth. The people who tried to hide the rocks, who tried to make the garden bed look like something that it was not may not be ones I would currently vote "person of the year," but my Heavenly Father is teaching me lessons through this tedious task. I wonder what else He has in store? :)

See those last two trees where my man and my firstborn are? That small section is what we spent 2 days laboring over. Oh, and Rob is pulling up the landscaping timber--the edging is going to get a major face-lift! :)

I love this kid! My firstborn and I had some great conversations while picking up rocks together over the weekend. (See the timber in the foreground? That is no longer there.)

Where is the rock going? Rob and I pulled the waist-high grass (most of it was dead due to Rob's dumping the remainder of a bottle of Roundup on it), laid down landscaping cloth and started dumping the rock pulled up out of the garden on top of it. The area around the AC looks much nicer now!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rock Cycle.

The boys holding their foil "rock" packets over the candle flame to convert the metamorphic rock into an igneous rock.

Little man is standing on the top board to change his sedimentary rock into a metamorphic rock (him standing on the board signified the pressure that metamorphic rocks undergo). The "big" little man is lighting one of the candles for the next stage.

The packet of crayon shavings, er "sediment," was placed between 2 boards, then the boys pounded the top board with a hammer to cement the layers together to make their sedimentary rock.

D - pounding away to create his sedimentary rock.

I have to admit that projects like this make me love homeschooling even more! It is SO much fun doing an activity with my boys and then seeing the light come on for each of them as they are bettering their understanding of a given subject. In this instance, we were studying rocks and minerals. What better way to learn about the rock cycle than actually participating in an activity that illustrates a concept that seems abstract on paper.

To prepare, I shaved crayons with my dad's old Boy Scout knife--we used 4 or 5 different colors (honestly, I probably only used the time I got to the last color of crayon, I was ready to be done). The boys both gave me a few crazy looks, then looked at each other to communicate in a way that only two brothers who are best friends can only understand--"Mama is at it she goes with another crazy project!" ;-) This project was surrounded by much intrigue. After all, how often do my boys see their mama break out a pocketknife to shave crayons? I would have had them do the dirty work if we would have had a regular crayon sharpener.

After I finally finished shaving crayons, we drew a 4 cm x 4 cm square onto a piece of aluminum foil, they layered crayon shavings, one color at a time, onto their square, we folded the foil into a little packet, then were off to the garage in search of a hammer and 2 boards. The hammer and boards were found in short order, then the boys took turns hammering their crayon "sediment" packets that were placed between the two boards. One of the crayon sedimentary "rocks" broke, so we could actually see the different colored layers--it was really neat to see! After they inspected their rocks, they put the packet back between the two boards and stood on it to add pressure to the "rock." We discussed what we read in The Magic School Bus: Inside The Earth about metamorphic rocks being created by heat and pressure being applied to an existing rock. Once they inspected their pressurized rocks, they were impressed by how much more compact it was.

The final step was to hold the foil packets over a candle flame to melt the "rock" and then to let it cool to form an igneous rock. We clipped clothespins to the corner of our packet so our hands were further away from the flame. There was a time where the packets also rested on the lip of the candle. Be careful with this step--if you don't have a tight seal on your foil packet, or if holes or tears have been made to the packet during the sedimentary or metamorphic rock phases, hot wax will flow out, I repeat, hot wax will flow out if you are not careful.

I hope that you enjoyed a little glimpse into one of our many fun school projects! :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gardening - Part 1: preparing and planting


My big helper picking up rocks from the pool-side flower bed.

My little helper posing how a gardener or farmer would pose. :)

Some of the fun things that we planted

The garden after we weeded it and planted the basil. My rosemary bush has grown SO much since last year!!! The front bed is mine, the one behind it belongs to the boys this year.

Last Friday, we planted our vegetable beds. Before we could begin, we had to pull the grass and other weeds that had sprouted up in the raised beds that Rob and the boys built our first fall down here in the valley. We had to finish pulling out the dead tomato plants that the freeze killed at the end of January as well. My littlest helper stayed with me while his older brother had guitar lessons. He helped me pull weeds, cultivate the soil, plan what we were going to plant and then set the seeds and plants. The bed closest to the gate enclosing our AC unit is for the boys. My goal to get them to enjoy gardening was to give them a place of their own to plant whatever they wanted to. Sunflowers and other flowers ended up being the seeds of choice to plant in their space. They did leave me a little space to plant a heat-resistant variety of lettuce and some green onions. I planted herbs, radishes and lettuce in my area, although the radishes were really the boys' idea...hmmm...

We had a few plastic pots lying around that we planted a few things in as well. Chives and parsley were planted in a couple of them, we planted a couple of tomato plants bred for patio planting and also planted some wildflower seeds that the boys were given on their tour of the recycling center a couple of weekends ago. There are still a few pots left that are crying out to have something planted in them, although that will happen after I quit using them as buckets for putting the rock in that we are taking out of the pool-side garden bed.

After we planted the vegetable/flower garden beds along the side of the house, we moved to the pool-side garden bed. We managed to plant the daylilies that I purchased, the bluebonnets, my biggest little-man's honeysuckle vine and crape myrtle on one end. It took us a full day of digging up and carting out rock in one small section to plan the bird of paradise plant. :( That venture will take up an entire post of its own!

Starting the garden is always a lot of fun. Planning and dreaming of what you want to grow, where you want things planted and how good things will look growing and how wonderful fresh produce tastes. Honestly, it's probably my favorite part (along with the harvesting and preparing of the produce!). I think that my kids would both agree.