Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Make Fabric Origami "Paper"

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I am a reforming pack rat. I used to save everything - cards, movie ticket stubs, receipts for just about everything ... but having moved as much as I did in the last 10 years I had to change my ways and start letting go of stuff. Even though we are settled into our cute little house now and plan on being here for quite a while, I am continuing to fight my pack rat tendencies to keep clutter to a minimum. But, there is one area that is resisting all reformation efforts - fabric.

I am a fabric-a-holic. I love fabric - the colors, the textures, the endless possibilities. I have boxes and boxes of fabric stashed around the house.  While I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing with usable lengths of fabric, my real problem is with scraps.  I am a compulsive scrap hoarder. I just can't seem to make myself throw them away. I hardly ever use them. I end up with garbage bags full of little fabric scraps "just in case" I need them someday. This wouldn't be much of a problem if I were a quilter, but I am not. So I came up with something else to do with my collection of scraps - making origami "paper" out of fabric scraps.

What you will need:
  • Fabric scraps (I find that 100% cotton quilting-type fabrics works best. I tend to stick to pieces that are at least 8"x8")
  • Medium weight fusible interfacing
  • Iron & ironing board
  • Pressing cloth (a thin, old t-shirt works great)
  • Rotary cutter & mat or scissors & a ruler
How to do it:

I usually start off by squaring off my scrap piece to about 9"x9", then I iron it flat.

Next I cut the interfacing to an 8"x8" square. I suggest using medium weight because heavyweight can make folding pretty difficult and lightweight doesn't hold the creases well. Following the manufacturer's instructions, iron the interfacing onto the back (or wrong side) of your fabric. (Tip: Use a pressing cloth to protect your iron from any glue residue that might seep out.  This will save you lots of time with Goo Gone down the road, trust me...)

Now, I cut down the fabric to an 8"x8" square using my rotary cutter & mat, but you can easily do this with a ruler & scissors too. (Cutting after putting the interfacing on minimizes fraying)

And there you go - Fabric Origami paper. Need some origami instructions or inspiration? Origami Club is one of my favorite sites. They have easy to follow instructions in either diagram or animation format. They also rank items by degrees of difficulty.

Playing with fabric origami is fun, but it does have some limitations. Fabric is thicker than paper, so some of the more complex pieces with lots of folds are difficult to make because the fabric is just too thick and the folds won't stay in place. I like using this with my older daughter because the things we make are a bit sturdier than their paper cousins, so they can stand up to toddler play a little bit better.

A shameless plug for my Etsy shop here - I have some of my fabric origami cranes listed and one of my Crane Dreamcatcher mobiles listed as well. So check them out if you have a chance and if you have any feedback, please let me know.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Starting Seeds

I like to do things from scratch. It gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction to bite into a piece of pizza that I made from scratch, especially if it is topped with veggies from our garden. It almost feels like a little bit of magic - that I can take flour, water and olive oil and turn it into something so yummy, gooey and delicious. So, when I got into gardening one of the first things I wanted to learn was how to start my own plants from seeds. I know that it is easier to just get transplants from a nursery, but I wanted to see if I could do it from seed. I did some reading and decided to try the APS system from Gardener's supply. All the reviews said it was a pretty idiot-proof way of starting seeds, and it was. In my first year, every set of seeds that I started in the APS germinated and grew to be a lovely vegetable plant that helped feed my family last summer. Overall it was pretty easy. I started my seeds last weekend, so for those that might be interested here is how I went about it.

Like I said, I use the APS system because it is very easy to set up and self-watering. I have the hardest time 1.) figuring out how much water plants need and 2.) remembering to water plants. My garden only works because we have a drip irrigation system set up on a timer. If I had to remember to water plants, we would have 4 raised beds full of weeds and sad looking plants. I also use the organic seed starting mix that Gardener's Supply sells. You can start seeds without grow lights if you have a sunny window, but our property has over 20 trees on .5 acre so we don't get much natural sun inside the house and we had to set up a few grow lights inside to start seeds.

I started 24 plants last weekend, so I used the APS 24. To start off, I mixed about 3 quarts of seed starting mix with lukewarm tap water - enough for the mix to feel moist, but if you can squeeze it together in your hand and it stays together like a ball then it has too much water (so just add a bit more mix). Then I got the APS ready by wetting the capillary mat thoroughly, filling the reservoir with room temp water, putting the peg board down, then the capillary mat, then the planting cells. I filled each cell with the moistened seed starting mix, leaving about .25 inch of space at the top. I pushed down on the mix in each cell to make sure that it was making contact with the capillary mat & drawing up water, then I added more mix to fill the cell back up to top (again leaving about .25 inch). Now I was ready for some seeds!

I usually put 3 seeds in each cell and then thin them out once the first true leaves have sprouted. Thinning is painful - I hated doing it last year because I hated to cut off one of my precious little plants, but I learned that it truly does make healthier plants in the long run, so I just have to suck it up and do it. As I put the seeds in, I put plant markers in each cell. Last year I thought that I would remember what I put where, but by the time I finished putting seeds down I had completely forgotten which variety of tomato I put where, so I ended up with some "surprise" plants at transplant time.

Once all the seeds are in and each cell is marked, I sprinkle a light layer of mix on top of the seeds and pop the APS cover on to create a mini-greenhouse environment. We set our grow lights up in our laundry room on a counter we have next to our water heater, so I put the covered APS next to the water heater. The extra warmth is said to help speed up germination a bit (some people put theirs on top of the fridge). You can also buy a fancy "seedling heating mat" to bring your seedlings up to optimal germination temperature ... but next to the water heater seems to work just fine for us. Then, I just leave them alone. It took 6 days for my tomato seeds to emerge. Once they did, I took the APS cover off and moved the whole tray under the grow lights - leaving the lights on for about 12-14 hours each day and I keep the lights about 3 inches above the leaves. Other than making sure that the reservoir has enough water in it periodically, that is about all the effort it takes to start my own seeds.

To me one of the most amazing things about starting your own seeds is seeing how something as tiny as a tomato seed can turn into a monstrous plant that helps feed us for almost 5 months out of the year - again, it feels like just a little bit of magic.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Planting Lettuce & Broccoli in a Sandbox

We had the best of intentions to do a full spring garden this year, but newborns seem to magically eat time, so we never got around to preparing our raised beds in time for a late winter/early spring planting. When I got the email last week from the local farm that I ordered some transplants from this year that our lettuce and broccoli seedlings would be ready soon, I had to find a place to put them - fast.  So I turned to our neglected sandbox planter.

This was the site of our first vegetable garden two years ago. We took a sandbox that our daughter didn't play with very much, drilled holes in the bottom, layered some rocks for drainage and filled it with potting soil - voila! instant garden space. Last year we bit the bullet and built four 8'x4' raised beds on a sunnier patch of our property, so this little planter went unused and the weeds decided to move in. I had some clean up work to do before I could put the lettuce and broccoli in here.

First, I cleared out all the weeds, acorns, twigs, sprouted acorns with surprisingly strong roots, and then I used my trowel to mix up the soil a little bit since it had become pretty compacted. While I was at it, I mixed in about a cup of pelletized chicken manure to give the soil a little nutrient boost. I probably should have let all that settle for a week or so, but the plants were ready to be picked up, and they needed a new home asap.

I let it sit overnight, and started planting the next morning. Last year, I learned that I am horrible at keeping up with weeds. So, this year I am determined to get things off to a good start and mulch, mulch, mulch from the get go. I had learned about this newspaper mulching method last year, but never tried it out before so I thought I'd test it here. Basically you lay down a fairly thick layer of newspaper, make cut outs in the newspaper where the plants will go, plant and then mulch on top of the newspaper. Sounded simple enough and it was fairly straight forward (although thick, soggy layers of newspaper don't tear quite as easily or neatly as I thought). But after wrestling with the newspaper a bit, I did finally get all 12 plants in the bed.

Next, it was time for mulch. I could have gone to the store and bought some mulch, but another thing that we never quite got around to doing last fall because of our new arrival was raking leaves, so we have LOTS and LOTS of leaves in our yard right now. I decided to use shredded leaves as my mulch. Shredded/chopped leaves are a great organic mulch that actually feed your soil as they help to suppress weeds and keep the soil moist (reducing the amount of watering that you need to do as an added bonus). It would have been best if I had trekked out to our "composted" leaf pile (i.e. big ol' pile of leaves from the last two years) and used the oldest leaves we had back there for the most fertilizing power, but I was a bit pressed for time so I just used what was at my feet. My hubby built a "leaf shredder" that fits on top of our garden cart out of 2'x4's and some chicken wire, so after a bit of sifting we end up with finely shredded leaf mulch.

By this point, my little buddha baby was starting to loose interest and patience with being outside watching mommy garden, so I quickly spread out the leaf mulch and watered everything and, ta da!, we have ourselves a little spring garden:

Pirat Lettuce

Jericho Lettuce

This is our first attempt at lettuce and our second try with broccoli (attempt #1 didn't go so well, which is why I opted to go with transplants instead of from seed this year). So we will see how it all goes.  We are looking forward to some yummy salads and some delicious roasted broccoli with garlic, which is hands down the best way of prepping broccoli that I've ever found. 

Up next ... starting our seeds for our Summer Garden!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The wormies

I think it would be fascinating if my 16 or 21 year old self could meet my 32 year old self - I don't think they would recognize each other as the same person. Many of the decisions I've made and lifestyle choices I've adopted are far from what I thought I'd be doing as a "grown up".  Some would be completely foreign concepts to my younger self, and some would just be far too outlandish for my younger self to ever believe I would do. One of those things would probably be that I not only keep worms in my house on purpose, but that I actually feed them and encourage them to multiply. Yup - we are a vermicomposting family, and we keep our worm friends in our laundry room.

I was first introduced to vermicomposting (a fancy word for composting with a special kind of worm called Red Wigglers) by a wonderful friend when I was living out in Phoenix. I must admit that when she first told me about her worms, I thought she was nuts. And when I saw the twinkle in my husband's eyes when he looked admiringly at her worm bin, I quickly nipped that idea in the bud and told him "it ain't ever gonna happen in my house." Well, fast forward about 4 years and after getting sucked in to the world of organic gardening, I actually found myself approaching him with the idea of setting up a worm bin. Funny how things turn out...

So, why in the world do I do this? Because vermicomposting produces some of the richest organic fertilizer around and I wanted it for my garden. Basically how this all works is you give the worms your scraps of vegetable/plant matter, they eat it, and their poop (aka worm castings) is your fertilizer. There are several different ways to set up a worm bin - we opted for the pre-fabricated Can-o-Worms. Just because I was willing to entertain the notion of keeping worms in the house does not mean I all of a sudden overcame my squeamishness towards all things slimy and buggy. So, the Can-o-Worms system turned out to be perfect for us because the tray system allows the worms to move themselves out of the finished compost, so no hand sifting of worms is involved. And the worm tea drains out the spout at the bottom of the bin, so again, no manual sifting & draining required. It is ridiculously easy to maintain, and in the year and a half that we've had it we've gotten more than enough compost & tea to maintain our garden.

The Can-o-Worms came with a coir block (coir is the bi-product of the process that extracts the long fibers from coconuts) that is a great starter bedding for a new worm bin.  I could have ordered worms online, but I felt a little odd about getting worms in the mail. So, I searched on craigslist and found a guy that sold worms at a local farmer's market. The whole transaction was a bit sketchy, because he was at the market selling produce and you were supposed to go up to him and tell him your name and that you were there about the worms. Then he took us to his pick up truck out in the parking lot and handed us an unmarked brown box with the worms. We handed over the cash, and we were the proud new owners of about 1000 Red Wiggler worms. You can feed them almost anything, but it is best to avoid putting non-vegetable/plant matter in your worm bin because you might invite unwanted critters (like maggots with meat) and unpleasant odor.  It has been trial and error with our worms to see what they will and won't eat - they love banana peels, not so much with the egg shells. They are super caffeinated worms because they get lots and lots of coffee grounds and tea bags, but no garlic or onion. We keep a fairly thick top layer of moist shredded newspaper on top of the food scraps (be sure to use a newspaper that is printed with vegetable-based dyes because you want to minimize the amount of chemicals that could leach into your compost). One of my biggest concerns was that all that decomposing food would stink because I have a very sensitive sense of smell, but the bin really does not smell at all.  Unless we tell folks what it is, no one has yet guessed that we keep a composter inside of our house.

I did a lot of research online before jumping into the world of vermicomposting, and eventually when I get around to adding more to my "Monkeying Around in the Garden" page I will put links to some of sites I found most useful for anyone that is interested in learning more. There is an excellent book called Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof that was my go to answer book. I still refer to it from time to time. I would highly recommend finding a copy at your local library or getting yourself a copy if you are thinking about setting up a bin of your own.

While I love the compost and the benefits to my garden, I think my favorite part of the whole vermicomposting thing is actually our oldest daughter's involvement with it. At 3.5 she knows that her carrot peels go to feed the wormies, and that the wormies then help us grow more carrots in our garden. I love that she is getting to see and be a part of the cycle of life of her food.

One of the metrics by which I will judge if I did my job as a parent well will be if my daughters turn out to be better people than my husband and I are - I think that is our roll as parents, to provide them with the opportunities and support and love so that they will be smarter, funnier, kinder, more compassionate and just all around better people than we are. Miss M (our oldest) is already on that path because she is already braver than I will ever be. She absolutely loves all of the creatures and critters on this earth and has no squeamishness about touching the worms, which I truly do think is fantastic.

Of course the danger of having done a 180 on my opinion of the worms is that it now gives my husband hope that I will one day change my mind about his dream of keeping goats in our yard (so that he doesn't have to mow the lawn anymore)  Not in my house!  But, we've heard that before...

Sunday, March 14, 2010


One of the reasons I originally started a vegetable garden was to establish a stronger connection to what we eat. Having grown up in the suburbs of New York and Miami, I did not have a lot of access to "farm fresh" food growing up. I had no idea what a spinach plant looked like until I was in my early 30s. I wanted my girls to know where their food comes from, so we started a garden as a way of giving them that connection.

A few months ago at dinner, my sister asked "Where do capers come from?" An excellent question that I could only answer with "the jar in the refrigerator." So I looked it up and found out that capers are actually the pickled flower buds of the prickly caperberry bush (Capparis spinosa), which are native to the Mediterranean region. The flower buds are picked by hand, and then pickled usually in salt, vinegar or brine for several months. When I find things like this out I am always left wondering who was the first person that thought "hmmm... let me take this unopened flowerbud, toss it in some salt, leave it alone for a few months, and then let me eat it."

One night while watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, I came across a whole segment on capers and caper harvesting: (start at about 3:40)

All in all, I have a much greater appreciation for the caper now knowing the amount of work that goes into harvesting and pickling it. But I have found that to be the case with many things since I started to do more things for myself, like sewing, canning, and gardening. I used to see quilts at craft fairs and think they were overpriced - who would pay $200 for a blanket? ... until I made my first quilt and saw how much time and effort it took to piece the top of the quilt and then actually quilt the layers together. I now see quilting as an art form and quilts as works of art, not blankets.

One of my favorite quick snacks with capers - Capers with cheese on toast. A friend of mine introduced  me to this yummy treat in college. Grab a slice of your favorite bread, layer on some cheddar cheese and then sprinkle a few capers on top. Pop it in the toaster oven until the cheese starts to get all melty and enjoy!

Three years in the making...

I have been thinking about starting this blog for about three years and now that I finally have it all set up I am sitting here staring at the screen wondering where to begin. How do you go about introducing yourself to cyberspace?  Hello, my name is Claudia and I am ...
  • a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a niece, a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter, a best friend;
  • a stay at home mom = a cab driver, a nurse, a chef, a baker, a dishwasher, a housekeeper, a child psychologist, a life coach, a professional organizer, a teacher, a singer, a dancer, a human bouncy seat, a photographer, an historian, a human chew toy, an interpreter, a sherpa, a travel agent, a bookkeeper ...
  • an amateur gardener
  • a craft person (sewing, crochet, needle felting, doll making, general arts & crafts)
  • an eternal student with a couple of fancy pieces of paper on the wall in even fancier frames that cost me a lot of money (which I will be paying back until I am well into retirement...)
  • a traveler and a wanderer
  • a wanna-be locavore/foodie
Why am I starting this blog? Many reasons. I like to write. My brain needs some exercise, and I need somewhere to put all the random thoughts that bounce through my head on a daily basis while I am chasing after two kiddos. I want to share some of the knowledge and resources I've collected over the past few years on parenting, gardening, crafting, etc. I want to be one of the cool kids with a blog :)~
So I can't really tell you up front what you will find here - maybe some tutorials, maybe some recipes, most likely some random musings on parenting and motherhood and life. We will just have to wait and see. But for now I would like to issue you an  ...

by Shel Silverstein ( from Where the Sidewalk Ends)
If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
Oh yeah, and I guess I am now ... a blogger :)
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