Repurposed Water Fountain

Not to long ago we had a storm come through that served up some pretty impressive winds.  Our water fountain got pommelled with debris.  The result of that storm, a significant crack appeared at the base of the fountain that ultimately rendered our fountain out of service.  Rather than send it to the junk yard, I decided to convert it from a fountain to a planter.  I was inspired by a water feature I saw on a recent trip to Disney.    This was my smaller scale effort.

Toss the Electric Components.  Be sure to unplug and remove all of the electrical components of the fountain. 

Drill wholes to ensure drainage.  This is so important.  I drilled several drainage wholes to make sure that water could drain completely from the old fountain turned new planter. 

Plant until your heart is content.  I had so much fun planting colorful butterfly friendly flowers.  I also added some painted bricks made to look like some of our favorite books. 

This is a really simple and fun project.  I don't miss the running water at all.  Happy planting!


Crispy Kale Chips

Our garden has been producing awesome amounts of Kale.  I am so excited that we are still getting big healthy Kale.  It has been the heartiest cut and come again crop in our concrete bed.  One of our favorite treats is Kale chips.  Kale chips are so easy to make and are a perfect crunchy, munchy snack.  They can be tricky to get just right.  Here are the five secrets to my Kale Chip success.

Secret 1: Start Dry

It's important to thoroughly wash the Kale.  But do this well before you plan on baking your kale chips.  Any water on the leaves will result in a soggy or burned chip.

Secret 2: Size Matters

We have found that our Kale pulls apart easily. You want just the leaf not the stem. This makes it a super fun job for the little ones to do.   Because the Kale will shrink you want to makes sure that your pieces are at least one and half to two inches in size.

Secret 3: Flavor the Oil

I only use about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat my Kale chips.  Here is the trick.  I infuse my olive oil with the flavorings that I want on the chips.  My favorite combination is a teaspoon of herbs de provence and a clove of garlic.  I place the dry herbs in a sauce pan on medium-high heat.  As soon as the dry herbs are heated through and I can smell them, I add the olive oil and a clove of fresh minced garlic.  I heat the oil thoroughly without allowing it to boil or bubble.  Once complete, I toss the olive oil into my kale making sure each leaf piecce is well coated but not drenched.

Secret 4: Low and Slow

Pre-heat your oven 275 degrees.  Low and slow is the name of the game.  Bake them in a thin layer on a baking sheet for 10 minutes.  Remove them and flip the leaves over.  This will help to make sure the entire chip is crispy.  Bake for 10 more minutes.

Secret 5: Season Warm.

I add one last layer of flavor by sprinkling a little sea salt or kosher salt as soon as they come out of the oven.  YUM!  These are crispy and delicious.  I would tell you how to store them but I have never had left overs.  Kale chips disappear faster than popcorn in a bowl around here!

Happy Crunching!


Our Backyard Veggie Garden

One of my favorite childhood memories is heading to my granddad's backyard in the summertime and picking fresh summer tomatoes from the vines.  Ever since then I have loved and longed to have a successful backyard garden.  My grandad planted rows in ground from seeds.  His success, legendary and delicious.  Seriously good tomatoes and cucumbers.   I tried years ago to plant directly in our ground.  But the results were lack luster.  It was surprising to me because it seemed no amount of amending of my soil helped.  I finally wised up and had our soil tested.  When we got the results it was clear that it would take a serious investment of time and money to get our soil in shape.  I decided to container garden.  We had good success but I missed the sensation of walking through rows of tall tomato plants.

This year I decided to give a cinder block garden a try.  I layed out my plan and estimated I would need 22 cinder blocks to make my first bed.  After trying several recycle centers.  I headed to our local hardware store.  While I was there I met another customer who proved to be my green gardening fairy godfather.  I told him how my goal was to be as green as possible and that I hadn't found a recycle center that had cinder blocks to which he responded, "I have quite a few that you can have for free if you can move them."  Totally awesome.  He was able to give me enough material to make two beds not just one.  I was thrilled.

The hardest part of putting in the cinder block garden is moving the cinder blocks.  It is labor intensive.  I did almost all of the set up on my own.  My children watched and cheered me on, but I did not involve them at all in the moving or hauling of these beasts.  Here is how we put our garden together.

Step 1: Survive the Haul!!

Wear gloves. Cinder blocks aren't just heavy they chew your hands.
Wear long sleeves: They also chew you arms ... just cover your skin, trust me.
Get I dolly or wheelbarrow: I still don't have one of these but it's on my wishlist and would have made the hauling infinitely easier.

Step 2: Layer it.

I watched and read tons about cinder block gardening before getting started.  I decided to go with the lasagna layered approach to gardening.  So I covered the area with a few layers of cardboard to kill the weeds and still allow the worms and such to find there way into my raised bed.  Then I simply dry stacked the cinder blocks in the design I wanted.

Step 3: Water It.

I have a thing about not wanting to waste water.  Typically when you are filling your bed you will want to put in one layer of soil then water it in.  Then another layer of soil and water it in and so on until your bed is full.  Since I had time and started at the very beginning of our growing season rather than dumping a layer of dirt in and turning the hose on it, I filled the bed over the course of a couple of days.  We had several days rain in a row and I just let the rain water in the beds in for me.

Step 4: Plant it.

We used a mix of seedlings we sprouted, plants purchased from the garden center, and we sewed some seeds straight into the bed.  The seedlings we sprouted and the young plants we transplanted from the gardening center proved more likely to survive their first few weeks in the garden.  They were more tolerant of unexpected and heavy rains and able to survive the ensuing slugs and pill bugs. But I have to say the children and I both were more excited watching and "rooting" for our directly sewn seeds to sprout.  Also, while we lost almost half of bed of seeds to a pill bug/slug attack the seeds that survived seem stronger and heartier than our transplants.  Moral of the story .. if you are sewing seeds directly into the bed it's a numbers game.  You will likely lose as many as you sprout so plant abundantly. 


Yoda Apple Snack

Nothing says I love you like a creepy little Yoda apple, am I right?!  If it's not obvious, we are star wars fans.  Today is International Star Wars Day.  So we are celebrating with a Yoda themed apple snack.  It's really easy to make and you probably have everything you need in your fridge.  I simply sliced the back third off of a green apple.  Then made two wedge slices from that  smallest section of apple (these will be the iconic ears of the Jedi Master).  On either side of the apple cut out a triangle to place the apple wedges.  Next slice out a little nose and mouth.  I filled the mouth with a slice of cheese.  Finally grab two blue berries and use food picks or kabob sticks to give him some scrumptious eyes.  May the fourth be with you!


From Salad to Sand Letters!

I was challenged by Chick-fil-a Mom's Panel to try the new Spicy Southwest Salad and then upcycle the container into something useful for me or my family.  We have been working on our letter recognition and handwriting.  So I turned my salad bowl into a Sand Letter writing station.  It is a hit! It travels beautifully and has provided tons of fun and encouragement.

Here is all you need:

Chick-Fil-A Salad Container
Colored Craft Sand (about 2-3 oz,)
Foam Letters
Hot Glue Gun
Small Chalkboard Label (Optional)
Writing Tools (Optional)

First you will want to wash out your container and allow it to dry completely.  You will notice on your lid that there are four small holes near each corner.  I want this container to be able to travel with sand in it so I closed those holes with 4 small dabs of hot glue.  Next use your foam letters to label the lid.  I choose to go with "Sand Fun".  As an added security measure I made sure that each hole was also covered by a foam letter.  Finally, in the dollar spot of target, I found a package of chalkboard labels.  Originally these labels had a clothes pin attached to the back.  I simply popped the clothes pin off and hot glued it to the raised portion at the center of the lid.  Now all you need to do is add about 2 oz of sand into the base of the bowl.

How to use it:

The chalk board center plate allows me to write a letter to be modeled in the sand when are practicing letters.  Your child can use his or her pointer finger to draw the letter or you can use a popcicle stick. pencil, or pen (I find this particularly useful if you are working on grip).  When you are done simply shake the tray gently and make your next letter.

My little ones loved this so much they drew sand picture and played long after our letter practice was done for the day. 

Alternate use: You could also use this as a discovery box.  Placing small things in the sand that are related to one another.  I know it goes without saying, but be sure that you never leave your child unsupervised with small or sharp items that may present hazards to their safety. 

The Wasting Nothing Philosophy

Playing, cooking, reading, exploring, loving, laughing, and making a mess with your little one is NEVER a waste of time! It is priority one! It's not just about getting to know your little one. It's about letting your little one get to know you!