Thursday, April 17, 2014

DIY Passover Matzoh Bag (for Sedar Table)

 This bag has 3 compartments, one for each ceremonial matzoh, and is used during the Passover Sedar.

It was QUICK, in fact, I made it in the 30 minutes between finishing the gefilte fish and showering before our guests arrived.

To make it, I took a box of matzoh and measured a square of fabric around it.   Then I added a seam allowance.  Then I cut a matching piece for the back.  Then I cut two other pieces for the dividers.  I hemmed all of the pieces for the top.  I did a binding for the edging by using a ribbon.  You could turn it and topstitch, or make binding.  

I loved this addition to our Sedar!  

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monthly Garden To-Do List: April

April is already the end of Spring.  Some years, it is hot enough to go swimming outside here, and at least to start the water table and sandbox play in the garden.  The Dutch Irises bloom in the background, but the dandelions are in full bloom as well.  The pill bugs are out of hibernation, so go look under a rock and grab one.

Picking wild plums.
What else is going on in the garden in April?

  • The California Poppies are blooming!
  • Strawberries are here.  We love to pick them in our garden, and go pick them at a big farm just inland.  Mmmm. Harbinger of summer.
  • The wild plums are ready, and all over town.  They ripen at different times, depending on the color.  First are the darkest purple ones, then the red ones, then the yellow/ green ones.  All are delicious raw, or we often pit them with a cherry pitter and either make a compote or bake with them.  We've also had luck with wild plum sorbet.
  • It's still a good time to ferment cabbage in the kitchen~ making your own sauerkraut is not only delicious, but a nice way to get your hands "dirty."  There is so much variety of recipes from around the world- check out plain sauerkraut, or Latin American Cordito, or Korean Kim Chee- they are all delicious and high in probiotics.
  • It's also a good month to feed the birds.  Try making a feeder from a pine cone with unsalted peanut butter slathered on it, then rolled into wild bird seed.  You may get birds ~ or maybe just squirrels.
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Friday, March 21, 2014

DIY Bamboo (PVC) Flute (Bansuri)

I know this is at an odd angle, but it's a scan from 1998 and it was my instructor in Nepal. Manoj Singh. He is (was?) an amazing player of the classical bamboo flute, which is called the bansuri in Nepali.  

My older son recently went on a field trip to the local middle school and was treated to a band concert.  His takeaway?  It was loud.  And the Tuba was awesome.

So I, of course, had to pull out my bansuri, which I studied with Manoj nearly 20 years ago (yikes).   The boys loved it! And I could still make music on it.

They wanted to touch it.  They wanted to play it.  They wanted to fondle it.  

I had to say no.  Where do you buy a genuine bansuri, after all?

So we made them PVC flutes.  And we made them for two of the neighbor girls, too.

I chose lengths of 1/2" PVC from our scrap pile.  The we took a drill bit and screwed a hole for blowing, then left a big gap, then made 3 holes, then a small gap, then made 3 more holes.  Then we took a cork and narrowed it with a utility knife until it fit into the hole on the mouthpiece end, and stuffed it in, then cut it flat with a kitchen knife.  The the boys took them outside to paint and decorate them.

They work!  For troubleshooting, we made a wider mouth hole. 

They make music!

So cooL!

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

20 pounds of Cabbage in my 2 Gallon Crock... mmm... Sauerkraut

Last year, we got our 20 lb box of sauerkraut from our farm box CSA and made different types of sauerkraut in jars.

This year, our process was different.  

Delicious as the flavors were, we streamlined a little.  Everyone loves plain sauerkraut.

So we made plain sauerkraut.  

We all took turns slicing (ok, the older one sliced and the younger one fed scraps to the chickens-- but it's good to have a job and be useful), then I sprinkled the kosher salt (approximately 1 T per head of cabbage).  We all took turns pounding, then we took a break.  Then we pounded.  Then they got bored and I pounded some more.  I left it in the 2 gal crock and 1 gal crock overnight, then consolidated into the 2 gallon crock the next morning and weighted it down.

Now it is waiting to ferment...

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Monthly Garden To-Do List: March

Have you ever tried green garlic? It is garlic, picked early- before the bulb starts to differentiate into cloves.  You cook with it like you do with green onions or leeks, and it is so fresh and mild and delicious, that it is worth scouring the Farmer's Markets for bunches of it in February, March, and April.

Speaking of March, it's SPRING!  Finally!  Hey, time to get naked and plant the veggie boxes.

Don't forget your rain boots.  Just in case.

But really, grab your unpaid labor force, and it's time to add compost to that veggie box, turn it, and plant those seedlings (or seeds- depends on which you prefer).  Personally, we go back and forth depending on the year.  I usually end up not "thinning" enough when I use seeds, so my boxes look better when I use starts.  But gardening is much more expensive that way.  Don't forget to leave the seedlings outside for a day near where they will be planted before transplanting them.  This will reduce shock.

What else is going on in March in the Garden?

  • The magnolias are in bloom.  These bright pink blooms adorn the trees before their leaves, and are striking against the skies this time of year.  They are short-lived, so enjoy.
  • The spring bulbs are flowering- enjoy those as well.  Your blueberries will also be putting their flowers out, and the figs will sprout leaves, as will the other deciduous trees.
  • Sprinkle some wildflower seeds before the last rains.  How about some California Poppies?  They are deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, and beautiful.  They also naturalize.
  • You could also plant poppies.  I knew a woman who threw a bunch of poppy seeds into her yard before the last rains, and had a glorious spring garden.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Magnolia is Early this year


I actually took this photo a week ago (2/21).

Last year, it was in bloom the second week of March, as was the case the previous year.  That makes this bloom almost a full month early.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Biking with Kids in Lamorinda

With Kids Learning/ on their Own Bikes/ Trikes/ Scooters

My kids love going up and down our street.

  1. Your own street! You can even get one of those  "Slow Down" Signs if that makes you feel better, or if your street is busy.  
  2. The trail.  It has so many good sections, and runs from Lafayette to Moraga.  
  3. The stretch of trail from Olympic in Lafayette to Foye/ 4th Street is flat and full of shade, and there is a little shady park on Moraga at 4th for a break (and there is talk of putting a play structure there, too... please email the City of Lafayette Parks Director Jennifer Russell at if you want to encourage this project!).  
  4. Speaking of the trail, there is a house with chickens in the back (and a chain link fence so you can see them) just west of Hawthorn on the trail where there are always toddlers gathering.  The owner even put a bench on the trail side of the fence, and can be found there chatting to passerby regularly.
  5. Did I mention the trail?  Just over the bridge from Stanley Middle School in Lafayette is an EBMUD set of buildings which are nice to climb on.  And a few steps further, before the big hill down, are some little dirt paths kids like climbing around on.
  6. Another good stretch of trail is from Stanley towards Moraga.  This is full of short flat straight sections with stop signs and not busy streets.  The little ones can race from stop sign to stop sign and always be within eyesight.
  7. Lafayette Elementary School is open to the public whenever school is not in session.  Their playground is flat and paved and huge.  There is an older kids' section and a younger kids' section.  You could use this as a place to bring your kids' bikes so they can learn to ride or play around.  Look around at the elementary schools in your area- my guess is that they are all similar in this regard.
With Kids in Tow

We like to bike all around the area, though we do seek out flat areas, especially as the kids are getting bigger and heavier and not yet on their own bikes all the time.  

Our bike set-up has gone from this (baby seat on bike rack):
to this (trail a bike with one kid):
to this (one kid on bike seat, other in trailer):
to this (Cargo bike for both kids on top):
to this (Cargo bike for both kids on top and their bikes aboard so they can hop on and off and ride alongside as desired):

Tips and Tricks:
  1. Choose the time of day and realize that if it is naptime your kid may fall asleep.  Just like in the car, you will need to determine if you can transfer the sleeping child or if you will need to keep riding or s/he will wake up.  
  2. I found an awesome double kickstand from Xtracycle so the bike is extremely sturdy when I am not holding it.  This is great for loading and unloading squirmy cargo and for if the kid/s fall asleep and will stay asleep on a parked bike but not stay asleep if you try and move them.
  3. Try finding a bag or pannier that will work with your bike and kid set-up so you can use the bike for errands (and for carrying a snack/ diaper bag-type gear).  We found a front handlebar bag to be great with a baby seat.  We used the trailer's trunk area with the trailer, and the cargo bike has bags that go below the seats.
  4. Keep their feet tucked away from your legs.  If their feet touch your leg every stroke, it is uncomfortable (if not unsafe).  
  5. Use a flag when the kids are in the trailer or trail-a-bike.  Motorists aren't expecting a long bike, so the flag helps keep everyone safe.
  6. Find warm gear for the kid/s for the bike.  You are working up there and stay a bit warmer in the winter, but they will need an extra layer in back.  My kids like fleece balaclavas under their helmets.
  7. In the summer, don't forget sunscreen!
  8. The trail goes so many useful places.  Google Maps has a bike icon you can click on to give you biking directions to places and makes use of the trail.  It takes longer but the isolation from cars is really nice.
  9. Map your route in advance.  Pay attention so you don't need to check your phone when you are traveling.
  10. On the weekends, the trail is PACKED.  If you actually want to get somewhere quickly, try another route.  Otherwise you will be constantly ringing your bell.  Though this could be a good job for the kids in back if I would get them their own bells back there.
  11. Consider biking instead of the car. It is often just as quick, or only a few extra minutes, especially once you and the kids have a routine established.
  12. When the kids are little, find a way for them to have a lovey (or similar object) accessible.
  13. When they are older, it is surprisingly easy to drag a kids' bike behind an adult bike.  Doing this lets the kid hop on and off your bike and his bike as he gets tired (aka meltdown avoidance).  
  14. Don't forget to bring a lock (and an extra cable if you have kids' bikes or a trailer with you).  Then you can stop if you want to explore somewhere.
  15. My kids like to hop off and walk sometimes and I can walk the bike.  I love giving them the exercise and getting them used to moving their bodies in a useful way (in addition to the fresh air!).
  16. LAYERS.  This is a bit of an obvious one for California, but sometimes a bike excursion takes a while (especially if you let it turn into an adventure), so it's always nice to keep the kids comfortable.
  17. Always keep a bike light on hand.  This is in case it gets dark when you are out.
  18. Likewise, I always keep a minimal first aid kit and baby carrier on my bike (a pouch sling for my toddler- I have had it in there since he was a baby- just in case we get stranded and need to walk home).  I also keep an allen wrench, tissues, and a packet of almonds.

My little one likes to fall asleep when we bike to pick up his brother from school.  Yes, that's a pillow in his lap.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Food Train Meal Ideas

We have participated in quite a few food trains, and they are always nice for helping someone in the community.  But the question is always what to make?  Here are my favorites:

  1. Roast Chicken with Roast Veggies (especially for a new mom right at first).
  2. Meatballs and Spinach Salad.
  3. Carrot Ginger Soup and Breaded Chicken Fingers (almond or coconut flour as breading).
  4. Lasagna.
  5. Rice and a Mild Curry.
  6. Meat Loaf and a salad.

What else have I learned (being on BOTH sides of this custom)?  
  • Pack the meal in something they don't have to get back to you (like a foil roasting pan- see below for link).
  • Add some fruit for breakfast or dessert.
  • Pay attention to how often the food is being delivered, and adjust your portion size accordingly to make more than one meal out of it.
  • Make sure and ask about food allergies and preferences.
  • If you are organizing a meal train, try a website like Take Them a Meal to simplify.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Activity Idea: Home Depot Kids' Workshop (Free!)

Home Depot runs free workshops the first Saturday of every month for kids.  We highly recommend them.

They are really mellow, and they have a little table in the back (by the bathrooms, how convenient) with an employee who has kits, paint, hammers, aprons, and glue for the kids.

The kids sit at the makeshift table (or on the tarp next to it if it's busy) and hammer and glue, then paint and put stickers on.  And the kits are fun, like a sailboat or race car.

They weren't too out of reach for Little Brother, and were fun for Big Brother also (ages 2.5 and 5.5).

Can you guess who made which car?

p.s. They ask that you register in advance so they know how many kits to bring (here).

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

DIY Tetherball Pole

This is an awesome DIY tetherball pole we got at an estate sale and bought a new ball and rope for.  

But it was really cleverly made.  

The base is a tire with a circle of plywood underneath and a short length of pole (about two feet) inserted in the middle and concrete poured around.  

The second piece is the outer pole, which sets on top of the little one.  On the top is a round hook which you carebeaner (or tie) the ball onto.

Great find (and you could really DIY one like it).

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