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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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Recipe: Spinach Pie

This is a modification of the recipe from The Primal Blueprint Cookbook for their Spinach Bread.  Mine ended up a lot thicker than I would call a bread, and made a good side dish as a pie.  

Spinach Pie

2 bunches spinach, washed
1/2 red onion, diced
2 T butter or coconut oil, melted
handful walnuts
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Chop spinach and onion in food processor until smooth.

In small skillet, melt oil or butter.  Add walnuts (or pine nuts) and garlic and cook until fragrant.

Combine, adding eggs and sea salt.

Bake in greased pie plate at 350 for half of an hour.  Enjoy!

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kids' Wheelbarrow Repair (Again)

We have loved this Radio Flyer Kids Wheelbarrow so much.  So much, in fact it has broken.  Twice.

The first time, we made a wooden handle for the repair.  We had that break a few times and I just kept screwing it back together, but this time, the break was real.

So we made a new handle out of PVC.  It is just a length of PVC screwed into the side where the break was.

So far, it's holding firm!

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Quick and Dirty Rain Pants

Yay for California (finally!).  Rain!!!

I had cut rain pants from PUL a month or two ago and not yet stitched them up.  I cut them similar to when I made rain pants before, by basically using my current best pattern and choosing a waterproof fabric and a cozy waistband.  This time, though, I cut them a little wider than the current size, thinking they would be worn over a pair of pants, perhaps while biking.

So, there they sat on my desk, and the rain finally came.  And still they sat on my desk.

By the (ahem) fourth day of steady rain, we finally had puddles (if that speaks to the level of drought), and a break in the rain.  It took the boys all of three minutes to get soaked (see top photo).

I ran inside to finish those pesky pants.  

The little guy was anxious for his, so they are still waiting for the waistband (and hem on the legs).  He was content with a safety pin in front and a binder clip in back.

His brother wasn't so anxious to stop playing, so I was able to attach a waistband and snap a photo of them.

It is now the day after these puddles, and they are all gone!  Soaked into the thirsty ground by morning.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Kids' Science Experiment: Eggshells into Rubber with Vinegar

Turn regular eggs into rubber on the outside and normal on the inside!

All you need to do is cover an egg with white vinegar overnight...

...and it will dissolve the shell and replace it with a rubbery coating.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Monthly Garden To-Do List: February

It's February in the Lamorinda Garden.  This is a time when it is still cool enough for the winter veggies and warm enough to plant seedlings.  Plus, it's still raining and the turkeys are still strutting around.  Those first blossoms of spring come this month with the plums, crocuses, and some daffodils.  Keep a lookout for the first asparagus as well.

What to do this month?

  • Start those summer veggie seedlings.  You can do it inside or out-- look on the back of the seedling packets for which to start in seed trays and which to start in the ground.
  • The last day of frost is February 18th in our area.  Remember that date for when you can take off your frost blankets for the year, and when planning which crops can go into your boxes and when.
  • Keep picking your winter veggies- those cabbages, kale, spinach, and the like are still delicious.
  • Look for some plum buds on the wild plum trees around-- when you do your pruning, take some inside and put them in a vase.  Wait a week or so, and they make a glorious arrangement.  
  • Do your spring pruning - your stone fruit could use a trim, I'd guess.
  • Enjoy those bulbs you planted in the fall.
  • Keep dry!  Your garden is loving the moisture from the rains; make sure to keep your irrigation system off for the winter.

We like to protect the seeds we start outside with an old screen.  The birds love seeds!

Don't forget to water seedlings inside.  You can get a special tray where they soak water from below so you won't disturb their baby root systems.

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