Monday, June 21, 2010

The Serenity of French Country

A local shop is filled with many pieces of refurbished furniture.  Bonnie, the shopkeeper, is extremely talented and she paints, upholsters, and rebuilds everything from sofas, chairs,  and lamps, to screens and mirrors.  Her "look" is French country and beautiful prints and white paint dominate.  She accents her shop decor with touches of nature:  butterflies, sea shells, twigs, and sweeping floral arrangements.  Overhead, a chandelier of painted white twigs adds a  touch of sparkle to the room.  Of course she made it herself.  Visiting her shop is like taking a mini-vacation.  The touches of shabby elegance she so carefully creates give all who enter her door a sense of quiet and calm.  Shown in the photos above are two "old" sewing machine cabinets that she has refurbished.  Once plain brown and perfect utility cabinets for sewing machines, they have been transformed into cabinetry for elegant living spaces.  One is antiqued sage paint, gold trim, and some of the original wood promote.  It promotes serenity and serve sas a base for a lamp and floral arrangement.  The other has been painted a silver-gray and has been covered with mirrors cut and glued in a bias pattern.  Its mirrored top serves as a base for a simple topiary and a painting and easel.  All it takes is a little imagination, a little elbow grease, and a great deal of appreciation for the out-dated objects in home decor.  Inspiration! 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kitchen Container Gardens

Once the planting bug bites, it's hard to let it go.  After all my terrarium containers were filled with soil and plants, I had some left and didn't want to waste them.  So I started looking around the kitchen for other things to plant.  I'm not sure what I'll make trifle cakes in any more, because I used my favorite pedestal bowl as a planter that sits on a sideboard in the dining room now.  And an ice cream dish filled with tiny daisies sits on the kitchen counter, adding fresh and green to the decor.  The same formula that was used for the terrariums was used for these containers, since they don't have any source of drainage at the bottom of them.  They contain a layer of charcoal, then course gravel, and finally potting soil.  It's important not to over-water them, but to check frequently for dryness and to water just enough when required.  The plants in my stock are gone, but with a trip to the mountains planned soon, I may just bring more home and continue with this fun nature project.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bringing Nature Indoors

One of my favorite authors writes that "nature study should be an important part of your child's daily program. This may include working with plants, pots, or window boxes indoors, or a bigger garden outdoors; collecting, identifying, and classifying leaves, rocks, shells, etc.; starting a nature experiment; or taking a walk to see what can be found to study." [Home Grown Kids, p. 154]

Sometimes weather conditions, living conditions, and circumstances make daily nature study difficult.  Videos, pictures, books, etc. can fill the gap, but when a child or adult finds something live to touch, see, and experience, natures lessons are clearly illustrated at the highest levels of learning and comprehension.  Let's explore one way that nature can be studied in a controlled environment in the home.

Bringing nature into the house is fun and a fresh way to see how things grow in their own, self-contained ecosystem.  A terrarium can be made out of a variety of glass containers and are a beautiful addition to any living space.  To make a terrarium you will need:

1)  Natural materials from nature:  if possible, take a walk in the woods or along a creek bank to gather small plants and objects (violets, wild ginger, moss, rocks, twigs).  Visit a plant nursery and/or the plant and flower department at the supermarket.  Select and buy several small houseplants (2" containers or 6-pack containers).

2)  Purchase or gather materials for the foundation.  You will need to layer, in this order, charcoal, gravel, and potting soil. 

3)  Find a container that is large and clear with an open top. WalMart has brandy snifters and clear glass vases that will work for a terrarium.  A fish bowl or fish tank also works nicely.  After experienced has been gained in building terrariums, you might want to use a large, commercial-style glass water bottle.  The opening is small, but with a straightened, wire coat hanger, you can place plants and objects in the container to create a beautiful terrarium.

4)  Make sure your glass container is sparkling clean.  It is more difficult to polish the glass after it is filled with soil and plants.

5)  Then, place a layer of charcoal in the base of the container.  If using purchased charcoal, be sure it is a type that does not have chemicals or petroleum added.  If the charcoal is in lumps, place it in a plastic bag and then pound it with a heavy glass or hammer to break into small pieces or powder.  The charcoal acts as a purifier to absorb toxins and mold.

6)  Next, add a layer of gravel, covering the charcoal completely. The gravel creates a bed for drainage.

7)  Now it is time to add a layer of potting soil.  This will be a thicker layer than the charcoal or gravel.  Smooth it throughout the container.  It does not need to be level.  Instead, a mound or a slope can be created for the scene.

8)  Plan the scene, deciding upon the placement of plants.  At this point, a decision to make a pond or stream in the scene should be made.  They can be added by placing a small, low dish on the soil in the terrarium, or by placing a small mirror or aluminum foil for the illusion of water.  Working with odd numbers of plants is recommended for artistic effect and should be used to create the anchor for the scene.  Smaller plants can then be added to complete the design. Using odd numbers is still recommended.  Sometimes it is difficult to reach into the bottom of the container to dig holes for the plants.  A table knife or a long handled iced tea spoon work as helpful tools for planting.  Moss can be added in open spaces between plants to create
ground cover.

9)  Add objects from nature to create a natural scene.  Stones, twigs, and sea shells add contrast to the plants and create interest and 'spark'.

10)  Add small figurines or toys to add interest.  Ceramic or plastic animals, Lego creations, tiny toy boats, a toy helicopter, or figurines of people make a terrarium interesting to children.  A little twig cabin or house inside also sparks imagination.

11)  A terrarium is a great habitat for little critters found in nature.  Frogs, toads, salamanders, and chameleons will enjoy the moist and lush place to live.  Insects like ladybugs or worms also give life to the habitat.

12)  A terrarium is a closed habitat when a cover is added to the top.   If an aquarium is used, a mesh cover that fits tightly can be purchased.  For a glass vase or brandy snifter, a plate set on top works to keep moisture inside.  Watering will not be necessary very often because the moisture will recycle in the container, forming condensation on the sides.  Observing this is a great opportunity to teach the cycle of water to the ocean, clouds, and rain.  Sometimes a terrarium can become too moist, so keep watch and slide the plate aside to make a small crack for moisture to escape.  If it becomes too moist, the plants will rot and spoil.

A terrarium can be used to teach lessons from nature and to spark the interest and imagination of the children who craft and observe what's inside.  Seeing how plants grow or how they need trimmed so they don't overgrow the container involves the child actively on a daily basis. Gathering new objects can be done on daily walks and the child can add or remove things from the scene to improve it or to keep up with the seasons.  Its interactive nature is especially observed when little critters are added.  The terrarium as a self-contained habitat can provide hours of involvement in learning for the child and can give them the opportunity to observe nature up close and naturally in their home environment.  It's a great way to involve the family in a fun and beautiful nature activity.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nathan and Kara

Wishing Nathan and Kara a lifetime of wedded bliss! Your wedding was beautiful and your gracious hospitality shone through in every aspect. Kara, it has been a delight to watch you grow up to become the woman that God has created you to be! Blessings and best wishes for a happy life ahead.

Nathan and Kara
June 13, 2010
In the Beginning Wedding Garden

*Click on photos to enlarge

Saturday, June 05, 2010

It's a Dog's Life. . .

Coco and Tia enjoy a walk with us on a spring day. Their noses lead them all over the place! Nature provides so many places for them to explore and scents to follow! When we return home, they beg for a biscuit and then sprawl out on the sofa for a well-deserved nap. A comment heard frequently at our house is that the dogs have it pretty good!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Overnight, we have jumped from March to June. At least it feels that way because of the weather we have been having. Rainy, cool days have been constant this spring. The Japanese iris in my garden, that usually start blooming the first of May, are beautifully blooming in June this year instead. I'm even having to learn a few new gardening techniques, because plants that usually thrive in our climate are soggy and grumpy about the extra moisture! Some have even wilted because of too much water and I've had to rebuild my hanging planters more than once. On the other hand, the lawn and other parts of my garden are thriving! So are the weeds! And my roses are blooming magnificiently! It will be interesting to observe the garden as the month progresses. This month also brings many happy events --- a family birthday, a celebration for the new university graduate in the family, and the wedding of a very dear friend. April showers may bring May flowers, but this year I'm hoping that the March winds blow much JOY into June days!