Watercolor summer

Creative Living

Watercolors have always seemed to mysterious to me. I certainly used them often enough as a kid, but always felt like there was a secret I just never understood. I even took a watercolor painting class in college becasuse I was sure that a college professor would certainly tell me the long hidden secrets. But they just talked about them like paints and colors, and I left the class still feeling like I was missing something. I mean, they never turn out like I expected, but once in a while, I would make something that looked ethereal and otherworldly. And I had no idea how I had done it.

And so, as a parent, I pulled out the watercolors and played another with my kids. I suppose it was when I started using watercolor crayons that I felt like I had some semblance of control over where the colors when on the page. I added the color with the crayon, then manipulated the colors with water. That made sense. It obeyed the laws of gravity, too.

And now I have dipped my toe in again and it feels less mysterious and more playful. I don’t alwasy know how the color will move, but I have made peace with that and just like to watch it move on the page, or see if I can catch the colors of the trees by mixing in a little more blue, or maybe it’s purple?

Curious about upcycling an old eye shadow palatte into a travel watercolor kit? Read more here.

Slow Down Snacks

Dirt Magazine, Family, Kitchen

In the midst of summer days, whether yours are full or free, there comes a time when it’s too hot and muggy to move. My kids forget that stopping is an option, and they just get cranky instead. I try to help them shift the pace and quiet down by serving ‘slow snacks,’ or snacks that require a little extra effort on their part. Some assembly required, as it were.

One of our favorite summer snacks is radish slices with butter and a sprinkle of salt. I put out radish slices, a small knife, a pat of butter, and salt (my younger kid can’t be trusted with salt, so I might just put a pinch or two on the plate). They spread butter on a radish, sprinkle salt and put a second radish on top to make a tiny sandwich. I have won over radish haters when it comes in the form of a doll sandwich.

Other favorites are apples and nut butter (can be done as sandwiches as well), cucumbers, dill sprig and soft cheese (goat cheese or even cream cheese works). I know it sounds crazy to serve kids as if it were high tea, but if they can assemble the sandwiches themselves – and you have to trust them a bit to do it – it brings their focus to the food and the process. No need to get out a mandolin to prepare these snacks, just cut the fruit or veggies about a quarter inch thick, put them on a tray with a small bowl of the filling, and a knife for spreading.

Even putting out a bowl of peanuts in the shell can keep the kids busy for a few minutes. We gave my five-year-old a heavy-duty nutcracker for Channukah this past year, and the winter was filled with cracking walnuts, some of which he harvested from our black walnut tree. Yes, there was a lot to sweep up afterwards, but the process makes every nut, released from its shell, a treasure. And since we have some nuts left, my little squirrel children can move it outside for summer.

A snack of radishes, butter and salt.
Radishes, butter and salt: snacking in the garden.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, June/July 2017

Relax, and let the kids into the garden

Dirt Magazine, Family, Plants
Two young, blonde-haired kids, sitting in a garden bed.

My children start “helping” in the garden in February. Before I order seeds, I go through my box of seeds from previous years. As soon as they hear the rattle of the seed packs, my kids want to do some planting. So we go to the basement and as I sort, I hand off the seed packs that I deem too old or unlikely to get space in the garden. My two boys enthusiastically plant these castaways in pots and these seedlings get the place of honor in our sunny window. There they grow and die, and then they make way for the ground cherries, broccoli, and tomato starts.

You can imagine their excitement when it comes time to actually play outside, in the soil. They are eager with their shovels and generous with their seed spreading — one seed every four inches becomes four seeds every inch. Heck, last year someone seeded the entire radish pack in one fell swoop. Whoops.

Clearly, they have both earned themselves a garden plot of their own. They can plant what they want, then can tend and decorate it as they please. My 6-year-old always has plans bigger than his plot, but we figure it out. I remind him that there will be another patch of green beans just six feet away, so he is welcome to snack on those, too. Three years ago that same kid planted some eggplant seedlings in our dirt pile (the one he plays in). I planted four of those same seedlings in the garden, which is encircled by a seven-foot fence. Guess whose plants were eaten by aphids?

And my son’s plants? The ones that were six feet from our driveway, open to chickens, deer, groundhogs and rabbits? His plants produced half a dozen gorgeous looking eggplants. And, as kids are wont to do, he picked them when they were only four inches long, wanted me to make them for lunch right away, and then remembered that he didn’t really like eggplant.

But who can complain, it’s his garden plot, his harvest, I ate them up and sent my compliments to the farmer. Boy was he proud.

The kids’ gardens are now in the big garden, right in the raised beds. It’s hard to share space when it never feels like there’s enough of it. But I know that they will want to run out every morning to check on their peas or watermelons, even if it means I have to plant fewer cucumbers or zinnias. As Ben Hewitt, a homestead writer, has said, “Relax. Lower your expectations. You’re not just growing a garden. You’re growing little people. One is just slightly more important that the other.”

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, April/May 2017