Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Year In A Couple of Lives

Life being a mosaic of experiences, we thought it appropriate to share a photo mosaic of experiences we shared over the course of the year that's about to pass. Here's to a wonderful 2009 for all living creatures!!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Craftiness Unveiled Part 3: Homemade Gift Bags

Thanks to this tutorial featured in Craft Magazine's Craft-daily blog, we made our own Christmas gift bags with ease. We filled these little bags with our homemade seed packets, homemade soap & attached a homemade origami ornament.

We found the pattern for the origami wreath ornaments here.

Jennifer also made rock necklaces for our nieces & that pretty well wrapped up Christmas 2008!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Craftiness Unveiled Part 2: Homemade Seed Packets

This year we shared seeds with family collected in our gardens by separating seeds, crafting our own seed packets and writing up growing instructions.

We collected a mix of native wildflower seeds to benefit birds & butterflies (& all sort of critters really) and a few non-native beneficial garden plants. Collecting and then sorting the seeds from the chaff is so much fun. REALLY! You learn so much about seed & plant structure and sometimes get to experience really wonderful fragrances like with the bergamot - a mint.

Bounder always likes to help...

To craft our seed packets, I pulled apart another seed packet I had...

traced it on a piece of cardstock & cut out the pattern. (The camera did not like this subject matter.)

I then traced the pattern onto old calendars & magazine pages we had, cut the packet out & glued the edges together like the original seed packet (except for the top flap)...

While the glue dried on the packets, I typed up seed growing instructions, cut them out and glued them to the seed packets.

For the final step, I added our separated seed & glued the top flap. That's it!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Craftiness Unveiled Part 1: Knitted Fingerless Mitts

Steve & I succeeded in handcrafting all our Christmas gifts this year and are now able to divulge what we spent the last few weeks working on. The first gift I want to share is fingerless mitts. These are all the rage this year (I did not know this till my in-style sis let me know) and are so easy to make if you know the basics of knitting. I used the pattern from Weekend Knitting by Melanie Falick, which works the mitts sideways using garter stitch and includes short rows to increase the room in the hand area. Here's the colorful array we gave as presents:

I made Steve & I a pair of these a few years ago. Mine are pictured in the following two photographs so those of you who haven't seen fingerless mitts before can see how they work. They are wonderful for keeping hands warm when you don't need or can't use a full glove or mitt.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Couple Bits Of Inspiration

There's no shortage of bad news out there but there's also not shortage of good news and inspiring things going on. Here's a couple we've bumbled across recently:

A recent Speaking of Faith episode about "Auburn's Rural Studio in western Alabama draws architectural students into the design and construction of homes and public spaces in some of the poorest counties. They're creating beautiful and economical structures that are not only unique but nurture sustainability of the natural world as of human dignity."


This group which is involved in "...building the Buffalo Commons step-by-step by bringing indigenous prairies back and restoring healthy, sustainable communities to the Great Plains. From the Indian reservation to the prairie inner city to the High Plains outback and beyond, GPRC brings people together to establish creative, effective solutions that enhance and respect our natural environment, native wildlife, human communities, and the health and dignity of all people. GPRC places a major emphasis on building strong Ecological Health leadership in our youth..."

WOW!!! There is wellspring of inspiration for positive change out there and a peace army afoot. Exciting times we all live in................

Friday, December 26, 2008

Incredible New Field Guide for NE Indiana Nature Preserves

What goes best with organic/fair-trade/shade-grown coffee? I like my chickadee bird mug and my incredible new ACRES Land Trust Preserve Guide!

As long-time users and coveters of maps, guides and tips on visiting natural areas we are extremely excited to now have the entire works in one handy ring-bound and field-handy package. At least that's the case for most of the nature preserves in NE Indiana and parts of MI and OH. Check this gem out:

Start with the overview map, which shows the portions of the 3 states in which ACRES protects land:

Hone in with the county maps, which give a great view of where specific preserves are within a given county and in relation to one another. These are great for route planning on days when visiting multiple preserves:

Once you get close, consult the preserve-specific section for better-than-GPS (no dead batteries!) navigation to the parking area. (Latitute and longitude are provided for GPS-ers). The preserve-specific sections have photos, descriptions of natural history features, local history and more:

If that's not enough (and it certainly is), there's a bonus section on commonly sighted wildflowers, trees and animal tracks:

The culmination of the collective work of many area nature lovers is complete! The new ACRES Land Trust Preserve Guide is available now! Get one here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas All!

What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.

Agnes M. Pharo

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Tree from Resurrection Fern

Another wintry weather system is moving in our area as I type. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the forecasted ice stays away; everything is still coated thickly with ice from the last storm and single digit temps.

Besides keeping up with the weather, we are busy here crafting all our Christmas presents. We will post about these after Christmas since we don't want to spoil any surprises.

Also, a few weeks ago Jennifer entered a contest on Resurrection Fern's blog and won this sweet little Christmas tree. For all our nature loving/crafty friends make sure to check out her blog - her creations are beautiful & unique!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Absence Makes The Grid Look Mighty Fine

Being back on The Grid make us appreciate the relative reliability of our power system (and the folks our there in the bitter cold right now continuing to bring others back online for power). It also makes us ponder the possibilities of becoming self-reliant. While we impressed ourselves with our ability to adapt to (using buckets of creek water to flush the toilets, cooking food on a kerosene heater, etc.) the recent and on-going power outages it makes us realize our vulnerability. More on that later. For now, here's some more pics of the frozen-ness in our vicinity.

Frozen tree canopy over our road:

Lone sentinel tree in a sea of snow - the Little Wabash River valley west of our place:

Farm up the hill from us:

Road in front of our place:

No trees fell on our house, thank goodness:

View south of our place, hope all the critters are snuggled in a cozy spot:

Sun setting, temps to plummet to -20 windchills, better get inside:

Stay warm and safe!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ice Storm, No Power but Beauty

Hey there friends. We are out of power (since Friday), but are currently online thanks to a loaned generator from Jennifer's parents. It's very very cold here in northeastern Indiana so we are grateful to get our water & heat going for a few hours. We won't be posting again till our power returns so here are a few photos of our recent adventures. We may be out of power for a few more days so we want to wish you all a very Happy Winter Solstice & Happy Holidays!

Our landscape...

Ice coating honeysuckle berries...

Cedar Waxwings (out our bedroom window) eating the honeysuckle berries...

Indoors at night where we are currently spending time reading, preparing Christmas presents & enjoying conversation with one another.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can We Live in the Moment and also Lose Ourselves in Seed Catalogs?

Can We Live in the Moment and also Lose Ourselves in Seed Catalogs?

We don't know how the great spiritual masters would answer that question but we don't see any harm in garden planning in December! The array of flower and vegetable seeds available to us is incredible and the potential for food, fiber, beauty and wildlife benefit contained in each seed is incomprehensible. To do justice to this, we must start now!

Just a couple of days ago we received our first seed catalog of the 2009 growing season - this one from Seed Savers Exchange which is "a non-profit organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds or our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations. When people grow and save seeds, they join an ancient tradition as stewards, nurturing our diverse, fragile, genetic and cultural heritage" - quoted from their website.

We are anticipating a couple of other favorites too:

Seeds of Change is a company whose mission is "to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable, organic agriculture. By cultivating and disseminating an extensive range of organically grown vegetable, flower, herb and cover crop seeds" - quoted from their website.

Native Seeds/SEARCH is a group which "works to conserve, distribute and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seed, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico" - quoted from their website.

The thread running through seed providers such as these is the acknowledged necessity to save the vibrancy of humanities agricultural heritage, share it with everyone and pass it along to those who follow.

We like that theme. See below for links to order or view an online catalog:

Seeds of Change catalog

Seed Savers Exchange catalog

Native Seeds/SEARCH catalog

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter Birds & Snow

Snow and ice coated the ground this morning when I scattered bird seed for our feathered friends. It did not take too long till our backyard became the premier feeding locale. I took a few photos through our bathroom window to show you all our visitors. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Tree Identification: What's the Point?

Why learn to identify trees? Because it greatly enhances one's appreciation of a walk in the woods and it allows a much better understanding of forested ecosystems. But why in the winter? Because, in deciduous forests, leaves are more often on the ground than attached to a tree and so we may as well use the numerous other clues that are available throughout the year (and that are particularly prominent in winter).

Below are just a few tree I.D. features that we noticed on a recent hike. This should convince even the most curmudgeonly of the utility and excitement of winter tree I.D. and may set the stage for more tips on down the trail.

May as well start with the Indiana State Tree, the Tulip. Tulip is in the same family as the magnolia and we all can picture the wonderfully showy flowers of the latter. Well, tulip has similar flowers, a bit smaller, but we don't notice them because - in the forest - they are born at the tops of tall, mature trees. But sometimes we get lucky and a flower-bearing branch reaches down to get our attention. In the photo below, notice the tan clusters scattered about the branch of a tulip. These are the seed clusters that persist long after the flower petals have been-and-gone.

We also have a handy way to confirm our initial I.D. - the distinctive buds (where next springs leaves and/or flowers are staging themselves). Tulip has buds that remind one of a ducks' bill.

Here's a fun one. Black Walnut has distinctive brownish and stout twigs - but take an even closer look and...'ll be delighted by a leaf scar (where the leaf was formerly attached) that looks a bit like a monkey's face! See it?

But, you ask, "what if the tree is too tall to access a twig/bud?". The answer is "the bark". Bark (texture, color,etc.) is probably the most useful and accessible tree I.D. feature. Who would find it difficult to recognize the wonderfully unique bark of the American Sycamore?

There's no easier-an-I.D. than Blue Ash. It's the only native tree we know of that has square, yep, square (in cross section) twigs! It's quite satisfying to bumble across some blue ash and know, truly know, that you're looking at blue ash. Blue ash is known to do well on sites/soils with a relatively high pH so, when you have blue ash, you might want to be also thinking, "limestone".

Some trees hold onto their leaves well into the winter. If you see a tree like the one pictured below you might first want to think "American Beech" like we did. In many instances you'll be correct. But this one illustrated the adage, "there are no absolutes" because closer inspection revealed this tree to be an Ironwood. Most clues, while not absolutes, at least lead one down the right path to a correct I.D.

American Basswood - we don't know of any other native forest tree around here that has such vibrantly red and bulbous buds. An easy one, we think.

If you see a shrub/small tree with a green twig and oppositely-arranged bulbous greenish buds you've likely got a Spicebush. It's pretty common in the understory of Beech-Maple forests. Lightly rub the twigs and then smell your fingers to reveal a wonderful scent and to confirm your I.D.

Red Oak: pointy, angled buds that are clustered on the end of the twigs:

Cylindrical, tapered, pointy buds: American Beech:

Brownish "paint-brush" buds: Pawpaw:

Bitternut Hickory takes the prize for "most distinctively-colored bud" with an incredible sulphur or mustard-colored bud.

By now you should be convinced that the key to enjoying winter may well be linked to enjoying trees in winter! If so, grab a field guide, get out there and appreciate the beauty and diversity of our forests.