Archive for the ‘new skills’ Category

This month the Unique Women in Business team is doing a Blog Hop focused on Summer Fun.  With temperatures in the 90s (some close to 100 degrees) and dew points in the 70s it feels like it’s quite tropical here in Minnesota.

For me, having fun during the summer means having some flexibility to do things I enjoy doing since the homeschooling schedule is a bit more relaxed compared to the September-May time period. 

During June and July, I’ve been able to make new window star patterns. Here’s a design that I created recently:

Window star in summer colors.
Window stars are available in my shop, Harvest Moon by Hand.

The window star that is pictured above reminds me of sunsets and sunrises in colors I typically see in the summer. There have been some spectacular ones that have colored the entire sky in shades of these colors.  I am always in awe of the incredible natural beauty that surrounds me.


Today, I was teaching a friend of my daughters how to sew since she wants to learn how to make her own clothes. The first project I had her do was a little bag with an attached tie.

There were no measurements for this pattern – it was simply an idea presented in a book.  So I showed her how to estimate and create the dimensions for each of the pieces.  By the time she was done sewing her first bag, she had learned some fundamental sewing skills…and felt very happy with what she made.

After seeing the bag (and trying out the pattern I’ve wanted to do for some time now), I made a couple of bags after she left and changed the proportions slightly. 

Two bags that I made.
The bags are a great way to use fabric and ribbon scraps. I’ve made re-usable gift bags using only one color of fabric for birthdays and Christmas.
As I made these bags, I thought they would be good to use for the girls in their backpacks or when traveling. By making the bags in a variety of different sizes and patterns, one’s suitcase, purse, or backpack could be much more organized.
Last, having fun during the summer means being able to enjoy nature up close. Today I enjoyed watching a bird take a bath in the birdbath in the backyard. For several minutes, it cleaned its feathers…tossing the water in the air and under its wings.
That, in itself, would have made me happy today. But…I woke up this morning and found that two of the butterflies we’ve been raising since they were caterpillars had emerged from their cocoons.
Around 11:25 a.m., the third butterfly was born and we were able to watch its wings unfold, dry, and be strong enough to fly. What an amazing process!
The girls (and Eenie) watching two of the
newly-born butterflies.

After lunch, we released the butterflies in the backyard. The black tiger swallowtails flew off immediately. One flew right to the purple flowers in the butterfly garden in the backyard where it visited lots of flowers while its wings beat quickly.

The butterfly was flapping its top wings so quickly
(thus, the picture is blurry on the top).
It was such a joy to be able to watch them
change from caterpillars to butterflies during July.

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The girls are getting ready for showing projects and doing a demonstration at the County Fair this year.  Sophia’s demonstration is about different ways that herbs can be used.  She will show that one of the ways herbs are used is with personal care products. 

In preparation for her demonstration, we made homemade herbal shampoo using herbs from our garden as well as dried herbs and flowers from the co-op.  All the herbs and flowers are organically grown. 


You’ll need:

• Basic plain shampoo or castile soap (we used Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby Soap – liquid form)
• Glycerin
• Your favorite herbs (fresh or dried)
• An empty bottle (about 20 ounces – we used 16 ounces and had some extra shampoo leftover)

For the herbs, you will need either:
1/4-1/2 cup of dried herbs
1/2-2/3 cup fresh herbs

You can also add a few tablespoons of dried citrus zest to the mixture as well.

The amount you use depends on how strong you like your herbal shampoo to smell. Some herbs have a stronger smell than others do, so you might need just a small amount of one herb while needing a larger amount of another.

Sophia measuring fresh rosemary.

Note:  For one batch of shampoo, we used 1/4 cup dried lavender and 1/4 cup dried rose buds.  For the other shampoo, we used 1/3 cup fresh rosemary and 1/3 cup fresh mint. 


Mix the herbs with 2 cups of water in a pot on the stove and heat without boiling for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Let the herbs steep for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stirring lavender and rose buds.


You can either strain the herbs from the water, and move on to the next step, or you can put the water and herb mixture in a blender to reduce the size of the chunks of herbs and leave them in your shampoo. It is all a matter of preference. (I strained the herbs and flowers from the water.  A few pieces snuck into the water, but not many.)

Straining the water from the rosemary and mint
after steeping the herbs for 30 minutes.


Add 1 cup of basic unscented shampoo or castile soap to the scented water and stir or whisk gently.

Stirring castile soap into the scented water.


Add 1 cup of glycerin to the mixture and stir or whisk well.

Pouring glycerine into shampoo.


Pour your homemade herbal shampoo into a bottle and enjoy!

Sophia pouring shampoo into a bottle
while I hold the funnel.
The lavender-rose shampoo turned out much darker than the rosemary-mint shampoo.  Both smell equally strong, so there doesn’t seem to be a difference whether we used dry or fresh herbs. 
However, there is something to be said for being able to go to your garden and pick what you want your shampoo to smell like…without all the chemicals that store-bought shampoos have in them.

The girls worked together to
fill Olivia’s bottle of shampoo.

The girls are so excited to use the shampoo, and each likes the scent of shampoo that they made.

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There’s a flower garden in the middle of the backyard that I’ve struggled with for many years.  Since I don’t use any chemicals on the lawn or in the gardens, weeds have been a perennial challenge.  Last year, I began working a bit more on the garden after letting it go for a few years. 

The focus last year was to create pathways throughout the garden by using rocks.  All the rocks were discarded ones that a neighboring farmer no longer wanted (rocks come to the surface of the fields each year and need to be removed before planting begins).  I also added a few rosebushes since they dramatically reduced at a garden center (only $2 per plant). 

This year, I let the perennials grow until the end of May so it was clear what was a flower, weed, and grass.  The first job was weeding the garden and getting rid of all the well-established grass and weeds. 

Lilies and lupines are at the west side of the butterfly garden. 
 The rest is overgrown with weeds and grass. 
After a couple days of weeding, it was ready for planting.

While waiting for the mower to be repaired, the grass grew quite long.  After mowing it, I had too much grass (as my neighbor, who is a farmer, would say, “Are you growing a hay crop there, Ann?”).  So, the girls raked the entire front- and backyard, and then brought wheelbarrows of grass to the garden. 

Wheelbarrows rides while hauling grass.
The grass was used to make
pathways in the flower garden.

After laying pathways of newspaper, the girls put the grass on top.  Now, we have well-defined pathways throughout the garden.  This is the first time this has ever been done, and it makes the garden feel more “finished.”

The only perennial that is blooming in the garden now is the butterfly weed. So there are pretty purple flowers spread throughout the gardens.  The irises are starting to come out and should be blooming within the week.  They are also purple flowers. 

Sophia planting petunias in the garden.
Behind her to the left are irises; and
over her should (to the right) is a butterfly weed.

What the garden lacked was color at the beginning of the season, so Sophia and I picked out some annuals.  Normally I don’t plant annuals since they have to be replanted each year.  However, they were marked down to only $1.38 for a packet of six flowers.  Ten packets was just the right amount of flowers for the garden. 

Olivia planting two varieties of annuals.
She wanted to use the spoon instead of a trowel
because it was easier to use. 

The girls learned how to transplant flowers and were excited to be planting them throughout the garden.  Each one chose different flowers and miniature gardens to plant. 

Sophia planting marigolds and moss roses.

By the middle of the summer, with the roses and lilies in full blooms combined with the colorful annuals, the garden should be very pretty.  The girls can look at it and know they had a major part in making the backyard beautiful.

Olivia planting marigolds in the flower garden.

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Went to a miniature horse gathering over the weekend. There was such a wide range in the size/shape of the miniature horses – some being quite tiny and petite while others were more stocky.

All the miniatures were hooked up to carts and were pulling 1-2 people. Here the cart drivers are getting instructions for the first activity.

What are the benefits of cart driving for the horse?

Ponies and miniature horses are often ideal for driving as many breeds and bloodlines have been bred for that purpose. Even a miniature horse can pull an adult in a cart. Driving can also be a great second career for a pony or small horse that has been outgrown by his young rider.

Driving is an option for horse and pony owners who are unable to ride or those who prefer not to. Driving provides training and exercise for a horse and gives owners quality time with their equines without ever having to put a foot in the stirrup.

What are the benefits of cart driving for the driver?
Both Sophia and Olivia have done therapeutic horseback riding, and now are interested in cart driving (as well as continuing with horseback riding). I wanted to find out what the benefits are to cart drivers, and found that the benefits are very similar to therapeutic horseback riding:

– Increases self-confidence and awareness
– Normalizes high or low muscle tone
– Develops pre-ambulation skills and strength
– Improves balance, posture, coordination
– Motivates learning and self-discipline
– Helps in the development of interpersonal relationships

The Next Step

Clearly, it would be a great benefit to both the girls. It would be ideal if there was someone who no longer wanted their driving equipment and wanted to pass it along. I wonder if there’s someone out there who wants to do this….

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Since March 2008, I’ve been a member of Swap-Bot.  It’s been a wonderful way to connect with people from all over the world. 

What is Swap-Bot?
Swap-bot is a service and a community. Swap-bot facilitates group snail mail and internet swaps. It removes the hassle of collecting swap participants and assigning swap partners. Swap-bot is also a community where swappers can connect, share, and have fun.
Swap-bot was originally created to be a tool used by blog owners to facilitate mail swaps with their readers. The site has grown from a simple utility to a meeting place where at any given time there are over 500 public swaps being hosted. Swap-bot is completely free to use.
How have I used Swap-Bot?

I have several reasons for joining swaps.  The main ones are to:
– Challenge myself to try a new skill or art form; and have a deadline to complete the project.
– Develop my writing skills and begin creating a collection of short stories for my daughters.
– Learn from and be inspired from artists around the world.
– Provide an interesting way for my daughters to learn about world and U.S. geography.
– Receive items that can be used for homeschooling.
– Share my skills and time with others.

There are both short-term (one-time) and on-going swaps I’ve participated in on Swap-Bot.  One of my favorite ones this year has been the Journal Quilt Swap in which participants create a small journal quilt each month.  Each person sends a photograph or color copy of their quilt along with a description of it (e.g., how it was made, what it represents).  This is a year-long project which has been a wonderful way to increase my quilting skills while documenting the happenings of the year. 
There are pictures of some of the journal quilts I’ve made on this blog as well as other items I’ve made or done through Swap-Bot.

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Both Sophia and Olivia are learning about U.S. and world geography this year. World geography is a continuation of the monthly lessons I’m creating for them that focus on one country per month in alphabetical order (e.g., Africa, Brazil, China, Denmark, Egypt, France).

I found out about www.postcrossing.com as a way to connect with others throughout the world. Basically, you send the website gives you an address of a person who lives somewhere in the world.

Minnesota Wildflowers Postcard

You mail a postcard out…and in return (once it is received), the computer matches you with someone else who lives somewhere in the world.

You can choose to receive only international postcards or domestic or international postcards. I chose the former option since I’m sending/receiving domestic postcards through Swap-Bot.

Almost daily, we receive postcards in the mail. When we receive them, the girls read them and then find where they were sent from on the map. In some cases, it’s easy if they are familiar with the state or country. In other cases, it is much more challenging.

When they can’t find the state or country, I give them clues. For example, they couldn’t find Maryland right away. I asked them where they were looking, “At Ohio.”

“Okay…travel east from there,” I said.

They looked, and still couldn’t find it. So I asked them what they were looking at again. “New York.”

“You’re getting closer. It is in the general region,” I said.

“This state begins with an ‘M’,” Olivia excitedly said.

Sophia looked up, “That’s Maine,”

“What if you traveled south?” I asked.

Geography Using Postcards

A few minutes later…”MARYLAND! I FOUND IT!!!!” Sophia yelled.

“Where?” asked Olivia.

“It’s right here. Do you see it?”

They both agreed that it was a difficult state to find. I’m sure, though, that now that they both found it they will definitely remember where it is located.

As more postcards arrive from other countries, I’m hoping that they’ll be able to collect quite a few so they can have a nice representation of images and writing from around the world. It makes learning about geography more “real” and engaging for them than just reading about it in a textbook.

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For my August journal quilt, I continued with my yearly theme of “Happenings and Highlights.” The goal of each journal quilt is to reflect positive things that happen during the month so it can be a tactile, quilted image that brings back happy memories and can be looked at when I need encouragement.

The thoughts that kept coming to my mind when I was thinking about the quilt were the hummingbirds that have been visiting the feeder.

Every day the hummingbirds have been at the feeder in the backyard, and it seems like that’s been a daily topic of discussion and excitement.

So, for my quilt I looked on the internet for black and white images of hummingbirds; and found several that I liked.

I needed an image for a flower, and happened to see a free embroidery pattern on Flickr.

Taking these elements, I modified their sizes, printed the images, and cut them out. I arranged them onto a 9” x 12” piece of white fabric and then traced the image onto the fabric with a disappearing ink pen.

The entire design (the hummingbirds and flower) are all hand-embroidered using the back stitch, straight stitch, seed stitch, crown stitch, and French knots.

I machine-quilted the top, batting, and backing together and then wrapped around the backing to create a binding/border.

Some of the activities and highlights of August, and how they are represented in the quilt, include:

Competing in the Washington County Fair – My daughters and I competed in the fair again this year. The girls each entered over 20 projects; and I entered 37 projects. The ribbons color that we received the most of – blue, red, white, and pink (4th place) are all represented in the quilt. In addition, the purple grand champion is reflected by the purple border, backing, and one of the hummingbirds. The birds also represent each of us and our favorite colors (Sophia is pink; Olivia is blue; and I am purple).

Swimming Lessons for the Girls – For two weeks in August, I took the girls to swimming lessons. They took swimming lessons last summer and enjoyed it; and this year was no different. They enjoyed their daily swim, and passed to the next level. They were both SO excited. The swimming/water is represented by the free-motion sewing in the quilt. It reminds me of waves and the comfort they provide as they move against one’s body.

Lots of swaps on Swap-Bot – I enjoyed participating in a lot of swaps during August, especially the ones where I am challenged to create something new related to a theme and postcard swaps where postcards arrive in the mailbox from all over the world. The swaps are represented by the center half of one flower. I learned how to do the “Crown” stitch for this quilt. I like the trio of spokes on the crown – there seems to be many of them when I look at the flower…just like the many swaps I signed up for and/or are finishing.

Lots of hummingbirds at the feeder – There has been constant traffic at the feeder since the middle of August. Sometimes there’s only one, and at other times there have been up to three at a time. They have sat still while eating (there’s a little perch that goes around the feeder); played in-air chasing games; and perched on what the girls call “The King’s Perch” and “The Prince’s Perch” in the pine tree Sometimes they even hide in the pine tree in “The Secret Hideout Spot” and dive-bomb another unsuspecting hummingbird when it tries to eat at the feeder. Needless to say, the girls [and I] are easily entertained. The embroidered hummingbirds and the flower represent the trio of hummingbirds at the feeder that we’ve been enjoying watching.

Started homeschooling – The curriculum I’m using for homeschooling with the girls this year is called Sonlight. It’s an excellent curriculum that is heavily literature-based. We’ve been doing quite a bit of reading, and enjoying the new books that are part of Sophia’s 4th grade year, and Olivia’s 2nd grade year. The white background of the quilt represents the white pages in the books that the girls and I are reading together.

Severe thunderstorms and lightning + house damage from storms – For one week in August, the weather was in the upper-90s with humidity in the upper-70s. It was incredibly hot and the air was unstable. Each night, there was a huge thunderstorm – each bringing a deluge of rain and a symphony of thunder and an accompanying light show. Some nights were less stressful than others.

For many of the storms, the mudroom roof/ceiling began leaking. The storm left the mudroom floor flooded, the window ledge full of water, and canning jars in the closet with water in them (one storm left a good 1” of rain in some of the jars).

Normally, I wouldn’t considered this “happiness” or a pleasant memory I want to recall. However, there would be no way in the world that updating and replacing items in the mudroom would be financially possible at this point. Had it not been for the roof leaking, the mudroom would continue to be well-worn and outdated.

The storms are represented in some of the machine quilting. There are jagged lines/sharp angles which represent lightening.

Harvesting from the garden and canning peaches – the garden has produced a lot this season. This is the first time we’ve gardened since 2003 when I ran an art and farm camp here at the farm. We have enjoyed organic cucumbers, tomatoes (4 different types), beans, carrots, herbs, rhubarb, and raspberries. The green peppers are almost ready and the potatoes should be ready next month. The pears and apples on the trees should be ripe soon.

I canned 14 jars of peaches this month (one is already gone because the girls love peaches!). Sophia helped put the peaches in the jar, and Olivia helped me label them. They were both so excited to be able to help in their own ways with the canning process. The green in the quilt (the leaves of the flower) represent the “green” produce we are harvesting from the garden.

Death of my cousin’s wife: This isn’t a “happy” memory of the month, but it is one that happened. Anne died on August 17th, and had brain cancer. She was 65 years old. The happy memories are ones that I recall from many years ago…before she was affected by cancer.

Her memorial service was held at a beautiful chapel that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its interior is covered in mosaics – the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. There are over 10 MILLION mosaic tiles that make up the pictures. Here’s the link for the chapel which shows picture of some of the mosaics.

Anne epitomized Southern graciousness and hospitality. She was absolutely beautiful – inside and out. Leo Buscaglia said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” To me, this captures Anne’s spirit and who she was as a person.

From the day Anne died and for four days, there seemed to be more hummingbirds than usual. Because I’ve never seen hummingbirds for such a long period of time – nor in a trio – I wanted to see what they symbolize. I learned that:

the fluttering of hummingbird wings move in the pattern of an infinity symbol – a symbol of eternity and continuity.

By observing the hummingbird, we see they are seemingly tireless. Always actively seeking the sweetest nectar, they remind us to forever seek out the good in life and the beauty in each day.

Amazing migrators, some hummingbirds are known to wing their way as far as 2,000 miles to reach their destination. This quality reminds us to be persistent in the pursuit of our dreams, and adopt the tenacity of the hummingbird in our lives. The hummingbird is a messenger of hope.

Anne’s gifts and impact on individuals and the law community will continue on thanks to her tireless determination. She truly was an encourager and supporter – especially to those in need of guidance and hope. Hummingbirds – and what they represent – capture Anne’s gifts and her contribution to making life better for others. She made such a positive difference in the world.

So, the hummingbirds in my August journal quilt also represent this wonderful woman who I was so happy to have known, and who epitomized the true meaning of kindness, generosity, and graciousness. Her name was Anne Wilson Grande – an article was written about her and the impact she had on the community. It was in the Star Tribune; and this is link HERE.

Hand Embroidered Hummingbird

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