Mars Party

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard

Mars Party | InAnOrchard My G loves astronomy so we frequently check the Sky Watching calendars to see what interesting things might be seen in our own backyard.  We hosted a Super Moon Lunar Eclipse party back in the fall, and it was such a blast we decided to make it a habit.  Happily, on the first weekend of our summer break, Mars would be at it’s closest rotation to the earth and visible to the naked eye.  We decided to throw a big Mars Viewing Party with lots of food, a telescope, and bubbles and glow sticks for the kids.  We invited friends, neighbors, family and all total about 72 people dined on our back lawn that night.  Justin spent his evenings that week planning and prepping the menu.  We dined on brisket, and pulled pork sandwiches, kettle chips, Sweet Basil Salad, watermelon, my Mother-in-laws amazing baked beans, and every family brought a plate of cookies to share for dessert.  As the night descended and I stood on the porch looking out at all the faces talking and laugh, children chasing each other across the lawn with bubbles and glow sticks; I couldn’t help but think what a beautiful group of people we have surrounding our little family.  Little girls dangling their feet off the back porch, the warm hugs, the women who stood with me in my kitchen and laughed as we ushered food in and out of the kitchen…what a gift, what a precious gift.

The Garden {June 2016}

The Garden {June 2016}

The month of May always leaves me spinning.

Every spring I tell myself, “brace yourself girl” but it still manages knocks me down.  I won’t bore you with the endless details, instead I will tell you that I survived (as I have a habit of doing) and now we will move on to the important stuff…the garden.

The Garden {June 2016}The garden now has a proper arch.  Isn’t it beautiful?  It needs a rose of course, but it makes me ridiculously happy every time I walk under it.  The Garden {June 2016}

I find as the years go by, that the garden takes on a life of it’s own.  I make my plans, and it makes it’s own plans…and somehow it all works out beautifully.  The garden decided to grow a cluster of sunflowers near the place I planted them last year, and they are already nice and big.  I’ll be swimming in sunflowers from June to October at this rate.The Garden {June 2016}

June came on hard with a full week of 100 degree plus temperatures.  My darling sweet peas (which were just starting to take off) are not fans of the heat.  I’m gathering small bouquets while I can but these hot temperatures will finish them off before too long.The Garden {June 2016}

The Garden {June 2016}

I am determined to grow better sweet peas next year.  This is the one area of the garden that I’ve been disappointed with.  Even when I get a decent crop, the stems are too short and the blooms are small.  I’m brainstorming and planning even now, hoping that next year I will be able to grow proper sweet peas.  Don’t get me wrong…small sweet peas are better than no sweet peas…but I know I can do better.The Garden {June 2016}

The back half of the garden is looking lovely! Not a lot of flowers at this point but everything is looking healthy and on the verge of blooming.The Garden {June 2016}

My zinnias are covered in buds and stretching up nice and tall.The Garden {June 2016}I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see two rows of healthy, happy zinnias.  After last year’s disappointing and frustrating zinnia experience, I was really ready for a year of beautiful zinnias.  Thanks to Johnny’s Seeds it looks like I’ll be getting just that…

The Garden {June 2016}

 

This little Billy Ball might not look like much to you my friend, but to me it is epic.  The result of three summers of trying, and failing to grown Billy Balls.  A whole row of beautiful Billy Ball plants!  The first year I attempted to grown them, I simply sowed them directly into my raised beds, and not a single seed germinated.  The second season, I started them in February, in some egg cartons I had saved.  The egg cartons proved to be too small and shallow.  The seeds germinated but they never took off.  Not enough soil to get their roots established, so the shriveled up and died.  This year I took no chances…growing trays were bought, good seed starting soil was purchased, and for two months I babysat those seedlings.  I carefully transplanted them at the beginning of April and they have continued to grow and thrive.The Garden {June 2016}The funny thing is, I told my Billy Ball tale of woe to my friend Kelley (who is co-owner and operator of a local flower farm, Kelley Farms), and she laughed and said, “April, what on earth did you do to your Billy Balls?!  All we do is press the seeds into the dirt with our index finger and they grow!”  So there you have it… next year I think I’m going to try the Kelley Farm method.

My Bachelor Buttons are on the verge of blooming.

The Garden {June 2016}

So excited about the basil I planted this year!  It has the prettiest dark purple stems and tips, it’s going to look stunning in bouquets.The Garden {June 2016}

All the sage I planted (to use as filler in my bouquets) is looking lovely as well.  Herbs and flowers are my favorite combo. The Garden {June 2016}

In the back half of the garden I planted two new rows of sunflowers, and a few of them are starting to bloom.  I bought one package of single stem sunflowers to mix in with the other varieties.  Normally, I wouldn’t bother growing single stem flowers, but I liked the pale yellow color and they were on sale.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from them, but it looks like they aren’t going to grow to the towering heights that sunflowers normally achieve.
The Garden {June 2016}

The Garden {June 2016}

 

This is the Yarrow I planted.  It’s the first year I’ve grown it in the garden.  The foliage has a unique and feathery texture.  My goal was to have more flowers in the garden that would be good for drying.  Billy Balls and Yarrow dry nicely.  I had hoped to also grow Chamomile as well, but it doesn’t look like I’ll get around to it this year.

The Garden {June 2016}

She likes to follow me around and point out all the ladybugs she finds.
The Garden {June 2016}

The Garden {June 2016}

The garden also decided to plant Cosmos in random places.   The Garden {June 2016}They’re mixed in with the sweet peas, and scattered all around the edges of the garden.  The sweet peas have even begun to use the Cosmos as a trellis to grow on.

The Garden {June 2016}

The dahlia’s are covered with buds but the Earwigs are starting to nibble on the petals.  I need to remedy that very soon.The Garden {June 2016}

The roses are blooming again too.The Garden {June 2016}

Despite the fact that I’m a lousy vegetable gardener, we actually have edible things growing in the garden this year.  The tomato plant (given to us by a friend) is covered in little green tomatoes, and our row of carrots continue to grow.  The little girls love the carrots and tomatoes.  In fact they bicker and squabble over who gets to pick the ripe tomatoes and who will get to pull the first ripe carrot (how do you know when a carrot is ready to pull?).The Garden {June 2016}

When I take pictures of the garden I never feel like I do it justice.  There’s really no way to capture all the nooks and crannies, the smells, the way the flowers and the foliage look throughout the day.  There’s just no substitute for wandering around the garden.The Garden {June 2016}

The Garden {June 2016}

And that’s all from the cutting garden.  Next time there will be lots actual flowers to show off :) The Garden {June 2016}

I hope you’ll come back soon.  Now that we’ve settled into a summer groove there should be more posts appearing.  As always, thanks for visiting!

PS- If you’re ever curious about what’s happening with us during long blogging gaps, you can follow along on Instagram (which I’m much better about updating)

In the Garden {April 2016}

In the Garden {April 2016}

In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

This week all other plans were laid aside.  Every moment I could spare was spent in the garden, planting, weeding, marking rows, and tidying up.  Last weekend’s rain provided the help I needed to get the last of this summer’s planting done.  The giant weeds were pulled out, the rows carefully marked, and hundreds of flower seeds were planted.
In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

The boxes are looking beautiful right now.  My English Roses are in full bloom, and I have jars of them sitting all over the house.In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

The blooms are much bigger this year and definitely more plentiful.
In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

My one disappointment this spring is the slowly growing sweet peas.  Last spring my roses and sweet peas were blooming at the same time and they made a stunning pair!  This year I think they will be totally out of sink.
In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

I plead with them each morning, “Come on darlings, grow a little faster, show me your colors.”  They pay me no mind.In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

My gardening companionIn the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

She is always hunting for ladybugs and worms.In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

This January Miss E and I scattered poppy seeds in the Dahlia and Rose beds.  I wanted some color during the months when the beds look so sparse, plus it helps keep the weeds out of the raised beds.  They are just now starting to bloom.  I love the color and texture of the foliage as much as I love the poppies themselves.In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

A few vegetables have made their way into the garden this year.  Miss E was keen on having some edible things growing and I obliged her (but not without a little selfish hesitation).  She planted a row of heirloom “rainbow carrots” on the very edge of the flower patch.  She checks each and everyday to see if they have sprouted.  We also have two happy tomato plants that were gifted from a sweet neighbor.
In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

My little garden imp abandoned me for a ride on the four-wheeler with her daddy.
In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

 

The dahlias are starting to fill out and a few even had some tiny buds on them!  The sunflowers and cosmos from last year’s garden have re-seeded and I love the random look the garden is beginning to take on; like it has a whimsical personality of it’s own.

In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

I have a few more Yarrow starts that I need to tuck in somewhere once they are big enough, and I have another packet of Bachelor Buttons to plant in a few weeks.  Trying to space the planting out a bit.

In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

In the Garden {April 2016} | InAnOrchard

The 2016 season is off to a lovely start, with many more delights to come.  I hope you’ll visit again

~April

Playing with Sourdough

Playing with Sourdough | InAnOrchard

I’ve always enjoyed baking bread, even when I was a young girl.  I loved the taste of homemade bread so much that I taught myself how to bake it when I was just 13-years-old.  Over the years, I’ve made countless loaves of traditional white bread, Focaccia bread, dinner rolls, pizza dough, and honey wheat bread.  But this past winter I started tinkering around with sourdough baking.  I’ve been intrigued by sourdough for so long now, reading lots of recipes and articles, and I’ve watched way too many clips on Youtube.  I finally knuckled down and made my own starter from scratch.  I used the King Arthur Flour, sourdough starter recipe and I followed it to the letter.

The Week that Was | In An Orchard

It worked perfectly!  I did as they recommended and began my starter with rye flour (the wild yeasts and good bacteria like the heavier, more nutritious flours and that helps jump-start the starter) and by day three I had lots of gassy bubbles in my starter jar!  I was so ridiculously happy about it I walked all over the house showing it to Justin and the kids.  ”Look! Look!  I’ve got bubbles!”   After I got the starter going with the rye flour I switched and began to feed it whole wheat flour.  Eventually, (after I knew I had a nice colony of wild yeasts going strong) I converted my starter to white flour.

I’ve kept it fed and happy ever since (it’s about three and a half months old now).  Some weeks I leave it out on the counter and feed it daily, but on busy weeks I stick it in the fridge and mostly ignore it.

Playing with Sourdough | InAnOrchard

One of my favorite sourdough recipes so far has been King Arthur Flour’s Buttery Sourdough Buns.  I love this recipe! They are so soft and tender with butter swirled in the middle and then brushed on top right before serving.  They have a more subtle sourdough flavor than a traditional sourdough loaf.  The brilliant thing about these roll is you can add what ever you want to the middle; think of it as a type of savory cinnamon roll.  I’ve added garlic infused butter with grated Parmesan cheese to the centers.  One of the people who commented on the original recipe, said they had added caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese to their buns.  Doesn’t that sounds insanely good!?
Playing with Sourdough | InAnOrchard

I’ve made this recipe a half dozen times now and I’ve tweaked it just a little.  I increased the yeast to 4 teaspoons, and instead of spreading melted butter inside the swirls I used very soft butter.  Using the softened butter instead of melted butter, made it easier to roll the dough into a spiral shape.  I also made the mistake of rolling my spiral too tight the first time and the rolls didn’t rise properly.  They baked up so dense.  As frustrating as it was to loose an entire batch of rolls, is was an easy mistake to remedy.

Playing with Sourdough | InAnOrchard

The one element of baking with sourdough that I had to adjust to, was measuring my flour by weight instead of volume.  Most of the time when I bake I use measuring cups for my dry ingredients, but I’ve found that most sourdough recipes need more precise measurements.  Getting the dough properly hydrated is important and I ruined a batch because I added too much flour.  I stole Justin’s small digital food scale and I use it to measure out my flour in ounces.   I haven’t had any trouble since I started weighing the flour.

Playing with Sourdough | InAnOrchard

I hope I’m not scaring you.  It’s a friendly recipe I promise!  It makes 18 of the most delicious dinner rolls you’ve ever eaten.  So soft and tender with just the perfect amount of tang.Playing with Sourdough | InAnOrchard

I have yet to tackle any artisanal bread like baguettes or boules; I’ve stuck with simpler recipes like dinner rolls, sandwich loaf bread, and these amazingly good waffles!  I found the recipe herePlaying with Sourdough | InAnOrchardNext on my list of sourdough recipes to try is this Roasted Garlic Rustic Sourdough Boule.   I think I’m up for the challenge ;)

If you’re interested in experimenting with your own sourdough starter I really do recommend  King Arthur Flour’s sourdough starter recipe, as well as their article about maintaining and using your starter. And if you’d like to be completely inspired by an amazing baker you should check out Alchemy Bread Co’s Instagram feed.  Bonnie’s bread is gorgeous!  She carves beautiful designs in the top of her sourdough boules, and she shapes the most interesting baguettes I’ve ever seen.   Oh, and if you have any sourdough recipes you love or any tips I’d love to hear them!

Happy Baking!  April

 

We Ran Away

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchard

We Ran Away | InAnOrchardWe ran away together.  To the sleepy little town of Mendocino which is happily situated between the towering coastal Redwood forests and the rocky shoreline of the Pacific Ocean.  It is a town full of Inns, weathered water towers, tiny shops, paths lined with dark Cyprus trees, and one small cemetery with tilting headstones that looks so lovely in the last of the evening light.

We ate leisurely breakfasts, attempted to sleep in (which neither of us is very good at these days), walked under Redwoods next to winding creeks, read library books, stayed up late eating chocolate covered pretzels and watching movies, took so many pictures, wandered around the Mendocino headlands, and three days later came home to our 4 favorite little people.

Our Library System

I remember walking out of the library that day, my face red with embarrassment, and thinking, “I could have bought books, lots of nice books, for the amount of money I just spent on late fines.” I stewed for the rest of the day, and in the end I made the decision to never go to the library again. Ever.  I mean, who needs the stress of keeping track of dozens of books for weeks at a time, or the humiliation of having to explain to the librarian why there’s silly putty stuck to the “Curious Gorge takes a Job” cassette tape?  Not me.

Fast forward a year; the boys were older, J was becoming a solid reader and G was a shaky newbie reader in need of lots of practice.  Miss E adored picture books and could look at them endlessly.  Over and over, I would think of books I wanted to read to them, the drawing books we could have fun with, reading about trucks and tractors, and the solar system…

Finally I came to the realization that it was time for me to grow up and get a grip.  It’s taken me time, some tweaking, and a lot of diligence, but I finally have a library system that works for us, and I’m happy to say that in the last two and a half years we’ve kept our late fines under 75 cents.

Our Library System | In An Orchard

Our local library sells these great book bags.  They’re sturdy, roomy (which is really important), and inexpensive.  I bought one for each of us.  One of the things I love best about these totes is the little pocket in the front.  I always keep all of our library cards in my wallet.  I used to let the kids keep their own but the were constantly getting lost.  Now they stay in my wallet until library day when I slip their cards into the pocket of their bags.
Our Library System | In An Orchard

Once the kids have filled their library bags and checked out all their books, I make sure they give me their book receipts and I stick them straight into my wallet.  The moment I get home I set my things down, pull the receipts from my purse and I write the due date on the calendar in bright red ink.  I know this sounds rigid but if I don’t write it on the calendar immediately I will forget ( I have the short-term memory of a goldfish).  And if the date isn’t written on the calendar it might as well not exist because I won’t remember it either.  So, the calendar gets marked right away, not only with the due date, but with the number of books that were taken out on each library card.  That was a great little tip my mother-in-law suggested and it’s been a huge time saver. That way I know exactly how many books we’re keeping track of at a glance.
Our Library System | In An Orchard

As a backup, I pin our book receipts to the board above my sewing machines.  Most of the time I don’t end up needing them.  I just make sure that the number on the calendar matches the number of the books we have in the book boxes.  But every once in awhile we get a rouge book or two and I need to consult the receipts to figure out exactly which book has gone AWOL.Our Library System | In An Orchard

The book boxes are without a doubt, the best idea I have ever come up with.  I know, that’s a pretty low bar.  But let me explain the simple but magnificent beauty of the book boxes.  All the library books go into the boxes, the children know exactly where to find them, and exactly where to put them away.  Gone are the days of frantically looking under beds, in toy boxes, through vehicles, under couch cushions, and in the bottom of closets.  The kiddos find the books they want to read, they sprawl out all over the living-room reading and when they’re done they put them all back in the boxes.
Our Library System | In An Orchard

And you know what?  Because the books are so easy to find and access, they get read a whole lot more.  We find ourselves at the library pretty much every three weeks.  Having a fresh batch of books cycling in and out of the house has been so great for the kids and their reading.  Naturally, our lives get busy and there are times when it’s a struggle to get the books back to the library; which is why I keep all of our library card passwords written down in a safe place so I can easily renew our books online.  Being able to renew books online has saved me so much time and money!

Another big and slightly unpopular decision I made, was to put a stop to the children checking out videos or audio cassette tapes.  They are so much harder to keep track of, easier to damage, and the late fines are twice as much as a book.  I bend that rule now and again for a special treat or for an educational DVD that supplements what we’ve been leaning at home.  On the rare occasion that we do bring a DVD home I put on the highest shelf of our bookcase and it stays there, safe and out of the reach of careless children.
Our Library System | In An OrchardSo, the moral of this story?  Learn from my mistakes my friends, find a library system that works for you and stick with it.  Don’t waste another day avoiding the library because you’ve been singing the “I’ve got the outrageous library fine blues”, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Also, if you have any great tips or tricks for keeping track of library books I’d love to hear them!

 

Garden Plans 2016

Garden Plans | In An Orchard

It’s that time of year again.  I’m acting cool and subdued but on the inside I’m jumping up and down, squealing and yelling, “Flowers!  All the flowers!”.  Here in California we are experiencing another mild winter and early spring, which means flower garden plans and planting are already in full swing.
Garden Plans | In An Orchard

My order of summer flower seeds arrived from Johnny’s Selected Seeds a few weeks ago.  I have them sorted in to groups of seeds that can be directly sown into the soil, and those that need to be started and then transplanted.  Fortunately there aren’t a lot of seeds in the later category.

I’m mixing things up a little this year.  In the past I’ve purchased a lot of variety packets, were you get a dozen or so flower varieties in one packet.  It’s sort of like a surprise grab bag; you know you’re getting sunflowers, you just don’t know exactly what kind, and how many of each variety will be in a single seed packet.  I’m finding as time goes on, that I’m getting more picky and controlling about what I have growing in my garden.  For example, last year I planted Johnny’s Sunflower Collection, and while they grew beautifully and produced hundreds of blooms, there were just too many brown and variegated sunflowers for my taste, and not enough of the Teddy Bear sunflowers.

Garden Plans | In An Ochard

The same went for my zinnia varieties. I ended up with too many light pink and yellow zinnias.  This year I decided to leave nothing up to chance and only purchase the exact colors and varieties I wanted.
Garden Plans | In An Orchard

For my Zinnias I’m only planting three different colors of the Benary’s Giants ( L to R- Giant Orange, Salmon Rose, and Giant Lime) Johnny's Select Seeds{images via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

 

For my Sunflowers I chose 4 varieties (L to R- Red Hedge, Giant Sungold, Premier Light Yellow, and Soraya)
Johnny's Select Seeds{images via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

My Bachelor Buttons are returning once again.  I love these little flowers.  I bought two packages of Blue Bachelor buttons so I could plant them in two rounds.  I’ve found that Bachelor Buttons take off and bloom so fast, which is really nice!  But if you don’t space out your planting you’ll run out of Bachelor Buttons before the summer is even half done, and you don’t want to run out of those happy blue flowers!

Garden Plans | In An Orchard

Bachelor Buttons are not “cut and come again” flowers; meaning you get one flush of flowers and that’s it.  You get A LOT of blooms, but once they’re done you can’t clip them back and get a second harvest.
Garden Plans | In An Orchard

New to the cutting flower garden this year are Billy Balls.  Love these sweet little guys with their bright mustard color and round shape.  They’re also ideal because they dry so beautifully which means you can keep them for ages!

Johnny's Select Seed's                                                  {image via Johnny’s selected seeds}

The one trick to the Billy Balls is they can’t be directly sown into the soil.  You need to start them ahead of time in seed starting boxes, preferably with the clear plastic lid which creates a miniature greenhouse for your babies.   These are my Billy Ball babies…still very, very tiny.

Garden Plans | In An Ochard

I also decide to try growing Yarrow this year.  This is another flower that dries nicely and comes in such pretty colors!  These also have to be started and then transplanted in 6 to 8 weeks.  I’m getting a late start on these, which might be a problem…only time will tell.

Johnny' Select Seeds                                                {image via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

I’m also growing Gomphrena.  My friends Sharon, and Kelley had such good success growing these in their garden last year that I just had to try them!  I wanted the all-white seed packet but Johnny’s only had the mixed seed packets left by the time I was ready to order.

Johnny's Select Seed                                                   {image via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

This year I decide to stick with just the Double Click Cosmos.  Normally I plant both double click and the Versailles variety, but I fell so in love with the double clicks last year, I decided to forgo the common Cosmos, so I’d have more room for these beauties…

Johnny's Select SeedsJohnny's Select Seeds                                                   {images via Johnny’s Selected Seeds}

The Dahlias will also be back.  I can’t even imagine a cutting garden without Dahlias.  Last summer I was kicking myself for waiting too long to purchase new Dahlia tubers for the garden.  I promised I wouldn’t make that mistake again this year so I ordered 6 new varieties in January (I bought mine from Swan Island but I’ve also ordered them from Eden Brothers in the past).  They should be shipped soon and planted in the next few weeks.  I’m so excited about all the new colors that are going to be in the garden this year!Garden Plans | In An Orchard

I thought I might take a minute to answer a few questions I’m frequently asked about my garden-

1. Where do I buy my seeds? I purchase all my seeds from Johnny’s Selected seeds, and I do so for a number of reasons.  One, I’ve had such consistently beautiful and bountiful yields from their seeds.  Whereas with other seed companies (like Burpee), planting feels like more of a gamble. Sometimes you get a packet of amazing seeds and sometimes you get a dud, and that is so disappointing! Second, they have an entire category just for cutting flowers, and that takes all the guess work out of picking flower seeds.  Anything listed in the Cut Flower category are flowers that have long stems and a good vase life.  I also like the way Johnny’s labels their seed packets with nice detailed instructions.  They make sure to identify which seeds need to be started and transplanted, and which seeds can be sown directly into the ground.  

2. What flowers do I recommend for a beginner?  My list of easy to grow, sow directly into the ground, cutting flowers looks like this:  

Cutting Sunflowers- don’t buy just any kind of sunflowers!  Make sure they are for cutting otherwise they will wilt the second you pick them.  I prefer the branching varieties.  Usually cutting sunflowers are labeled as “single stem” or “branching”.  Single stem sunflowers are lovely but you only get one flower per stem.  Branching sunflowers will give you dozens of flowers per stem.  My one warning about cutting sunflowers is they get huge!  So make sure you plant them in a spot where they can spread out and get big.

Cosmos- Cosmos are hearty plants, with the most whimsical delicate looking flowers.  They come in lots of unique shapes like the double ruffled and the sea shell varieties.  If you buy the common single petaled Cosmos and start them from seed, they can sometimes be very slow bloomers.  I spent two summers babying and coaxing my Cosmos only to realize they just needed more time. The double click and sea shell varieties don’t seem to have that problem.

Zinnias-  I usually plant only the Benary Giant varieties but the State Fair are lovely too.  They have smaller blooms.  These flowers can handle the heat, and are the quintessential summer flower.  The more you pick Zinnias the more you will get, which is why it pays to be a generous gardener.

Bachelor Buttons- (also known as Cornflowers) are an easy, carefree flower to grow.  Again, you want to get the cutting variety, otherwise they won’t have nice long stems.  They are fast growers too!

Dahlias- Dahlias look big and impressive and it seems like they should be fussy but they aren’t.  They are delightful!  If you plant Dahlia tubers in the spring you’ll have gorgeous blooms all summer long.  The more you pick the more they produce.  They do get really tall and bushy, and have a tendency to topple over if you don’t support them with twine and poles, or a large tomato cage.   The best thing about Dahlias is they come back year after year (just like a bulb).

If you are interested in having a small cutting garden this year it’s certainly not too late!  Here in California where our winters and springs are mild, you can start planting your seeds the first week of April (although I’ve been known to be impatient and plant as soon as the end of March with no ill effects).  If you are looking for more information about cutting flowers Floret Farms is an amazing source of information and inspiration!

The Evolution of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has changed a lot over time.  From the early years of black dresses, perfume, high heels, red roses, table-for-two… to something quite different…just as sweet but very different.  It’s become a week-long celebration with the kids, home-made valentines, pink and red M&M’s all over the house, class parties, and a not-so-quiet meal with all of us squeezed around our kitchen table eating home-made pizza and chocolate cake.  The evolution of a love story; our love story.

The week began with some valentine crafting.  The kids each planned and created valentines to share with their classmates.  Miss E has a very small class she chose to give her friends strawberry sodas with fancy straws.

Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

J wanted to make his valentines completely from scratch.  He hand-drew Minecraft cards to staple onto small bags of candy.Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

G is crazy about bubble gum, so he gave each of his friends a long tube of gumballs, with fuzzy Valentine critters stuck to the ends.Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Every year I get tulips for the kiddos’ teachers, I think tulips are the perfect spring flower and they’re usually so reasonably priced, especially compared to roses.Valentines Week | In An Orchard

I made Miss E a special skirt to wear to her class partyValentine's Week | In An Orchard

Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

On the morning of Valentine’s day Justin woke the girls up and took them to get doughnuts at Mr. T’s. Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

He came home with a beautiful bunch of flowers for me, his mom, my mom, and a single pink rose for each of the girls.  He’s amazing…Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

I dirtied every pan and bowl in my kitchen to make a double-layer chocolate cake.Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Later that night after we got all the kids in bed, Justin and I cooked a delicious dinner of steak, creamed spinach and chocolate mousse, which we enjoyed by candle-light.  The romance isn’t dead it’s just delayed :)

With Valentine’s day came Spring.  A streak of 70 degree days and suddenly the world around us was full of blossoms, flower sprouts, open windows,…Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

…and long walks down the canal with blossoms arcing over our heads.Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

The kiddos have been eating their lunch picnic-style on the back lawn.Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

We did some spring cleaning too.  J volunteered to scrub all my kitchen cabinets.  Big kids are awesome!Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

We even spent the day at the beach with cousins, swimming until the sunset.
Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

In completely unrelated and un-valentine’s day news; Miss P is potty training.  Her older siblings are her biggest cheerleaders. Miss E keeps her company while she sits, and her big brothers are always ready with high-fives, fist-bumps, and a hearty “Way to go Pearl!”.    Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Speaking of Miss P; last week she woke up from nap just in time for a fresh loaf of bread to come out of the oven.  I sliced a thick slice, smeared it with butter, and handed it to her.  The girl loves her bread and butter…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

While I was snapping her picture she suddenly took an interest my camera lens. Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

She got up real close so she could see her reflection in the surface of the glass. Man I love this kid.

Valentine's Week | In An Orchard

Summer seeds arrived in the mail last week and I am daydreaming about a summertime garden and flowers all over the house.  I agreed to give up a small portion of the garden to Miss E who really wants carrots, tomatoes, and squash in our garden this year (the sacrifices we make for those we love ).

I hope your Valentine’s day was just as sweet, and thanks for stopping in  ~April

Homemade Juggling Balls

Homemade Juggling Balls | In An Orchard

Justin was pretty tickled with the kids sudden interest in juggling.  Being a self-taught juggler, I think he really fancies the idea of having his own personal juggling troupe.

After a full day of the kids wildly throwing clubs and baseballs, Justin mentioned it would be good for them to have some soft juggling balls.  Something more suitable for juggling rookies and breakable household items.  Sunday afternoon I found Justin and J in the sewing room working on their homemade juggling balls.  My plan was to make regular old bean bags for the kiddos, but Justin had a better plan.  Real, perfectly-palm-sized juggling balls.  A set of three for each of the kids.

Homemade Juggling Balls | In An Orchard

He found the free printable pattern and instructions here.  It really is such a clever pattern.  The instructions show you how to make a round ball out of a single square of fabric.  You do this by tracing the pattern onto the fabric, and then using a kind of Origami style sewing, the square almost magically becomes a sphere.  I watched Justin sew the first two just to get my barrings, and then I sat down and made 12 more.  Once you get the hang of the folding and stitching process, the balls go together so fast.  The instructions suggest sewing them by hand but I used my machine.  I don’t trust my hand-stitching enough to risk the balls bursting all over the house.Homemade Juggling Balls | In An Orchard

At first Justin was cutting the squares of fabric with scissors, but I stepped in and started cutting squares with my quilting blade and ruler.  This sped up the process considerably.Homemade Juggling Balls | In An Orchard

He also found that cutting out 1/4 of the pattern and tracing it onto the square one side at a time worked the best.  You do need to be precise with the tracing and stitching, otherwise the ball will be badly misshapen.Homemade Juggling Balls | In An Orchard

Homemade Juggling balls | In An Orchard

At first we were stuffing them with rice but we switched to millet half way through.  Rice will expand if it gets wet but millet will hold up much better to wear and tear.  We found it was best to pack them pretty firm.Homemade Juggling Balls | In An Orchard

The kids were excited about the new juggling balls.  Miss P likes them especially, and keeps stealing them from the big kids.  She has a set of her own but three isn’t enough…she must have them all!  They get put in the back of little toy cars and tractors and stuffed in play purses.  But her favorite game is what I like to call, mama bird.  She carefully makes a nest out of her special blanket, gently sets each ball in the middle of her nest, and then sits on her “eggs” with a very pleased look on her face.Homemade Juggling Balls | In An Orchard

The Week that Was

The Week that Was | In An Orchard

I think this jar of tulips perfectly reflects my state of mind this past week.  Monday came and the tulips stood beautifully tall and cheerful…The Week that Was | In An Orchard…and by Friday they looked like this, ready to throw in the towel.  Okay, that’s a tad dramatic :)  My week wasn’t horrible, but Justin was out of the country for work, and the children and I were on our own.  Truthfully, the kids were a huge help to me, working hard, obeying cheerfully, going the extra mile because they knew I needed it.  But still, being a single parent is not for the faint of heart, and our big bed is a lonely place at night.

We managed to keep ourselves busy which helped the week go quickly.

The Week that Was | In An Orchard

The girls did a simple art project with coffee filters that I cut into heart shapes.  They colored the hearts with washable markers and then sprayed them with water.  The effect was the hearts took on a pretty watercolor look, and the girls love watching as the colors spread and bleed into each other.The Week that Was | In An OrchardOnce the hearts had completely dried I took them and stitched them into a garland for their room.

The Week that Was | In An Orchard

The kitchen is the happiest and busiest room in our house.  It’s were I spend the biggest part of my day.  From schooling with each morning, cooking meals, baking cookies, even folding laundry… it’s were I spend my days and I think of all the rooms in the house, it reflects my personality the most.
The Week that Was | In An Orchard

I’ve been experimenting with sourdough these last few weeks.  Feeding my starter each day; getting it nice and bubbly and tangy.The Week that Was | In An OrchardI’ve tried several new recipes all of which I found on King Arthur’s Flour website.  Some recipes were delicious and some ended up in the garbage can (too brick-like to be consumed by humans). I should note the failed recipes were a result of human error, not a badly written recipe.

The Week that Was | In An Orchard

The kiddos played outside in the evenings, right until the sun dipped behind the horizon.The Week that Was | In An Orchard

Winter sunsets are so striking.The Week that Was | In An Orchard

On Friday morning we went with our Homeschool Co-op to see the Gizmo Guys preform at the Gallo Preforming Arts center.The Week that Was | In An Orchard

It was such a fun show!  The Gizmo Guys are a team of jugglers who preform fantastic juggling fetes and then explain the science behind the trick.  The kids were so impressed with their talents!  As we walked out of the show and all three of them were excitedly talking over each other, wanting to relive their favorite parts of the show; I interrupted and said, “You know your dad can do almost every juggling trick the Gizmo Guys did, plus a few others.  He can even juggle knives and torches.” Their eyes grew wide with excitement; “Do you think he’d do those tricks for us?!!  Would he teach us how to juggle?!”The Week that Was | In An Orchard

 

By Friday night I was ready for an easy evening.  We were on the home stretch; Justin would be arriving home that night around midnight.  I let the kids eat popcorn, cheese, and fruit for dinner, and we rented a movie to watch.  Justin surprised us by coming in the backdoor at 9:30 instead of midnight.  He came baring gifts from France; a small box of French pastries, and lavender sachets for the girls.

The next morning as soon as Justin had finished his breakfast and coffee the children were begging to see him juggle!  He found his bag of juggling things in the shed and put on a good show for them.
The Week that Was | In An Orchard

This led to juggling lessons and things being wildly tossed in the air for the rest of the day :) The Week that Was | In An Orchard

The Week that Was | In An Orchard

 

I  got my Sweet Pea seeds soaked and planted in my small greenhouse boxes.  If all goes well, I’ll have 144 Sweet Peas to plant in the ground in about 6 to 8 weeks.The Week that Was | In An Orchard

 

On Saturday night Justin and I got an unexpected date night thanks to my brother and sister-in-law; who played with, and fed, and loved on our kids; while we had a delicious hot meal and uninterrupted conversation.  I even got dressed up much to the amazement of the children.
The Week that Was | In An Orchard

Sunday morning Justin got up before the children were awake, and made us homemade sausage McMuffins.The Week that Was | In An Orchard

I enjoyed my coffee and watched him create magic.  I like a man who knows his way around a kitchen.  He even cleaned up when he was done.The Week that Was | In An Orchard

The Week that Was | In An Orchard

The McMuffins were a huge hit with the whole family, and were so much better than anything I’ve ever bought at McDonald’s :)  They’re never going to want to eat toast and cereal again.The Week that Was | In An Orchard

Here’s a few things I’m enjoying right now:

We started listening to Anne Of Green Gables last week.  I suggested it mostly for mine and Eliza’s enjoyment, and was surprised to look over and see Justin chuckling, and equally surprised when the boys begged to hear more each time a chapter would finish. (We listen to lots of free audio books on LibriVox

This blog is one of my current favorites.  I’m not a knitter, but I never get tired of seeing yarn on needles being made into something beautiful and cozy.  Ginny’s dreamy photography, and gentle way of writing is so appealing to me.  For those of you who do love to knit, she also has a small online shop were she sells her hand-dyed yarn, and I don’t think I have ever seen such gorgeous colors in my life.

Floret Farms has been a longtime favorite blog as well (I also love their Instagram account). But they just recently launched their own online seed and bulb shop, and I am smitten with everything they sell. Their Sweet Pea seed selection is probably one of the best in the country.

And that’s all from our home this week.  We turned another page of the calendar and the children are dreaming up ideas for Valentine’s day, I’m already thinking about summer flowers, and hoping to get our chicken coop fixed up for a new batch of spring chicks.