New Toys

Back in April I wrote about our process of selecting some new toys – you can read about it here.  In May, when I attended the Manitoba Childcare Association’s Annual conference, I was able to connect with Chris at the Quality Classrooms trade show booth.  She was able to have my order brought to conference the following day so I didn’t have to wait for delivery – I was so thrilled.

So were my boys – they may be 18 and 21 now but they have been then official toy testers for the last 16 years and don’t seem to want to give up the role.  The toys were thoroughly tested over the weekend and introduced to the playroom gradually over the next few weeks.  Introducing many new items all at once would have created havoc and made it difficult for me to observe and evaluate.

The Geometric Stacker was the only item on my list that was wooden.  I am trying to eliminate much of the plastic from our inventory and so whenever possible I will choose items made with natural materials instead of plastic.  I introduced this toy first because it was one of my favourites.  Fitting those square blocks together before stacking them was surprisingly challenging even for the older children.


The Caterpillar Gears and Butterfly Gears were also introduced.  The infants and toddlers love to remove the gears – and leave them that way so most of the time it looks like this;

NT02I tend to put the gears back in the ‘wrong’ spots which annoys the older children who then feel compelled to fix it for me.  Occasionally someone will ignore the ‘proper’ placement and use it to create a pattern instead;


The Therapy Tangles (I bought two) are popular with the toddlers but some of the older children get very frustrated because they cannot ‘straighten’ the loops;


The Swiss Melody Bells were the ‘must have’ item that all the school-age children selected from the list.  They clamoured for those bells every day eagerly anticipating their arrival.  The thrill wore off quickly once they actually tried them;


My favorite feature of these bells is that the actual bell is suspended inside;


So the tone is never affected even if the babies hold the bell like this;


The most popular item has been the Star Buttons – which were not actually chosen by any of the children.  I selected them because I wanted something that was easy for the infants and toddlers to put together – they tend to get frustrated by some of the more complicated manipulatives and I wanted something they could successfully assemble.  However, first they have to get them away from the older children who make patterns;


And tall towers;


And people and animals;


And even ‘flowermids’ which combine flowers and pyramids;


I am pleasantly surprised by their interest.

The New Garden Grows

Yesterday I spent several hours working in the front yard garden.  I don’t really consider it ‘working’ – even picking weeds is enjoyable and relaxing.  The plants and I had long, somewhat one-sided conversations.  This spring has been a very exciting time for me because I have been eagerly awaiting the return of all the native prairie plants.

The entire front yard garden was revamped last year – you can read more about the planning process here or go here  to read more about the progress of the baby plants during their first summer.

As soon as the snow melted I began searching for signs that the young plants had survived the very long, harsh winter.  I had put plant tags in the garden to remind me what was planted there – I had also drawn a detailed plan which was very helpful since some of the plant tags disappeared.

However, as the plants began growing I had some doubts as to the accuracy of my plan.  These plants are new to me and I was having some difficulty identifying them.  It seemed to me that the planning I had done for plant heights may have been off since there seem to be tall plants in front of short plants but it may just be that some have grown faster than others.

Currently the garden looks like this;


The Wild Red Columbine were one of the first to arrive and they have grown very quickly.  They already have many beautiful flowers;


These Alum Root are also beginning to flower


The Culver’s Root was planted at the back of the garden because it is supposed to grow to a height of 3-4 feet.  So far they are a just few inches tall and barely noticeable behind the False Sunflower which are also much smaller than many of the other plants.


Part of the problem I’m having with identifying  the plants is that most of the info I have about them only includes pictures of the flowers so until they bloom I’m not really sure what they are. For example, according to my plan I have three Philadelphia Fleabane and four Gaillardia planted next to each other but they all look very similar to me and could even be the same plant;


Then there are some that should be the same but to me look different. According to my plan there are three Smooth Aster here with Fringed Brome behind;


All three of the supposed Smooth Aster are the same height but one of them has leaves that look much different than the other two so I’m not certain it is the same type plant and there is nothing else in the garden that looks like this;


Then there are the bare spots.  Spaces where I planted for or five plant and only two have shown up – or in one space none.  There was absolutely no sign of the five Joe Pye in the large empty spot where they should have been.  So, three weeks ago when I was in Selkirk, I stopped in at Prairie Originals and bought a Blue Vervain to put there instead.

Suddenly the Joe Pye all began to grow and they now dwarf the new plant in their midst;


Yes, I am an impatient, somewhat impulsive, but definitely eager gardener.

Plans for the Yard

He started it.

Last fall my husband made a comment about wanting to move the fence in the back so both our vehicles could park side by side instead of the L shaped parking we currently have.  I was sceptical at first – it seemed like a lot of work to create a parking area that for me would be more difficult than the current yard arrangement.

I was also concerned about loosing a section of the gravel area – he said it would only be a few feet in width because our current parking spot was wider than necessary for one car – in fact he often parked on a diagonal in that spot because there was so much extra space.

I liked the extra space – I don’t like to drive and I detest parking.  Sure, he thinks there’s way more room than we need to park the car – he’s used to driving a bus.  I would rather walk than have to try and park in an ‘adequate’ space. However, the ‘diagonal’ comment got me thinking – and measuring.

You see, there are some other issues with our yard but every time I plan a project he complains that he is getting too old to do all this stuff and he was going to quit.  I wasn’t going to change anything in the yard but he started it.  I probably should have recorded that initial conversation as evidence.

Anyway, I had all winter to consider options and work on a plan.  I started to get excited by the prospects.  The late spring put a damper on my plans – I really wanted it done so we could enjoy our new space all summer.  The back yard and parking area – approx 33ft x 40ft total – currently looks like this;


The upper deck is my biggest issue.  It is a nice sized covered space – about 90 square feet – but it is mostly just a dumping ground for odds & ends.  I don’t use it as a play area because when we are in the yard the shed blocks my view of the upper deck.  I wanted to use it as a messy art area that could be accessed from indoors or out in all seasons.

The shed itself is another concern.  Currently it is home to the BBQ, the scooter, and my husband’s tools/workshop.  When the large tools are used they are set up on the walkway and even then, space is still limited.  The children and I cannot be playing in the yard when my husband is working there – this means less outdoor time for us and less project time for my husband.

The side yard – located on the other side of the upper deck – has been the dog’s yard for the past 13 years.  It is a fairly large space about 9ft x 30ft and has always been off limits as a play space.  I suggested that if my husband put his tool shed/workshop in the side yard then he would have plenty of useable workspace and the children and I would never be in his way.

Constriction of the new 6ft x 8ft tool shed began last week and soon the tools will migrate over from the old shed.  The old shed in the back yard is 8ft x 10ft and is built on the lower deck.  After the tools are moved we will be able to disassemble and remove roughly half of the old shed and expose a 5ft x 8ft area of the lower deck adjacent to the walkway.

I am hoping to also add a portable gazebo/shade shelter on this new larger area of ground level deck.  The entrance to the garden will also change and include a small bridge over the sweet grass.  With decent weather all of this should be completed before my upcoming ‘vacation’ when we have other projects to tackle.  The parking area will have to wait until later in the summer but when complete the yard should look something like this;


It will be a wonderful area to play – or relax if I ever feel so inclined.

Outdoor Adventures

We’ve been spending a large portion of our days outdoors.  We still come in for meals and naps but go outside for the majority of our play time.

I’ve put up the sunshade and on a few occasions I’ve opened the umbrellas too to provide shelter from the sun’s rays.  There is also a new cover for the tipi:


We added some peat moss to our planters and planted some carrot seeds:


The baby prefers a more hands on approach to gardening:


‘Ben’ and ‘Jen’ – the two worm-like critters  we found in the garden last week – still have a ‘home’ even though they show no signs of life:


Full water barrels and warm weather have allowed the opportunity for some water play too.  This is something new for the babies.  They were hesitant at first but soon realized that they were welcome to join in so they did:


The older children made soup – of course.  This time they added a new ingredient that they called ‘vitamin R’ (rocks):


They also cleaned the yard with ‘cloths’ and a ‘sponge’:


That piece of bark ‘sponge’ did a suprisingly good job:


I’ve got many more pictures of our recent outdoor adventures but I’m running low on time so I’ll save them for the next post.  Make sure you head outdoors for some vitamin N too!

Herbs & Veggies

Our vegetable gardening began in 2007 with one small raised bed and has expanded every year since then.  Our current garden is about 100 square feet and we have some planters around the yard too.

The types of vegetables we grow each year changes because we like to experiment with new ones.  Three years ago we began to include herbs in our garden too.  In the fall we had dug up the herbs, put them in pots and brought them in the house for the winter.  We got to enjoy them for a few more months but they didn’t survive until spring.

Since then we have discovered that some herbs are perennials – I didn’t know that when we dug them out of the garden.  Remember, I was learning about gardening too – I thought all our ‘crops’ were annuals.

So, last year when we planted our new herbs, I made a point of keeping the tags and noting which ones we should expect to return in the spring.  The oregano has returned and is doing well so far;


I’m unsure about the garden sage.  It doesn’t look great but it has some new leaves and branches.  I started trimming off the dried branches from last year but it looks like the new growth is coming from the old branches so I’m afraid to trim any more in case I kill it;


The lemon balm and the rosemary showed absolutely no signs of life.  We have since planted replacements for these two.  We also added some mint and thyme.  Every time we discuss the various scents the most common reaction is ‘Mmmm, smells minty’.  I figured maybe for comparison we needed something that actually was ‘minty’.  The thyme elicited an enthusiastic response as the four-year-old ran around the yard cheering ‘Woo hoo, we’re growing a time machine!’


We’ve got the mandatory beans and tomatoes and this year we’re going to try two types of carrots.  We’re also trying something else new.  We have a subscription to the community supported agriculture program at Wild Earth Farms.  This will give us the opportunity to try a much greater variety of produce than we could ever grow ourselves. We’re also hoping to arrange a field trip to see the farm too.

We just received our first farm share which contained fresh oregano, thyme, green onions, swiss chard, and kale.  We examined and tasted a little of everything;


The kale was a different type than the kale we grew a couple years back.  We immediately noticed that this kale had no holes in it.  Most of the kale we grew got eaten by something other than us.  This kale was beautiful and tasty;


We headed outside to compare the thyme and oregano from the farm with the ones in our garden.  The children got distracted by some critters they found in the garden and had to go make homes for them instead;


Yet another fun activity with garden ‘produce’.

Giant Invasion

It was about four years ago when I first introduced native prairie plants to our yard.  Visits to the Living Prairie Museum were always popular so growing our own prairie plants seemed like a natural extension.  It has been a learning experience for all of us – growing native praire plants was new to me too.

The plants on the little hill were added first – Yarrow and Giant Hyssop on one side of the tunnel;


The Yarrow has always been the first to show up each spring – I love it’s fern like leaves. This year, although the Yarrow grew first, the Giant Hyssop has taken over!  It is even coming up  between the logs and through any other crack it can find;


On the other side of the tunnel we originally planted the Obedient Plant and the Cone Flower.  The Cone Flower didn’t do well and hasn’t shown up at all for the past two years.  We added some Pussy Toes and some Pasture Sage – another one of my favorites with a wonderful texture and aroma too;


But wait, that plant on the bottom left looks suspiciously like a Giant Hyssop – it was not planted over here;


We haven’t planted anything in the planters yet – usually we just put in a few annuals or maybe some beans.  Right now they contain nothing but weeds, and a Giant Hyssop?


Over in the garden I planted some Sweetgrass by the water barrel – no other plants seemed to like that spot.  The Sweetgrass does and has now taken over the whole North side of the garden;


The rest of the garden is reserved for our veggies and herbs and has no native prairie plants.  Wait, what is that?  Can it be another Giant Hyssop?


What do you think?