Plant of the day: Syringa Bloomerang™ reblooming lilac

Can it get more perfect than this??

Who wouldn't want to enjoy the heavenly fragrance of lilacs for the entire summer?! 

And though we probably love those giant old fashioned lilacs, they can be quite large and overpowering on many of our smaller residential properties.

So check out this beautiful new for 2010 Syringa Bloomerang™ lilac at White Flower Farms or Great Garden Plants that stays compact at 4' and makes a great hedge.

Plant of the day: Ajuga

With spring upon us I have the usual urge to start replacing grass with flowers, herbs, fruiting plants, vegetables, and all things pretty and delicious!

One of my goals for this year is to remove more of the curbside grass.  It's hard to mow under all the trees there and there really is no use for the grass anyway. 

So instead of watering and mowing something useless, why not replace it with something pretty that doesn't need constant watering or mowing?!

So the plant I want to feature today is a perfect replacement for that useless grass: Ajuga. 

Ajuga is a low growing ground cover that can thrive in many kinds of soils and doesn't need a lot of water.    As an evergreen ground cover it is a nice replacement for grass. It's a perennial and it spreads to cover areas fairly quickly and choke out weeks. 

Because it does spread quickly it is best in areas bordered by hard edging or retaining walls.  So this makes it a good candidate for those front right of ways bounded by concrete curbing.

Check out the many varieties of Ajuga available at American Meadows and Classy Groundcovers.

It's a virtual flowering carpet and much more interesting than the hackneyed pachasandra.

History of Religion in 90 seconds

Below is a pretty nifty visual of spatial and temporal data showing the origins and expansions of world religions.

More uses for plastic sheet protectors

In addition to using plastic sheet protectors for playing Clue, these plastic sleeves are also great for practicing tracing letters.

It was a lot of work to keep erasing the grease pencil marks off the plastic laminated cards the teachers sent home back in the pre-homeschool days. So this is a much simpler solution to insert the tracing page into the plastic sleeve and use a dry-erase marker to trace on the plastic.

This is a tracing page with upper and lower case letters and numbers, with arrows showing which lines to draw first and in what direction.

A cool way to play Clue with the pre-literate crowd

Family game night was a wonderful childhood tradition that I'm glad to carry on with our kids.  Given the age differences though, it can be challenging to find games that everyone can play and enjoy.

Our kids enjoy playing clue, especially the "real" Clue.  They enjoy Clue Jr. too, but the original version seems to hold more appeal.  Perhaps it's all those miniature pieces.

So we finally figured out a solution so my pre-literate daugher can play the "real" version.  (Though we remove the violent references from the game -- it's just about guessing what cards are in the envelope.)

I took images of all the cards from the original Clue and put miniature versions of them into a document. I added color coded bars to reference the name of the people.

I printed the document in color and placed it in a plastic sleeve protector.  Now my daughter can use a dry-erase marker on the plastic sleeve to cross off any of the cards she has and any of the clues she receives from others.  After the game we just erase the marks and reuse the document over again!

It might also be a good thing to try for older kids who can read but have difficulty holding on to all their cards.

Using the 2010 Census as an Educational Opportunity

The kids were very excited to participate in their first ever census. They enjoyed providing the answers and telling us what boxes to check.

There are oodles of  U.S. Census K-12 educational materials and lesson plans for teachers to use in class and for students to explore on their own. One example is this map with state facts for kids:

We talked about how mommy and daddy only check one box under race, but they get to check two boxes --- something they wouldn't have had that opportunity in the 1990 census when you were forced to pick one race. 

Learn more about the history of the census, how we've address issues of race and slavery, people's fear and the difficulties census workers faced in the past on the census page and in this video, "From Inkwell to Internet: The History of the Census."

We talked about how daddy helped to make sure we had all the addresses for our community. He analyzed information, created maps, and reported the information to the census bureau for the past two census rounds.  There are many community workers who help with the census in a variety of ways.  The census is a community and national project.

We also talked about how both mommy and daddy use the information from the census to help make our community a better place and to watch how things are getting better or worse.  We can enter our address and find out important facts about our neighborhood and our city.

(Sadly, this task is more difficult, especially for rural areas, since the U.S. Census abandoned the long form in favor of the American Community Survey.  But that's a whole other story.)

We also talked about how they can see their great great great grandparent's answers to the 1910 census forms they answered when their kids were little, just like our family.  And just look at the beautiful census-worker's handwriting!

We're also going to track how many people are returning their census forms from different parts of the United States. We hope you enjoy participating in these exciting activities too!

The ULTIMATE family closet and laundry

Yesterday I posted a suggestion from one of the wise women at "Lots of Kids" to designate a space as the family closet.  In addition to having that, I've always wanted this giant closet to also be the laundry room.

Well here is a vision of that dream from Natural Interior Design.

Clever shoe storage under the stairs

According to stats, the most popular topic on my blog universally has been shoe storage.

So I could not disappoint readers and fail to pass along this clever gem from ShelvesBlog.  Isn't this a super clever use of space?!!  There are great instructions for so many different types of shelves at this blog in case you are at all handy.

Making small spaces look bigger....

Those brilliant designers tell us that having open floor space makes rooms look bigger.  So here are some examples of things we can do:

Wall mounted cabinetry and appliances

This wall hung cabinet and sink combination from ThundaFunda to show how much open space you feel when there are NO legs on the floor.

The wall mounted toilet from Vintage Tub not only saves space but saves cleaning time since there is no base to clean and obstacles to work around when cleaning the floor.

Clear Shelving, Appliances and Accessories

Using clear glass or acrylic items eliminates visual obstructions to help make rooms look larger.  (And curves are also supposed to make things look bigger.) This clear glass tub from Bathroom Accessories is one example.

This clear shower door from Natural Interior Design also expands the visual space.

And glass shelving units, like these featured at Apartment Therapy also do the trick!

White, Bright, Light

And above all else, keep it white, bright, and light in the bathroom with the use of light colors, reflective surfaces like tile and mirrors, and great lighting.  This example is featured at Apartment Therapy.

We're all in this together...

I just checked out the map of the most recent vistors to this blog. 

In the blog stats provided I can also see what google searches landed people on this blog.  (Yes, I know it is kind of creepy the amount of information we can all find, but trust me, this information is in good hands.)

I've realized one big thing...

People all over the planet are searching for answers for their kids -- for their distracted learners, the dyslexic, ADHD, sensory challenged, brilliant children that are inheriting our past and creating the future.

And when funding for education is already taking a nose dive here in the U.S. and in many other places on the globe I feel worried about the future.

But I also know that we are a resilient people, the human race.  And we are going to keep searching for answers for our kids.  And we're going to solve these problems and make our own solutions.

Together we are going to build this brighter future for our kids.

Kids and Chores

In a recent newsletter from Carol at sizzlebop, she discussed strategies for helping our distracted learners stay organized.

I was delighted to hear about other moms having distracted learners (ADHD, SPD, etc.) with difficulties in keeping their rooms tidy!

REDUCING THE AMOUNT OF STUFF.  Carol suggested working hard to keep "things" to a minimum.  The less there is to dust, put away, and keep track of, the easier it is for our kids (and ourselves) to keep things tidy.

REFRAMING THE DEBATE.  Carol also suggesting using this tip from The Organized Parent. In her post "A Chore by Any Other Name Does Smell Sweeter," Stephanie says that changing the language of chores to "how do we each contribute to the family?" has made a difference in her family's life.

This is also similar to the FlyLady's terminology of cleaning as actually "blessing the home" and shows how to involve kids in blessing the home as well.

While I realize that tidiness is going to be a learned habit, I also try to provide environmental remediations here in the house to reinforce that habit.

VISUAL CHECKLISTS. So one of the things we do is to have the visual to do lists and checklists. These help tremendously. 

The nightly routine has always been a stressful time.  But things have improved since we have put the visual checklist on his door.

Recently my husband was reminding our son to do his nightly activities. You can not imagine the thrill I had when my son replied, "Yeah, yeah, I know the drill."  Wow!

STORAGE SYSTEMS. We've also experimented with different kinds of storage systems for his clothes and toys.

I discovered that my sensory challenged son had difficulty with a couple of things that made his organizing more taxing that it needed to be:

(1) Bending over to reach low drawers - This can be disoriented for kids with vestibular and proprioceptive difficulties

(2) Opening and closing drawers that require two hands and alot of coordination - Given his proclivity towards being "rough" on things we had swapped out a wooden chest of drawers for the plastic kind. That turned out to be unwise.

What worked best for clothes is to have them organized into different open baskets and have them set up higher. You just reach in to get what you need or toss the clothes into their basket when mom gives you your laundry to put away. Of course everything he owes is soft cotton so we don't worry about wrinkles.

Here is a similar idea from rustlabs at instructables:

We now use the plastic drawers for the toys.  Each drawer is see though and labeled. He kind find what he needs and knows where to put it back.  The drawers are still a bit difficult to open and close but not as difficult now that they aren't filled with heavy clothes. Plus, the reward of getting to play with toys is worth it to him to tackle the task of opening and closing the drawers.

A fabulous solution would be to have those expensive self-closing drawers like this gorgeous example from Old Creamery.  But that's a big budget item.  Of course, I'm thinking it would be a great investment down the road.  I'm guessing his future spouse would appreciate him having this!

Another solution from the wise mamas of many at Lots of Kids is to have a family closet.  We have definitely implemented this strategy off and on as it has made more sense in different phases of our family life.

Here is my dream for the ultimate family closet and laundry room from Natural Interior Designs!!!

Make your own Boom Whackers

My cousins recently attended a concert by the Blue Man Group and loved it. I am jealous! You can add their widget here.

Trying to capture some of that excitement back here at home, the kids and I experimented with a variety of percussion instruments ourselves, accompanying Shania Twain no less!

It also reminded me that I have been wanting to make my own boomwhacker-type instruments which are probably similar to one of the many instruments used by The Blue Man Group.

Thank you Dr. Dan Bruton, Dr. Walter Trikosko and Stephen F. of Austin State University for these great instructions for DIY boomwhackers and gravity chimes!!

They also include a powerpoint presentation to help you use the musical tubes for discussion of both music and science.

DIY "Boom Whackers"

You can get sheet music for boom whackers and you can see lots of different groups using boom whackers in action.

You can also buy the original Boom Whackers (about $25) if you don't want to make them. 

Glorious upcycling projects for spring!!!

Ah! Relief.

Photo courtesy of ThundaFunda Free Pictures Online

Since becoming a mom, I've noticed that every March is the time of year when I finally feel like everything is going to be okay. 

The dark-stained months from October to February are torturous.  It's cold outside. The parks close. There are so few places to go to just hang out and let the kids be active (without costing a fortune or requiring the purchase of a greasy burger). We go nuts hibernating in the house. No one has any energy. Bleh.

Photo courtesy of Thunda Funda free online photos

Now that we have seen the sun several days in a row, I feel ready to tackle the world, or at least the house -- paint all the rooms, organize the closets, plan the garden, change the siding to purple...

Photo courtesy of Thunda Funda online free photos

Clearly I am delusional. But at least I can dream.

Here are the stuff some of my current dreams are made of courtesy of a lot of talented artists featured at

Thank you DIY Maven for pointing me toward this use of mosaic tiles!  This is exactly what I've been dreaming of for the bathroom -- decorative tiles that can be changed out and not permanently affixed.

And just look what artist Michelle Brand has created and DIY maven has shared!  Can you guess what these lovely "flower blossom crystals" are made from??? 

I've posted about recycling #6 plastic food containers for shrinky dinks before, but this tutorial was too cute too pass up! 

Thank you Chris Jobs for sharing this masterpiece from the Reform School.  This just totally makes me want to hit the thrift stores for broken umbrellas!

Of course if I did this, I would only add to the oddity of my unusual landscape in the midst of the green grasslands of suburbia. 

I am already the goofy neighbor with a pond, plants, and vegetable garden for a front lawn, and advocating for urban chickens.   I'm not sure how much more poor neighbors could take if I have a giant patchwork quilt strewn across the back yard!

I can at least guarantee I won't paint the siding purple.  Not this year anyway!
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