I had the wonderful opportunity to take a free composting class through the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, something I knew nothing about until I put my name on a list at a booth at the Midland County Fair so I could learn more about recycling in the area.  The TAES has a program called Earth-Kind, which provides the public with the knowledge and skills to protect the environment while obtaining "maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment." 

We were first introduced to the composting class by a gentleman who spoke to us on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  He explained a lot about the municipal solid waste and landfill disposal in Texas.  This two night program was available due funding from the Regional Solid Waste Grants Program.  So not only are we learning how to compost, but this free program will help encourage the public to reduce their average pounds per person per day amount of garbage that goes into the landfill, thereby saving everybody money.  Recycling is a fantastic way to do this!  

Our classes were taught by Permian Basin Master Gardeners, volunteers who have been educated on gardening and horticulture through many hours of hands-on training.  These volunteers then in turn, share their knowledge with the public.  The first night, our class met at the Commemorative Air Force Museum where a Master Gardener taught us what composting is and how we can build and maintain a compost pile.  The second night of our class was located at the Time Machine Recycling Center in Odessa.  Here we learned about vermiculture or how to raise worms to produce compost.  We then went outside to help build a new compost pile in the Permian Basin Master Gardener's demonstration garden.  

The most important thing I learned about composting??  If there's ever something wrong with your pile, turn it!  Turning it helps in the decomposition process and can solve many problems that you may come across.  The second most important thing I learned about composting??  The BROWN:GREEN ratio should be around 30:1.  Browns are materials high in carbon such as shredded paper, dried leaves, or dried grass.  Greens are materials high in nitrogen such as your kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy), fresh grass, coffee grounds, or herbivore manure.  Too many browns will lead to slow decomposition process and too many greens will lead to a stinky pile.  I also learned that you shouldn't waste your money on the plastic barrels for composting as they take a very, very long time to compost and the plastic will probably break down too quickly for your liking...especially in West Texas heat.  The simple 3'x3'x3' wire mesh is the most sturdy as well as the easiest to manipulate when you need to get at your pile.  You can see an example here - though I must note that the Master Gardeners mentioned the aerating wire stand in the middle would be more helpful to grow your tomatoes and not in the compost pile!

The most wonderful part about taking this composting class was that we each went home with our very own FREE 3'x3'x3' wire compost bin, "tomato" stand, thermometer, & red worms!  I didn't know about that when I signed up for the class but am sooo glad I decided to go!!
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Super mini-vermiculture!
As we are in temporary living, so our the worms!  The smallest recommended container for vermiculture is a 10 gallon bucket.  What size did the Texas Master Gardener use at her home, you may be wondering??  An old refrigerator laid down flat on its back!  The layers in my mini-vermiculture are sphangum moss & lettuce, worms, shredded paper, sphangum moss, paper towel, & rocks.  There needs to be a layer of rocks or other bulky material at the bottom to collect the water that drips down from the composting materials above.  This liquid is called "tea" and is a fantastic, organic fertilizer for your plants.   
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Little red worm trying to hide from the light, as well as a pillbug scurrying about in the back.
Eventually, the worms will mix up the materials above the paper towel into a dark, rich, earthy-smelling compost that can be used in your gardening.  You can see a little bit of that material around the red worm in the photo above.  My goal right now is to keep the worms alive long enough until I can find a larger container to transfer them into so I will have to be careful that they don't get overfed (or it will stink) or under/overwatered (or they will die).  At that point, I will make them a proper home following the recommended guidelines from our class.

Do you have a compost pile?  Do you have composting worms?  Tell me all about it as I am new to composting and would love to hear your stories!

Learn more!  A few PDFs and websites from my class:
Soils & Composting
Backyard Conservation - Composting
Earth-Kind - Composting
Worm Composting
Vermiculture
Happy D Ranch - worm composting
 
 
Riley & I have been exploring Midland and Odessa these last couple of weeks. We have visited the Midland Library, the Sibley Nature Center, the Petroleum Museum, the Museum of the Southwest: the Children's Museum, the Odessa Meteor Crater, & the Midland County Fair.  
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Checking out the pump jacks up close at the Petroleum Museum.
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Digging up dinosaurs at the Children's Museum.
The weather in Midland has been in the 60s/70s morning & evening, reaching a high in the 90s during the afternoon.  It is dry, slightly windy, and once in a while...a thunderstorm rolls in, bringing a bit of rain with it.  This makes for great weather to play outside in the mornings and take family walks together in the evenings.
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Riley showing me how he can climb up the rope ladder all by himself!
Since most of our belongings are in storage, we've had to get creative playing in the apartment when we stay home.  We found a great sensory activity idea on Pinterest.  Use popcorn kernels, rice, or beans in a flat pan as a substrate for digging with construction vehicles - Riley loved it!   
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Click on the photo to find the link for more indoor activities!
Riley's had an increased interest in letters and words lately so we also spend a lot of our time reading alphabet books and making letters out of various things.  Our words have been made out of things including his wooden toy snake, food, colored pencils, & pipe cleaners.  The best part is that he initiates all of the letter-making.  He'll show me an S or a P, then ask me to start spelling things for him.  He is also reading the letters & numbers on signs, cars, trucks, & various other things and asking me what they say.  I found a great app for my phone that Riley can practice tracing letters and numbers.  Check out this app and other ABC/123 games here: Tracing ABC, Kids ABC Letters, Kids Connect the Dots.
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Pipe cleaner letters of a few of Riley's favorite people.
 
 
Our family has recently relocated to Midland, TX.  We are really excited about the new adventures to come our way!  Riley and I have already explored the Sibley Nature Center, Hogan Park, two different libraries, and we have plans to check out the Petroleum Museum and Wildlife Preserve later this week.  On Saturday, Henry & I will begin our serious house hunting...after we check out the County Fair!  
The weather has been in the 60s-70s in the morning and evening, with highs in the 90s...but it's a DRY heat versus the humid heat of Houston.  I am so in love with this weather!!  
Have you ever been to Midland?  What did you think?  What was your favorite thing to see/do?
 
 
I came across this very cute guide to teach children about how to interpret dog behavior.  It also demonstrates how the child should behave around dogs!  I am rather partial to the adorable little Boston Terrier featured in this training guide.  If you are interested in learning more about dog behavior and/or training, check out their website, The Behaviour Company, to find all kinds of tips and suggestions.
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Click on the photo to go to their webpage for more resources on dog training!
 
 
Of course, we have to share the photos of the many little invertebrates that we have seen in our garden this spring.  Unlike last year, when the garden was new, this year we are seeing many different species of caterpillars!  I don't know all of them, but we have seen Black Swallowtail, Monarch, Gulf Coast Frittilary, & a Tersa Sphinx Moth.  We have also seen a few others in our yard and at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, I had the great pleasure of seeing a Spicebush Caterpillar - one of my favorites!  While camping at Brazos Bend State Park, we saw fireflies & dung beetles.  We have also seen great big black fuzzy caterpillars, inchworms that look like twigs, and caterpillars that have horns and eyes!  So many different bugs!

What kinds of critters have you seen?  Have you kept any caterpillars indoors so that you can watch them form their chrysalis and best of all...watch them emerge as a butterfly??  Happy bug watching!!
For help identifying your mystery caterpillars, butterflies, or other bugs, check out these great websites:
Butterflies & Moths of North America
Discover Life 
Gardens With Wings
What's That Bug?
Bug Guide
Insect Identification
eNature
 
 
This spring has brought us many beautiful flowers in our butterfly garden and back yard.  I have been taking photos of these flowers for a few months now and have decided to compile them into a slideshow to share with you.  There are even some flowers that may otherwise be considered the oh-so-scandalous weeds!  However, a plant is only a weed if it is growing somewhere where it is not welcome....all flowers are welcome in our yard!

Our butterfly garden was planted last April and has grown and flourished.  We have really enjoyed seeing the many different critters that come to enjoy the garden.  (Post on critters coming soon!)  This spring, as the plants started to take off growing again, I transplanted the purple porter weed and some of the fennel to my back yard where they would have more room to grow and could take up as much space as needed.  To fill in a few gaps, Riley & I sprinkled a butterfly seed mix which has quickly filled up our little garden and surprised us with a huge variety of flowers to enjoy.

If I had to pick favorites, I would say the Jasmine & Gardenia have the most lovely aroma, but the Passionflower and Hibiscus are probably my most favorite to look upon.  What do you have growing in your yard?  What are your family's favorite flowers?
 
 
My friend and I dyed Easter Eggs naturally, using the water from boiled fruits, vegetables, & spices.  We added designs to our eggs by using plants from my butterfly garden as a stencil, attaching the plant to the egg with a piece of nylon before soaking it in the dye.  

We used:
Onion skins
Red cabbage
Beets
Spinach
Turmeric
Blueberries

My favorite is the red cabbage - it turned out to be such a beautiful shade of blue!  The beets made a lovely rose color, the onion skins turned a deep orange, turmeric a light & bright yellow, and the blueberries made a speckled gray/brown color that another friend said looked like a dinosaur egg!  The spinach barely changed the egg to a pale grey, so I switched those eggs over to the turmeric instead.  I think perhaps we didn't have a high enough spinach to water ratio.

Check out Two Men and a Little Farm for a beautiful chart of color options!  

Sources:
Adventures in Cooking
Big Sis Lil Sis
A Storybook Life 
 
 
Last month, Henry & his brother built this wonderful table & chair set for Riley!  I was soooo excited!  I had come across this tutorial awhile ago and couldn't wait for us to have a chance to finally make Riley his very own special place to work, eat, & play.
After Henry & his brother, Dan, did the woodwork, Dan's girlfriend, Suzie, & I painted everything.  I had already decided to paint everything bright, rainbow colors, but was stumped on the table top.  Suzie & I came up with the drizzled paint effect while shaking off some excess in the grass.  We had so much fun!  Then, as a final touch, Riley had to have a part in the making of his furniture with his hand prints.
Of course, the boys tweaked the directions a bit to suit their own needs, but everything worked out just fine in the end!  Now Riley can enjoy eating his lunch while looking out the window, doing crafts, & creating masterpieces with his playdough!
If you would like to make your own table & chairs, check out the directions here: table & chairs
 
 
I have become ever so busy lately and have had little time to sew, knit, or post on my blog.  I accepted a new job as an assistant teacher in a 1-3 grade Montessori classroom.  It is only part-time, but the other half of the day is spent doing everything I used to do in a whole day!

Riley is adjusting to a new daycare, everyday going to play with his new friends.  I am adjusting to the new routine and trying to figure out how to prioritize and balance all of the many things in my schedule.  I am slowly getting things figured out but in the meantime, my goal is to set aside time every week for ME and my FAMILY!  

I leave you with a photo from our family outing to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo last weekend.  
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Riley had a fantastic time at the Rodeo! He loved the animals, the tractors, the dragon roller coaster ride, & of course - the sundae!
 
 
Happy Valentine's Day! Riley helped me prepare valentines for his classmates and other friends outside of school.  Mama glued the doilies together, he placed the stickers on them.  He also helped me prepare crayons to be melted into new shapes - I could not find an appropriate heart mold so we made squares.  He loved peeling the paper off of the crayons and breaking them up!  

He was very excited for his gift - a Mini Beco baby carrier for his doll, Wren!  He was so cute and so sweet carrying his doll around yesterday!  
Henry & I even managed to have dinner alone together after Riley went to bed, followed by a sappy Romance movie - Tangled!! Hehehe...All in all, it was a pretty good day!