how to make mini greenhouses for seedlings

It’s April and in good Minnesota fashion, three out of five days this week are expected to involve snow. But, according to the good people at Gardening Matters, this does not have to interfere with spring planting. With six weeks till frost free weather (God willing), it’s time to get seedlings started. We’re trying a method from

We made our own mini greenhouses using empty milk jugs. It’s a simple and fun process. My kids and I think you should try it.

2014-04-02 14.06.14

Using a utility knife, cut a horizontal line about four inches from the bottom of each jug. Just cut around three sides of the jug. Leave the fourth side uncut so it can function like a hinge.

By the third one, ours were looking pretty neat:

2014-04-02 14.07.36

Then cut at least four slits in the bottom to allow water to drain out. Add soil to the container, leaving about an inch of room at the top.

2014-04-02 14.13.28

Sprinkle the soil generously with water. Sow seeds, spacing them as recommended on the package. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Flip the top of the jug back into place. Tape the container closed with clear tape. Label each so you remember what is growing where. Leave the lids off. Place the jugs on the east, west or south side of your house.

2014-04-02 14.18.20

And here’s the reassuring part for those of us in northern climates: allow snow to pile on top. As it melts, it will add moisture to the soil. If the containers do not have snow on top and there’s no condensation, then water the seedlings to keep them growing.

So far we’ve planted broccoli, celery and cumin. Once we get another empty milk jug, we’re going to plant some spinach too.


what’s in a name?

My boys were named using the naming conventions of their daddy’s culture. That’s why their last names are different from his. It is also why they each go by two different first names – they’ve got names that people in this country can pronounce and they also know the Somali version of their names. This could be confusing. But my sons understand it well enough to explain it to others. Here’s a conversation I overheard this week when my boys were playing with a neighbor girl.

Caleb: Aden!

Gloria: Call him Adam!

Caleb: He has two names.

Adam: Yeah, Adam and Aden.

Me: Caleb has two names too.

Adam: Qalib is his other name.

Gloria: Oh, so that’s what your dad calls you, Aden and Qalib… And your last name is Farah.

Adam: Yeah, Farah means “happy.” So in English, my name is “Adam Happy.”

Actually this last bit was news to my younger son. I looked over at him and heard him repeating to himself, “Farah means ‘happy.’” I nodded and smiled.

world read aloud day 2014

Wednesday March 5th is Word Read Aloud Day.

In an effort to raise awareness about “the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories,” LitWorld has designated the first Wednesday in March as World Read Aloud Day.

At this stage in my life, with one pre-reader and one very beginning reader in our home, nearly every day is read aloud day. Still, it’s interesting when we mix it up a little, and LitWorld has some suggestions for doing just that

But even if your kids can read for themselves, this is a great excuse to read aloud to them. Older readers benefit from frequent read alouds. They may also benefit from learning how blessed they are to have access to education and books. 

To whom will you read aloud on Wednesday?

helping kids become lifelong readers

I just finished Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley. Written by teachers, the book provides a lot of practical ideas about how to reposition reading instruction “around the habits and attitudes of lifelong readers.”reading-in-the-wild

But there’s more to the book than classroom management strategies and lesson design, and I found much of it is relevant for parents, including the authors’ research findings about five characteristics lifelong readers share. They found that lifelong readers:

dedicate time to read

have reading plans

choose their own reading material

discuss books and their reading with other readers

show preferences for genres, authors and topics

I appreciated the ideas about how to help children develop in each of these five areas. It’s not surprising that one of the most important ways we do this is through modeling – and explaining our own processes to our children.

wild rice soup

One of the great things about February is that it’s still prime soup season, which I enjoy more now that my boys are discovering that some of those soups I’ve been offering them all along actually taste good. Like wild rice soup. At some point during this winter it has become a family favorite. Everyone eats it. I mean the whole bowl of soup, not just a token spoonful.

I developed this recipe because I didn’t want to make a soup by opening several cans of pre-made soup. Still, it comes together quickly once you’ve cooked the wild rice. You can prepare that a day or two in advance to get a meal on the table faster. And an immersion blender comes in handy for pureeing the cooked potatoes, which thicken the soup and make it seem creamy even before you add any dairy product.

Here’s how we make wild rice soup:

1 cup wild rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 stalks of celery

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium carrot, diced

3 medium russet potatoes, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

1/4 cup half and half or evaporated milk

1 1/2 to 2 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

Cook wild rice according to package directions. Drain, if necessary, and set aside. Saute celery, onion, garlic and carrot in a stock pot for about 5 minutes. Add three cups of water, salt and the sliced potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the vegetables are quite tender. Remove the pot from the heat and blend with an immersion blender until creamy. Return the soup to the burner and add the chicken, cooked wild rice and half and half. Heat thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: Add a bit more water or milk for a thinner soup.

The chicken or turkey is optional, and you’ll hardly miss it if you leave it out. I’ve also swapped in a half pound of browned ground beef for the poultry and no one seemed to notice.

a book I enjoyed as much as my preschooler

In honor of “I love to read month,” I’d like to tell you about a new book we discovered last week.

sophie's squash

Sophie’s Squash pulls together several elements that are familiar to my boys: gardening, the farmer’s market and story time at the library. It resonated with me as a mom because it so accurately portrays the determination and imagination of the typical preschooler. We all liked the cute illustrations and satisfying ending.

The story begins one fall day when Sophie and her parents visit the farmer’s market and buy a squash. Before they can cook it, Sophie claims it as her own, draws a face on it and wraps it in a blanket. It’s “just the right size to love.” Sophie’s new “baby” Bernice goes everywhere with her. Her parents try several strategies to get the squash from Sophie before it starts to decay. But nothing works and Bernice starts to look a little blotchy. Soon even Sophie recognizes the problem. She comes up with a solution after talking to one of the vendors at the farmer’s market – a solution that probably has her parents thinking, “here we go again.”

the long cold winter

“A polar vortex!” my son said as I opened the curtain on Thursday morning to reveal snowflakes swirling frantically in the wind. Even my kindergartener is using the buzz word of the winter.

Though the snow had already piled up on the roads and snow was still falling, no one was talking about cancelling school this morning. That was fine with me since we’d already had five days off in the month due to the great North American cold wave.

This time of the year we’re usually tired of winter, but it seems especially so this year because it’s been so cold we don’t even go out to play much. But if the weather ever remains in the above-zero temperature range long enough, we just might go exploring outside. Perhaps we’ll look for tracks in the snow. (Click the link to see my latest published piece.)2014-02-01 17.43.34