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This week’s post came more of necessity than a thirst for learning. I decided to see what, if any, different ways there are to cut my own hair. I have long hair, so I don’t have much to lose if I mess it up, and I could use a haircut but haven’t really had time (it is also prom and wedding season around here which, I found out last year, can wreak havoc on scheduling at hair salons).

I started out by doing an internet search on cutting your own long hair. The search yielded many results, everything from sliding a scrunchy to the length you want and cutting it off to more elaborate cuts that are supposed to add layers. I decided on a combination of a couple of techniques. Here is my chosen method: I decided to cut my hair wet, make a ponytail on the very top of my head (experience a momentary 80’s flashback), twist the ponytail in one direction, cut off the desired amount, twist the ponytail in the other direction and check for any odd long sections, take hair out of the ponytail and hope for the best. (If you wish to try cutting your hair yourself, please look for more detailed instructions than this!)

So today, after much thought, I took the scissors to my hair. A couple of things to note

  1. My hair is very long so the odds of having an irredeemable haircut is extremely low.
  2. My hair is quite thick and has some wave to it so the ends do not need to be perfectly straight (i.e., it will hide a few minor mistakes fairly well).
  3. I generally wear my hair in braids.
  4. I don’t have an office job.

I used the technique described above and there were a few surprises, such as when I first started to cut and it just seemed like I was chasing the ends around; I was pretty sure this was going to be a disaster. Also, I think I should have started by trimming off a lot less. I got a bit overzealous and chopped off 2.5 inches, next time I will stick with just an inch. It wasn’t so much the missing length as it was the thickness of the hair that high up the ponytail that was the problem. Lastly, I would probably not do this again after having only 3-4 hours of sleep!

Bottom Line: There are no obvious long or short areas, my hair has some layers to it with this method and it got rid of some scraggly ends. So, would I do it again? Absolutely.

Being a stay-at-home mom, as well as the main grocery shopper and cook, my writing and other creative pursuits take a backseat; I fit in writing and knitting whenever I have a few minutes. Lately, I have been trying to really streamline things around the house. I started with meals. I admit that I have never had a set plan for the week’s meals. I usually start the week with a vague idea of what I can make during the week given the ingredients we usually have in the house.

One inspiration for streamlining the meal process (buying the food, meal prep, etc.) is the grocery shopping. Grocery shopping every week with little ones can be fun, watching them help pick things out and learn why we buy some foods and not others, but it is also a challenge to get everyone out the door in the morning, not to mention putting the groceries away when we get home with tired and hungry little ones wanting to try all of the food that we just bought. I thought the answer would be menu planning, so I tried a two-week menu plan. The idea was that you cycle through the same menu every two weeks. I tried to like the plan, I really did, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was put off by the idea of having the same thing every two weeks. The menu plan was tossed and we went back to me having a general idea of what food was in the house and every day trying to decide what was for dinner.

Then one day I read about a month-long menu plan. I admit it seemed a bit extreme, planning a menu for an entire month. At the same time, we are trying to cut grocery expenses and, frankly, I was tired of going to the grocery store each week. So, I got out my recipes and began writing down 4 weeks worth of meals. I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t really think I would stick to it. I thought on pasta and sauce day I would want rice and beans. Then I went to the grocery store. I shopped for the entire month (aside from produce). We lugged the many bags home, found places for everything, and started using the menu.

My conclusion, after an entire month of using the menu plan, is that 4 weeks is just right. We had a wide variety of favorites, I had to shop only every few weeks (with the occasional pickup at the grocery store for produce, as the farmer’s market was not yet open), and I didn’t have to think about what we were having for dinner each day. There were a few changes when we had enough for leftovers and I hadn’t taken that into account on the menu but, overall, I stuck to it. I also found that we were spending less at the grocery store, which is always a good thing!

What I didn’t realize was how much time I had been spending thinking about meals. Deciding what to have, finding the ingredients, getting everything ready, and actually cooking the meal was taking a good chunk of time that I now have back. Because I know in the morning what we are having for dinner that night, I can do prep work throughout the day. I am also finding that my mind is now free to wander to other topics, like my writing. I was surprised to find myself writing more and in quick little bursts throughout the day. I can now go on autopilot for meals and meal preparation so I am free to fill that time thinking about story ideas and plots and dreaming up characters and settings.

Meal planning begets creativity, at least for me …. who knew?

What little tricks do you use to give yourself time to be creative?

P.S., What-I-Learned Wednesday will return this week. I took last week off (though not from learning) to enjoy a wonderful week with visiting family.

I have been interested in origami for years and have enjoyed folding everything from simple baby booties to use as a gift tag on a baby gift to a more complicated photo mosaic origami quilt. My little one became interested in origami when we read Lissy’s Friends by Grace Lin, in which Lissy folds some origami friends to keep her company in a new school. Now we both love discovering what creatures and objects can be created from just a few folds of paper. What I never realized, though, is how closely math and origami are intertwined. I only briefly touched on the subject this week but how fun it would be to incorporate origami into a lesson in angles or geometry.

I choose to try out the theory that flat-folded origami creates a crease pattern that is two colorable (it only takes two colors to color the crease pattern so that there are no adjacent color repeats). I used an origami church to test the theory because it involves several folds but no small folds that would create small crease patterns that would be hard to color.

And it worked!

This led me to read about the four-color map theorem, which is the idea that any map can be colored with just four colors while having no adjacent color repeats.

Origami and math really seem to feed off of each other, with mathematicians using origami to test theorems and origami artists using math formulas to create more intricate folds.

There is so much information on origami and math that it is hard to know where to start. Below are just a couple of links that I found interesting:

Mathematics of paperfolding

Origami & Math

What did you learn this week?

Growing Here

Several years ago I tried gardening in a few containers in our backyard. We had a couple of things grow, but nothing ever did very well. I know that people have entire gardens flourish in containers, so perhaps it was just me. I never had a lot of luck with houseplants either. (I do have a few, now, that are hardy I-won’t-die-if-you-don’t-water-me-on-time varieties provided by my mom that are, for the most part, doing well on the once-a-week water/splash of coffee diet I have them on.)

And then last year I really wanted a garden to grow our own vegetables. We are regulars at our local farmer’s market, but there is something about going out to water in your flannel pants in the morning (our yard is quite private) and showing the littles how food grows with water, sun, and healthy soil, that just can’t be beat. So we decided to build a raised garden to house our micro-farm. After we went to the market and picked out all of our plants, we realized that we had too many for our one garden plot, and so a second was built. We planted everything from tomatoes and corn to watermelon and kale. We had some successes like the tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumbers, and some definite things to remember for next time (like thinning carrots!). Another big lesson was corn = raccoons. But the best part was that our little garden helper loved everything from building the garden bed, playing in the dirt, and picking out the plants, to watering (Oh, the watering! Even her friends wanted turns with the “water wand!”) and, of course, the eating.

This year we are trying something new. Well, it is new to us, but I imagine it has been around for longer than anyone really knows; companion gardening. Companion gardening is all about plant relationships and how you can make those relationships work for you in your garden. For example, tomato and basil flourish together, but tomato and broccoli plants do not grow well next to each other. If you are familiar with Strega Nona’s Harvest and her nice neat rows, that is what we aimed for last year. This year, I’m not saying we have gone the way of Big Anthony by just throwing seeds in the ground, but we have definitely moved away from perfectly ordered rows. We have scattered the basil seeds around the tomato plants, the peas and sunflowers are planted next to each other with the idea that then we won’t have to trellis the peas but that they will simply climb the sunflowers. The onions are scattered throughout the garden because onions are supposed to be good at keeping pests away. We also planted radish seeds in the same hill as the cucumber seeds as they are supposed to be mutually beneficial. If you would like to know more, I read Carrots Love Tomatoes before planning our garden.

The edibles we are growing in our yard are:

Tomatoes, basil, carrot, sugar peas, sunflowers, and marigolds

Chives

Parsley, more onion, broccoli, radish, cucumber

Strawberries (they pop up all over)

Blueberries

Pumpkins — Just planted and no pictures

And lots and lots of these (I know you can eat these but we choose not to harvest ours)

What’s growing in your garden?

With so much talk of spring planting and gardening, I thought it would be nice to share just a few of the books that we enjoy in the spring (and really all year).

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and Illustrated by David Small

My Garden by Kevin Henkes

Strega Nona’s Harvest by Tomie dePaola

We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow and Illustrated by Bob Staake

Paddington Bear in the Garden by Michael Bond

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (If you are interested in the cover on the Penguin Threads edition, you can find out more here.)

What are some of your favorites?

Week one of What I Learned is complete and it brought with it much reading about bees. Mason Bees initially, but you can’t read about Mason Bees without also moving into the topic of honeybees. Honeybees leads into Colony Collapse Disorder and then on into the decline of pollinators as a whole. As with all real-life learning, topics easily slide from one to the next — and isn’t that the beauty of it? It is like talking with a small child and realizing that they could ask “why?” all day long!

How did Mason Bees become my topic of interest? Well, several years ago I received a Mason Bee house as a gift. I let it languish in the basement, not really knowing much about Mason Bees or what was involved with a Mason Bee house. I also seemed to miss the hanging window each year (early spring).

And then last year we decided to grow our own pumpkins. Now in my experience, having too few pumpkins in a garden is never a problem … they tend to be like zucchini in that way. (As an aside, zucchini always make me think of the midnight zucchini raids in Cry Uncle, by Mary Jane Auch … out-of-print but a great book if you can find it!) Our two small plants flowered over and over but pollination never happened. Our front yard, with no fewer than nine lavender plants, literally hums with the sounds of working bees. Our backyard is considerably quieter.

This got me thinking about pollination, a topic of much scientific research in recent years due to Colony Collapse Disorder and what the loss of pollinators is going to mean for putting food on our tables — certainly it means an increase in the price of food. There are a few theories as to why we are loosing so many hives with heavy pesticide use being one of them.

Currently, the outlook for honeybees is still rather grim. (You can help by having a bee-friendly yard.) However, there is some good news for gardeners and farmers and it comes in the form of a small bee called the Mason Bee. Mason Bees are solitary bees (meaning they don’t have a hive to defend), incredible pollinators, easily cared for, and quite gentle. They are also native to most of the continental U.S. (honeybees are not).

Mason Bees utilize small tubes, holes in trees, or the occasional ground hole in an electrical outlet, to lay their eggs in beds of pollen and then the chamber is plugged with mud. The larvae then hatch, eat the pollen, and spin cocoons from which they will emerge as adult bees the next spring. I was also pleased to note, especially having little ones helping in the garden, that Mason Bees will generally only sting if trapped (if they get inside of your sleeve, for example).

So, armed with this knowledge, we hung our Mason Bee house. This house does not have removable tubes, which is important to keep the bees healthy year-after-year. Mason Bees are susceptible to pollen mites and this can become a problem in solid tubes. Generally, each fall, the tubes are opened and the cocoons are harvested for release in the spring. If we do attract any bees to our little house, we will need to move them into another house next year. Luckily I found information on this process here.

Each day I — with my garden helpers! — check the tubes anxiously to see if we have any guests. Nothing yet. I will update you if we are so lucky. I don’t know if it is hung in the ideal spot or with ideal conditions, but it is a start — and I do know the Mason Bee population of our basement is zero.

If you would like to learn more about Mason Bees, I found this site to be a wealth of information!

I hope you will check back for next week’s post on What I Learned. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you learned this week!

I recently came across Seth Godin’s manifesto on education, Stop Stealing Dreams. This manifesto, written in short, blog-style essays, expounds on the idea that we need to teach our kids, not to memorize facts and figures, but how to dream big. And then we, the parents, educators, librarians, and mentors, need to provide the tools necessary to facilitate those dreams.

We have more information available to us today than any generation before us. With the internet, ebooks, online newspapers, and journals so accessible, it is not the facts themselves that need to be taught, but more what to do with those facts once we find them. Mr. Godin believes that schools, libraries, and institutes of higher learning all need to be revamped in order to provide our kids the opportunity to lead, to create, and to dream. I can’t say that I agree with everything that Mr. Godin is advocating but it certainly leads to some wonderful discussions!

Now whether or not you agree with Mr Godin’s ideas for change, there is one point I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with: learning and exploration should not cease with the end of formal education. Yet how many of us go through each day doing nearly the same tasks over and over again? I know I do! And, while this certainly isn’t a bad thing (and I can’t imagine having kids and not having some sort of routine), how often are we learning a new skill or exploring a new topic?

Mr. Godin wrote:

Don’t wait for it. Pick yourself. Teach yourself. Motivate your kids. Push them to dream, against all odds.

It is with this idea that I kick off “What-I-Learned Wednesday” where I will chronicle my attempt to learn or practice one new skill, or explore one new topic, each week. Because how many of us have already learned all that we need or want to know?

Check back each Wednesday to see What I Learned. If you would like to join me, I invite you to post what you have learned (or hope to) in the comments.