Autumn Gardening 

September (and half of October) has flown by – that will happen when most of your week is busy with school, family, and grad work. I have a short break between classes right now, so I’m in frantic finish some projects mode.

Earlier in September, we harvested a 22 pound moon and stars watermelon from my parents’ garden. Funny to think that my son weighs about the same…

We took it to a friends’ house and only ended up eating some of it, enjoying leftovers during the remainder of the week.

I took this shot with the Prisma app, of my mom’s garden and our melon with a large zucchini. I always find fall to be so bittersweet, the coming cool balanced with the bountiful harvest as a result of the long, lovely summer days.

We also harvested some ghost peppers, by night, wearing gloves of course. I opted not to try these beauties. Though Eric and a friend said they were, “pretty warm.”

I’ve been prepping plants to bring in for the winter, as we had our first frost this past week. My Rosemary plant is so happy it bloomed this fall – I’ve never seen this before. They have the loveliest lavender delicate flowers. I look forward to fresh herbs in the howling, bitter dead of winter.

Our pumpkin and squash plants flourished this summer – some were intentionally planted and some volunteers from the compost pile. We picked these three beauties last week, before the frost.

Then we discovered two more large, but still-green pumpkins in the garden! Those sneaky little devils.

The pumpkins, frost, and coming of October inspired me to set up for Halloween.

I put my pulled the corn roots, after harvesting my black corn. The creepy roots, combined with my ceramic pieces from AP art class in high school, create the perfect spooky mood by my front door.

A few dried stalks, a rubber snake, and a ceramic-cast hand are perfect in the now empty planters at my front door.

I placed a few random ceramic masks, created from molds, around on the ground, slightly covered in leaves. My kids still find these frightening, so outside decor they stay.

Bleached Bones + Beetles


A portion of my childhood insect collection.

Quite frankly, this is a post I have been wanting to write but also avoiding like the plague.  It will easily be one of my most personal posts to-date, as it shares parts of my childhood history.  I have always collected objects and items from the natural world – having amassed a large rock and insect collection in my early years, and at some point beginning to include bones.  I grew up in the country, and so the natural world and its circle of life were not at all foreign, scary, or the least bit gross in my mind.  We  had dogs that would regularly bring roadkill up from the wooded ravine, the harsh Iowa winters often took a toll on the old and sick animals, and our cats would present me with a wide array of interesting rodents and birds.  So, quite naturally, I became interested in bones.


Turtle shell (found by my grandmother), sand dollar, and rodent skull.

This wasn’t the typical childhood hobby as it didn’t involve toys, ceramic figurines, or the normal collectibles, though it did involve books – field guides to be exact.  It wasn’t a hobby that I freely discussed with peers at school.  Usually friends found about my bone collection while standing in front of it, looking at stark white skulls that I had painstakingly put back together, labeled, and put on display in my glass case.  My parents didn’t discourage my collecting, but instead bought me a hinged lid, glass display case, much like a Queen Anne jewelry case, in hopes of containing and organizing it.  As the collection grew, my parents maintained a good-natured attitude about my hobby, and to some degree, encouraged my curiosity with the natural world.  I was however, firmly told no, when I checked out a book from the library on taxidermy – my dad very firmly drew the line there.

Even as an adult, when the bone collecting comes up, I skirt away from the topic, never knowing how others will react.  My husband one time said in the presence of some friends, “Give yourself credit, those are museum-quality bones you have in your collection, a collection you started as a kid.”  That encouragement from him has given me the courage to share my self-taught trade secrets on cleaning bones.


More from the collection: raccoon skull, mounted stag beetle, and fossilized plant.

The display case housing my collection is long gone, but in a recent basement clean-out, my parents came across the tub with what remains of my collection.  After tossing out the un-salvageable, I am in the process of trying to decide what parts to allow my children to keep, what to take to school for still life study, and what to display in my current home as a proud reminder of my childhood love.  You can see the beginnings of this display in the vertebrae on the living room built-ins and the illuminated deer head on the living room wall.  Now, thanks to recent inspiration from Busy Mockingbird’s post on Beetles and Bugs, I think I will combine my artmaking and collection in some interesting ways.

I remember when I discovered the rich Southwest scenes and vivid abstract paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe and wanting to know more about her and life life.  I was thrilled reading of her discovery of bones in New Mexico and shipping them back to her studio so she could paint them.  It felt like an ah-ha moment, like perhaps my career choice in the arts made the collecting of bones more appropriate and a part of my destiny.


Bones before cleaning.

Just as Georgia O’Keeffe saw something beautiful in bones, I was always attracted to the lines, negative spaces, and curves of bones.  Not only did I draw them, but I learned all I could about bones, preserving, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, museum studies, and similar avenues of study.  I thought for many years that I would go into such a field as a career.  It was over the course of this self-taught hobby that I learned how to clean the bones, identify species and individual traits, and basic common anatomies.

If I found bones that were not yet bare (i.e. still had skin, fur, etc.), I would place them in an old rabbit cage.  This way, there were exposed to the elements and to any helpful bugs that would speed up the process of decay.  If you are interested in the fascinating stories that bones can tell, I highly recommend the book, The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist, by Mary H. Manhein.  It was one such book I read while delving into this world of bones.

Once the bones are fairly clean, I begin the bleaching process.  I used to use actual bleach – but have since moved to a less chemical-laden method.  I place all the bones into a large plastic bucket or tub.  Next, I boil a large pot or two of water, and I pour into the bucket 1-2 cups of hydrogen peroxide, and then add enough boiling water to submerge the bones.


I always do this outside, for it can be both messy and stinky.  I leave the bones to bubble away, usually 4-6 hours.  Depending on how debris-free the bones are, one soaking may be enough.  If not, I repeat the process.  I have been known to don rubber gloves and scrub the bones with an old toothbrush, as this speeds up the cleaning process significantly.


When the debris is gone from the bones, they are placed to dry, in the sun.  The sun is what completes the bleaching process, making them a brilliant white.


Here are the bones after drying in the sun.  As you can see, there are still a few stained areas.  With a few more cleanings, they may go away, or they may be there to stay.  There is where using household bleach may be helpful, if you truly want them perfectly sun-bleached.  The skull is from a raccoon – a roadkill find.  The jawbones are from a deer – a winter death in my parents’ field.


The rest of the deer had already been cleaned and mounted on the wall to be lit up with battery-powered lights.  I love the new variety that are strung on thin wire – it makes for easy manipulating of the lighting arrangement.  I put this up back in the winter, but have kept it up all year long and have been enjoying it still.

I am always open to questions about the collection, my methods, and the cleaning and preserving processes I use.  I have never done any taxidermy and have never killed any of the animals in my collection.  I am not against hunting, it just isn’t for me.

Tee Shirt Pillows


Two of my toddler’s favorite shirts were Christmas presents last year from grandparents.  The formerly two polka dot shirts, above, adorned my daughter in numerous photographs.  It was to both of our dismay when they very recently became 3/4 length sleeve shirts due to her rapidly growing limbs.  Seriously, it happened overnight.  Santa brought new shoes thinking they would fit in the spring – nope, she is wearing them already!  So, with the favorite shirts no longer in heavy rotation, I decided to immortalize them into pillows for her dolls or her bed.


Originally, I was planning on repurposing three of her critter shirts.  The top kitty shirt was spared because my sweet daughter said to me, “Thank you for the pillows, Mommy, but I was going to give the shirts to Dylan.”  Dylan is her youngest cousin.  I just about melted – I should have been smarter and asked her before cutting up these beloved shirts – of course she would want to share them! So, the My Kitty Loves Hugs shirt was pardoned from pillowization.  (Sidenote: Please excuse my youngest’s leg cameo).


This was an easy sewing project that even children could complete themselves as an introduction to sewing.  Knit fabric is forgiving and can take on interesting shapes.  I was not interested in making perfectly geometric shapes, instead going for a more tilted stylized look.  Next time I cut up old shirts they will be mine or I was ask permission first.  Lesson learned!


Baby Room Tour is what the now baby room looked like when we fist moved in to our house a year ago.  It became a dumping ground until we moved in completely, hence the odd assortment of items in the room.  This room was so blah and dark when we moved in, due to the wooden shutters that covered up the windows and a paint color that needed refreshing.

The room started off as Greta’s room and actually was about the same color as her old room in Greensboro.  I never did love the color in either room – Greensboro’s was just so close to army green and this house, though more of a sage green, was not what I really wanted in a bedroom.  I knew the color had to go eventually, but we lived with it for the better part of a year.

cribThe room is much brighter now – we went with white on 3/4 of the room and a bluish gray on the other 1/4 of the room.  I have other paint ideas that I would like to do at some point, but getting it done was the name of the game with this nursery.

We reused Greta’s old crib, got a new rocking chair, and used black out roller shades for the windows instead of the shutters.  The crib doesn’t go with my other color palette quite as much – though one could argue the green is in the complementary color scheme with the reds.  I was not about to paint an Ikea crib – just not something I was in the mood to do.

dresserThe dresser has already been shown off in a previous post.  I just love the way it turned out.  It has more than enough room for all the baby essentials and keeps all the cloth diapers easily sorted and organized!  The two large prints above the dresser are ones that I completed in an Illustrator class I took earlier this year.  I knew what colors I was leaning toward at that point and created 2 images in the general gray/black/white/red palette.

wallHis toys and books (what hasn’t been pilfered by his sister) are organized on a hand-me-down bookcase we’ve had for years that will no doubt see many more years of work.  He even got his first bike themed artwork at the Des Moines Pedal art show earlier this spring.

We kept the room sparse, just like Greta’s room.  I find it easier to navigate a sparse kids’ room in the middle of the night.  Two walls are still bare of artwork – I like to give my kids a chance to choose some of their own decor to make their room their personal space.




Paper Airplane Mobile

airplane.mobileThis nifty and very easy to make mobile is now hanging in a corner of the our completed nursery.  Hooray for a finished and lovely space for baby!  I will give you a tour of the rest of his room in due time.

red.stickTo make this mobile I simply found an interesting stick from our yard and cleaned it up a little.  I trimmed the ends to shape it, and then wiped it off in preparation for painting.  I used a high gloss red spray paint to cover the entire stick – this color is a theme throughout his room.  There are some interesting areas of black that poke through from underneath the red due to the texture of the bark.


Then, with the help of Eric and this fun (er, challenging) book, Awesome Paper Planes, we made a few paper airplanes.  By we, I mean Eric.  I have always struggled with origami and anything that involves precision folding and following step-by-step directions.  My cranes always turn out mangled and sloppy.  I always feel bad about this lack of skill, because every year I have a student who is dying to try origami and I have yet to master the most basic projects.

mobile.closeupTo assemble the mobile, we hung the branch from a small hook installed in the ceiling.  Then, I hand sewed three lengths of thread through each airplane.  These three pieces of thread create a triangular shape – think like the stability of three legs of a stool.  The three strands help each airplane hang like it is flying.  Each airplane was then tied on to the branch.  It is soothing to watch the mobile spin slowly in a breeze and look forward to rocking my son under it.