Archive for August, 2012

Let me preface this by saying i am an artist. Not everyone is, but i don’t think that should stop folks from making things from scratch. Making things by hand is often cheaper but most importantly: can be totally customized! I can’t stand standing at a card display searching “for that perfect card” when i could just whip up something myself. That doesn’t mean i NEVER buy cards, but i usually don’t.

I recently made my sister’s baby shower invitations. I drew and scanned the artwork, designed the cards and envelopes on my computer and printed onto blank cards and envelopes. I also added something very special: blank fabric flags for the guests to fill in their best wishes for my sister and her new baby. You can read all about the invitations and blessing banner at my three part series that i recently finished over at Pocket Pause.

I plan on making all my Christmas presents again this year: knit hats, mittens, soaps and other crafty Miranda things. It’s nice to reach out and give handmade things all year long, however. People love receiving something that you made just for them. Handmade is from the heart. You just can’t beat it!

What’s your favorite handmade item to give as a special gift?

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It’s not so much “having it all” as it is “how’s it all going to get done.”

Because this is the problem. It all needs to get done– the child care, the cooking, the shopping, the sex, the yard and the garden. The commute and the job; the vacation and the “me time.”

Just because I’m a liberated woman, married to a liberated man, and raising liberated children doesn’t mean the world has somehow liberated itself from the need to eat and clean.

Hiring a cleaning lady and eating at restaurants doesn’t count. For one thing, it just reassigns the work; it doesn’t make it go away. For another, those options come with significant cost in both money and time.

What we have done as a society is to reassign, not just the work, but the value. We have decided that activities comprising housewifery are not valuable. And I’m not talking about the trope that we deeply honor traditional “choices.” I’m talking we literally place no value on it, as in “not included in the GDP” unless you pay cash money for it (i.e. cleaning ladies and restaurants, not that anyone who isn’t seeking a high level political appointment is actually declaring their cleaning lady’s income on their tax returns).

Labor is no longer, can no longer, be divided in industrial societies by gender. That horse has left the barn. So now it’s divided either socio-economically (there’s that cleaning lady again), or inefficiently, household by household. At my house I do all the cooking, and he does all the dish washing. At your house he does all the car pooling, and you do all the teacher conferences. Across the street, she mows the lawn, and he does the laundry.

Of course, if there is no “he” to go with the “she” (or vice versa), the division becomes more challenging still. If the head of that household is your cleaning lady it’s more complicated still, with a nice political guilt trip thrown in.

Well off women can catch a little break, as can families willing to sacrifice prosperity (i.e. double income) to living traditional gender divisions. Families whose income derives from a source other than wage labor–farmers, craftspeople, shopkeepers (the old fashioned kind, that own their shops), can find it easier to make sensible labor divisions, although I think in these families you’re still more likely than in the past to see him cooking and her feeding the livestock, or driving the tractor, or stocking the shelves.

Perhaps the culprit is not the loss of God in industrial lives, or the greed and hubris of feminists, or the lure of the double income or the need to do something with that PhD. Perhaps the culprit is time, specifically time that we spend in cars. Get rid of the commute, and the car pool, and the after school activities, and the remote far flung grocery stores, and it will be easier to divide our time among the labors that we need to live.

The labor will be divided, because the work has to be done. Maybe, if we did it a little closer to home, it would be easier.

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I have to laugh, because I have a great old sewing machine(affectionately called “The Dinosaur!”) Oh, it has had quite a work out over its lifetime, but one reason I am especially happy to have it is for patching things.Why? Well, I would much rather save the money than go out and buy new shorts just because there is a tear in them when I can fix it. Call it frugal. Call it cheap. Call it whatever you want, but I call it resourceful and I just saved a bunch of money.

It does get used for other things, in fact you may remember a post I did around the holidays about making napkins. I also posted recently over at Sincerely, Emily about being motivated to sew and I mentioned 5 pairs of shorts that I patched. I won’t tell you how long those shorts have been waiting. What I will tell you is that they were hardly missed or there would have been a need to patch them a lot sooner. My husband has enough shorts to last at least 3 weeks without needing to wash them. Same goes for things like underwear. I tease him, because he has so many t-shirts that he could wear one each day for the next 10 years and still not need to do laundry, but I can’t change that and each time he leaves home for an air show or trip, he will always come home with a minimum of 2 new t-shirts. You get my point. Anyway, I finally got around to patching his shorts.

First up, a sheet – its side hem had come out. For this I used a simple straight stitch – that is about as easy as it gets. I back stitch as each end to ensure it won’t come undone. Now, I know the sheet pattern is dated, but any sheet I can patch to save is better than worrying about fashion. It will be used as a top sheet over the beds to help protect the better sheets from cat hair and other cat related things (fur balls!)

Next up was the shorts. The first pair needed the waistband re-attached. Fairly easy, but the stopping and starting at each belt loops slowed the process down. After I repaired the parts that needed it, I also continued around the waistband to reinforced the rest of it so we wouldn’t need to re-visit that anytime soon. I always go a bit overboard, but I was there and it went quickly and it was the right thing to do.

After that I focused on the other shorts. They all had rips and tears in different spots. Years ago I used the iron on patches and they would last a while, but not long enough. Then I used the zig-zag stitch in different lengths and widths to mend these things. This time I decided a few spots needed some additional reinforcing (like the one you see pictured on the left.) I grabbed a rag (used to be a pair of short) that had some good weight to it and would hold up to the patch as well as hold the shorts together for a little while longer. In fact, I think the patches will outlast the shorts now. Like I said earlier, I tend to go a bit overboard.
All the shorts are patched and put back on the shelf to wear. Some have been patched more than once. Those will be worn around the house while the others are still good to wear to work.

I am glad I have my trust old sewing machine. It has done well over the years with regular tune-ups and no repairs of any nature. After 30+ good years, I get a bit worried because most of the major parts are no longer available and a day may come when something major happens and it is not fixable. Well, I increased my odds…. I bought another one – same model and everything.

I found it at a garage sale. It works well and has been recently serviced. Whatever happens to my Dinosaur, I either have another one for parts or to use if it comes down to that. For $40 is was far less than a replacement machine would cost.

Click on the badge to go see what others are doing.

Do you find you use your machine a lot for patching things? Do you have any techniques you can share with me?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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If you’re vinegar, you must respect your mother. She can survive for months in a dark and stuffy bottle, only to come back to life and create magical chemistry to turn cider into tangy and delicious vinegar. The mother of vinegar, much like the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) of Kombucha, the m.o.v. is a skin-like film that develops at the top of a batch of brewing vinegar. It’s weird. It’s amazing. It’s mysterious.

I’m relatively new to vinegar making. I made my first batch by simply leaving some raw cider out, covered with a cloth, to ferment and turn to vinegar (passing by the intoxicating hard cider). This was the best vinegar i’d ever had and i’m hopeful that this new batch made from store-bought cider will be reminiscent of this original wild vinegar.

I’d love to hear from you! Are you an experienced vinegar brewer? Please comment with your experiences or any fun facts about what’s really going on in that translucent mother floating in my mason jar. You can also read more about my vinegar making over at Pocket Pause.

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Tanglewood’s Emily, here.

Sometimes a woman has got to make a choice that she knows may turn out to be a bad one. I try to be financially responsible; I really do, but there are just some things that I have a real soft spot for.

Like ponies…

and itty bitty weanlings…

This summer I have decided that, while I still intend to bake like a madwoman, and I’ll continue to pursue the market bakery in the cold months, I am truly a horsewoman at heart. I eat, sleep and breathe horses. I don’t go a single day without muck on my shoes, dust in my nose and hay in my hair.

So when I saw these two were available and very local, I got a little excited. I have always wanted a little buckskin horse (the golden base coat with black agouti points), ever since I rode my favorite childhood school pony, Snapple, who was colored likewise. This mare is adorable, intelligent and very sweet. She will make a fantastic school pony, with the athleticism to do anything and the barrel to hold my leg so that even though I’m too tall to show her, I can ride and train her. ūüôā

I’m also a sucker for new challenges, and a weanling filly will be precisely that. It’s not even the cute factor that got me. It’s the fact that I now have a horse project that I’ve never had before. Something new and horse related that isn’t teaching lessons and training other people’s horses and mucking stalls and handling clients (etc etc etc). This something is going to be my mental health project. In theory it’ll keep a bit of “horses” left for me, where it has become nearly all¬†business¬†over the past few years.

It’s hard when you take a passion of yours and turn it into your primary line of work. I know some of the other writers here can attest to this as well. When your passions become mandatory, they can lose their sparkle and shine a little. I’ve been teaching and training for more than ten years now and while I am ecstatic to be able to do what I love for a living, I also feel a growing seed of exhaustion in my soul. (Oh my, that was a wee bit dramatic wasn’t it.)

I’m really thinking that this little filly will be exactly what I need to rediscover the sparkle and shine (Oooo shiny) that to horse world used to hold for me. It holds the promise of some indescribable connection with an animal so starkly different from myself, which is alluring and fascinating and… I learned a new word. It’s been floating around facebook for a little while and I just had to share it because it’s close, but not exactly what I feel.


It’s a Japanese word.

It’s described as: “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe‚Ķ”

That’s what I seek to rekindle in my experiences with horses. Hopefully I won’t just end up miserably sinking a bunch of money into it. HAH!

Have you ever made a conscious decision to rediscover a passion with a fresh twist? 

Also as a quick aside, do any of our readers know much about foal colors? The foal was born brown with a black dorsal, black mane and agouti markings but she has yellow highlights throughout her foal coat. Now that she is shedding she appears to be showing mousy brown coat (under her tail and around her eyes and muzzle) with what appears to be yellow hairs mixed in. Do you think she could be a dark buckskin? Grulla? Her mother is a typical buckskin and her father is fairly unknown, but there was a black (black bay?) quarter horse stallion on the property when she was rescued and she definitely has a QH hind end. 

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You Say Potato…

I’m just going to spit it out.¬† My garden was a DISASTER this year!¬† Though I would like to blame it on the rain (haha… Milli Vanilli song!), or lack there of, I would say I’m also largely responsible. I have been WAY too busy this summer, so the only things that survived the drought and my lack of attention were onions, potatoes, and one volunteer cherry tomato plant.

The irony of the situation is that this is the first time I’ve ever planted onions and potatoes!¬† I planted them both in March, watered them a little, and basically forgot about them.¬† I was so excited when #1 and I dug them up last weekend!¬† Last night we had a pork roast with carrots and potatoes for dinner.¬† Tomorrow we’re planning on scrambled eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes.¬† I’m sure the family will get sick of them soon enough, but for now we’re having fun with it!

I love watching the boys realize where their food comes from, especially when they helped plant and harvest it!¬† I’ve also noticed they’re more likely to eat things they wouldn’t normally try when they’ve been involved with the whole growing process.

At this point, I’m planning on clearing everything out so I can put in a cover crop.¬† (Another first for me!)¬† I’m getting there slowly but surely.¬† It’s so hard not to get frustrated when things don’t go “my” way, but I’m working on it!

Are you growing a first time crop in your garden this year?  Hopefully something more interesting than potatoes!

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I fasted this year for Ramadan.

Well, I fasted the first day of Ramadan.

Okay, I ate breakfast around 7:30 a.m. (well after sunrise), and then did not eat or drink anything until about 6:30 that evening (well before sunset). So I didn’t even do it right, and it was hard.

I’ve been trying to do this for several years (on the theory that I’m not Christian, and yet celebrate Christmas, nor Jewish yet attend Seders, nor Wiccan and yet spout nonsense. You get the idea.)

I’ve never made it past 3 p.m. before. It’s not so much going without food–that’s easy. No drinking, however, is murderously hard. I found myself thinking, hmmm if I take a shower and water flows into my mouth–who’s to know? (God, Xan. God will know.)¬† I figure, hey, if 1.3 billion people can fast for a month, I can do it for a day. And should– one should understand 22% of the world’s population I think. Next year I’ll add the prayers if I can figure out what they are, and maybe an Eid feast. Not sure I’ll ever make it a full month, even with the promise of a blow-out feast at the end.

Holiday rituals have always been an impenetrable mystery to me, growing up as I did in a household that maintained holiday externals, like decorations, while excoriating the religious underpinning (like God). Ritual is lacking in the lives of seculars like me. And rituals involving deprivation– Lent, Ramadan, Passover, Yom Kippur, are especially unavailable-it’s hard to deprive yourself in isolation. Deprivation binds you with the others thus afflicted; on one’s own it can seem a little silly. I guess this is what makes Weight Watchers work.

Next up on the deprivation list? There’s always No Buy February, but closer in the calendar is Yom Kippur. So–no activities “exercising control over one’s environment” on Yom Kippur? Impractical for me to follow that one every week, although weekly Shabbot proscriptions are a rather lovely binding ritual if done in community.¬† And then there’s Lent– surely I can deprive myself of something that I get to choose for a month? Even if it’s just me?

And I already know those prayers.

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Last February over at Sincerely, Emily I posted about the body powder that I have been making for a couple of years. This spring I tried something new.

Chiggers can be a problem around here and I have had more than enough chigger bites to last me a life-time. While I know this, the chiggers didn’t seem to get the memo. Those darn bites had me thinking and thinking about what I could do to prevent them.

To combat the mosquitoes I just grab a few leaves of lemon balm and rub them on my arms and legs. The other plant I have turned to is the rose scented geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). Not only does it help with the mosquitoes, but it smells fantastic too! (you may remember my post about rose scented geranium back in April.)

That really got me thinking about those darn chigger bites.

As the leaves dry on my rose scented geranium, I tend to pull them off and set them inside to to continue to dry. When I snip off the ends to start a new plant, I take the leaves that I have pulled off and take them inside to dry. After doing this for a few years I had quite a nice pile of dried leaves.

I decided to grind the dry rose scented geranium leaves and add them to my body powder. I thought that since the fresh leaves did such a nice job on the mosquitoes, then maybe the dry ones mixed with the body powder might, just might, help keep the chiggers at bay.

I started using my new powder blend this spring and it has worked wonders for me. Before I head out to work outside in the morning or evening I powder myself up around my mid-section, paying close attention to the areas that my clothes bind (chiggers love those spots.) Even if I powdered up in the morning, I will still re-apply in the evening when I head back outside.

My Version of the basic powder:

  • 1 T Baking Soda
  • 3 T Cornstarch
  • 3 T Arrowroot powder

Add 1-2 T Ground Rose Scented Geranium

Play with the mixture until you find a blend that works for you (less cornstarch/arrowroot and more baking soda until it works for you)

I know I said it before, but this has worked wonders for me. I hope it might work for you too. Let me know if you try it.

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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It seems jamming plums is a popular thing to do with us Dabblers. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a heavily laden plum tree at the edge of a neighbor’s yard. Since they weren’t picking the plums, i picked a pretty peck for myself! Over 15 pounds! I dried the first batch, but as we’re out of jam i felt the need to get the canning supplies out and make some jam!

I am not a fastidious person. This laziness makes canning difficult for me. Once i get going, i’m fine – but i’m frequently daunted by all the cleaning and preparing that is necessary for safe canned goods and often end up just freezing my work instead of processing it – which is really lame when you have a small freezer but plenty of cupboard space. I wasn’t a chicken this time, and put up 10 half pints of plum/blackberry (last year’s frozen berries) jam and half a dozen jars of spicy plum sauce which i think will accompany the rabbits i have in the freezer quite nicely.

I got the plum sauce recipe right out of the Ball Blue Book and scrimcoached the jam recipe. As i cooked down the fruit i perchanced to notice that the coupon found in my pectin box was dated 2008…. finding that odd i looked more closely at the expiration date on the pectin itself: April 2010! Woopsy! I only bought this pectin last year, though i did buy it from the bare and no de-funct grocery store here in Philomath……¬†¬† Note my lack of fastidiousness. Luckily, the jam tastes and jelled just fine- so i think i’m in the clear. I used about 2 cups sugar to 5 pounds chopped plums and berries with a splash of lemon juice and a package of pectin. I can’t wait for toast this Winter spread on homemade bread and raw butter. No baking this time of year, it’s too darned hot!

What’s been filling your canning jars so far this Summer?

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Some things in life are guaranteed: the sun will rise in the east, corn will grow in Illinois, and there will be construction on I57 at Kankakee.

From the wide sky over Lake Michigan, waves rolling into the shore; the sight is worth the sand blowing tiny stings into my bare skin as I cross the beach. The aftermath of storm has left a rare rip tide. I ride it out of town.

I miss the prairie.

Another wide sky, with nothing to block it except the occasional wind farm coming over the horizon. Unlike the lake’s wide sky, this one fills the pirouette– no wall of highrises behind me. An inch of landscape and a mile high sky, all the way around.

As I roll down the highway in the early bright morning, my eyes and my heart are full with my love for this landscape.

In keeping with the  farmland solitude, the college town that is my destination is in that deep breath before the storm: the waiting period between summer and fall, before the cityites and suburbanites descend with their noisy, store-bought culture, forcing the eye back to ground level.

You can keep your mountains, and rolling blue hills, the picturesque, the monumental, and the grand. This land speaks to me,¬† fills my soul and completes the circuits in my brain in a way that I can’t describe. Why do I forget this in the city, where I pretend to be like city folk, louche and sophisticated. Is anyone fooled?

I dream of returning to a place with a horizon, with the endless prairie sky, uninterrupted- no mountain, no valley, scaled by the gods.

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