Tuesday, November 30, 2010

FO - The Menorah Pillow

I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but finally gave it to my mother-in-law for Hanukkah today and can share pictures of it.

I saw the pattern a couple of years ago, and have wanted to make it ever since. It just looked intriguing, with the cables and the 'flames' and such. It was a pleasure to knit, except for a few errors in the chart - anyone making this should be sure to look up the errata before beginning so they don't end up ripping rows out like I did.

Pattern: Menorah Pillow by Suzanne Atkinson from Handknit Holidays
Yarn: Red Heart Super Saver acrylic (super-durable so it'll last.)
Needles: size 7 straights

My finished project turned out to be 18"x18" instead of the 14"x14" that the pattern claimed to be. I didn't get gauge so this is probably my fault. Anyway, square pillows are easy to find in most even-inch sizes. I backed it with a cotton in a similar color, with three buttons holding it closed. Overall, I'm glad I finally gave in and made it, it was just enough of a challenge to follow an intricate cable chart while trying to parent small children that it kept me on my toes. :-)

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Holiday Letter

"Don't you sometimes feel that this is the kind of life we were meant to live on this earth? Everything we need, everything, right here, right at our fingertips. You know, if only people could have all this and be satisfied, I don't think there'd be any real problems in the world." -Father, Swiss Family Robinson

I finally gave in this year and copied everyone else: I wrote a generic "Holiday Letter" to send out to family and friends. Up until this year I've hand written a personal letter inside every card I send out. This year, I got lazy busy, so a generic letter it is. (However, the cards themselves are all still handmade, so I think that means I only qualify as halfway lazy.)

Writing an annual letter requires you to think back over the past year, reflect on all you've done and enjoyed and accomplished, so that you can share those things with the ones you love. It didn't take too many minutes of sitting in front of a blank Microsoft Word screen for me to realize how boring my life is. We went camping. I taught school. Chloe collected bugs. Cora likes dolls. Andrew hunted. I grew food. Merry Christmas.

Life here at our place really is pretty dull. No, that's not true, it's not dull. It's perfectly interesting. It's just that is so.... simple. And truly, I like it that way. We may not have done a whole year's worth of fantastic and exciting things, but we stay busy. We learn, we laugh, we love, and we're all very happy. But it doesn't sound like much to write it all in a once-yearly letter to friends and family that we don't stay in very good touch with.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Recycled Crafting: Old Crayons

It's been four years since I bought new crayons. When I was coloring with the girls the other day, I realized that our box of crayons was very well used. Most of the crayons were broken, many were missing wrappers, none had sharp points. I decided it was time to invest in a new box of crayons.

But what to do with the old crayons? There are lots of websites with ideas for recycling old crayons. I settled on melting them into "new" crayons. It's an easy process that most of us have done before, but was nonetheless exciting for my kiddos.

If you've got a three year old, set her to work peeling crayon wrappers. It should keep her busy for most of the afternoon.

Once they're all peeled, break them into small pieces.

Then put the pieces into a muffin tin. (Don't use your good muffin tin. I picked one up at Goodwill for seventy-nine cents.) We decided to do some rainbow crayons, and also some single-color crayons. For example, we filled one tin with all different colors of blue so that when you color with it you get multi-hued blue.

Then we baked them - 300 degrees until they were all melted, about ten minutes. It happens quickly enough that Two Little Girls were content to sit and watch the wax melt.

Let them cool for awhile - it took ours about an hour - and then pop them out of the muffin tin and they're ready to use.

Nothing terribly exciting, but it entertained my girls for awhile, anyway. And the new "crayons" make for fun blocks too - Littlest One had a fantastic time seeing how high she could stack them. :-)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The end of The Diet

Twelve weeks ago, I started a sort of cleansing diet. Twelve weeks ago, I wasn't sure I'd survive.

For three months, I didn't eat any sugar (or honey, or agave, or maple syrup, or any other sweeteners except stevia), wheat, dairy, yeast, fruits (except sour apples), fermented foods or processed foods.

Most folks hear that list, and wonder what I did eat. To put it simply: meat, vegetables, and whole grains.

You'd be amazed at how hard it is to give up sugar. When you think of sugar, you think of sweets - cookies, candy, etc. But it's in everything, everywhere you look, hiding behind all kinds of different names. Most crackers have sugar, even the kind at the health food store have "evaporated cane juice" which is, um, sugar. Salad dressings all have sugar, and if not sugar, then honey. Or even worse, high fructose corn syrup. Everywhere you turn, every label you read, there's probably sugar in some form. And the addiction to sugar! Oh man, it's a hard thing to give up. The first two weeks were absolutely terrible. My blood sugar has been completely off kilter for.. eh, about the last twenty eight years. To cut sugar completely and let my body regulate was not an easy thing. It's funny though, without sugar in my diet, I've got more energy than I've ever had before. It feels so good to not be exhausted all day, to have energy to keep up with everything I need to do, to have the energy to run around with my kids. Funny how sugar just sucks the energy out of you, and how much you notice it after you've given it up.

There were some things I really missed - and some things I didn't think I would. The worst was skipping the slice of still-warm bread on baking day. I still had to cook all the things I wasn't eating, since I do have a family. Poor Chloe - "Um, Mom? That diet's not on us too, is it?" Both children were very helpful, actually. If I did cheat (which I did about five times in the 12 weeks of the diet) they would remind me: "Mom, that's not on your diet." If someone offered me something I couldn't have, they'd tell them, "Mom's on a diet, she can't have that." I snapped at them a few times - I didn't need diet police, thanks.

I learned to substitute: almond milk for regular milk, spelt or brown rice flour instead of whole wheat, stevia for sweetening. Have you seen the commercials for Stevia in the Raw? I didn't know it existed until I saw it on the shelf. It claims to work as a "cup for cup alternative" to sugar. It's a lie. Don't buy it, the stuff tastes absolutely awful. Stevia tends to be slightly bitter, but in that form, it's terrible. And the filler is a by-product of the corn industry, which I find irritating. Anyway, I did find a more natural version of stevia and learned to use it for some things, but it's definitely not the same as sugar.

I concocted a few "sweets" recipes - carob-chip cookies, apple crumble. Of course, they weren't actually sweet. The cookies were hilarious to me - they looked like cookies. They had the texture of cookies, chips even. They just didn't actually taste like cookies. It's amazing the things that taste good though, when you're not eating much. Apples (the only fruit I could have) were sweet enough to get me through my worst sugar cravings - buckwheat flapjacks topped with simmered apples and cinnamon turned into one of my favorite meals. Thankfully, I did this diet through apple season here - nothing beats fresh, local, organic apples.

I learned some things philosophically too. I think it's mentally healthy to deny one's self something once in awhile, it builds confidence and strength. Learning to resist temptation is good for the soul: it's especially difficult when that temptation is Mom's lasagna and apple pie. Or buttermilk pancakes. Truly, my mother's cooking was the hardest thing to avoid.

Now that it's over? I'll probably never go back to the way I ate before, except maybe as an occasional treat. My body's much happier with the way I've been eating the past three months - I can't find any reason not to keep it up. I'll add back in a few things - honey, whole wheat. The rest of it, I'm pretty happy without it.

Except that we're coming up on Christmas cookie season. I did great resisting temptation, but I'm not sure even I have it in me to pass on Russian tea cakes and chocolate-dipped brownies!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

FO's - a sweater, a scarf, and a hat.

The recent realization that Christmas is just around the corner has had me knitting and sewing and crocheting somewhat maniacally for the past couple of weeks.

Of course, I can't show you what I've been making since they are supposed to be a surprise. So you'll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I'll show you some of the things I finished before the "Oh, crap, it's November!" thought occurred.

This is Shalom. For a girl who's been spending a good portion of her time studying all things Biblical and Jewish, finding a pattern called Shalom seemed... well, I was going to say coincidental. Heh. Anyway, I'm not sure if I made Shalom because I really liked the pattern, or if I just liked the name. Now that it's finished, I'm not sure if I keep wearing it because I really like it, or if I still just like the name.

Knit on size 10 1/2 needles and bulky yarn, it's a fairly quick knit. The fact that I hate (hate) to purl made the yoke kind of miserable, but it wasn't difficult. I had to do a bit of resizing, seamed the armholes to make them smaller. There's a lot I don't like about it, but a lot I do like about it, too. It's a free pattern - if you're a knitter, do check out the link.


This is a pretty little scarf I made a month or two ago. I didn't need another scarf. However, when I was shopping at Ross one day, I discovered a bin of bamboo yarn for $1.99 a ball. I got excited - more at the fact that Ross carried yarn than anything - and I bought three balls in colors that could barely be considered coordinating. And then I brought them home, and wondered for awhile why on earth I'd bought these three balls of yarn. Then I found a crochet pattern for a Wool Bam Boo Scarf (the most generic name in the world) and I decided it looked like a good starting point. This is what I ended up with:

Huge blocks of five colors, alternating in a way that doesn't make sense, with pretty little stripes at the bottom to tie it all together. I'm actually really happy with it. So much so that I bought the lime green sweater so I'd have something to wear the scarf with.

I did use Symphonia for the center white panel and regret it. Never use Symphonia. For anything, really, except maybe in the kitchen for tying cheese cloth or trussing a pork roast.

Pattern: Wool Bam Boo Scarf in Interweave Crochet Fall 2006
Yarn: Queensland Collection Bamboo Cotton (and that wretched Symphonia.)


And a little beret I made for Littlest One, because I had the yarn in my stash and it matched her pretty little brown sweater (a hand me down from a best friend, and so much beloved.)

It's not the best-looking hat I've ever made. Thankfully Littlest One is pretty cute, and makes just about anything look good.

Pattern: Feather and Fan Slouchy Beret by Violet Green (free pattern)
Yarn: Lion Cotton

And that's all... until I finish some of the several projects I've currently got going.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Responsibilities of the Big Sister.

There are a lot of benefits to being the oldest.

Like getting to lick all the brownie batter without any help because your little sister is taking a nap while Mom's baking.

I have dozens of pictures of my children licking spatulas, wooden spoons, bowls and beaters. Because they do this at least once a week. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it. They don't complain much though. :o)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A bit of success in the cold frame...

...but just a bit.

Last fall, my sweet husband built this cold frame for me:

(Doesn't the garden look naked now, without any plants in it?
I bet it's embarrassed to have it's nude photo
plastered up on a website like this.)

I attempted to plant some things early this spring but had minimal success. I'm not sure what's so different about growing in a cold frame - truly, just a wooden frame over the same dirt as the rest of the garden - but I can't get anything to sprout reliably in there!

This fall, I've at least managed to get started a decent crop of kale. And tons of radish greens.

Right - radish greens. That's what you get when you plant radishes and they don't actually form bulbs, but grow beautiful greens. Which aren't terribly useful.

The whole half of the cold frame that I planted in spinach was a flop - two plants out of a hoped-for forty came up. Two spinach plants might make one salad... for the toddler. There are also a couple of random heads of lettuce starting and a scant row of spring greens. (No one told them it's not spring, so they seem to be content in growing in the cool fall weather.)

It's too cold to plant anything now, I can't imagine anything would actually sprout. So I'll have to be content with what is already growing, and maybe read up on cold-frame planting for next year.

The good news: I harvested enough greens to supplement our salad tonight, along with a couple of small leeks. It's a satisfying thing to be harvesting food halfway into November, even if it's only a tiny bit!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Play-dough

We have 28 different shades of store-bought Play Doh. But that fact wasn't enough to stop me when I ran across this article with directions for Pumpkin Pie Play Dough on familyfun.com.

Play dough that smells like pumpkin pie? Ingenious! Because really, anything that smells like pumpkin pie is ingenious. (Except pumpkin pie itself, which I find disgusting.)

I let the girls help mix it. They both saw how much salt went in. I explained to them that this play dough would smell really yummy, but would taste terrible. They both nodded their understanding. And then I gave them each a ball to play with. And they both sniffed it. And the first thing they each did was tear off a little piece and eat it. They listen well.

Anyway, we made the green pasta 'stems' to use for pumpkins. When that got boring (which it quickly did) I gave them each a little pile of black beans, popcorn kernels, and rose hips, and some bamboo skewers and popsicle sticks. That made it a lot more fun - we had sculpted faces, aliens, and even Buddha. (I'm sad the Buddha got destroyed before I got a photo, because he was pretty fantastic.)

If you're looking for a great way to entertain kids when it's spitting snow outside and you've still got three hours til dinnertime, or if you want your house to smell like pumpkin pie without nearly as much effort as an actual pie, homemade play dough sculptures just might be the answer. No need to seek the fancy, expensive activities - the simple ones still seem to thrill them plenty.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fresh Dirt.

All spring and summer long, my girls have patiently awaited this:

For the garden to be done, for it to be cleaned out, and for Daddy to till it all under. For permission to dig like crazy without having to worry about where something is planted, what might be growing, or compacting the soil.

One is building a mountain. The other is digging a burrow in which to hibernate all winter. When she gets really restless sometime in January, I'll send her outside to hibernate in her burrow for awhile.

Not even exaggerating, they spent all day yesterday and much of the day today outside diggin' in the dirt. In fact, school work got done at record speed, because they knew as soon as they were done they could go dig.

Sadly, it's all about to end: they're calling for snow tonight. :::sigh:::

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I roasted a goose!

Two goose posts in two days...

There have been two whole snow geese in my freezer since March. For eight months, I've feared preparing a Roast Goose. Have you ever read up on how to roast a goose? Virtually every article and recipe start out the same: "Roast goose has a bad reputation. It can be greasy, fatty, and livery, unless you know how to do it right."

That's not encouraging. I've never roasted a goose - I sure as heck don't know how to do it 'right'.

I checked in the Little House Cookbook. It involved seventeen hours of cooking on a wood stove with the draught open. I have a good supply of kitchen appliances, but a woodstove with a draught is one thing that's missing.

My Better Homes and Garden cookbook - the standby for everything I could ever want to cook - doesn't actually have even one goose recipe.

After scouring the internet, and finding several different articles and suggestions, I settled on this one from Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook. Based on what I had on hand, and what I read in a few other blogs, I made a few changes: I stuffed the inside of the bird with apples and onions, and I let it roast til the breast was about 142 degrees.

One thing 'they' talk about with geese is the huge amount of fat in them. Apparently this isn't so much an issue with wild snow geese... at least, it wasn't with this one. Hardly a bit of fat on the silly bird, just barely enough to baste it with every 20 minutes or so. Because of this, I covered the whole roasting pan with foil, hoping to get some actual drippings. Not so much a success, but at least it wasn't dry.

So anyway, the verdict: roast goose is really good. It's tender, juicy, and has a mild but definitely distinct flavor. And it really wasn't that hard. Other than pricking the skin to allow the fat to drain (which was probably unnecessary with this particularly fat-less bird) it wasn't any different than roasting a chicken. I served it with basmati rice and home grown roasted beets. The carcass is in the crock pot now, hopefully turning into goose broth for soup this week.

I'm glad I finally sucked it up and tried it - it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. I'm pretty sure it won't take me another 8 months to roast the next one.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A goose feather pillow - finally.

Back in March, hubby went on a goose hunt and came home with six geese. If you'll remember, I kept some of the goose feathers with the intention of making a pillow.

The first step in making a goose-feather pillow is to freeze any creepy crawlies out of the feathers. I filled a trash bag with feathers and stuck them in the freezer for two weeks. Then I pulled them out for a week (giving any remaining eggs a chance to hatch) and put them back in for another four weeks. At the end of this process, any lice, etc. are supposed to be dead. I hope.

The feathers then sat in my craft room until July, when I finally got around to making a muslin sack for them. Of course, Two Little Girls were more than happy to help stuff the pillow.

And then the plain muslin pillow sat for another three and a half months until today, when I finally got around to making a cute little pillowcase for it.

The inspiration for the pillowcase came from Sew Liberated - the book that also had the pattern for the cute little apron I made awhile back. Of course, I had to return that book to the library months ago, so I just worked from memory. I'm happy with the result though.
Simple applique using scrap fabric and a hand-drawn pattern, and the blanket stitch setting on my sewing machine. This is the kind of project that in and of itself isn't terribly exciting or unique, but it's one I'll love dearly since I know what went into making it.

Truly, it wasn't hard. There is no good reason for the fact that it took me six months, other than that I just kept getting distracted. I informed my dear husband that I'd like to make more. The look he gave me made it clear that he has no intention of spending that much time plucking goose feathers again. Darn. I guess I should give up on the idea of a goose-down body pillow then...

A Site to Share

As I'm finishing up with the year's canning, I find myself frequently referencing Pick Your Own - a website devoted to eating fresh, healthy, local foods by preserving them.

I found the site awhile back, when I first started learning to can things. Ever since, I've checked it out for just about every item I put by. Most of the recipes are Ball Blue Book basics, but they're laid out with pictures and tips for making the work easier.

There is also information for processing and freezing pumpkin, zucchini, and most other garden vegetables.

If you want to learn to can, but still think it sounds intimidating, do check out Pick Your Own - it does such a great job of simplifying everything and making it really seem doable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Plan B

Well, big game hunting seasons are all over for us now, and no elk. Or bear. Thankfully, he brought home a doe one evening, so there is 40 pounds of venison in the freezer. Poor guy spent a LOT of time driving and hiking in the mountains to no avail aside from that one deer. And one deer won't feed us all winter like a big elk (or two) would have. I'm proud of him for trying though. You win some, you lose some, right?

So that means we move forward with Plan B. If we won't be able to eat wild game all winter, we'll start calling around to find a good price on a healthy, grass fed beef. There's a huge upside to buying half a beef: it's already processed. We don't have to stand in a barn for twelve hours cutting meat off of a carcass. We don't have to grind our own ground either, a process that takes at least another 12 hours, if not longer.

With the twenty five pounds of the venison we intend to grind, I'll make more homemade sausage. The sausage is the most important to me of everything - have you ever seen the price of natural, nitrite- and nitrate-free sausage? It's outrageous, and oh man, I love sausage! I'll share the recipe soon.

If all else fails and we really can't find a healthy beef to buy? Well, I guess there's always Plan C: become vegetarian. But I think my family would protest.

So what do y'all do about meat, if wild game isn't an option? Would love to hear how everyone else is faring this fall with getting meat put by.