The History Mystery and Whispering Seeds

The Three Sisters method will be employed.  This town is called Kiowa after all and the soil belonged to tribes.  Smoke Signals will be planted in the far center garden bed.  The rows will look over the rest of the garden beds, standing proud of their heritage.  Their multi-colored, brilliant ears will provide delicious popcorn.  How many American Indian ladies planted this same corn?  And the Black Aztec will be in the next bed to try my hand at making blue cornmeal.  Did my great, great grandmother use the same varietal?  And the Golden Bantam, the original sweet corn, will adorn the other side.  Ancient seeds carried in covered wagons and in pouches.

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So many choices!  Buy organic seeds?  Or conventional seeds?  For me the clear choice as a history buff with too much imagination are heirlooms.  Who doesn’t want pink and brown pumpkins scrambling around their Aztec corn?  The colors excite me.  The histories enthrall me and I feel connected to every farmer, every family before me who fed their family using these seeds.

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Heirlooms are an important part of sustainability.  They are not genetically modified. They are pollinated by bees and birds and butterflies and the seeds can be saved so that my great, great grandchild will wonder who I was but know that I planted orange watermelons and that I may have been a little eccentric thanks to the multicolored beans I saved.  And heirlooms whisper about history.

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Imagine perusing a seed catalogue of seeds that are ancient!  Like the seeds that were just recently rediscovered.  These Morning Glories are not your typical shape but frilly raspberry colored petals.  I cannot wait to see them scrambling up the trellis.  Purple carrots will taste so much better than orange ones.  I do love to choose the prettiest colored vegetables, many that had to grow in this climate so they ripen early.  I plan on watering this year (whoops) so I do plan to have the most beautiful and productive garden I have ever had.  And walking through it will be like walking through a history book of covered wagons and pioneers, strong willed women and gracious, hard working men who fed their families using these very seeds that I will feed my family with.

Save a seed!  http://seedsavers.org (pictures were taken from their catalogue!)

The World of Free Knowledge and Serenity

I ordered three Cuckoo Marans (chocolate egg layers), three Buff Orpingtons (for their lovey disposition), and three Aracaunas (Easter egg layers).  I ordered three pounds of bees with the Italian queen.  I already picked up my custom made, gorgeous bee hive.  One hundred dollars worth of heirloom seeds are ordered.  *Sigh*  Now what?  Is it Spring yet?  I’m done resting!

kiowa library (our local library)

I spend this time learning.  I learn everything I can get my hands on.  I love the concept of homeschooling; you don’t stop learning at eighteen years of age, it goes on forever.  Any trade I want to learn, any skill I want to learn, any thing I want to learn, I merely need to step out the door and walk four blocks to my favorite place.  And it doesn’t cost as much as chickens, bees, and heirlooms.

A virtual vault of free, unlimited knowledge awaits us! It astounds me still that we have access to so much education, so much wisdom, so many good recipes all in one place.  Thousands upon thousands of books at our very fingertips.  The library is one of my favorite places in the world.  It is part sanctuary, part school.  The interlibrary system allows us to request books from all over the state so no matter what we want to read, we can usually get it.

When I was a child my grandmother asked what magazine I would like to receive for my birthday.  Every year I asked for Country Living Magazine.  An odd choice for a twelve year old.  I would receive the beautiful magazine in the mail, it’s cover shiny and inspiring, and tuck it in my backpack.  After school I walked to the library.  My folks were foster parents and along with my sister and brother, there were always two small babies and a lot of commotion at our house.  So, the library beckoned.  The library in Denver where I walked to was in Platt Park and looked like a miniature medieval castle complete with a turret and window seats that were tucked away from the rest of the library.  I would carefully remove the prized possession from my backpack, smooth down the cover, and read through.  Anne of Green Gables, Julie and the Wolves, all my favorites were brought to life in that silent turret of serenity.

library (Platt Park Library)

Our family has always loved books.  The children lugged home boxes of free books filling the book shelves with every title imaginable. The children were in writing clubs and well known to the librarians at the Parker library.  We walked or drove there once or twice a week.

When we were more flush in cash, and had first started homeschooling, our favorite outing was to the book store.  Our favorite movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, was replete with book stores.  We longed for the book store with its swank coffee counter and clean, fresh books at our fingertips.  At least once a month we carefully selected and carried out books for each of us.  At some point I realized that all those books were read once and then set on the shelf and when we moved we gave away many of them.  We downsized our life and our finances and our free state of mind came with the return of our free books and the library became our sole sanctuary once again.

The difference now is that we go to the book store, sip hot coffee while writing down all the new and old titles we want.  Save our hundred dollars and go request them at the library.  I have bee books, and farming books, and chicken books, and recipe books, homesteading books, Andrea Bocelli CD’s, travel books, wine books, and movies.  Doug has espionage books in case he is ever called on to become a spy.

I hope this inspires you to visit your local library and see what treasures unfold for you.  What are your favorite books?

Bored, Boards, and Gourmet Popcorn (with wine!)

This weekend we fell off the homesteading wagon.  It was fun, I won’t lie, but not very sustainable or good for the bank account!  I know we need to live a little but it got ridiculous.  We were getting bored around here, being winter and all, and no wood stove to curl up in front of, and kids and friends running through the house, so we went out.  I guess the problem for us is we go out and stay out!  Friday night we went to a four star restaurant and ended up at a cigar bar.  It was fabulous.  Saturday night a surprise birthday party and dinner across the state.  Sunday started at a coffee shop then we started reminiscing about our old Chinese restaurant we hadn’t been to in years and next thing we know, we’re out eating egg rolls.  We made a weak attempt at leftovers yesterday and ended up at Subway.  I don’t even like Subway!

Doug's wine pic

So, now about two bills short in the bank account and a new week ahead, I need to get back to the homesteading mentality!  I am desperately trying to save up for a homestead.  I want one that I can buy outright.  My entire being wants a homestead.  I start to lose hope but then keep dreaming again.  When we get to said imaginary homestead, we won’t have a full blown business like we do here and will have to pinch pennies in every way which I have been training myself to do.  I am learning to make everything we need.  So perhaps my winter evenings and weekends will be filled with a spinning wheel by the fire, the gentle hum of creating yarn.  Or sewing some clothing articles.  Or preparing a pot of soup.  Or making candles and soap.  Taking care of farm animals.  Right now it only takes two minutes to check on the chickens and I am done with my “farm” chores.

Game nights are a great way to keep your bootie on the homestead and it doesn’t cost a thing to have hours of raucous laughter and competitiveness.  Scrabble, Rummie, Chess, Balderdash, and Scattergories all wait in hopes of being played.  I need to do this more.  Doug and I alone can play a few games.  Friends can be invited over for a mad game of something or other.  Even the kids might want to play.  All alone?  Solitaire.

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What to serve?  Popcorn of course.  I do not mean microwave popcorn or crappy popcorn from Walmart.  I am meaning real kernels that came off of a real ear of corn.  A bag of organic popcorn kernels are less than three dollars at the health food store and provide lots of nights of popcorn. (Organic is important so that we don’t consume genetically modified corn.)  Now, here is where the culinary diva comes out of me.  Jazzing up popcorn so it becomes a meal.  It can be a meal, you know, corn is considered a grain and a vegetable and is high in lutein and many vitamins and minerals.  And our other food group, wine, is amazing with great popcorn.

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In order to achieve gourmet popcorn we need infused olive oils. I get mine from the Olive Tap ( http://theolivetap.com )because of the all the intense, yummy flavors that are ready at my fingertips in the cupboard.  I love the Porcini oil, or the Tuscan Herb, or who doesn’t love Truffle oil?  There is Orange oil, Sesame, Chipotle…and the list goes on.

You can also make your own.  Simply put 1 part herbs to 3 parts olive oil in a sauce pan and heat over medium-low heat for 20 minutes or until fragrant.  Swirl the pan often to keep the oil from burning.

Add a clove of minced garlic, 1 ts of basil, 1 ts of oregano, and a pinch of cayenne.  Or 2 Tb of rosemary, a pinch of thyme, and sesame seeds.  The combinations are endless and the result is spectacular.  Infused oils take the ordinary homestead meal to a five start restaurant while not breaking the bank!

popcorn bowl

Now for the popcorn combinations:

Truffle oil and parmesan with a touch of salt and a glass of Chardonnay

Garlic and Herb oil with sea salt and Pinot Noir

Sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder, nutritional yeast (health food stores, tastes like cheese, high in B12), a pinch of chipotle and drizzle with plain olive oil and salt.  Cabernet Sauvignon can stand up to this one!

Sprinkle basil, parmesan, smoked sea salt, and garlic powder onto popcorn then drizzle olive oil over it.  Try a Pinot Grigio with this one or even a great red blend.

The combinations are endless, the results delicious!  The price….saving up for a homestead cheap.

 

 

My Chicken Thinks I’m Sexy and a Few Beauty Dilemmas

Don’t yours?  Haha, actually I am playing second fiddle (what a fitting saying after last week’s post!) to Doug who woos them with green grass in the winter time.  They see him, run past me,  and yell out a joyous, “Daaaad!” to see if they can get some more.  It’s working, he is planning entire trays of grass for them and the new arrivals scheduled to arrive in March.

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Anyways, back to me.  Grandma gave me these curlers a long time ago.  I adore them.  Just hop out of the shower or bath, roll your hair up, fasten with bobby pins, slick a fancy scarf over them and do all your errands in town.  It is a great way to spread unexpected smiles.  Take them out before going out to dinner or before bed and enjoy three more days of luxurious, 1940’s esqe curls.  Last week I forgot to spritz them with any hair spray or gel and they promptly came out leaving only a slight wave and tangles.  So, I am going to share with you today my hairspray recipe so that this doesn’t happen to you!  It is non-toxic, you could drink it if you were in a real fix, but, just don’t.  Spray it on your hair for fabulous movie star curls that look great while pursuing seed catalogs.

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I do enjoy the look of freshly colored red hair.  It’s really not fair that my sister was born with red hair, my daughter was born with red hair, my grandchild will likely have red hair and I have an unidentifiable kind of dirty blonde, but not that pretty, hair color.  I think.  I haven’t seen it in a while.  I barter medicine for beauty at the local beauty salon where a gorgeous, buxom blonde with a great sense of humor, who looks transported out of Texas does my hair and then teases the front to stand high on my head.  I get it done twice a year, so it’s not like I am there all that often.

Then there was the infection.  Okay, so this oughta scare a few color junkies and manicure queens into humble au natural.  Shortly after I got a manicure, pedicure, and hair color done before Christmas, I noticed an infection on the cuticle of my toe nail where she had pushed the cuticle back too far.  It didn’t feel great but I am an herbalist and was able to fix it pretty quickly.  Shortly after that my finger started feeling arthritic.  Swollen, red in blotches, stemming from my…you guessed it….cuticle.  It took me a good minute (love that phrase, stole it from my kids) to figure out what it was.  It wasn’t until my daughters looked at it in horror and said, “Mom, your finger is broken!” that I realized it was a severe infection.  Luckily, I am an herbalist and was able to drink two bottles of my Herbal Antibiotic.  I think there is still a little bit of infection that moved to another finger.  Not cool.  The fingernail polish is long gone.  The dirt under my nails really never left.  And I am stuck with swollen knuckles.  I can deal with no more manicures or pedicures.

Around that time, the hair stylist calls Doug and asks what medicine to take for boils.  Apparently she and her assistant have boils now.  She thinks they got it from an alpaca.  Even though only one of them was around said Alpaca, she thinks that the other got it from the phone.  Hmm. Something is going on at that salon.  Now, my hair did not turn out the color I wanted, it is kind of brassy because the colors underneath just keep peeking through.  A nice chunk of hair fell out a few weeks ago.  The same thing happened to my Grandma with her hair right before mine, but she uses color in a box.  This leads me to think that perhaps if God wanted me to have naturally red fingernails and curly, red hair, he would have made me enter this world looking like that.  And perhaps, swollen, infected fingers and chunks out of the back of my head are not as sexy as previously thought.

So, this year, I am going….gasp….au natural.  No more bartering for magical beauty.  I will be content with my farming fingernails.  My calico colored hair can at least be put up in old curlers with dash of homemade lemon hairspray, right?  1940’s esqe multi-colored hair.  Watch out fashion world…I mean farm world.  This is going to be hot stuff.

Lemon Hairspray

I made this when we did modeling classes for little kids.  You can really get hairstyles to stick with this concoction yet your hair will feel super soft and you won’t worry about inhaling odd particles of something cancerous.

Fill a small, glass squirt bottle ( http://sunburstbottle.com ) with 2/3 vodka, and 1/3 lemon juice then add a few drops of lemon essential oil.  Done, now go curl your hair!

Doug’s Indoor Farm

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Well, you saw the post about my indoor farm and it is doing swimmingly well but this is about Doug’s new project.  He practically brags about being able to kill houseplants with a single glare.  People that used to work with him would give him precise directions on how to care for their plants and would find them dead upon return.  Doug has not been asked to watch indoor plants much since.  He has found such a wonderful past time now and says that it is because he only has to keep them alive for a week!  The chickens think he’s spoiling them, we are getting five eggs a day, and the chickens look great.  So, his experiment given to us by our friend Deb ( http://lookingoutfrommybackyard.wordpress.com ) of great soap fame and master gardener has been beneficial to our mini-farm as well.

He is growing wheat grass.  It is inexpensive and provides lots of yummy nutrients to the chickies during the winter.  You could also juice a little for yourself (though I might stick with coffee for now).  Here’s how:

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We went to the plant nursery and bought a seed starting tray.  For five chickens we use 2 ounces of whole wheat (Deb uses 2 cups for 14 chickens) and soak it overnight.  In the morning, rinse and place in 12 of the holes.  There is enough room for Doug to do this for 6 days and each 12 pack has a different sized growth.  They really grow fast!  The seventh day’s grass sits on top of the seeds he just placed in there and they think it’s soil.  The first day’s seeds get the grass on top and the second day’s seed gets an empty seed starter insert on top to simulate soil.  You never add soil to the seeds.  Water each pack a little daily.  The third day on seeds start growing spring-like grass and the seventh day grass is what gets fed to the chickies this morning.  We split it, they get a 6 pack this morning and a 6 pack tonight.  It must be quite filling because we are using less feed as well.  Deb has her starts in a sunny west facing kitchen and ours is in the southern window so no grow lights required.

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As soon as people walk through the door, Doug directs them over to see his amazing (non-dead) indoor farm.  The picture below is of the chickens at the back door wanting more wheat grass!  Spoiled little girls….

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Bee Keeping Mama (soon to be)

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There is a bee hive on the very tip top of the hundred-plus year old building across the street from my shop.  If you stand in my doorway you can see them busily working.  Among the ornate swirls of wood, they have made their home.  I have always had a fondness for Victorian architecture myself, can’t say I blame them.  Throughout the year we help them detour out of our shop.  Enticed, no doubt, by one hundred different types of herbs and the essential oils used in the beauty products, they come in for a sniff of the lotion or to seek an unexpected flower.  They always end back up by the window desperately trying to make their retreat.  Using a saucer and a paper cup I ease them into the vessel and set them back on track outdoors.  They have never stung us or any of our customers.  They just want to get back to work!

bee pic2

Homeowners and shop owners call in the companies that guarantee your yard will be beautiful and sheepishly place those little yellow flags with the woman and child and dog with a slash through them (that doesn’t mean keep off the grass, it means it will kill you!); they usually have no idea what harm they are doing.  Doug was guilty of this himself, bringing in Weed and Feed trying to keep up with the neighbors in our old neighborhood.  We just didn’t realize the impact of such a simple thing.  Weed and Feed is available everywhere this time of year.  It does cause cancer and upper respiratory ailments in humans as well as wipes out birds and butterflies and lady bugs and….bees.  The lady who owns the building next to my shop loves to spray her yard.  There are always little yellow warning flags that the bees missed scattered throughout.  And at least three dead bees a day in front of my doorstep.  Many times the bees are disoriented and wander aimlessly in front of my store as if looking for directions to get across the street before their demise.  I could make myself crazy with thoughts of the Colony Collapse Disorder and all the Weed and Feeds on the market.  I could picket the girl next door.  Or I could combat this in a positive way.  By getting a bee hive.

bee pic

Luckily for me, my friends are going to help me.  Bryan just built me a beautiful bee hive to house the new family.  His seventeen year old brother, Brett, has been giving me a bee tutorial.  Since I learn by watching and doing, he will have to come back and walk me through it!  He keeps telling me, “Order your bees, or you’re not going to have any!”  I finally have the cash today so I will get online and order a family of bees with an Italian queen.  Feels rather medieval.  Brett is teaching me organic beekeeping.  I will not take too much honey so not to break into the bees’ store for winter.  I will let them flit to and fro from plant to plant and not scream and run when I see them.  I will not be afraid of bees on masse.  I am sure it will take a minute to get used to standing among hundreds of bees but my love for them will hopefully conquer any fears!  Only .01% of the population actually has  reaction to bee stings and I am not among that number.  I am just a bit of a baby when it comes to pain.  But saving the honey bee in any way I can is more important to me!  Offering a safe home to them in an area that doesn’t use many pesticides (love this town…it’s not the same town my shop is in) is going to be great and they in turn will pollinate my trees and garden.  I’ll keep you posted on this venture!

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Ma and Pa’s Mountain Music Spectacular!

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“Oh play me that mountain music….like Grandma and Grandpa used to play…” I love that song.  Alabama can sure put a hop in your step!  I am sure their fiddle player started playing fiddle before the age of thirty-eight!  But it is never too late to pick up an instrument.  “I have zero musical talent,” I hear from other people.  No excuse!  Musical abilities are variable but everyone has the music in them and can play instruments.  I have been taking violin…ahem…fiddle lessons for seven months now.  It is so much fun.  My teacher is a saint.  Perhaps he wears ear plugs.  My first few months sounded like the stereotypical small child practicing.  Screech, screech, screech, screech went the bow on the strings.  Dancing not, tripping yes.  My turning point was in September when I begged for Christmas music.  Neil is trying to teach me proper Celtic fiddle, but you know, once we pass August all my thoughts are on Christmas!  Jingle Bells was the song that made me “get it”.  Still screechy but producing genuine sound, I bowed through several Christmas tunes.   The sound of the music soothing to me so long as no one was home.  Oddly enough, I can play in big crowds, or by myself, not with just a few people meandering about listening to me practice.

We are enchanted by good music.  Doug and I quizzed the children growing up, not on algebraic expressions or spelling words, but on “who sang it?”  “What play is this from?”  The kids shocked people in grocery stores shouting out Elvis, or Beach Boys, Dean Martin, Def Leopard when asked, “Who sings it?”  They were especially schooled in Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr., and Doris Day.  Doug had them recognizing Chicago, Bob Dylan, and Earth Wind and Fire.

Andrew picked up his first instrument in grade school, the French horn.  Not sure why he chose it, but he learned to read basic music, did a few performances, and enjoyed it.  Then his mind turned to something else, a guitar.  Doug and I found a music shop that had set up at the mall just for Christmas and Christmas morning Andrew received his wish, a pink guitar.  Yes, our son wanted a pink guitar.  Secure early on, that was his favorite color!  He played and played and taught himself how to master the guitar.  Then he wanted a banjo.  He taught himself the banjo and would walk around the neighborhood playing for public works employees and park goers.  He was about fifteen at the time.  Pirate earring, dreadlocks, a desire to open a coffee and cigar bar in St. Thomas and homeschooled.  That child had all day to wander the neighborhood bringing smiles to everyone’s faces.  He taught himself how to play seven instruments.

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I am not so lucky!  I started playing the piano at eight years old.  My mother was my teacher and a great one at that.  I took piano in high school.  I took it in college.  Do you think I could sit down and play you a song?  Heck no.  Use it or lose it and my memorization skills seem to be lacking these days!  Doug has to work at it too.  To his utmost dismay, when he got his mandolin for Christmas, I think he half expected to be like Andrew and just start playing!  After three lessons he gave it up for a while.  I love the sound of the tremolo the mandolin makes.  The music from the mandolin, advanced or not, brings me such great happiness.  Doug has been inspired by my fiddle lessons and has recently picked up the mandolin again.  Perhaps we will go on the road.  A Ma and Pa Spectacular!  Or we’ll just play in our living room for brave friends.  We could charge admission.

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Our house was always filled with music.  Emily played the violin and the ukulele.  Shyanne, not interested in instruments, had her own instrument, her voice.  She sings like an angel.  At ten years old she was belting out tunes most adults couldn’t touch in karaoke bars across the city.  All three kids could sing so wonderfully.  We would take them to bars, yes, to let them sing.  Doug said it was homeschooling.  Music and Social Problems.  It was a great time.  I miss it.  This transition time has been rough on me as a mom.  I did not expect the kids to grow up.  My teen mommy stays with her boyfriend most of the time because he is allergic to cats and nine of them (who love him and want to sit on his face) are a bit much.  They want to get married.  Shyanne, who is 99.9% of the time with her boyfriend, working, or at school will be eighteen this year.  Andrew, ever present at dinner each night, will probably tire of his mom and dad soon enough.  He is saving up to get out of town and move back to Denver.  The music seemed to me to be dying.  I have been crying up a storm trying to get used to it.  I know nothing other than being a mom.  Since I was eighteen years old, my whole world has been my children and I do not know who I am as a person anymore.  So, the new stage in our life is this:  Who is Doug and Katie?  Who are we if we are not parents of small children?  How do you fill an empty house?

Well, to start with, we are going to fill it with mountain music.  Fiddles, and guitars, voices raised in song, friends that want to play as well.  Mandolins and tambourines.  Life is short, fill it with music!  (And for heaven’s sake, go buy an instrument and start playing!)

Alpaca Scarves and Crooked Washcloths

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I have been crocheting since I was twelve years of age thanks to my grandmother who patiently taught me.  Every time I wanted to start a new blanket over the next ten years I had to go to Grandma to get me started.  It takes awhile for things to click with me.  Since then I have been able to put together pretty decent baby blankets, lap blankets, scarves, and more recently hats and baby hoodies!  But I want to make close knit fabulous socks with my future fiber animals.  I want to make luxuriously warm sweaters without big holes in them like a granny square.  That would be a little chilly.

There is a group of ladies that meet at Grumpy’s Coffee Shop here every Monday at 4:00.  I try to get there after my fiddle lessons.  If nothing else, I sit for an hour, catch up on gossip, and leave fully inspired to make elaborate sweaters and try different patterns.  I decided to learn from these wise ladies how to knit.  I think I helped them view a special kind of learner.  I hope they have ten years.  “Where is the hook?”  “They are knitting needles, there is no hook.”  “No hook?  How on earth do I pull the yarn through?”  “Like this…”  Swish, swish, click, click, and the yarn magically came through the hole.  “I need a hook.”  I went back to crocheting the baby blanket I am working on for my soon to be here grand-daughter.

Yet, the fiber bug continues to bite me.  I suppose that if I want my homestead to revolve around alpacas and sheep for fiber, I ought to be rather savvy in the arts of fiber!  Crocheting may not cut it in the world of thick warm socks and sweaters.  So, I sign up to take a real knitting class that costs money at the yarn shop in the next big town over.  A stern English lady who told back to back jokes about Germans sat with four of us on a cold, wintry night before Christmas.  She must have forgotten that Americans are by and large mutts and we don’t know that we are supposed to be angry at one European nation or another because most likely, one of our grandmothers came from there!  In the warmth of her shop I started clicking the needles together as if I had been doing it for years.  She brushed me off to everyone saying, “Oh, she has already had lessons.”  I should have known it wouldn’t last!

I decided to stop using my expensive alpaca yarn to practice and since it was overwhelmingly told to me to forget about starting out making a sweater or socks (4 needles?  You’ve got to be kidding me.), that I should make a scarf or something.  In the land of a million hand made scarves (our house) I decided to use some old chenille yarn to make a wash rag.  I sat for two hours on the sofa concentrating until my eyes hurt.  Look at that beauty.  All I can say is….wow.  There never was an uglier wash rag.  It is very soft and I use it to wash a mud masque off of my face once a week.  So, it does the trick.  But I dare say, I’d be scared to see the sweater I make in the future!

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Back to crocheting, the first picture is of a head wrap/scarf that I made a few years back while sitting in the scorching sun of a farmer’s market.  I get migraines if my ears get cold and alpaca fiber is the only thing that keeps my ears warm.  So, I made this lovely shawl/scarf/head cover to keep me toasty.  The colors are drool worthy and it was such a simple stitch.  Simply chain until you have the length you want.  Then double chain back and forth until you get the size you want.  I switched colors after each skein.  Luckily I got a discount from my friends Marianne and Wade at T 3 Weavers because we were doing a market with them at the time.  http://www.t3weavers.com/yarnshop.html

Luckily, my friend Sandy showed me some patterns yesterday at knitting club to make crocheted socks (no holes) and I saw a sweater book at the library for crochet.  I do not know all the fancy stitches, but perhaps the girls at the coffee shop can help me out!  Happy Creating!

Oil Lamps and Sleepy Tea

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My friend, Faleena, and I had just discovered that we both shared a love for homesteading and a desire to live with less electricity use.  We both love and have oil lamps that we use in the evenings.  We also joked that we had to turn on the overhead lights in order to find the lamps and the matches!

That was over a year ago and we have definitely made vast improvements on our homesteading goals and achievements.  I no longer have to turn on the lights to light the oil lamps!  At dusk each evening we go around the house lighting various candles and oil lamps.  To my son’s dismay, when he is home, I walk straight in the house and without thinking, turn off all the lights.  I am the worst version of the mom throughout history that yells, “Turn that light off! Electricity isn’t free!”  I love how the house looks and feels by candle and oil lamp light.  It is a natural way for our internal clocks to work.  In the evening we naturally slow down.  After dinner, the sun is going down, the lights are lit and our bodies automatically relax.  If we sit in front of the computer all night, or watch television late, or heaven forbid stay awake working, our bodies don’t get the message to get ready to go to sleep.  LED lights and habits keep our bodies awake because they never knew it was time to go to bed!  Probably the reason my Sleep medicine, that I make, is our best seller!

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When we go to bed, Doug goes in the bedroom and lights the beautiful, large orange oil lamp that we found in an antique store.  Doug simply replaced the wick and it is like new.  It is bright and creates good reading light.  My side has a candlestick and an oil lamp.  Those light my way through journal writing and books about farming or about traveling Europe in search of good wine and food.  Doug just got a Nook for Christmas and on the nighttime setting it will cast a nice glow for him to read by.  I do not need more than my oil lamp and candle stick.  You wouldn’t believe how much light comes off of those!

So, what’s the point?  We have a house that is fully outfitted with electricity and gas.  We don’t have a wood stove yet.  We can turn on the heater at all times, cook on the gas stove, we have every modern convenience.  We could go out and replace the oil lamps with table lamps and plug them in.  What is the point of all this homesteading nonsense?  All of this trying to use less energy?  What is the point?  I have asked myself this as well.  Why am I so adamant about this?

  1. When Andy came home one day and saw the tea pot warmer with the coffee press on top, a tea candle keeping it warm, he asked dryly, “Are we Amish now?”  No, but they certainly have some great aspects of their lifestyle, don’t they?  A stress level tremendously less than modern society’s.  A natural rhythm to their work and days. I wake up at dawn, write, drink coffee, take care of the animals, make eggs that the girls just laid and toast from homemade bread and talk with Doug.  We go to work or I work from home on the mini-farm.  Keeping a household together is a full time job outside the shop!  I pack our lunches.  I make dinner and we have dinner together every night along with any children that might be home and any friends or boy/girl friends that come over.  Most of the time anymore, it’s just me and Doug and it is lovely.  We play cards, or games, or read, or watch a movie, or just listen to music and talk.  We light candles, and oil lamps and our bodies know it’s time to unwind.  Asleep by 10:00.  Not a bad existence.  The non-electric items I use, from the washtub to the coffee press, to the oil lamps create a sense of unhurriedness in me.  I methodically wash clothes, hang them on the line, grind coffee, prepare dinner, light candles, make tea…..everything has a rhythm.  I, for too long, lived in the rush rush world that is our current state of society.
  2. Petroleum is not a renewable source.  Electricity, great as it is, has created some disastrous problems in our environment and among people and places and has made it possible for us to live that rush rush existence even though it should have slowed us down.  Perhaps I cannot solve all of the world’s environmental problems on my own.  Indeed, I am using lamp oil to light the lamps, but less energy is used in our house than before.  But, I do believe in the ripple effect.  Surely, by my taking less, less energy, less stuff, growing our own food without synthetic chemicals, and providing for our own needs will leave a little bit more for my grandchildren’s children.

So, here I end by wishing you lots of light; sunlight, oil lamp light, and candle light especially!  Here is a recipe for tea to help you sleep.

Out Like a Light Tea

In a canning jar or sandwich bag combine 1 ounce each hops, California poppy, skullcap, chamomile, and catnip.  You can add valerian for an extra kick but it does have the essence of gym socks.  Fair warning.  Use 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of boiling water.  Steep 4 minutes, sweeten with honey if desired.

Alpaca Love

It was a beautiful scene outside the French doors yesterday morning.  I had just filled the bird feeders the eve before and the commotion at dawn was enough to bring the cats to the window.  Out by the lilac bushes, not twenty feet away, stood the most magnificent deer.  Graceful in her movements, her towering frame was gentle and regal.  Mourning doves hopped by.  I love how they’d rather hop than fly!  Hundreds of sparrows and finches filled the quince bush singing their praises and no doubt sharing the latest gossip as they reconvened, chatting and hooting with laughter.  What a wonderful little mini-farm!

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I hope to have these same views on our next homestead along with a few others.  Those of alpacas!  We are vegetarian homesteaders.  Having a lot of cows or pigs would just be silly, as they would become spoiled pets who ate more than any teenager!  And Doug draws the line at having cows in the living room.  We do hope to get a few goats for milk, more chickens for eggs and entertainment, and alpacas.  Fiber animals earn their keep by donating to us their haircut every year.  They feel better, less hot, and we have lots of wonderful fiber to spin into glorious yarn.

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Now mind you, I don’t know how to spin yet…or how to dye yarn, or really how to knit….or how to take care of alpacas!  But this year we are learning.  I did do a spinning lesson, one, and was quite horrid at it.  It is a smooth repetition, one that requires your foot and hand to move simultaneously while spinning the fleece into a beautiful length of yarn.  I am taking lessons this year and getting a spinning wheel.  I hope the cats don’t like it too much.  It is hard to do fiber arts with cats!

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Many of the herbs that we use for medicine would also be great to make natural dyes out of.  I am anxious to try.  Black Walnut would be a lush brown, Goldenrod for yellow…would beet juice turn the yarn pink?  Oh, I do hope so.  So much to find out!  What fun in the process!

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We go to every Alpaca fair that comes through.  This is an active community of alpaca farmers.  We visit with everyone so that when we are ready to get our boys, we will have established a relationship with people who can help us get a few.  They teach us a lot in the meantime and we are trying to be as prepared as possible.  It would seem silly to have alpacas in town in our backyard so we will have to wait until we get our homestead.  (“No officer, that is a dog.  An odd type of Afghan hound…”)

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Doug even came up with a fabulous, sure to be a hit product (now don’t steal the idea!), PacyWoo.  That’s right, alpaca and sheep fleece spun together to make a wonderful, warm, and sturdy yarn that is soft and unique.  We sit around day dreaming quite a lot in case you didn’t notice.

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We went to visit our friends at Falkor Ranch who have seventy five alpacas.  It was a bitter cold morning but we trudged out to their farm for our visit.  We want to see as many farms as we can before we get our own.  Two beautiful white dogs came to greet us, tails wagging.  Their parents were surprised as the dogs are often aloof.  They must have sensed our childlike wonder and mistook us for seven year olds.  We snuggled with them before heading over to the alpacas.

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Alpacas are sweet, gentle animals.  Buck teeth, soft fleece, and the unmistakable appearance of those marionette puppets they sell at fairs.  They hum.  A gentle hmmm, hmmm, as if they are thinking and are nervous.  We were surrounded by an overload of cuteness and our hearts warmed our extremities.  As Doug was scrunching Noah’s thick fleece, Diane said nonchalantly, “When you get your own animals you will have to be careful not to mat their coat!”  We both jumped back looking as if we just got caught stealing.  She showed us how to properly look at their coat and taught us a bit about fleece grades and textures.  We went home with a Marans chocolate egg and a pair of alpaca socks.  What a treat!

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We learned a few things while visiting her farm.  We saw a great design of a greenhouse, her dome filled with delicious vegetables even this time of year.  We learned that in order to be a self sufficient farm we have to grow our own feed for our animals.  One cannot do this in Colorado.  We learned that roosters can fertilize any breed of egg.  We learned about Marans.  We learned that goats are eternally naughty.  I mentioned to Diane casually as we were leaving, “Is that goat supposed to be eating that tree?”  She shot off fast chasing the culprits away from the sleeping fruit trees.  We learned that Akbash dogs are a strong possibility as a farm dog for us.  We learned that alpacas are some of the cutest creatures God made up and we are excited to share our journey with them.  Snuggling live puppets while making fantastic yarn.  Someday…..